Alexithymia: Lack of Emotional Intelligence

Alexithymia - Lack of Emotional Intelligence

What is Alexithymia?

Alexithymia is defined as the state of deficiency in the understanding, processing or describing emotions. The term was coined by Peter Sifneos, a psychotherapist in the year 1973. Alexithymia is considered to be a dimensional personality trait (that varies from individual to individual), where the individual is placed at a higher risk for other medical and/or psychiatric disorders, whereas the likelihood to respond to the conventional treatments for other conditions is reduced.

Individuals with alexithymia are limited in their ability to experience dreams or fantasies. These individuals seem to be more rational and rely on facts, figures and specific factual. In general these individuals have limited ability to empathize and understand why people cry, love, laugh or shout in excitement. The people who are close to these individuals often define alexithymia individuals as cold and detached.

How do you know that an individual is suffering from Alexithymia?

Although the condition varies from individual to individual, but there are few common traits that can help concluding that the individual has alexithymia. The four common characteristics area as follows:

  1. Difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal.
  2. Difficulty describing feelings to other people.
  3. Constricted imaginational processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies.
  4. A stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

What are the types of Alexithymia?

Alexithymia is classified mainly into two categories as follows:

  1. Static alexithymia – The specific cause and is usually a temporary condition. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by experiencing a horrific event, is one example that is known to trigger state alexithymia.
  2. Trait alexithymia – This is thought to be a characteristic inherent in one’s personality. This type can be inborn or caused by events that occur in one’s early childhood, such as abuse or neglect from a primary caregiver.

How to measure Alexithymia?

Alexithymia in individuals is a variable characteristic that can be measured by researchers and psychologists through multiple choice questionnaires or surveys. Each answer has a predetermined score. The total score of the questionnaire is analyzed to indicate the presence or lack of alexithymia in a particular individual. Research that relies on these measurements has shown that those who score high in alexithymia are severely limited in their ability to form and maintain intimate relationships. Lower scores show only difficulty in relationships. Various types of questionnaires that are available are:

  1. Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20)
  2. The Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ)
  3. The Online Alexithymia Questionnaire (OAQ-G2) (http://oaq.blogspot.com/) or
  4. The Observer Alexithymia Scale (OAS)

How to treat individuals with Alexithymia?

According to a new study, simple, affectionate communication with these people could go a long way towards reducing the severity of their behavior. While in most the condition is benign, and only kicks in following traumatic events, other individuals have it in a chronic form.

It is estimated that between 8 and 10 percent of the general population is suffering from severe alexithymia, and all of them could benefit from the findings made in the new research.

The take-away message from all this is that simple interventions can be as effective in addressing this condition as more complex therapies, investigators say. Though it may seem harmless, alexithymia actually has high physical and mental costs.

 – Gurdeep Singh

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