What is alexithymia?
Alexithymia affects a person’s ability to experience, identify and express emotions.
People who suffer from the condition may encounter trouble interacting in social settings and/or maintaining personal relationships.
The condition is more common than you might realise, with some research pointing to as much as 13% of the world’s population suffering from alexithymia.
It is not considered to be a mental health disorder, and it isn’t medically diagnosed.
However, in some cases it may co-exist alongside mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, allowing medical professionals to offer treatment based on a combination of symptoms.
The condition also shares medical links with autism.
Alexithymia was first identified by professor and psychiatrist Peter Sifneos at Harvard Medical School.
The etymology of the word dervies comes from the Greek: a meaning lack, lexis meaning word, and thymos meaning emotion – “a lack of words for emotions”.
Sufferers of alexithymia may struggle to observe their own mental or emotional state, which can lead to troubles of introspection.
They may also find it difficult to notice emotions in others, which can make social interactions and interpersonal relationships challenging.
Alexithymia symptoms: How can I spot it?
According to a summary of the key symptoms recognised by medical professionals in Medical News Today, alexithymia can be manifest by:
- Difficulties identifying feelings and emotions
- Difficulties understanding the link between emotions and the bodily sensations they cause
- A limited ability to express feelings and emotions to those around them
- Difficulties recognizing and responding to emotions in others
- Presenting “a logical and rigid thinking style” that doesn’t appear to compute emotions.
- Reduced coping skills with stress
Causes of alexithymia
The exact causes of alexithymia are still being uncovered.
However, experts agree that genetics can dictate whether or not someone will experience alexithymia. Those with a close relative who already has the condition are far more likely to develop its symptoms than someone who doesn’t.
Figures also show men are more likely than women to exhibit alexithymia.
Furthermore, social environment factors can play a key role. Factors such as a history of childhood trauma, physical or mental health conditions and socioeconomic factors have been shown to have an influence.
Finally, research shows that people who have suffered an injury to a part of the brain known as the anterior insula experience increased levels of alexithymia.