Alexithymia: Emotional Blindness

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Emotional Blindness. What does it mean actually? Some of us are not as expressive as others. Have you been told this at any point of your life- “Speak up! Staying mum will not help. If you have something that’s bothering you just share it with the others.” And in spite of that you’ve kept quiet. Have you ever wondered what’s slightly off about Spock and Edward Scissorhands? It’s not always about being emotionally guarded. It’s not always about building walls around us and not letting people in. It’s not about hiding our vulnerability. Believe it or not- some of us are just incapable to share our feelings through words. Alexithymia is a reality.

Strangely enough this very less known disorder isn’t rare at all. 10% of the general population have severe alexithymia while the rest of us possess some borderline traits. Think about it- that means, one out of ten people have this disorder. To be exact, alexithymia means the inability to express oneself through words. But this is not the only symptom. Extremely logical thinking (concrete thinking), a lack of imagination and an inability to empathize are other symptoms. Let’s look into these symptoms.

One alexithymic once described dreaming about going to her office, doing her work and then leaving for a restaurant to meet her spouse there. Do you notice anything different about this dream? It seems perfectly logical, right? That’s the problem dreams are not supposed to be this logical. But alexithymics often have such concretely logical dreams or the do not have dreams at all.

They have a serious problem in understanding what they are feeling. Often they feel blasts of an unidirectional feeling like happiness or sadness but they are almost completely helpless when it comes to the emotional intricacies. Even if they do understand what they are feeling, they lack the ability to express themselves properly. They fail to come up with the right words. Therefore, the people with alexithymia are often very practical. They do not like to spend time over the delicate nooks and corners of the workings of our mind, rather they deal with a problem objectively instead of being subjective about. They can survive an entire lifetime without understanding their deepest emotions.

Similarly, they have a problem in understanding other people’s emotions too. It makes them seem like insensitive people but no matter how hard to try to grasp the significance of the other’s emotions, they can hardly analyse any of it. This leads to major relationship problems in the lives of alexithymics. It may seem like they are simply not listening to you but it’s not true. It’s difficult for them to understand how hurt, angry or upset the other person is.

Another problem faced by the alexithymics in relationships is that they do not understand what the other person truly wants sexually. They get confused by the responses of their own body and hence often engage in compulsive acts which may not be appreciated by their significant others. For some of them, sexual intercourse for recreational purposes alone does not make sense. They often feel awkward, uncomfortable, physically sick or incompetent in sexual situations. In relationships, their partners often complain that they are emotionally neglected.

But not all alexithymics lack an imagination. Now, this may be an exception or there may be a different sort of alexithymia which is specifically related to autism. Almost 50% of the autistic population have severe traits of alexithymia. Non-autistic alexithymic parents more often give birth to autistic babies than the non-alexithymic parents. But the exact connection between these two disorders is not known.

But we must remember that alexithymia and emotional detachment are mutually exclusive and so are alexithymia and the lack of empathy. Thus, only one trait cannot prove the presence of this disorder. We can imagine the frustration that these people have to deal with because not only are they considered insensitive, but their actions, which tend to be unpredictable and impulsive at times, are frowned upon. They constantly struggle to decipher the workings of their own brain. Understanding an emotion, which is essential for dealing with that particular emotion, is out of their reach. They have bursts of extreme happiness or rage or depression. But this is not common to all alexithymics. The ones who are accepted with their ‘flaws’ tend to live life happily without being questioned repeatedly about their apparent ‘coldness’ of behaviour.

Are You Okay?

 

So if you know someone with these symptoms (and you probably do, because it’s a very commonly occurring disorder), try to empathize with them because their lack of interest in your problems is not intentional. Moreover, these people are not at all unlikeable or unhappy. They simply need to be understood because they are always fighting an internal battle. But some alexithymics do not require this battle at all- they are happy with their objective perspectives of life and their rational outlook. These people look at facts alone, not their significance and this helps them to be impartial judges.

In the end I’d like to remind you that we all have the borderline symptoms of a million disorders in us, as long as they don’t overpower us it’s not harmful. Thus, the lack of these symptoms does not make a person healthy, the ability to properly cope with this symptoms is the real battle.