Alexithymia is an emotion-processing condition that leads to difficulties recognizing or reacting to emotions both in oneself and others, but symptoms of alexithymia are not as pronounced as emotional difficulties associated with conditions such as autism.
What is Alexithymia?
People with alexithymia often have other mental health conditions or developmental delays, particularly autism-spectrum diagnoses. The defining characteristic of alexithymia is difficulty in naming, noticing, or reacting to emotions. This can lead to problems with empathy, and many people with alexithymia struggle in relationships with spouses, friends, and family. People with alexithymia are especially likely to struggle with conflict resolution and avoidance because of their difficulties in recognizing the effects their words and deeds have on others.
Symptoms of alexithymia include:
- The inability to verbalize one’s own emotions or the emotions of others
- Limited fantasy life and, among children, little pretend play
- Difficulty reacting appropriately to other people’s emotions
- Struggling with empathy
Causes of Alexithymia
Researchers are not sure what causes alexithymia. It is likely that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to alexithymia. Children whose parents have alexithymia are more likely to have it themselves, and children who do not regularly interact with others or learn about feelings may later struggle with alexithymia.
Treatment for Alexithymia
Because alexithymia often co-occurs with other mental health conditions, treatment such as therapy, social skills training, and lifestyle changes that address those conditions can sometimes help the alexithymia as well. People who learn to recognize, describe, and react to emotions may greatly lessen symptoms of alexithymia and experience fewer problems with interpersonal relationships.
- Fitzgerald, M. (2004). Overlap Between Alexithymia and Asperger’s Syndrome. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(11), 2134-2135. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.11.2134
- Roedema, T. M., & Simons, R. F. (1999, November 30). Emotion-processing deficit in alexithymia. University of Delaware. Retrieved from http://rsimons.psych.udel.edu/tomrev.htm
Last Updated: 08-4-2015
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nessa3April 23rd, 2016 at 3:37 PM
How do you recover from Alexithimia…when you have so many blocks to allowing emotional vulnerability do to abuse. When every time you have let your guard down, tried to trust, you have been severally wounded? When you feel its better to be numb and safe than to be hurt and betrayed ?
RasekMay 3rd, 2017 at 2:33 AM
You keep changeing people in life until you settle with one and no option. you keep changing country and people around you.
LoveAugust 4th, 2017 at 3:02 PM
Alexithymia is when you have trouble identifying and describing your feelings as well as others, and struggle with empathy and NPD (Narcissistic personality disorder) is an overinflation of self importance.
KFebruary 9th, 2020 at 6:54 AM
I have learned about emotions through movies and literature. These mediums provide enough data samples of the same emotions handled in different ways and their output, which helps in creating a mental algorithm to determine which method to adopt in particular emotional situations and the probability of its success. If it fails, make a mental note and try other options. Over time the algorithm gets smarter and smarter!
PeteApril 7th, 2017 at 4:40 PM
Can you please tell me, how great is the difference between alexithymia and narcissistic personality disorder?
Rosa C.April 1st, 2018 at 3:10 PM
I agree and understand that therapy is a great tool to deal with Alexithymia, but a self discipline can help as well. I am a survivor of a conventional war and a civil war, and as a 60 year old I am still dealing Alexithymia. I am aware of that, so I pay more attention when people are struggling with any kind of concern.
JackApril 7th, 2018 at 7:43 AM
Is it possible for gender dysphoria to cause alexithymia?
Or at least… to be a factor in causing it?
OmarJuly 6th, 2018 at 1:14 PM
Hello my name is Omar and I did a lot of research on alexithymia and I honestly feel this is something I heavily experience every single day of my life. A little background on me is that when I was 7 years old my mom left me out of nowhere and I can’t really fully remember what I was feeling in that moment. I am now 19 years old now and I have a great difficulty in expressing my emotions and knowing what they are when its most needed. It is so difficult to sustain friendships and I get intense loneliness frequently usually occurring at night. I am very insecure and I live in personas and I don’t know who I am. If you read about alexithmia most of if not all the symptoms listed is everything I have. It’s so difficult to get through a day. I was out of school for the entire year. I used to play basketball on a team but that changed. It’s like I want to have deep conversations with people and form great relationships but I just can’t . I don’t know life is so hard rn, I don’t want my life to be like this forever it’s so scary and exhausting. I’ve had therapy, and I’m actively receiving that through in home services and it’s not helping. I feel like I’m numb and frozen and I can’t do anything to help myself. The only things I feel are fear and anger. I have also been on so many different medications such as: All of SSRI medications and a couple antisicotics which scared the hell out of me. None seemed to help, also I’ve been hospitalized a lot. If anyone has feedback in what I should do next please do, it will help a great deal thank you.
