- Quality of Life & Wellness
Imagine Life If You Never Felt Emotion ~ There Is A Condition Called Alexithymia
Imagine Giving Someone A Blank Stare Instead Of Emotional Expressions
Living Life Like A Blank Slate
Can you imagine going through life never feeling or being able to express a single emotion? Emotions that are normal for others like sadness, happiness, anger, fear, and other emotions that many people feel all the time would seem as if they are foreign to you. It might be as if you are watching the emotions that other people are feeling on a television screen. Then while watching life go by, you feel nothing. It might seem like you are living life just like a blank slate. There is a condition where people cannot express any emotion, and it's called Alexithymia.
I read a story recently of a man who had this condition. In his case, it was determined that he was probably born with it. He got married and didn't feel any emotions on his wedding day. He had none of the overwhelming feelings of joy, happiness, or maybe even a little bit of fright and an unsettled feeling of "what am I getting into." He didn't even have the feeling of "I am the luckiest person alive right now." None of these things applied.
When they had a child born a few years later, he felt nothing again. This is the thing that got to me. I remember the overwhelming feelings I experienced when our sons were born, and I think I had even stronger feelings right after the birth of our first grandchild.
When our sons were born I remember feeling happiness and feeling overwhelmed at the same time. Would I be a good mother to them? (We had twins!) Would I be able to give them everything they needed to live a good life, and if I couldn't provide what they needed, would I be able to help them find answers and solutions?
When I first looked at our newborn granddaughter, my feelings were simply of overwhelming love and joy. I felt like I was walking on air. When I had to go to work a few hours later, I think I told everyone in the building that I had just become a first time grandmother a few hours earlier! I simply cannot imagine looking at a child, your child, any child ~ and feeling nothing.
I recently heard of this condition that affects about 10 percent of the population called Alexithymia. At first I thought surely this must be some kind of psychological condition, then I found out it is actually classified as a personality trait!
There are tests that can be taken by people who think they might have this condition. They are assessment tests, questionnaires and specially created scales used to determine the extent of the condition or the severity of it. The condition of Alexithymia happens in about 10 percent of the population. It is more like 17 percent prevalent among males and less among females, so it is averaged to about 10 percent.
How To Tell If Someone Exhibits Traits of Alexithymia
There are several characteristics that are found commonly among people affected by Alexithymia. These include:
- Having a hard time knowing when others are feeling and experiencing emotions and having a lack of empathy and sympathy for others
- Dysfunction in becoming socially attached to others ~ it is harder to form real or lasting friendships
- Very little reaction when something happens that would normally spark emotional reactions in other people
The condition of Alexithymia is sometimes also called emotional bankruptcy or emotional color-blindness. Sometimes people with the condition are called cold hearted or calloused, when in reality they cannot help the way the act and feel. Some people are born with Alexithymia and others seem to acquire the condition later in life from trauma or injuries.
Ways That Alexithymia Can Occur And Its Negative Effects
There are several ways that Alexithymia can occur in people. One way is genetic, being born with the condition that sometimes can run in families. Another way is through severe trauma experienced in childhood or later in life, like in the situation of a war veteran who comes back from service experiencing episodes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Another way Alexithymia can happen is in the case of severe injury, especially a head injury that affects the right hemisphere of the brain. When a traumatic brain injury happens, those who experience the injury are six times more likely to develop Alexithymia as a result.
The negative effects of Alexithymia on the sufferer's life include things like poorer quality of personal relationships and an isolated feeling. It takes a special kind of person to be understanding when they live with a person who has this condition.
Another negative effect is that the person with Alexithymia often has poorer mental health and sometimes develops mental health related issues, along with having a real impairment when it comes to being able to be sympathetic and/or empathetic with others.
A lesser known effect of Alexithymia is an inability to be imaginative or creative. Often, those experiencing Alexithymia have no dreams or very few dreams. What dreams they do have tend to be straightforward and factual. There is no ability to fantasize, either. As a writer, I think this would be the most devastating effect.
Alexithymia Can Happen In Conjunction With Other Disorders
Those who experience the personality disorder Alexithymia can also have other disorders that happen along with it. These include:
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Substance abuse disorders
- Social phobias
- Bulimia disorder
- Major depression
- Anxiety or panic disorders
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Among people who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there are higher levels of Alexithymia among those who are veterans of war, especially the Vietnam War, and among people who are Holocaust survivors.
People Living Seemingly Normal Lives Can Have Alexithymia
In the article I read, one main thing they tried to make clear is that not all people who have the condition Alexithymia are criminal or psychotic. Many people living with Alexithymia are also living seemingly normal lives, as they function every day with this personality disorder. When they are aware of their condition, they make efforts to educate others and to live in harmony within their family. The man interviewed for the article was thankful for his wife, who has been extraordinarily supportive and understanding.
I tried to think of any upside to having Alexithymia, and the only one I could think of was an example that was used in the article. This man with Alexithymia was being yelled at while he was trying to do a job, and instead of getting upset, he simply gave the man doing the yelling a blank stare. He couldn't process that he "should" be angry or upset about what was happening. Instead, he was able to see clearly and to simply go on doing what he was doing, making some changes, without being rattled by what had just happened!
I can think of a few times in my working life where this might have come in handy! But then again, this is practically like giving the person with a bullying personality the permission to go ahead and act that way, which is wrong on so many levels.
Instead, I find it incredibly difficult to imagine ever trying to live with the condition of Alexithymia. Educating myself about Alexithymia has given me a new respect for those who must live every day with a condition that seems contrary to living in a society where emotions are usually a part of every day life.