Alexithymia: I don’t know what I feel!

Stay relaxed and assured that you are not the only one
Representational Image
Representational Image geralt [Creative Commons]


Have you ever tried to express or explain your sentiments or emotions to somebody but were unable to do so, and felt like you are not finding appropriate words to explain your state of mind?

If yes, then stay relaxed and assured that you are not the only one; there are many others sailing in the same boat. This is called “Alexithymia”. 

APA Dictionary of Psychology defined it as the inability to express, describe or distinguish among ones emotions. It is a psychological trait that affects millions of people and in layman language it is best explained as "no words for feelings."

It affects a person's ability to recognise and express their emotions and this makes an individual vulnerable to developing a wide range of mental disorders. According to a well standardized scale known as OAS (Observer Alexithymia Scale), there are 5 prominent symptoms of alexithymia viz: distant, uninsightful, somatising, humourless and rigid.

They suffer in their daily psychosocial and occupational lives. They experience numerous intra-psychic and interpersonal conflicts and are easily misunderstood by others. There is loss of drive and motivation. It also leads to procrastination of work, lack of happiness in leisure activities, lack of sense of self, experience of identity confusion.

Although the sufferers crave companionship, close friendship, kinship but still avoid indulging in close relationships. Since they don’t know what they want and feel, they are unable to express their needs and wishes and this experience leads them to frustration and  psychological conditions in future.

Being unaware of one’s internal emotions, the sufferer is unable to answer when they are asked how they are doing in life. “You may have heard them saying, ‘I don’t care. I’m just surviving,” said Talmon.

“They don’t know what they want because they don’t know what their inside voice is, and what their true will is”. The persons tend to define themselves logically rather than describing how their emotions or instincts lead them to do a particular action.

They experience somatic symptoms including rapid heartbeat, troubled breathing, physical pains, and headaches. In the extreme,they could even engage in self-harming activities and suicidal thoughts while being unaware of the causes.

Even to family and close friends, they are unable to express any emotion, although they occasionally display disruptive behaviours, such as fits of rage. So it becomes an important task for us to understand these untold issues in order to help ourselves and our loved ones from this debilitating condition.

Ways to come out

1.   The first step is encouraging ourselves or our loved ones to express their feelings by engaging in creative arts or skills or maintaining the journals and diaries.

2.  They should be encouraged to read novels and stories with emotional appeal.

3.   They should be engaged in socio cultural activities.

4.  They should be engaged in group therapy so that they can learn some social skills and emotional expressiveness among close knitted groups.

5.   Therapists should try to resolve their past issues and work on boosting their social and emotional intelligence as that would enhance their self awareness and management of own and other’s emotions.

6.   Above all psychological support is the key; they should be encouraged towards building and maintaining emotional and romantic bonds. However it is imperative that their partners empathise with them and provide them cues that make them cozy to share and express feelings.

7.  Cognitive behavioural therapy can mark a significant difference. By changing their thoughts: actions and emotions will change.

8. Psycho education, mindfulness and relaxation should be made important components in therapeutic regime.

9. Awareness programmes and training workshops should be organised so that the struggles of  sufferer get recognised and redressed at the earliest.

10.  They  should spend some time alone and have a conversation with themselves and hear to the rhythms and melodies of heart.

Takeaway: Alexithymia is not something we cannot change, we can reduce level of alexithymia if we want to. The wellspring of aliveness is within reach if we give ourselves a chance and bravely set out on the path to restore our  emotional sensitivity , understanding, management and expressiveness.

Lets conclude by the famous quote of Paulo Coelho:

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say”

Author is pursuing masters in Psychology.

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