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Old 09-30-2005, 09:57 AM   #1
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Lightbulb Alexithymia

This is a description of a personality trait that my anxiety intervention counselor has suggested is part of my psycho-social profile:

Alexithymia

Alexithymia
is a manifestation of a deficit in emotional cognition. People with this problem are mostly unaware of their feelings, or don't know what they signify, and hence they rarely talk about their emotions or their emotional preferences; they operate in a very functional manner and rarely use imagination to focus their drives and motivations. Alexithymia refers to this distinctive cluster of characteristics.

Alexithymics have been described as human robots, or emotional illiterates. They score very low on measures of emotional intelligence and are likely to fare rather poorly in life, whatever their intellectual abilities. Their interpersonal relationships are frequently hampered by poor emotional communication. Many also suffer chronic medical problems, particularly psychosomatic or somatoform illnesses.

Although alexithymia is a clinical construct, it does not constitute a diagnostic illness in its own right. It is a clinical feature associated with a range of medical diagnoses, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa or Asperger's Syndrome. There is, however, a strong case for construing it (or more properly the associated psychological deficit) as an independent condition or cognitive-affective dysfunction. Though it can have a profoundly disruptive effect on an individual's life and prospects, it is arguably inappropriate to call it a disorder or disability.


The more that I suss this out and digest it, the more I discover that this is the contributing factor to my depression. I guessed that something was not quite right with my emotional experience but had no idea what was going on and am still trying to figure it all out. It is like someone had just told me I was 39 years old and that I am male. Really? That's weird! No wonder I have been acting so strange lately...

Has anyone has any experience with this? There are no boards for it here. I haven't searched all of HealthBoards but very few seem to know about this trait, character defect, whatever. I am very interested in any and all feedback anyone would have on this. Any suggestions on treatment would be appreciated.

Why is it so difficult to be more assertively expressive? Why am I so afraid of this? What do I think is going to happen? I feel really confused and frustrated. I want to experience so much more from life but am so inhibited. Where is the living to my life?

Thank you all for reading this very long post. Feel free to drop by to comment anytime. I try to visit every day but sometimes it may be every few days. If you reply, I will respond. Please post!
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Old 09-30-2005, 11:06 AM   #2
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Johnster HB User
Re: Alexithymia

Quote:
Originally Posted by RainSerpent


I would take you up on the fishing trip John! I really would as I have not had an opportunity to do that this year. I would like to try fly fishing too. It sounds addictive.

Me and my dad would go out with my grandfather to fish on this lake up by his cabin. We would set out in this small boat with fixed poles and everything was identical up to the bait. My grandfather would be catching sunfish left and right from his side of the boat while me and my dad hit nothing. Then we would switch sides and he would still be pulling out fish! We could never figure it out...

It is good to hear from you again. How is everything going for you now? Have you ever tried hypnosis in order to deal with some of the pain? Keep us up to date, will you? Take care for now.


Hi Paul,

Let me start by saying please forgive me if I sound ignorant or insulting or condescending in any way. I am not trying to make up excuses for some of my thoughts and words but I truly am on several prescription pills, every other night injections and I.V. treatments too that were recently moved to every six months. I been on enough chemo to drop a horse for around a year now and I know the poison is getting to and eating my brain a bit as well.
That being said. I honestly donít understand your diagnoses. You know Iím always concerning myself when writing letters especially for things like this. Without all our other senses like sight and sound we can easily misinterpret or misunderstand each other or our emotions. If I say even the simple word ďHi.Ē By my facial expressions and the sound of my voice you should know if I meant it sincerely happy, sad, sarcastically, mad, jealously, angrily, patronizingly ectÖ Do you see where Iím going with this? Now I really donít have a handle on you right now from this P.C. relationship. I canít read your face, body language or hear your sounds and expressions. My question is if you really feel this way about yourself has it always been there? Or could it be caused by any meds you are currently on? Perhaps even something else? You see my good friend Paul, I have trouble understanding how a person who could post back to me, ďa useless very sick and failing personĒ, with happy bouncy guys and that also sounded so sincere about taking someone like me out fishing as a ďhuman robot, or emotional illiterate.Ē Would you like me to find more of your quotes to others you reach out and touch too? What am I not getting here??? Could you be like this only away from these boards and us? Perhaps only a percentage of some times? Maybe this doc needs to look at some of your posts as I do???

Thank you for BEing you RAINSERPANT!!! You have in whatever way helped many here too. Please forgive me if I upset you.

Your sincere friend and hopeful fishing buddy

John

Last edited by Johnster; 09-30-2005 at 11:10 AM.

