Alexithymia from the Ancient Greek words λέξις (lexis, "diction", "word") and θυμός (thumos, "soul, as the seat of emotion, feeling, and thought") modified by an alpha-privative—literally "without words for emotions"—is a term coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.
Alexithymia is a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating. Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding.
Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions.
Alexithymia is considered to be a personality trait that places individuals at risk for other medical and psychiatric disorders while reducing the likelihood that these individuals will respond to conventional treatments for the other conditions. Alexithymia is not classified as a mental disorder.
It is a dimensional personality trait that varies in severity from person to person. A person's alexithymia score can be measured with questionnaires such as the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), the Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ), the Online Alexithymia Questionnaire (OAQ-G2) or the Observer Alexithymia Scale (OAS).
Alexithymia is defined by:
1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.
Typical deficiencies may include problems identifying, describing, and working with one's own feelings, often marked by a lack of understanding of the feelings of others; difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal.
Confusion of physical sensations often associated with emotions; few dreams or fantasies due to restricted imagination; and concrete, realistic, logical thinking, often to the exclusion of emotional responses to problems.
Those who have alexithymia also report very logical and realistic dreams. Clinical experience suggests it is the structural features of dreams more than the ability to recall them that best characterizes alexithymia.
Some alexithymic individuals may appear to contradict the above mentioned characteristics because they can experience chronic dysphoria or manifest outbursts of crying or rage. However, questioning usually reveals that they are quite incapable of describing their feelings or appear confused by questions inquiring about specifics of feelings.
According to Henry Krystal, individuals suffering from alexithymia think in an operative way and may appear to be superadjusted to reality. In psychotherapy, however, a cognitive disturbance becomes apparent as patients tend to recount trivial, chronologically ordered actions, reactions, and events of daily life with monotonous detail.
In general, these individuals lack imagination, intuition, empathy, and drive-fulfillment fantasy, especially in relation to objects. Instead, they seem oriented toward things and even treat themselves as robots. These problems seriously limit their responsiveness to psychoanalytic psychotherapy; psychosomatic illness or substance abuse is frequently exacerbated should these individuals enter psychotherapy.
A common misconception about alexithymia is that affected individuals are totally unable to express emotions verbally and that they may even fail to acknowledge that they experience emotions. Even before coining the term, Sifneos noted patients often mentioned things like anxiety or depression. The distinguishing factor was their inability to elaborate beyond a few limited adjectives such as "happy" or "unhappy" when describing these feelings.
The core issue is that alexithymics have poorly differentiated emotions limiting their ability to distinguish and describe them to others. This contributes to the sense of emotional detachment from themselves and difficulty connecting with others, making alexithymia negatively associated with life satisfaction even when depression and other confounding factors are controlled for.
Just enter the terms you are looking for.