Alexitimia: the inability to recognize one's emotions

The emotions accompany us, we are inseparable from them. Sometimes we feel fear, sometimes love, sometimes joy and sadness, sometimes anger, disgust and shame, and many more emotional states that often accompany us. Emotions are part of us and our day to day, and fulfill important functions for our survival and relationships.

However, some people are unable to identify and express their own emotions. Can you imagine what would be the emotional vacuum of the inability to recognize one's emotions, that is, what we feel? It is a disorder known as alexitimia.


What is alexithymia?

The term alexitimia is formed by several Greek roots: "a" (without, negation of), "lexis" (word) and "thimos" (affection) and it would mean something like: without words for the affections. Alexithymia is a psychological disorder discovered by the psychiatrist Peter E. Sifneos, in 1972, when he noticed that a large number of patients with psychosomatic disorders also had significant difficulties expressing their emotions. Alexithymia is the inability to recognize and express one's emotions verbally.

1. It is a neurological disorder since its bases are in an alteration in neurological functioning. People experience emotions because we have a brain that makes it possible. Fear, love, joy, sadness, anger, are created in the brain, and there are structures that help us recognize these emotions and allow us to express them. Something is wrong with this complex mechanism in people who suffer from alexithymia.


2. It is a maladaptive disorder. Alexithymia has important negative consequences in the life of people who suffer from it. They are apparently cold, empty and without feelings, who have serious difficulties in relating and interacting with others.

Types of alexithymia and its causes

Alextimia is caused by a neurological alteration in the brain area responsible for analyzing and expressing emotions. The bodily sensations are not associated with the mental states corresponding to the emotion, this can be caused by two causes, associated with the types of alexithymia.

1. Primary alexithymia It is linked to biological conditions. The cause is a brain condition of the areas responsible for the identification and expression of emotions that may be hereditary or caused by an injury. An alteration that interferes communication between the limbic system (emotional area of ​​the brain) and the neocortex (area of ​​reason), or in the communication between the two hemispheres. This injury can be an alteration of birth or an injury caused by a blow or trauma at some time. Primary alexithymia is associated with other disorders such as autism spectrum disorders, multiple sclerosis, etc.


2. The secondary alexithymia. It is due to traumatic experiences that the person lives at some point of their evolutionary development. Normally it is about repeated experiences such as abuse and childhood origin, such as post-traumatic stress disorder that triggers the start of a defense by the brain that involves not experiencing the emotions that the body feels. It can also be due to a disorder in emotional learning, when the child does not receive verbal indications about the emotions they experience, they do not associate their bodily sensations with emotions.

Symptoms of alexithymia

- Difficulty to experiment and differentiate feelings, as well as difficulties to recognize them in others.
- Low dreaming capacity, fantasy and interior life.
- They speak very little, They seem cold and serious.
- They are very practical and rational, sometimes in excess. Cognitive style oriented to the external and concrete.
- They have difficulty handling affections, and difficulties in their relationships.
- Lack of enjoyment and search for pleasure.
- They are impulsive, Sometimes they react disproportionately to emotions they do not recognize.

Treatment and prevention of alexithymia

Alexithymia is a complex disorder that requires the attention of a professional or specialized professionals.
- Prevention it is fundamental and for this, an adequate emotional education should be sought to guarantee the affective and emotional development in childhood. As well as avoiding or adequately treating possible traumas at this stage of development.
- The treatment it is based on the use of techniques that help the affected to develop an emotional awareness, so that they can identify the emotion (its correlates and physical and emotional signals), assimilate the emotion (notice the emotion), understand the emotion and self-regulate the emotion . The treatment has a better prognosis in cases of secondary alexithymia.

Celia Rodríguez Ruiz. Clinical health psychologist. Specialist in pedagogy and child and youth psychology. Director of Educa and Learn. Author of the collection Stimulate Reading and Writing Processes.

Video: What is Alexithymia? (Inability to Express or Recognize Emotions)


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