 
Old 09-30-2005, 11:19 AM   #3
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Re: Alexithymia

Paul, I think that was a very interesting description. John, I don't think he's necessarily saying he is 100% that way... as in most things in life, it's probably a spectrum... ranging from people who are completely Alexithymiatic to people who people with perfect emotional cognition. Paul probably falls somewhere along that line.

I would say I was probably VERY Alexithymiatic if you go back about 10 years or so. Thanks to my wife I have been learning a lot about how to express my emotions and all... but 9 or 10 years ago, in college, my best friend in the world moved. I did not even say I missed her. I didn't even KNOW I missed her. I told my wife (girlfriend at the time) something along the lines of "I just don't think about it much." I definitely had "poor emotional communication" and still have imperfect emotional communication.

Expressing yourself on a message board is a lot different than expressing yourself in person. It's a lot easier, especially when it is completely anonymous like HealthBoards.com.

 
Old 09-30-2005, 11:29 AM   #4
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Re: Alexithymia

I really do not understand that diagnosis, now on the other hand I know how to play the game, knowing when to put on the positive face and knowing what answer people expect to hear. To the extent where it could be considered a robotic state. boy i am rambling here. my big thing is I do not like people to worry about me so I can keep the truth hidden, on this board it works the same I give people the answers they want or need to hear and hopefully it helps but as in attachment to people online it does not happen to a high extent

 
Old 09-30-2005, 11:31 AM   #5
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Re: Alexithymia

Iím sorry Jeff but now Iím even more confused. Even this definition didnít say it came in low, medium and high doses. Perhaps your right. This may be something different when mixed with social phobias or something. I should just stick to what I do know about. Iím sorry Paul. Please forgive me and disregard my post.

 
Old 09-30-2005, 12:07 PM   #6
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Re: Alexithymia

OK let me try to see if I can explain... first, it isn't a diagnosis, it's a description of a behavior (or set of behaviors). So your diagnosis would be, let's say, PTSD + depression.

Because of the trauma, you never learned normal emotional communication skills. You don't really feel the emotions normally associated with things. For example, your friend's dog dies. A normal person would empathecially feel bad, want to comfort the friend, say "I'm sorry", etc. You, the alexithymiatic person, do not feel the emotional connection, but have learned (due to observation, etc) that a response is appropriate. So you may still say "I'm sorry" and/or do some of the other actions that the normal person would do. That's why it's described as the "human robot".

But because you aren't doing it for the same reasons, your responses won't be necessarily 100% correct for the situation, like me saying I didn't miss my friend who moved. That's where the interpersonal relationships can suffer.

Keep posting John, if you've got questions, ask 'em . That's the only way to learn... and maybe your lack of understanding will expose a lack of understanding on MY part as I try to explain . Discourse is good for everyone involved.

 
Old 09-30-2005, 02:59 PM   #7
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Re: Alexithymia

boy this post is confusing, I have been diagnosied with severe major depression disorder+post traumatic Stress Disorder+some kind of anxiety disorder yet my doc has never mentioned Alexithymia nor have I ever heard of it before. I know everyone exhibits different behaviors and such but shouldn't the combo of MDD and PTSD= Alexithymia in some form or another?

 
Old 10-03-2005, 04:46 PM   #8
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Re: Alexithymia

Jeff has hit it right on the nose. I know what I am suposed to feel and sometimes I react to certain situations appropriately, but at times I can be way off the mark. I just am not getting it. It is hard for me to know what I am feeling, let alone express it. Feelings can sometimes be thought of values that we place on items in our world, or people, or concepts. Without that feedback, things start to get weird.

Trg47- I think maybe you know what I am talking about. This character trait is not known by very many, but an internet search turns up the basic information.

John, I am still trying to figure this thing out myself. Maybe it will become a little clearer next week during my anxiety clinic appointment.

Thank you all for responding to my post. If anyone else would like to add something, I would be glad to read it. At this point I need all the help I can get!
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Old 10-03-2005, 05:31 PM   #9
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Re: Alexithymia

Paul, I would say that the thing that helped me was 10 years of kind intervention on the part of my wife. Obviously that isn't something everyone can just have... but I guess the point is, it helps if you can have someone who is understanding to explain the appropriate feelings to you. That's a big part of what we have to do with our son (adopted, abuse and neglect in the past). We have to say things like "Wow I'll bet that makes you REALLY SAD to see that dead frog"... basically say this is the emotion it is appropriate to feel right now. It is sort of telling him what is appropriate to feel, and also helping him identify what he is feeling. It's something people normally learn very early on in life, but not always... and it's not very easy to figure out on your own. You kinda need someone there to show you the right feelings.

A good friend can probably help you with that, but you'll have to have a pretty good level of trust. Since you're an adult of course you can discuss stuff directly ("OK I was talking to so-and-so and she said this and I said that and she got upset, what was it I did wrong?").

