Alexithymia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

Alexithymia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment
There are people who are not able to know what is joy, sadness and do not know love. They seem cold and distant, the world passes in front of their eyes and they don't seem to blink in amazement. Inside, unknown and indecipherable sensations flutter without being able to be expressed. Do you really feel nothing? Is the inability to feel love real?

That is the question that many people ask themselves when observing such people. People suffering from alexithymia. In this article of Alexithymia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment will explain what happens inside people who have this affectation.

What is alexithymia?

Alexithymia affects approximately 10% of the population according to the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN), affecting more men than women. Therefore, it has an important weight in society. But what exactly is alexithymia?

Alexithymia: Etymology

The term alexithymia derives from the Greek prefix "a -" (sin) and the words "lexis" (word) and "thimos" (emotion, passion).

Meaning of alexitimia

For psychologists, alexithymia is a neurological disorder that makes it impossible to detect and recognize one's emotions and, therefore, makes emotional expression incapable. of the affected person , making it appear that they are people without emotions.

What is alexithymia in psychology

  • Interpersonal problems. A person with alexithymia has difficulties with their interpersonal relationships, since they cannot give emotional feedback to people in their social circle. For example, a person with alexithymia could not show condolences or sadness over the loss of a loved one from a friend or family member, or would be unable to show joy for the promotion of a colleague to work. In view of others, an alexithymic looks like a person with a lack of feelings, emotionally insensitive, cold, calculating and pragmatic.
  • Emotional distress Are they really people without emotions? Alexithymia does not imply an absence of emotions, since an alexithymic still preserves them. Unable to recognize or define the bustle of emotions they feel, they are unable to regulate their feelings. This leads to them being easily overwhelmed by feelings they do not understand and cannot control, generating a high level of emotional suffering. As expected, it implies a significant wear and tear of the quality of life of a person with alexithymia.

Who suffers alexithymia?

The disorder is usually more present in people who have suffered from a neurological disease or suffer from psychological disorders, such as depression, cyclothymia, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or in patients with Parkinson's disease. .

There is a high incidence of alexithyma cases in people with autism spectrum disorders , being present approximately 85% of the time. There are more cases of alexithymia that are not included in the previous explanation. It goes deeper into the topic later.

Alexithymia: symptoms

People with alexithymia are unable to recognize their own emotions and express them. Therefore, alexithymics will show certain characteristics of these deficiencies in their way of acting and communicating. What are the symptoms of alexithymia? Next we will see how people with alexithymia are :
  • Lack of empathy for not being able to recognize other people's emotions.
  • Poor ability to imagine and fantasize.
  • Indecision: the lack of instrospection towards their emotions makes it difficult for them to know their motivations.
  • Simple and concrete thinking and communication: they do not use abstract references and are not able to appreciate art or symbolism.
  • Distant and cold appearance.
  • Little verbal communication: they speak little.
  • Little nonverbal communication . They seem very rigid.
  • It is difficult to maintain interpersonal relationships.
  • Absence of sexual desire.
  • They confuse emotions with bodily sensations that they cannot locate.

Alexithymia: causes

Why does alexithymia occur? What is the cause of alexithymia? Not everyone who suffers from alexithymia has the same profile. Depending on the cause that caused the onset of alexithymia, its symptoms and severity may vary. Two types of alexithymia can be distinguished depending on their origin:

1. Primary Alexithymia

Their cause is biological and they are the most serious. In these cases, there is a neurological deficit that can affect the brain in two possible ways:
  • The deficit interferes with the communication of the limbic system , which is involved in the management of emotions, and the neocortex, involved in reasoning.
  • It is also possible that there is a communication deficit between the two hemispheres of the brain; incommunicating the left hemisphere, which is involved in the production of language, with the right hemisphere, which regulates and catalogs emotions.
This type of alexithymia can have a hereditary origin and is shown in the early childhood, or it appears after a neurological disease , such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. There are also cases of alexithymia due to stroke, brain tumors or trauma.

2. Secondary Alexithymia

The cause is psychological and its severity is variable.
  • This type of alexitima can be due to the experience of traumatic experiences on the part of the person, whether it has been in childhood or in adulthood. Many of these people also tend to suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PET).
  • It can appear in various psychopathological disorders such as depression, addictions or eating disorders.
  • It can occur in cases of emotional learning disorder because of poor emotional education.

Alexithymia: treatment

Does alexithymia have a cure? In most cases, it is not the patients with alexithymia who make the first step to start treatment. Their lack of understanding of what happens to them causes them not to associate their problems with a psychological problem. Therefore, the great part of cases of alexithymia that come to consultation is due to the insistence of third parties. Since it is not voluntary, most of the time, the treatment of alexithymia is difficult if there is no motivation on the part of the patient and social support will be vital for the success of the therapy.

What is the treatment for alexithymia? The treatment for alexithymia is reduced by working on the development of emotional intelligence skills and abilities. The objective will be to help the patient recognize emotions , name them and then work on emotional self-regulation.

The origin of alexithymia will have to be taken into account, since in the treatment of primary alexithymia there will be both a pharmacological treatment. While psychotherapeutic treatment will be more affective with people who have a secondary alexithymia.

Alexithymia: examples

To facilitate the understanding of what alexithymia is, we leave some examples to better visualize what it would be like to meet someone who has the affectation:
  • A person who sees a friend cry and acts as if nothing had happened, talking about anything.
  • Meet a person who doesn't go to the movies or read books because he just doesn't understand them.
  • A couple who has been together for 6 years and one of them has never said "I love you" to the other person.

Alexithymia and sexuality

As mentioned earlier briefly, people with alexithymia lack sexual desire. That does not mean that they do not feel sexual impulses, but that they cannot identify it as such and, therefore, cannot link them with sexuality.

The inability to recognize the impulses at the time causes, in the case that you have a relationship with someone and that person wants to establish a sexual relationship at a certain time, you can find that the person affected by alexithymia is not excited or seems impotent .

These situations can lead to frustration and partner problems . In these cases, it is important that the couple recognize and be understandable with the involvement of the alexithic, encouraging and promoting participation in a treatment or looking for alternatives so that the two can enjoy the relationship.