What is alexithymia?
Recently i wrote about alexithymia and it’s ramifications for our mental health. Since publishing that post, it has come to my attention that many people feel this is an underdiscussed area and weren’t sure exactly what it means.
So, what is it?
Simply put, it means that you can’t match up the internal signals of your emotions with words to describe your emotions. For example, I can’t tell the difference between anxiety and excitement. This means that when I’m experiencing either of these emotions, I don’t know what I am feeling.
This is because alexithymia relies on one of our senses called interoception. This sense allows us to feel the internal state of our body. Interoception covers more than emotions as it also tells us things like how fast our hearts are beating, whether we’re the right temperature, or if we’re thirsty or need the toilet.
Because Autistic people experience interoception differently, it affects our ability to identify and describe our emotions.
Alexithymia appears to have links to atypical burnout, meerkat mode (as conceptualised by Tanya Adkin), and psychosis. Alexithymic people might not recognise their burnout, and therefore will not take time to recuperate. Alexithymia has been seen in around 50% of Autistic people studied, although studies tend to only look at those with a formal diagnosis.
Alexithymia is perhaps one of the least understood aspects of Autistic experience among autism professionals; therefore representing an area requiring a great deal of attention for those working with Autistic service users. In particular, mental health professionals.