Alexithymia and complex PTSD

Sep 05, 2018

What is alexithymia and what can we do about it?

Alexithymia is the inability to identify, name, and describe emotions. For some people this also means that you don't know how to act in a way that represents specific emotions (like at drama school, or actors). You don't know the body sensations, gestures or movements that go with each emotion. 

That was something I was really struggling with myself, just that I didn't know that there was a word for this till I started therapy :)

When you aren't connect with your emotions, relationships become just about impossible.

In one of my sessions my therapist said: "you're looking a bit anxious today". With me snapping back "no!" and "what even makes you think that I'm anxious, I'm not".

It took many years of therapy for me, to become aware of my own body sensation and connect them with specific emotions.

My therapist tried to show me what it looks like to him or the way I was in his office - like he mimicked my behaviour. For example, me sitting there and constantly looking over my shoulder, checking if there's something behind me or I was twitching my legs all the time...

I wasn't even really aware that I did this, and sure didn't make the association that this is anxiety.

Anxiety was one of the hardest for me to recognize, because growing up I was told so often to stop acting stupid. So I was just thinking I'm acting stupid, I didn't realise it was anxiety.

As children we need help to identify our emotions. Sadly, many trauma survivors missed that milestone... reaching adulthood disconnected from one's own emotions and sensations.


1. Initially, I had to intellectualise this, just learn about it and then use that knowledge to help me create awareness for what is going on within myself. Like where do people feel shame, how is it different to despair or not feeling good enough...

I spent countless hours in the library reading up in depth about emotions:

  • how other people describe them,
  • where in the body they feel time and
  • body language.

I was reading a lot of books by David Goleman on emotional intelligence, which I found very helpful. But you can just Google "body sensations and emotions" and you'll find charts describing emotions in detail :)

2. Sensory exercises were also very helpful. For a while whether I was touching sandpaper or a fluffy blanket, it was just a sensation. No matter what the sensation was, it felt kind of the same, as I hated all touch. So, I really had to learn to fine-tune things a little bit there :)

Working on really staying in tune with my body and in the present moment to explore the differences.

Sensory exercises also helped me with my dissociation :) Like rubbing ice cube on the sole of your foot or holding them in your hand. Staying with sensations was a challenge...

3. At the beginning, I could only explore what kind of emotions I had in retrospect with my therapist. I got better at identifying what kind of feelings I had with my therapist's help. Eventually I could do this on my own, still in retrospect.

Now I am much more in tune, in the moment and recognise changes within myself early. Mostly :) When I'm triggered I still struggle a bit.

I know the sensations in my body that signal anxiety now. I don't know about you, but in the past, I went to the doctor telling him that I had a problem with my heart. My heart was constantly racing, but back then I didn't make the connection that this is part of anxiety.

Becoming aware of those signs can help you stay within the window of tolerance & catch yourself before things spiral out of control.

Know that sensation you get before you explode or get really angry. Once you can recognise the first signs of slight irritation, you can intervene before it gets out of control :) - Flashbacks

To be super honest, this area required so much hard work for me. Years really. People often don't realise how much energy, determination, patience and hard work is required to re-wire our brain after all that damage from our abuse, trauma and neglect.

So please give yourself a pat on the back for all the hard work you do :)

That's my experience with alexithymia... I am work in progress here...

Please remind yourself often that you are worthy of a better future just as you are. Your struggles are not your fault. They are a normal reaction to all the abnormal stuff that happened to you.

As always, sending you lots of love and rainbows to brighten up the tough times just a little

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