Alexithymia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

The alexithymia is a condition in which the person is not able to express in words what you feel, what your dreams or whatever all figment of imagination are. That is, it is the inability to express emotions in words.

Can you imagine what it would be like to feel a great happiness because of the great promotion you have obtained at work or the arrival of a new member to the family but not being able to express it?


This mental disorder affects more people than you think. It is estimated that one in seven people in the world suffers alexithymia to some extent.

Sadly, this disease makes people very limited when it comes to leading a normal social and emotional life.

Symptoms of alexithymia

Some signs can be detected in childhood. Alexithymia usually occurs in children who also have other disorders, such as autism, for example, and in these cases the signs may be confusing.

If you know someone who has these symptoms, it is best to always consult a health professional. A neurologist or a psychologist would be the most suitable professionals to diagnose it.

Impossibility to express emotions

It is not that they feel nothing, but that they cannot find words to express what they feel. Those who suffer from alexithymia also find no gestures to express themselves.

This behavior may be particularly difficult to detect in young children. If you have a case that arouses suspicion, try to delve deeply into this aspect. Sometimes it can be confused with an introverted or reserved personality.

Difficulty distinguishing between different emotions

As the disease progresses, the person gradually loses the ability to clearly distinguish between the various emotions.

You can differentiate between something that is nice and what is not nice. But within each class cannot differentiate.

Limited imagination

The person cannot describe in words any idea that is a result of the imagination.

As time passes and if the person does not receive psychotherapeutic treatment, the capacity for imagination and creativity is diminishing.

Sadness and isolation

In people suffering from this disorder you can easily see sadness and discouragement. In the case of children, they are often isolated from other children.

Facial stiffness

If you pay attention to facial expressions, you will see a stiff face. The typical lines of expression are usually absent in the faces of those suffering from alexithymia.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Lack of empathy.
  • People with alexithymia may seem serious and boring.
  • They speak very little.
  • They are extremely practical and rational. His way of thinking is oriented to the external and the concrete.
  • They show difficulties in the management of affections. They have difficulty interacting with other people, are emotionally dependent and socially isolated.
  • They can be impulsive people, reacting disproportionately to emotions they are not able to identify.
  • There may also be sexual problems, impotence or lack of sexual desire.

These are general symptoms, which do not mean that there are others more specific to each case.

It may also happen that you identify some of these signs in someone in your environment, but this does not ensure that it is a case of alexithymia. The diagnosis should be made by a professional.

Possible causes of alexithymia

Certain specialists argue that alexithymia is a condition with a concept of rank. What does this mean? That there are degrees of alexithymia.

Many people may have mild degrees and probably do not even know it. Causes of alexithymia can be primary or secondary. We explain what they consist of:

Primary causes

These types of causes are strictly related to biological factors. Among them, the most frequent are the disorders that occur at the level of the limbic system and the neo-cortex.

The two systems, part of the complex nervous system, keep communicated to both cerebral hemispheres.

The left hemisphere is responsible for normally performing the language function. For its part, the law regulates and “names” the emotions.

When communication between the two is distorted, “abnormal” behavior results. This would happen in people suffering from alexithymia.

This failure of connectivity between both hemispheres may respond to a hereditary genetic defect, or be the sequel to a neurological disease. In the latter case, pathologies such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis can lead to alexithymia.

Secondary Causes

They are related to trauma or severe conflicts of a psychological nature. When a person suffers a traumatic event or suffers from a deep depression, it can adopt a proper behavior of the alexithymia.

Maybe you know a person with some kind of post-traumatic disorder that currently has difficulty expressing emotions. It may be a case of alexithymia.

Other mental illnesses related to alexithymia

There are a number of psychological or psychiatric illnesses that are related to alexithymia.

Some of the most frequent are:

  • Depression. When this condition does not receive any type of treatment, it can lead to a case of alexithymia. It is possible that a person who is deeply depressed cannot find a way to express how he or she is feeling at that moment.
  • Panic attacks. One of the possible behaviors in panic attacks may be isolation and the inability to express what it feels like. Professionals may come to confuse these symptoms, and over time, both diseases are installed.
  • Addictions. Addictions to illegal drugs, alcohol, etc. are progressively damaging the neurological system. This weakening, together with the psychological problems of addictions, can lead to alexithymia.

Also, people with alexithymia are very vulnerable to certain potentially addictive behaviors. Their isolation and misunderstanding on the part of society can increase the risk.

Possible treatments

If what you have read so far confirms your suspicion, there is good news: alexithymia is a disease that can be treated. With a suitable psychotherapeutic treatment, the patient can recover a normal life and of good quality.

It is possible that the person suffering from alexithymia does not take the initiative to follow a treatment. It is very important that people in your environment help you to find a solution to your problem.

All the therapeutic techniques are oriented in the same direction: the objective is to enable the patient to recognize and identify the different emotions, and then to express them.

After that, it is sought that in situations of stress the person can categorize and control these emotions.

In general terms, psychological therapies, whether Gestalt or other currents are composed of the following stages:

1-Detect and define the different emotions

In the beginning it is tried that the person gives a name to different types of emotions. It begins with the simplest of identifying: sadness and joy for example.

2-Assimilate what you are feeling

Associate at every moment and every reasoning an emotion. When the person has to make a decision on any subject, he must unfailingly make an assessment.

The therapist promotes that in that assessment, the patient includes at least one emotion. In this way he systematically incorporates the emotions into his daily life.

3-Understand why and how emotions are always present

Although the person suffering from alexithymia can not name what he feels, in reality his emotions are always present.

To the extent that you understand that these emotions are directly involved in your daily life, you will understand the mechanism of how they work.

It is always emphasized that emotion is present, and we must find a way to verbalize it or visualize it as an action.

4-Self-regulate emotions

Once they have been identified and the person is aware of it, they are transmitted strategies that allow them to control them.

Also Read: Phagophobia: Symptoms, Treatment, Causes

It is important that it is the same person who defines the intensity of these emotions and is allowed to express them with greater or lesser force.

There are many psycho-educational strategies oriented to the management of emotions. As treatment thrives, the patient begins to express their feelings.

As you are unfamiliar with it, at the beginning you may experience setbacks when expressing them.

Can alexithymia be prevented?

In a way, it may be possible. Expression and control of emotions are behaviors acquired in childhood.

Parents can undoubtedly have a positive influence on the child’s developmental development. Helping them identifies what they feel and expressing it properly can help avoid secondary alexithymia.

To achieve this, a direct style of communication between parents and the child is usually the most appropriate, expressing the emotions with respect and providing tools that allow the child to express themselves in a controlled manner.

Education is also set by example: parents who are expressive and who can control their emotions can easily transmit these behaviors to their children.

In short, it is a complex disease, but with a clear diagnosis and a good psychological treatment, can certainly be overcome.