When you go to therapy for the first time it can be surprisingly difficult to answer the question, "How do you feel?" Answering this question can be even more challenging if you are dealing with the so-called alexithymia, a dysfunction that makes it difficult to recognize and name your emotions.
Many people who suffer from depression are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). or other mental illnesses also deal with alexithymia – and this is also a more common problem than many people realize. For example, Alyson Stoner, known for her roles in Biller By the Dozen and Camp Rock recently said when she was six years old and eventually got eating disorders, as well as alexithymia ,
If you have never heard of alexithymia, you are not the only one.
Although alexithymia is known to psychologists, it is nothing most people out of the field are aware of. Even though mental health professionals have been aware of the existence of this condition for years, this is still a mystery, says John Richey, a professor of psychology at Virginia Tech, who has researched alexithymia versus SELF.
Alexithymia is essentially a dysfunction in the normal emotional processes of consciousness that make it difficult for people to label their emotions, Richey explains. In research it was described as a "personality construct with altered emotional consciousness" and something that "negatively affects empathic processing ." In practice, Alexithymia makes it hard to tell when you feel Something and it is even harder to give her a name.
"We constantly apply labels to complicated internal states such as happiness and sadness, and this requires practice over time," says Richey. "For some people, it is difficult for unclear reasons to decipher and name what happens in their own inner world."
That is, alexithymia is actually not a condition and not in the  Mental Disorders Diagnostic and Statistics Handbook (DSM-5), the Diagnostic Handbook used by healthcare professionals to diagnose mental disorders. Kathryn Moore, psychologist at Providence Saint John's Children's and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. "It's usually an aspect of how a person works and how they handle emotions, but it's not a separate diagnosis," she says. Alexithymia was associated with a number of mental illnesses such as depression PTSD schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. It is also associated with suicide, increased mortality rates, and psychosomatic problems (eg, a physical illness caused by mental conflicts or stress).
It also appears to be more common in men than women, and people may experience alexandymia to varying degrees. Sophie Lazarus, Ph.D., psychologist at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. "People are very different as they come into contact with their own feelings and can describe them," she says. "This probably depends on a number of factors, including how much of it was modeled, reinforced or punished in its early environment."
A person may not be aware that they have alexithymia.
Considering that alexithymia is characterized by a disease, lack of awareness or recognition of an inner state, it is probably not surprising that "people are usually not fully aware that they have these difficulties," says Richey. That's why many people do not seek treatment for them. Therefore, it is difficult to know exactly how often she is alone and not when she is experiencing a disorder such as depression.
Even if someone is diagnosed with alexithymia It can be difficult to treat them. "There is so little research that you can even get rid of it," says Richey. But how you've developed alexithymia probably depends on whether it's treatable, he says. For example, if you suffer from depression or PTSD, it is likely that the treatment (and treatment of other mental health problems you are struggling with) may be helpful. For others, however, alexithymia might just be "a permanent feature over time," says Richey.
For people experiencing alexithymia, it may be helpful to:
- Learn to connect your emotions to the physical feelings that may arise With them, such as an accelerated heartbeat, sweating or sluggishness, says Richey.
- Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to recognize and understand the connection between thoughts and emotions, says Lazarus.
- Mindfulness and other exercises To increase your emotional awareness, says Lazarus.
- Enter into group therapy programs, suggests Moore, who will give you the opportunity to see others talk about their emotions.
- Reflect on your personal beliefs about emotions and your mind happens when you show your emotions, says Moore.
Although therapy is generally recommended (and it goes without saying that you already have another mental health problem), it is not guaranteed to work for everyone. "Some people do a good job of naming and labeling emotions related to therapy while others struggle with it," says Richey. "It's very specific to the person and context."
Overall, more research is needed to better understand alexithymia and treat it effectively. "As a field, we still do not understand why or how it happens in some people," says Richey. "But we learn a little more every year."