catAugust 10th, 2018 at 5:12 AM
i know how you feel, just try to stop caring what people think of you and find friends who understand your struggle. also dont ever think you are dumb because people will treat you like that.
rosiejaneDecember 31st, 2018 at 8:59 AM
The only thing that is and has helped me is when reading the Bible. One book and chapter I am beginning to focus on daily is Ephesians 5. It shows you how to treat others, it tells you what negativity you should keep yourself away from, it shows you how to treat the significant other in your life and how you ought to be treated. And if you can treat the most important person in your life besides God correctly it will flow into your other relationships. It’s a chapter worth meditating on.
J LiJanuary 1st, 2019 at 5:40 PM
Great advice!!!! The Bible is my refuge. God is my refuge. But it is easier said than done. We cannot hide in the Word, and we cannot keep running away from emotions. Feeling numb and lonely, not understood, and never really ever belong is a difficult feeling. I still have lots to research on regarding Alexithymia, I am not sure if that is what I suffer from. But I think people hurt people. And people are not perfect. God is the only perfect being, and forgiveness to ourselves and other is so essential. All easier said than done. I struggle EVERYDAY!!! I cannot wait for heaven!
susanJanuary 6th, 2019 at 3:47 PM
I believe with your mother leaving you out of the blue is very frightening for a young girl. I believe
getting in touch with these feelings to talk about them is important. If you can’t get in touch with them then there is a blockage. Frued helped people through hypnotherapy to connect with people in dark places within that is affecting their ability to feel good in their everyday life. I have also had several traumatic experience and it brought on panic attacks and immense stress. I discovered people maybe loving us but it is what is inside of us that blocks it. The day your mother left you lost trust and feared who will love you, take care of you and protect you as with what your mother role was. It takes a long time to heal. I worked as a carer for many years helping people, I believe helping those who are helpless themselves helped with healing. We all need to come to a place where we have to accept the trauma and learn new coping skills and to work with the counsellor. Start of small with something that you are interested in and take one step at a time. I studied counselling as well tot help myself. My findings in life is that the workplace can affect people mental health and so too the job provider agencies. Maybe you are better of to study your problem and then help others who also are experiencing it. This way you will be around others who understand and you will feel safe to form positive relationships. I believe it will give you great pleasure helping people and seeing them heal.
susanJanuary 6th, 2019 at 3:49 PM
Yes, the Bible helped me too.
susanJanuary 6th, 2019 at 3:50 PM
Yes, the Bible helped me too. It provides loving words that heal the soul.
SephhSeptember 29th, 2019 at 1:43 AM
it sounds like your inner child is “frozen in time” (as you mentioned) in that traumatic experience – when you were abandoned by your mother. The trauma was so unbearable for your psyche to comprehend/process – being such a young child you obviously did not have the coping skills necessary and essentially you “split off” from your self. This is actually a protective strategy. I highly recommend you do some research on C-PTSD and fragmentation in the psyche. I strongly believe you would benefit from inner child meditations and just re connecting with your inner child in general. Over time your inner child will begin to feel safe and loved and you’ll be able to release the emotional energy that’s still being stored from the traumatic shock you experience. It may be painful to fully process this, but you will heal and change your life ! Be patient with yourself and believe that you have the power to set yourself free.
Pierro G HurtadoJanuary 10th, 2020 at 7:30 AM
I try Alan-on
and it has help me tremendously!
I have a similar story to yours and I started getting feelings back and emotions.
JohnMay 9th, 2020 at 4:32 PM
Do you have depression, Asperger’s or suffer from PTSD disorder. Alot of people hide their emotions, just who they are. Read the “wisdom of the enneagram” book and do the quest test. Shouldn’t be ashamed who you are, we are all different. I think 10% of population have this personality.
