Alexithymia

A new word!  I love learning new words – particularly if they relate to myself and this blog and this one does!  Reading a blog post by Paul called Inside the Alcoholic Brain he talked about alexithymia.  I went straight to Wiki who said:

Alexithymia is a personality construct characterized by the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.

Alexithymia is defined by:

  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

Alarm bells started going off in my head – this was me.  Emotionally constipated, external stimulus driven me.  Now I could go on about what I’m learning at Cambridge – how emotions have to be contained and labelled for us as children for us to understand them and be able to express them, both as children and adults.  How they are not good or bad – they just are.  How if that doesn’t happen we find ourselves emotionally mute and that’s when the external sources allow us to express it in a way that we can’t – or allow us to express ourselves.  I could always say the things that I could never say sober when I was drunk.

So off I went to do an online alexithymia score at http://oaq.blogspot.co.uk/.

And my score was possible alexithymia – not a yes or a no but a grey in the middle answer.  I have to wonder how I would have fared if I’d done this score while I was still drinking?  The last 14 months has been all about hearing and seeing feelings for, what seems like, the first time.  I will also be revisiting the score in another year to see how much it has changed again as I learn to relate to myself as a child as part of my course.  As I re-parent my child within and learn from that process as an adult.

Edited to add: 8th April 2016 Supporting research

The DRAM, Vol. 12(4) – Feeling your feelings: Expectations in alcohol-dependent drinkers with alexithymia

People often drink alcohol in an attempt to manage their emotions. For example, some might use alcohol to help cope with unwanted negative feelings or to feel more comfortable in social situations. Surprisingly, roughly half of people with alcohol-dependence suffer from some level of alexithymia, or “emotional blindness.”

18 thoughts on “Alexithymia

    1. Thanks Lisa 🙂 Plus congrats on your 108 days and your regular writing gig on an Addiction forum – make sure you share the link!

  1. Thanks for the link – the TAS is a good measurement scale for alexithymia but researchers now think doing this with an Emotional Awareness Scale too is better. I would also suggest doing the DERS emotional regulation scale. Individuals with addictive disorders have a range of emotional processing, regulation and recognition difficulties which contribute profoundly to addiction – that is why it always good to “share” to verbalise our feelings because if you are like me sometimes it is difficult knowing what I feel until I open your mouth to talk about it. I was really unaware of my emotions and which ones I was experiencing for months and months into recovery and still can have problems with it. Alexithymia is also linked to insecure attachment in childhood which may contribute the “hole in the soul” many addicts talk of. It certainly makes whatever emotional deficits we have a whole lot worse. There are lots of blogs on these themes on the my two blogs. 🙂 Paul

    1. Thanks Paul. Do you have links to an online TAS, Emotional Awareness Scale or DERS scale? Sometimes I look for these things and they are not freely available online. Me too with the not knowing what I am feeling until I open my mouth, which can be like emotional and verbal Russian Roulette sometimes, particularly if you’ve an insecure avoidant attachment type like me! 🙂 Do you have a category tab on your blogs so that people can find them all in one spot? Such a complex issue to unpick and loving your work!

      1. Thanks Lucy – yes a complex issue but fortunately the solution is a lot easier, communicate how we are feeling, “share” – putting it into words helps recruit the prefrontal and cognitive part of the brain which helps process our emotions. I will take your suggestion and have a category tab for “Useful Scales” – good idea, I hadn’t realised people would be so interested in these scales. Although marking the scales may be more tricky. The scales are also only approximate measurements, guidelines rather than diagnostics. Paul 🙂

      2. Absolutely – only guides nothing more and great news about a category tab! I agree that verbalising our feelings is an important and vital part of processing and therefore solving the problem for ourselves but for me understanding is also key – hence my interest in the scales. Am I trying to intellectualise addiction? – probably, but also when looking at the issue as a grieving process that knowledge is part of the bargaining phase which then helps me move on to the acceptance phase 🙂

  2. Thank you for this. I used to pride myself on my empathy and emotional intelligence – my career was even based on it. Over the years as my drinking increased it was as if that side of myself was cut off from me – I thought it must be there somewhere but couldn’t access it. A large part of the work now that I’m sober for approx 7 months will be to work on the underlying emotions – at this point I’m not even sure what they are but the awareness is beginning to stir that this is what I need to do. I think my understanding of and empathy for other people’s emotions will return more quickly as I think I was using it as a shield all along so I didn’t have to look at my own. If you pick up any pointers along the way in your course on how to look at and process emotions that would be so helpful.

    1. Hi Manda49 Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog and congrats on 7 months!! As someone in the caring profession, and also as someone with a co-dependency leaning, we can use the care of others to avoid looking at ourselves so I can relate to what you say. Any useful pointers that I learn on looking at and processing emotions I’ll share here 🙂 Edited to add Manda don’t know if you have access to an academic library but I’m just reading a research paper that cites a piece of research which might be helpful: Siegel, D. J. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in
      the cultivation of well-being. New York: W.W. Norton.

  3. Like you, I love a new word, too, and a quiz where I can measure myself on some weirdness scale 😉 I definitely have many facets of this (got a high score, go me!), in that I find naming and talking about emotions v difficult, and certainly a year ago I would have said that simply understanding what I am feeling was almost impossible, but that *is* changing. Is it a personality trait, though? Or is it learned, or not learned, as the case may be? Being illiterate doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is unintelligent or has learning difficulties. It could simply be a result of circumstance, the fact that they had never been taught to read and write in a way that works for them. Also, I really can’t sing, and yet have heard more than one expert claim that *everyone* can be taught to sing. (I’d like them to try on me). Maybe we can all understand and talk about our emotions, too, if only we were taught with kindness and patience, instead of being told to keep quiet and mouth the words so we don’t put everyone else off 😉 I have hope – I think this can be learned. TBH, I stand a better chance with my emotions than I do with my singing career! I hope this is true, not just for me, but so that I can better teach my kids about their emotions too, instead of being doomed to pass on my emotional illiteracy – or rather my alexithymia – to the next generation. Interesting post 🙂 xx

    1. I think with all of these things we can learn MTM otherwise it’s all a bit bloody depressing isn’t it? I am definitely better at identifying and verbalising emotions than I was a year ago and I have noticed that my kids are showing the same kinds of progress too. It’s a bit like attachment theory in that you can develop what’s called ‘earned’ secure attachment where you do literally learn it. Nice to ‘see’ you again lovely – I’ve been thinking about you 🙂 xx

  4. I thought I had commented. I remember hearing this term in June 2013. I froze. It described me so well I was scared. Scared of being numb forever.

    1. I hear you Anne – that freeze response like a rabbit in the headlights. Here’s to un-numbing together and congrats on 1 year again! 🙂

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