Alexithymia is a maladaptive psychological disorder characterized by the inability to identify and verbally describe emotions and feelings in oneself as well as in others. The word literally means "no words for emotion," and comes from the Greek a for "lack" lexis for "word" and thymia for "emotion."
People who suffer from alexithymia are limited in their ability to experience fantasies or dreams or to think in an imaginative way. Rather, they exhibit an externally focused way of thinking, relying on facts and specifics. People with the condition are often described by others, including their loved ones, as cold and aloof. They severely lack empathetic abilities and have great difficulty in effectively understanding and responding to other people’s feelings.
This condition can be a variable characteristic that is often measured by researchers and psychologists through multiple choice questionnaires or surveys. Each answer has a predetermined score, and 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 are severely limited in their ability to form and maintain intimate relationships. Lower scores show only difficulty in relationships.
In the past, alexithymia was classified and limited to psychosomatic disorders, which are disorders that involve physical symptoms of the body that are created or exacerbated by the mind. For example, someone who is very angry but does not express his or her anger may develop a stomachache. This condition as a psychosomatic disorder often manifests in the form of bodily complaints and symptoms of an individual who can not effectively express emotion. Research has revealed that it can be present in individuals who do not suffer from psychosomatic disorders or physical complaints, however.
There are two types of this disorder: state and trait. State alexithymia has a 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 this type. Trait alexithymia is thought to be a characteristic inherent in one's personality. This type can be inborn or caused by events that occur in a person's early childhood, such as abuse or neglect from a primary caregiver.