Alexithymia is a personality trait whereby a person is separated from their feelings. They may be more robotic-like, have difficulties in identifying feelings, difficulty in describing feelings or have a much more limited emotional range.
I first discovered the term back in my counseling training days, I came across a concept that certain events, themes and experiences made people disconnect with their emotions (there are also some disorders as well whereby a person is disconnected with their emotions too). I was listening to audio file about reflective practice and it contained a quote “the hardest journey is from the brain to the heart”. Through certain experiences or disorders the heart (emotions) was in a state of ‘perma-frost’. Perma-frost is a layer of frozen soil found in countries near the Arctic where the ground never defrosts, neither in spring or summer. The analogy was that the heart can remain in such a state, buried deep and frozen.
It’s a rather dramatic description of how disconnected some people can be, not only is their heart frozen, but also buried under layers of frozen soil.
The term Alexithymia means that a person pushes away their emotions. There are a range of issues that can cause this, one of which is alcohol and drug use. It is common for substance use disorder clients to possess a level of disconnection with their emotions. This sometimes comes from trauma, whereby emotions are overwhelming and flood the individual and person lacks the coping skills to manage emotions. Another aspect is that continued use of drugs, alcohol and acting out on processes (sex, porn, junk food and excessive exercise) causes disruptions in the ability for the brain to process emotions effectively.
It has been suggested by some that there is a ‘normal male alexithymia’ that leads to men shutting down and suppressing their emotions. However, despite the war on masculinity over the last decade there has been little to no advancing of male well-being, with suicides increasing for men more rapidly each year.
Alexithymia is something that can be overcome via counseling, journalling and reflective work. Emotions can be helped to be brought back online by abandoning Mal-adaptive addictive processes and working through feeling again.
Some people might always have a limited range of emotions in one way or another, the process can take a little longer to improve, but every small increment of improvement may certainly help a person grow and develop personally.