Alexithymia is defined as a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. It is a clinical term for the inability to understand the intricacies of feelings and emotions. The existence and study of alexithymic experiences started in the 1970’s.
Some research suggest that alexithymia is more predominant in men and it is in women. The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating. Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to un-empathic and ineffective emotional responding.
There are two types of alexithymia, trait and state:
• State alexithymia has a specific cause, it is often a temporary condition. Post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by experiencing a horrifying event, is one example that is known to trigger this type of alexithymia.
• Trait alexithymia is believed to be a characteristic inherent in a person’s personality. Trait alexithymia may be, ‘inborn,’ or caused by events that happen in a person’s early childhood such as neglect or abuse from a primary caregiver.
Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions. In studies of the general population the degree of alexithymia was found to be influenced by age, but not by gender; the rates of alexithymia in healthy controls have been found at: 8.3%; 4.7%; 8.9%; and 7%. Thus, several studies have reported that the prevalence rate of alexithymia is less than 10%.
Understanding and expressing emotions are two parts of the human experience that may be confusing for a number of people. Learning more about possible causes for a person’s experience of feeling less than average emotionally and maybe asking questions to trusted professionals might help to find a way to narrow down possible solutions. What follows is more information about alexithymia to help explore the signs, symptoms and possible treatment options for alexithymia.
Symptoms of Alexithymia: Alexithymia is understood to have two components;
• A cognitive component where people might face challenges with thinking and emotions while trying to name, understand and talk about feelings.
• An affective component where people might struggle with the experience of sharing, responding to and sensing emotions.
People who experience the effects of alexithymia might notice some different things such as:
• A lack of impulse control
• Violent or disruptive outbursts
• Indifference towards other people
• Difficulties with articulating emotions
• Difficulties with naming different kinds of emotions
• Struggling to identify emotions expressed by others
• Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, or physical touch
• A narrow capacity to understand the reasons behind certain emotions
Alexithymia is not just a lack of interest in emotional connection, it is rooted in psychological and neurological mishaps that can be sources of frustration for people who experience the symptoms as well as people around them. The condition also exists on a spectrum; so for some people the symptoms might interfere more largely in their lives than it does for other people. In a number of instances, alexithymia is a symptom of other forms of mental health conditions. To achieve a diagnosis of alexithymic symptoms, a person would need to receive evaluation of and diagnosis of a primary mental health condition. Alexithymia has been observed in people who also have:
• Eating disorders
• Substance abuse
• Certain brain injuries
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
HOW TO TREAT ALEXITHYMIA
Treatment of alexithymia may be incorporated into the overall treatment of the person’s broader condition. During an evaluation, a clinician will most likely talk with the person affected for a period of time and ask them to complete surveys and additional psychological testing. Based upon the results of the person’s psychological evaluation, they will have a better idea of how alexithymic symptoms may be associated with one or more forms of mental health conditions. Here are the top four treatments:
1. Oxytocin. (Not OxyContin). Oxytocin is a natural hormone that encourages bonding, eye contact and empathy. Oxytocin nasal spray, available via prescription, is able to cross the brain/blood barrier with wonderful pro-social benefits for autism, PTSD, and depression. In fact, you might find that you have diminished OXTR expression (less Oxytocin receptors) through a genetic testing site like Promethease. I have personally tried this and it feels like magic. Oxytocin is very strongly linked to Alexithymia, so you might have to harass your doctor to get it. It’s so safe it can be given to toddlers and breastfeeding women.
2. Fiction and creative arts: Even though people with Alexithymia may lose interest in fiction and non-fiction books or movies, they need to force themselves. Emotional fiction and creative arts help to stimulate our own empathy and feelings. Fiction can help to learn how to feel things again. Reading emotional fiction and journaling can be very helpful.
3. Essential oils. Clary Sage has been shown in studies to increase salivary oxytocin levels in pregnant women when sniffed on a daily basis. Jasmine essential oil is also reported to have similar effect, but I haven’t seen the studies on it.
4. Crystals and chakras and such. Not to get all woo-woo, but don’t worry, these methods can’t harm you and aren’t costly (unless you go to a crystal healer person). Oxytocin is tied to the sacral chakra and the heart chakra. Sacral chakra rules sex, feelings, and childbirth—and of course we are supposed to have increased oxytocin after sex and when giving birth. The heart chakra rules love of course, bonding, and gratitude and all that fun. The color of this chakra is green. My main oxytocin heart crystal is Chrysoprase, which is also supposed to affect hormone balance (oxytocin is a hormone).
The treatment options for alexithymia are often times very different from typical counseling or talk therapy. For people living with alexithymia, a mental health professional will often concentrate on building a foundation of naming emotions and appreciating a range of feelings. The process will likely include both consideration of the experiences of other people and self-reflection. Even though some people with this emotional comprehension might sound very basic to others, for a person with alexithymia the process of growing their emotional intelligence and capacity may be difficult. Also people living with Alexithymia may try various relaxation techniques.
Might be used to help cultivate skills for identifying and understanding feelings on both a surface and in-depth level. Just as with the majority of mental health or medical concerns, a formal diagnosis and treatment should be done by a mental health professional with expertise in the area. When an affected person feels ready, a licensed mental health professional may be the next best step to help ease any distress the person might be feeling. People with alexithymia need to be patient with themselves as they decide what is best for them as a person.
In the past, alexithymia was classified and limited to psychosomatic disorders, which are disorders involving physical symptoms of the person’s body that are created and exacerbated by their mind. For example; a person who is very angry, yet does not express their anger, might develop a stomachache. The condition as a psychosomatic disorder often times manifests in the form of bodily symptoms and complaints of a person who is unable to effectively express their emotions. Research has revealed that it may be present in people who do not experience psychosomatic disorders or physical complaints as well.