Something good happens to you and you don’t show your happiness. You love someone and you can’t express it. These are common situations for alexithymic people.
It’s not that the people who suffer from it don’t have these feelings, but that due to their condition (known as alexithymia) they are unable to recognize and name their emotions.
According to psychotherapist Fernanda Góngora, characteristics that fit an alexithymic profile include not liking to be in contact with others, being distant, rigid, and lacking a sense of humor, because they don’t understand sarcasm or double meanings.
According to the Spanish Society of Neurology, an estimated 10% of the world population (about 730 million people) have difficulties in expressing their emotions.
Of this percentage, 8% are men and 2% are women.
“There are many people who have undiagnosed alexithymia. Those around them take this attitude of little empathy or coldness personally. It’s very hard to be the partner of such a person because over time it’s very difficult not to receive or see an emotional response. It’s something that can be worked on in individual and couple therapy,” said Góngora in an interview with Tec Review.
Alexithymics and the people around them
Friends, relatives, or partners are usually the people who them to their condition when they realize that their responses to various situations are very cold, indifferent, or there is no reaction.
“For those who suffer from it, life’s like that and those reactions are normal. In most cases, it’s other people in the environment that make them notice,” said Góngora.
The obstacles people with this condition face are mainly in their social relationships because they find it difficult to interact with other people, they prefer to isolate themselves, and feel better being alone than in company.
“This part is very painful because alexithymics are very lonely people. Not everyone is going to stop to see what their situation is like, so the people around them also isolate them because they think they’re closed or boring people. Many of those with this disorder end up with depression or somatizing their emotions because they cannot express them,” added Góngora.
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Emotional disorder or neurological injury?
Psychology attributes this behavior to an emotional learning disorder. It could also be a physiological problem due to brain structures related to emotional processing not developing properly or the person having had an injury due to an embolism or tumor in the frontal cortex, an important region for identifying and expressing emotions.
According to Góngora, when alexithymia comes from physiological damage, it can be treated with medication, but when it is an emotional learning problem, it can be managed with therapy.
The psychotherapist states that alexithymia exists to varying degrees and at its most developed level can be on the autism spectrum for a condition such as Asperger Syndrome.
“When alexithymia is not so deep, it can help to reconnect with emotions through therapy, although it can be a long process. They have to describe what they feel when they’re given good news and what they feel physically when that happens, so that they begin to give the emotion a name,” she stated.
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Góngora states that many of the cases can be misdiagnosed due to confusion with Asperger’s.
One way to identify it in childhood is by noticing when a child doesn’t want to take part, doesn’t socialize, isn’t empathetic, and doesn’t mirror emotions. When these behaviors have been detected, children will need to see a neurologist, who will be able to assess whether these are physiological problems or due to a lack of emotional learning.