Living with Alexithymia: Love, Life & Relationships
Alexithymia is a series of traits where a person cannot recognize or understand their own emotions. People with alexithymia may have difficulties expressing their emotions.
Our brains will respond to situations and images the same way a person without alexithymia does, we just cannot recognize that it is an emotion, nor describe what the emotion feels like.
According to a study from Frontiers in Psychology, “Alexithymia is a personality dimension that involves both cognitive deficits, including difficulties in recognizing, describing, and distinguishing feelings from bodily sensations of emotional arousal, and affective deficits, including difficulties in emotionalizing and fantasizing.”
The study also draws a connection between autism and alexithymia, “emotional deficits in autism spectrum disorder may be largely driven by alexithymia.”
Living with Alexithymia
When you have alexithymia, the emotional world can be confusing.
There are two facets of alexithymia: emotional self-awareness, and awareness of others' emotions.
Living with Alexithymia makes the internal world feel like a mystery.
You may feel bodily sensations, like an increasing heart rate, and assume that means you are experiencing an emotion.
You might not know how to interpret various bodily sensations; such as a rush of adrenaline, shaking hands, face suddenly feeling warm, stomach feeling a little nauseous, muscles becoming tense. These are all physical sensations I have experienced that I couldn’t interpret.
If my own emotions are intense, then I can fully recognize what emotion I’m having, but only if I’m feeling very strong emotions.
Is it Anger, Anxiety or Sensory Overload?
For a while, I thought I had an anger problem because I would become irritable so easily.
Suddenly, my heart would race and I would verbally snap at my former partner. I did not know what this could have meant.
I thought maybe I was feeling anxiety instead of anger. I kept throwing ideas out there hoping something would stick and I would logically find the answer to make this awful unknown feeling stop.
I paid attention to my physical reaction to things and people around me, and eventually I found the answer.
It took me a year to figure out what was really going on underneath. It was sensory overload.
I was living trapped in a non-stop cycle of sensory overload, and I couldn’t get relief.
What I thought was anger was just my reaction to being so vastly overwhelmed.
Awareness of Others’ Emotions
Another facet of alexithymia, more a product of our lack of ability to be emotionally self-aware, is a lowered ability to recognize the emotions of others.
Since we do not know what these emotions look and feel like in ourselves, we may not recognize them when someone displays these emotions around or toward us.
Especially if you are autistic and have alexithymia, you may also miss the social cues and emotional cues of others.
It’s not that you don’t care or don’t feel love, your brain just doesn’t see those cues.
If you are like me, and also cannot interpret body language, you live in the ultimate world of mystery.
When you lack the ability to be emotionally self-aware, struggle with seeing social and emotional cues of others, and wish there was an encyclopedia on body language that you could memorize to make social interaction less difficult - you are not alone.
Alexithymia in Relationships
Having alexithymia in a relationship can be a bit more of a challenge, but clear and direct communication can make things a lot easier.
Can Alexithymia Feel Love?
The answer is yes, we can feel love.
It might be harder to find the words to describe how you feel, but sometimes it can be easier to show love through actions.
If someone with alexithymia feels and recognizes they are in love; it means the feeling is very strong and real.
When a person with alexithymia is in love, it becomes a little easier for them to express how we feel.
Dating Someone with Alexithymia
When you are dating someone with alexithymia, it may feel like you are reaching out to a proverbial brick wall.
It can feel like they don’t care because they aren’t responding to your hints about what you are feeling and thinking.
You may hint at something bothering you and get no response.
When those of us with alexithymia don’t respond, it’s more than likely because we just don’t see those cues or understand your hints.
In cases like these, it’s best to be direct and clearly communicate what you are thinking and feeling.
For a person with alexithymia, dating someone who communicates nothing they are thinking and feeling, can be a very stressful experience for us.
Simply being direct and clear with a person who has alexithymia, could relieve a lot of stress because we don’t have to try so hard to read you.
Especially if they struggle to read body language and social cues as well.
Really helpful and interesting article. Thank you.
A little rant about hints.
I’ve been hurt in the past after I failed to pick up on hints people “communicated”: I’ve been unfriended, let go from jobs, told unflattering (wildly incorrect) interpretations of who I am as a person and whether or not I care about others, and one time treated in a way that bordered on emotional abuse. It messed me up for a long time. Things are good now, and my social anxiety is slowly turning into discernment about who to allow into my life.
This was very helpful