What is alexithymia?

Alexithymia is a term that describes problems with emotions. It is the inability to describe and recognize emotions . It is not a well-known condition, but it is estimated that 1 in 10 people suffer from it. It is often seen as a secondary diagnosis in other pre-existing mental health conditions and disabilities such as depression and autism.

But, this does not mean that all people with autism or depression have these problems expressing and identifying emotions. In fact, there are studies that show it only affects a small percentage of them.


  • 1 What is alexithymia?
    • 1 Causes of alexithymia
    • 2 Symptoms of alexithymia
  • 2 Treatment of alexithymia

What is alexithymia?

People who have alexithymia can be described as having difficulty expressing emotions that are considered socially appropriate, such as happiness in a joyful situation. Other people with this condition may also have difficulty identifying their own emotions. These people do not necessarily have apathy. However, they may not feel as strong emotions as their peers and they may have difficulty feeling empathy.

Causes of alexithymia

This condition is not well known, nor well understood, so it is possible that its cause is genetic . Alexithymia can also be the result of brain damage to the insula. This part of the brain is known for its role in social skills, empathy and emotions. Some studies link insula injuries to apathy and anxiety.

For this reason, we will see alexithymia in relation to other pathologies:

  • Autism . The symptoms of the autism spectrum are very varied, but there are still some stereotypes associated with this condition. A major stereotype is a lack of empathy, something that has largely been dismissed. At the same time, some research shows that up to half of people with autism also experience alexithymia. Regardless, it is alexithymia that causes the lack of empathy, not autism itself.
  • Depression . It is possible to experience this condition with depression. It has been observed in postpartum and in major depressive disorder, as well as in schizophrenia. Almost half of people with depressive disorders also have alexithymia.
  • Trauma . People who have experienced some kind of trauma, especially in early childhood, can develop this condition. Trauma and neglect at this stage can cause changes in the brain that make it difficult to feel and identify emotions as an adult.
  • Other related conditions . Research also shows that this condition can be present in certain neurological diseases and injuries, such as those listed below:
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Dysphonie
    • Epilepsy
    • Huntington’s disease
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • stroke
    • Traumatic brain injury

Symptoms of alexithymia

As a condition marked by a lack of feelings, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of alexithymia. Since this condition is associated with the inability to express feelings, an affected person may appear cheerful. However, a person with this condition may experience the following personally and in social contexts:

  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty recognizing facial expressions
  • discomfort
  • Vacuum sensation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lack of affection
  • Panic

This condition can also make it difficult for a person to interpret physical changes as emotional responses. For example, a person may have difficulty connecting a racing heart to an emotion, but may recognize that they are currently experiencing a physiological response.

Treatment of alexithymia

Today, there is no single individual treatment for this condition. The treatment method depends on the general health needs of the patient. For example, if you have depression or anxiety, taking certain medications may also help with mental health symptoms such as alexithymia.

Therapies can also be helpful for this condition. The most effective for this problem are the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • group therapy
  • Psychotherapy or talk therapy

The first important step towards emotional recognition is to be aware of your own physiological responses. For example, recognizing changes in heart rate in certain situations. This could help the affected person to distinguish between different emotions. It is also important to note that negative emotions are just as important as positive ones. Learning to identify these emotions and work with them can help a person lead a more fulfilling life.