What is Alexithymia?

    Alexithymia is characterised by difficulties in identifying, describing and processing one’s own feelings. This is often marked by a lack of understanding of the feelings of others and difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal.

    Alexithymia has been described as 'emotional blindness', or someone who has difficulties both sensing and describing their own emotions. Alexithymia is common in Neurodiverse people and not limited to Autism.

    People who have alexithymia may describe themselves as having difficulties with expressing emotions that are deemed socially appropriate, such as happiness on a joyous occasion and others may also have trouble identifying their own emotions.

    Those with alexithymia may experience:

    • Difficulty identifying different types of feelings

    • Limited understanding of what causes feelings

    • Difficulty expressing feelings

    • Difficulty recognising facial cues in others

    • Limited or rigid imagination

    • Constricted style of thinking

    • Hypersensitive to physical sensations

    • Detached or tentative connection to others

    The Relationship Between Alexithymia and the 'Lack of Empathy' Myth

    Alexithymia is being used to explain the misconception that Autistic people lack empathy due to the difficulties of breaking down feelings; of themselves and others.

    It's not necessarily the absence of apathy, rather having strong emotions and difficulties accessing the 'feeling' of empathy. In other words, it’s alexithymia that causes the lack of empathy and not Autism.

    Those with alexithymia are able to recognise that others are in a negative state and it can be very distressing. The problem is that they can’t work out what the other person is feeling and what they are feeling, and therefore how to make the other person feel better or how to reduce their own distress.

    Alexithymia does not only affect Autistic people, but also those with ADHD.