The other thing it helps to concentrate on is "How would I feel if it was me that just happened to?" Because if you think "How do I feel about my roommate losing his job?" The answer is "Doesn't affect me, I don't really care." Or worse, you think "Maybe he won't be able to make the rent," so you say something very UNhelpful like "So are you going to have to move out?"

But if you think "How would I feel if I lost my job?" the answer is "Really bummed" so you figure out OK he must be really bummed, I should say something to cheer him up.

I know this is probably all stuff you already know, but if you keep working on it eventually it'll become more natural. It's taken me years to get better and I still sometimes make mistakes.

 
Old 10-05-2005, 11:16 AM   #10
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Re: Alexithymia

Thank you for your suggestions, Jeff. I was hoping that a lot more individuals with depression could relate to this.

I do not have too many friends that can give me this type of support. I go to the VA about twice a month and can talk about it a little there. I told my best friend about my condition but do not see him that often. There are not a lot of people I can get close enough to.

Meditation and introspection seem to help a little to increase emotional sensitivity. Dual perspective may help identify what someone else is going through but usally I get stuck trying to find something to say or do that would show compassion for another. It is not that I don't care about other people, it is just that I am kind of numb. Who has been there to model compassion for me? Who has ever given me emotional support? Would I know what to do with that type of support anyway? It is frustating. Sad.

I want to feel more connected to people. I want to have some fun every once in a while. I want to feel the full rush of being a part of this world.

Maybe I am rambling a little here. I have another appointment with the therapist next week. Maybe that will open a few more doors...

Bye for now.
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Old 10-05-2005, 02:08 PM   #11
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Re: Alexithymia

Hi rain, I think I do get it, do you know whether it can not effect some modes of communication? myself i can talk about stuff quite easily on these boards, but put me in front of a real person, on the phone, even on *** and i freeze, i can't talk about how i feel, i resent people asking me questions and yet at the same time i crave some form of companionship.
Does the amount you empathise have anything to do with it? If told about somone in emotional pain i will feel the same myself, and yet I don't seem to be able to help at all or say anything.
I think I understand all what you've said, but what does one do to treat it? Meditation i guess would help because it relaxes you, or perhaps hypnotherapy? was this what sparked our rabbit hole discussion?
xxxx

 
Old 10-06-2005, 01:37 PM   #12
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Re: Alexithymia

Hi Flinch! Like it says in the description, I can function very effectively in most situations. Empathy and creative, accurate expression are skills I have to improve if I want to really feel a part of life.

This kind of thing has been part of my life before treatment of depression. It is the result of trauma in my lifetime. It is perpetuated by my behavior and its consequences. It is a major factor contributing to my depression.

I have an appointment at the VA next week that will explore a treatment plan. My guess is that it will involve being aware of what I am feeling, accepting certain negative feelings and learning how to appropriately express them. One of the keys to overcoming anxiety is exposure. Over and over. Desensitization.

I am struck by some profound new insights and they are changing my perception somewhat. That is why it feels like tumbling down a rabbit hole.

Bye for now.
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Old 10-06-2005, 03:02 PM   #13
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Re: Alexithymia

Hi RainSerpent
I understand what you are saying but if you have PTSD isn't it a defense mechanism? I have been diagnosed with Recurrent Major Depression, PTSD and social anxiety.

I feel things too strongly! I am too sensitive! So, that just makes me more confused about myself.

I have seen a difference in your posting since you first came to the boards. I think you have grown as a person. It has always been my opinion that you show great compassion. I know, it makes difference in real life situations but that's how I see you.

I wish for you the very best and I hope you are able to get positive results from the therapy.

Love,
Sam

 
Old 10-06-2005, 03:15 PM   #14
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Re: Alexithymia

Hey glad to hear you're working on it. I think the biggest thing that'll help is realizing what's going on and why. Which you're doing now. That means you can start analyzing your behavior and feelings and figuring stuff out. Good luck!

 
Old 10-07-2005, 05:56 PM   #15
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Re: Alexithymia

Hi Samantha and Jeff. Thank you for your posts.

I seem to feel things very strongly as well. Here are my three emotions: good, functioning, wrong. Beyond that, I really have a hard time trying to figure it all out. No clue what to do about it. I used to just drink until the pain went away or I could not feel anything anymore. My body just can not process alcohol like it used to and AD medication is a bad mix. I drank for about two weeks after my grandmother died last May; the only time in a year or so.

I think this board has helped quite a bit and a big thank you goes out to everyone that I have met here (I will have to put together a list).

Have to wrap things up now as this is a work weekend this week. Bye.
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