Alexithymia: When It's Too Difficult To Express Your Emotions

Last updated by Lauren Hart

“There’s joy, everywhere there’s joy, all day long my heart beats, capsizes and staggers.” Here’s someone capable of expressing his emotions with ease! Charles Trenet, like many singers, was able to describe his feelings through music. While some people manage to express their emotions well, others are incapable of doing so, and this has a name: alexithymia. What does this mean? Why’s it a problem? Let’s talk about it.

Alexithymia: When It's Too Difficult To Express Your Emotions

What is alexithymia?

In psychology, alexithymia means a difficulty in identifying, understanding, and expressing your own emotions. But the problem doesn’t stop there. A person with alexithymia will have difficulty recognizing emotions in others, which is also characteristic of people with Asperger’s syndrome.

Not being aware of your emotions is a problem on many levels. It leads to difficulties in relationships, as it’s impossible to establish stable communication and understand each other properly. What’s more, it can have an impact on our health 😥! Indeed, when we hold onto our emotions, they very often eat away at us from the inside. We end up eating our emotions or manifesting them physically. In other words, we end up having real physical symptoms as a result of the bad management of our emotions.

What causes alexithymia?

The causes of alexithymia aren’t entirely known, but there’s often an environmental factor. This often occurs in childhood and is explained in the theory of attachment 🤔. The model shown by attachment figures is decisive, it forges the person we are and the relationships we have with others.

Alexithymia therefore develops when there are attachment disorders such as parental abandonment, parents who aren’t very present, a difficult divorce, etc. Emotional wounds, such as fear of rejection or even abandonment, are also responsible for the appearance of alexithymia 😔. Childhood is a pivotal period when many things can happen that will impact the way we perceive ourselves and the way we perceive our emotions.

How can you tell if you’re suffering from alexithymia?

When you’re not aware of your emotions, it’s impossible to take a step back. Yes, we have difficulties, but we don’t know why! Here are a few things you can do to find out whether you’re suffering from alexithymia:

The inability to recognize emotions

When you suffer from alexithymia, you’re often bubbling over. You either have pleasant sensations that correspond to positive emotions or unpleasant sensations that correspond to negative emotions. However, you’re unable to establish a connection between your state of mind and a particular emotion.

👉 Some people are able to identify primary emotions, but are unable to go deeper towards secondary emotions. Nor is it possible to describe an intensity.

Violent physical symptoms

Eating disorders, eczema, asthma, high blood pressure, sleep problems... This is a non-exhaustive list of the physical symptoms caused by alexithymia. Very often, we focus on these factors because they’re visual and present, except that it’s really the difficulty in verbalizing our emotions that causes these symptoms.

👉 For example, someone who locks themselves up in anger and annoyance, but doesn’t communicate them, is more at risk of developing a health problem such as a stomach ulcer 😰.

Little empathy

How can you put yourself in other people’s shoes and feel what they’re going through when you can’t understand yourself? It’s impossible, of course.

This is a criticism often levelled at people with alexithymia: they’re not empathetic enough. You can’t feel other people’s emotions and be genuinely concerned by their preoccupations. Some people perceive an emotional charge but are unable to share it, which is badly perceived by those around them. On the surface, you come across as a very selfish person.

Little verbal communication

When we lack the words to describe a situation, a feeling or a memory, we prefer not to speak at all. The reverse is also true: we find it hard to understand what others want to say and convey. As a result, we have fewer social interactions and bonds because we find it too difficult to express ourselves.

👋 You may be interested in this article: Mutism in adults: when anxiety leads to silence

A lack of expression

While physical symptoms may appear, a person with alexithymia will have no marked expression. It’s impossible for them to burst into tears or laugh out loud. Their reactions are nondescript, their bodies almost rigid, because their emotions are too deeply buried.

An underdeveloped intuition

People with alexithymia have little intuition and prefer to focus on constructed reasoning, even if it may appear illogical to others. A very pragmatic vision helps when you can’t recognize your emotions, because it gives you a framework to follow that seems more concrete than the “little voice inside your head”.

Precarious social relationships

This is as much a consequence as a symptom. Precarious social relationships, or even the absence of relationships, are characteristic of people with alexithymia. Many people interpret the lack of consideration due to misunderstanding others as a lack of interest. This isn’t the case, but most people prefer to escape because they feel they’re not being listened to.

👋 You might be interested in this article: What are the symptoms of depression?

How can alexithymia be treated?

In view of the consequences of alexithymia, it’s legitimate to ask how to deal with it. The first thing to do is to check whether there are any mental disorders associated with this behavior. Depression, autistic disorder, or even psychosis are often associated with a failure to identify your emotions. In such cases, the illness or disorder should be treated rather than the alexithymia.

If you don’t fit into this spectrum, you’ll need to do some soul-searching and questioning to understand where this behavior comes from. As we said earlier, alexithymia is rooted in childhood. It’s therefore necessary to identify what may have caused us to adopt this behavior.

However, it’s still very complex to do this without support. Whether or not there’s a mental illness, therapy is particularly important. The aim of therapy is to make up for the emotional deficit by enabling the sufferer to reconnect with their feelings. There are several types of therapy, but the most suitable is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It enables patients with alexithymia to gradually decode their different emotions and fully reconnect with themselves.

Editor’s note: Too much disruption

When you realize that you’re having great difficulty expressing your emotions, you need to act quickly. The more time goes by, the less your distant behavior will be forgiven by those around you, which can lead to isolation. Not to mention all the other problems brought on by alexithymia. If poor understanding of emotions is a problem for you, don’t hesitate to consult a therapist. Together, you can identify the cause and move forward to re-establish a connection with your emotions.

🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!

#BornToBeMe

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Article presented by Lauren Hart

Writing is a beautiful means of expression that I cannot do without. It has allowed me to channel my hypersensitivity, plus I love writing about psychology and personal development. For me, self-understanding is the best way to move forward!

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  14. What A Wonderful WorldLouis Armstrong
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