Have you ever met someone that no matter what is happening everything is “ok”? Now most of us don’t want to burden others with the trivial matters of our day but there are people that have difficulty perceiving and describing emotions of themselves and others. This condition is called alexithymia which is the inability to identify and describe emotions.
The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating. Those with alexithymia lack a lived understanding of what they experience emotionally. It is important to note that alexithymia is a personality characteristic or construct and not a diagnosis.
These are just a few examples of what a person with alexithymia may experience:
• Difficulty identifying different types of feelings
• Limited understanding of what causes feelings
• Difficulty expressing feelings
• Difficulty recognizing facial/social cues in others
• Limited or rigid imagination
• Constricted style of thinking
• Hypersensitive to physical sensations
• Detached or tentative connection to others
Alexithymia has two dimensions – a cognitive dimension, where a child or adult struggles to identify, interpret and verbalize feelings (the “logical” part of our emotional experience) and an affective dimension, where difficulties arise in reacting, expressing, feeling and imagining (the “emotional” part of our emotional experience).
It is a common misconception that children with autism cannot understand emotion and cannot be empathetic towards others. While children and adults with autism may not show emotion the same way most people would, they still can understand emotion- just in a different way. According to researchers at the University of East London and King’s College London, many people with autism express empathy, sometimes even an excessive amount of it. However, there was a segment that had difficulty understanding emotion. This observation led researchers to examine the overlap between alexithymia and autism.
Do you think you may have alexithymia? Click the link below to take a short quiz to measure your alexithymia score.