CindyAugust 11th, 2018 at 5:56 PM
I think you just did a great job of expressing your emotions! Do not live in fear of fear. As fear is everywhere everyday. We all have fear. Every single person on this universe has experienced fear. Trust the outcome. Trust that whatever comes is just part of a huge plan to get you where you will be in life one day. Those conversations will come with the right people. I think you just need to surround yourself with others who have interests and goals like yourself. You will find them. Until then trust the process of life. Yes it can be damn hard. Just tell yourself over and over I got this…I can do this. Don’t let the fear take over. You just expressed some deep emotions right now in your writing. Keep a journal…put those thoughts on paper. Get them out. Don’t keep them locked inside…they are building a volcano which I believe is the cause of your anger. Be ok with who you are. For you are not alone…there are many many others like you…and they just wear that happy look face. I wish you the best…because I believe the best is yet to come for you. Thankyou for sharing your story…
jennaSeptember 2nd, 2019 at 8:44 AM
Hi, I know how you feel, and I am so sorry that you have gone through what nobody deserves to go through.
You will be alright as long as you do not give up on yourself.
I struggle very much with life, I have problems in many areas of it.
Therapy, has really been encouraging to me. Theres people who know you, better than you could possibly imagine and they care for you. No matter what happens, do not give in to suicidal urges because trust me, you want to end the pain, not your life. I love you, yes, I do, because I choose to. May you be blessed and may you seek help. You’re worth it, I know that is not easy to believe. I encourage you to see some professionals and to never give up on yourself. You are young like me, and no matter what, as long as you are alive, the opportunity for growth are endless and not at all impossible. I believe that the strong survive. You are still here? You are and have been STRONG. I love you though, no matter what. YOU MATTER…..
MarkDecember 1st, 2019 at 8:01 AM
I have experienced many losses in my life, my son in Iraq my father in my home my family for resenting me for not putting him in a nursing home. Now my wife is leaving me cause I’m broken emotionally. Could I be experiencing alexithmia? I am incapable of expressing my emotions to the women I love more then anything in this world. I’m sitting here contemplating taking my life. Can you help me
The GoodTherapy.org TeamDecember 1st, 2019 at 11:00 AM
Hi, Mark. Thank you for sharing your comment. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, overwhelmed, or in crisis, it’s very important that you get immediate help! Information about what to do in a crisis is available here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html
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MarkDecember 1st, 2019 at 12:26 PM
I now fear I’ve hurt my wife bad enough that we can’t fix it and grow old together living out all the dreams we had together
YaseenJune 30th, 2020 at 10:25 PM
I j wanted to say that when I was a 9-10 my parents were not there for me emotionally, and usually attacked me for ever crying or being upset etc. and it really messed me up and I’ve noticed that I mostly just went with the flow of things during that time period and didn’t really care about anything. When I was 12 my cousin died and I didn’t feel any sadness, and I felt concerned for myself and confused. That year I noticed I didn’t have as many friends and mostly wanted to be alone. Recently I’ve been reading about alexithymia and other things to understand what is wrong with me. I think I have alexithymia because I have trouble saying what I feel, it feels like it’s stuck in my throat or that I don’t know the words for it. I started telling people who I trusted about it and most have them have helped me, but one person took screenshots about what I felt and sent it to her friends. Now I feel so confused, alone and scared. I feel that everything is my fault and I should’ve known better. Some days I want to feel and talk about it, and other days I want to throw it all away and go back to how it used to be without emotions. I’m so scared and alone.
The GoodTherapy TeamJuly 2nd, 2020 at 11:24 AM
Hello Yaseen. Thank you for sharing here. Many others also experience alexithymia, and there are mental health professionals who can help. If you’d like the support of a therapist or counselor, you can search for a professional near you, here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html
EricaFebruary 9th, 2022 at 5:39 PM
Omar and others,
Try to find a therapist who knows how to work with trauma (particularly embodied methods), especially attachment traumas. What you describe is what happens when attachment/relationship/connection injuries get stuck in our nervous system. I would suggest looking at the Somatic Experiencing website (traumahealing.org), DianePooleHeller’s website (attachment issues), Larry Heller’s NARM website (developmental and attachment issues), maybe also the Polyvagal Institute’s website (nervous system underpinnings of attachment, trauma and recovery). They all run excellent training programs and (I think) have practitioner directories of people who have trained with them. You can also try doing a web-search using various combinations of the search terms: “counselor” or “therapist”; “attachment trauma” or “attachment injury”; “trauma recovery”; and so on. Include the name of your town or city to localize your results, though with so many people working via the web during the pandemic, localizing may not be necessary.
It is so important to get help–competent help. And you can be helped–what has happened to you does not have to be a life sentence, if you can find someone who knows how to work with you appropriately. I wish you all the best.
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