“I may not know how others feel, but I know how I feel.”
Many people may think this, but it’s surprising how little they know about their own feelings.
This tendency to have difficulty understanding one’s own feelings (emotions) is called Alexithymia.

As the ancient saying “Know thyself” goes, knowing one’s own mind is fundamentally important for human beings.

What is Alexithymia ?

Tendency to have difficulty understanding one’s feelings/ emotions =“Alexithymia”.

This was originally proposed by Sifneos, an American psychiatrist, who suggested that a different approach might be appropriate for some people who have not been able to deepen their feelings in psychotherapy, which involves analysing their own emotions.

In psychosomatic medicine, alexithymia is one of the psychological tendencies involved in mind-body relationship<psychosomatic correlation> and psychosomatic diseases.

Alexithymia is characterized by the following

  • Difficulty in being aware of one’s own emotions and physical sensations (insensitivity)
  • Difficulty in expressing emotions
  • Difficulty in turning to one’s inner self

Simply put, they are less aware of their own mental and physical state, have difficulty expressing their feelings, and tend to focus more on external objective facts and less on their inner self. For example, they can easily describe a situation, such as ‘This happened, this happened…’, but they are not able to ask ‘How did you feel at that time?

Physiological Mechanisms of Alexithymia

The neurophysiological mechanisms of alexithymia include
functional abnormalities in the emotional processing process, more precisely
A functional divergence between the neocortical system, which is responsible for higher mental functions such as thinking, cognition and judgment, and the limbic system, which controls emotion.
and functional divergence from the limbic system that controls emotions.
(=>See also “Functional brain levels”) )

Other possible mechanisms include:

  • Dysfunctional communication between the limbic system and the cortex, especially the language center.
  • Dissociation between the functions of the left and right cerebral hemispheres.
  • Dysfunction in the right cerebral hemisphere.
  • Developmental psychological mechanisms: family pathologies such as lack of emotional interaction between mother and child during early development

In addition, people who are less aware of their emotions are also less aware of their physical conditions, such as their physical health, suggesting the importance of “interoception” as the physiological basis for this.

Alexithymia and Psychosomatic Disorders

For example, you may feel angry because your boss is bullying you, but you suppress your feelings and do not even realise it. This subconsciously builds up and your mind and body start to scream.

In alexithymia, suppressed emotions are not properly processed and tend to manifest themselves in physical symptoms, which are “psychosomatic disease”. In such cases, it is important to help them to notice and express their feelings as much as possible.

(Kanbara K, LABs Psychosomatic Medicine,, Aug. 2021)

Related Research Themes

Interoception and Emotional Processing

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