Alexithymia: problems with feeling


Do you have problems feeling your feelings and putting them into words? You don't like talking to other people about your or their feelings? Do you often experience confusing physical sensations? Are you keen to reconstruct and analyse why things are the way they are? Do you often not know where your anger suddenly comes from? Then it is possible that you have alexithymia.

Alexithymia is a phenomenon that affects around one in ten people in our society. The core of this phenomenon is the difficulty in feeling, recognising and being able to name feelings. It is a subclinical phenomenon, i.e. not a mental disorder, but it can still have a negative impact on well-being. Below you will find a few typical signs of alexithymia.


Typical signs of alexithymia

Alexithymia manifests itself in the area of thought and regulation processes. You have difficulty categorising your thoughts, feelings and physical processes and finding a good way of dealing with them. Or you find it very difficult not to act on certain impulses - e.g. not making negative comments to others that are annoying you.

Alexithymia also manifests itself in the way you deal with emotions. You may find it difficult to recognise the causes of unpleasant feelings within yourself or to differentiate between different emotions. Just as you may find it difficult to seek and use support systems for emotional problems: for example, you may find it difficult to call a friend when you are feeling unwell or to use noise cancellers when you are exposed to recurring noise at work.

Alexithymia is also noticeable in the psychosocial area. You may find it difficult to show empathy towards your friends (although you would like to do so). In general, you prefer not to talk to others about your or their feelings. You may also have recurring feelings of loneliness.


How alexithymia affects well-being

You might think that not feeling emotions would be a good thing, as it would spare you unpleasant feelings. Unfortunately, you are also spared positive feelings, and conscious joy becomes more difficult. Another, even more important aspect is that people with alexithymia can definitely sense that something is going on inside them. However, they are simply not able to recognise and name these processes as emotions or feelings, but sometimes confuse them with physical complaints. And this in turn makes self-understanding and problem-solving more difficult.

For example, you have an exam tomorrow, the outcome of which is important to you. As a person with alexithymia, you may feel a rumbling in your stomach and wonder what food you can't tolerate. You may therefore find it difficult to recognise the rumbling in your stomach as (perfectly normal) nervousness. This phenomenon becomes difficult because you cannot notice the needs behind your feelings. For example, the need for recognition and professional development may be behind a lot of nervousness before a job interview. The message of your nervousness could be "It's really important to me to get this job. I should prepare thoroughly for it".

Another example: If you've broken up with your partner and you can't recognise and name your feelings of sadness afterwards, you may miss out on the important message "My ex-partner is very important to me and part of me wants her back by my side". If you don't feel your feelings, this can prevent you from taking important steps to fulfil your needs - for example, re-establishing contact with your ex-partner or being there for yourself in a supportive way. Instead, you may feel persistent lethargy and not really know what you are missing.

People with alexithymia find it difficult to empathise with others. It is difficult to imagine how another person feels about certain events if you don't know how you yourself would feel in their situation. As a result, you are also less able to empathise with this person. And even if you have learnt that xy triggers a certain feeling in most people, you don't feel it yourself. A good friend has just lost a loved one. Here you have already learnt that the loss of a loved one makes most people, and therefore probably your friend too, sad. However, you don't feel this sadness, you don't shed any tears yourself.

These examples hopefully illustrate the extent to which alexithymia can have a detrimental effect on everyday life, relationships and life if it remains unrecognised. Alexithymia cannot be "cured" per se, but it is possible to learn how to deal with the symptoms better so that they are less disruptive. This link will give you an idea of the extent to which you yourself exhibit symptoms of alexithymia. A simple first step to gaining more access to the topic of feelings can also be reading about it, this book about feelings is recommendable.

Have you ever heard of the phenomenon of alexithymia? Do you perhaps even recognise yourself in the text or are you close to someone who might recognise themselves in it? Then you are welcome to share this article.

2 thoughts on “Alexithymie: Probleme mit dem Fühlen

  1. Stephan says:

    Vielen Dank für Ihre Erläuterung. Ich habe durch 10 Minuten Lesen be- griffen, was in 53 Jahren alles schief gelaufen ist mit mir, wie kaputt ich bin und – das Schlimmste – wie kaputt ich meine Liebsten dadurch gemacht habe. Ihr Erklärungen bringen es auf den Punkt. Tragisch dass man es erst erkennt wenn es zu spät ist.

    • Nina says:

      Lieber Stephan, danke dir für deine Rückmeldung. Es tut mir leid von deiner traurigen Erkenntnis zu lesen. Und vielleicht kann genau diese Erkenntnis doch auch etwas Positives mit sich bringen, sei es zunächst nur ein Mehr an (Selbst-)Verständnis und dass du mit deinem Erleben sicher nicht alleine bist. Ich wünsche dir alles Gute.

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