Anonymous said: Do you have any other examples/anecdotes of what it's like to experience alexithymia? I'm sorry if that's a weird question. I don't want to portray it inaccurately in my writing, but I apologize if it's something you don't want to talk about for any reason
That is a good and appropriate question and I’m glad you decided to ask it. It’s a little hard for me to come up with specific examples at the moment (you’ll observe that I had to go back to last year for a properly illustrative one) but I’ll try to at least list some patterns. It should be noted that a majority of the details here are either my own experience or extrapolated from it, so it may not apply to everyone.
• Missing emotions: Anhedonia is a specific example mentioned in the alexithymia article. I mentioned an inability to feel hatred or rage. As far as I know, any emotion could fall into this category — humour, excitement, hope, grief, etc. I don’t experience anhedonia as part of my alexithymia, though I do when my chronic depression takes that particular form. Another emotion I just remembered not experiencing is grief: when my pet died recently, I felt guilt, sadness/sympathy for her, and concern for myself in the future when I wouldn’t have her around as a stabilising influence for my mental health, but other than that I felt no particular sense of loss even though I cared for her a great deal, and particularly not a persistent sense of loss. I idly considered the possibility that I might obsess over her/her death, but that ended up not happening.
• Muted emotions: As described, where most people would feel anger, I was incapable of experiencing any angry emotion stronger than frustration or irritation. (I’ve gotten better at it now, though it still is something that requires me to think a situation through to figure out that anger is an appropriate response before I start feeling it, and it takes a lot of effort to sustain and very seldom lasts beyond my conscious focus on it.) If sadness falls into this category, the strongest a person might feel is wistfulness or regret, for example. If it’s excitement, the strongest might be interest, which might be idle interest at the more muted end of things or engaged interest at the less muted end. People around a person with alexithymia might notice and question this — “Why aren’t you angry about this? I’d be furious,” to which the alexithymic person might respond, “Why would I get angry about something like this?” or “It doesn’t seem [worth getting angry about/worth the energy].” The alexithymic person might have a strong tendency to remove themself from whatever stimulus is causing a muted unpleasant emotion rather than addressing or trying to resolve either the situation or the emotion, since addressing either of those takes so much more energy than the emotion merits. Kind of like going inside to avoid mosquitoes instead of putting on bug spray and continuing to hang out outside. (I do this and it took me a very long time to figure out why others didn’t, and that often it’s not possible.) They might also/alternatively conclude that since they can continue without significant difficulty through the muted unpleasant emotions they feel, they can do it with any emotion, and they might wonder why other people are too weak or too bad at managing their emotions to be able to do the same. This was the majority of my school career and a major contributor to my PTSD, since I subjected myself to constant debilitatingly panic-inducing situations for years without thinking that might be odd.
ETA3: As far as I can tell, these two categories probably fall under what wikipedia calls “poorly differentiated emotions” that limit an alexithymic person’s ability to distinguish and describe those emotions to others. I included and specified those two categories by default because they’re the most significant part of my experience with alexithymia, and combined with the last bullet point (disconnect between mental and physical emotional response), are the reason I have so much trouble with the experience of emotion overall; the remaining bullet points, for me, result for the most part from those three factors, though for others the causality may be somewhat different as described in those paragraphs.
• Difficulty or inability identifying/describing internal emotional states: This is talked about in the wikipedia article — an alexithymic person might for instance be able to identify their emotional state with simple, broad terms like “happy” or “sad” but be unable to get any more specific, either due to difficulty/inability with identifying the emotion so that they can put words to it, or difficulty/inability with coming up with the appropriate word(s) to describe it even if they are able to internally recognise or understand what they’re feeling. This can sometimes be approached in a roundabout way like I do it, where instead of trying to identify the emotion I analyse all the aspects of the situation that might be causing it and list all of the thoughts and physical responses I’m having to it and compare all of those in order to reach a conclusion about what the emotion probably is and why I’m feeling it. If this particular aspect of alexithymia is severe enough, though, they might be incapable of identifying or describing emotions at all, which you can imagine would likely cause that person a lot of problems, especially if the emotions are strong and they’re incapable of processing or managing them effectively.
• Difficulty/inability imagining emotional responses to situations not currently occurring: This applies to both hypothetical situations and identifying or modeling emotions in other people. If someone can’t describe or identify how they feel about something actually happening to them at that moment, how can they be reasonably expected to do the same regarding something that isn’t even happening, that might never happen? How can they expected to imagine what they would feel in a situation someone else is experiencing when they don’t even know what they’re feeling in their own situation? This leads to impairments in empathy and human interaction, since they have difficulty/are unable to sense or consider other people’s emotions and might act rudely, dismissively, or otherwise inappropriately. Alternately, they might project their own muted or missing emotion on other people and assume those people are either pretending to feel those emotions or too foolish to recognise that what they think they’re feeling, or maybe actually are feeling, isn’t real or important. This is especially complicated because everyone does display emotions they don’t feel at one point or another with varying frequency, whether to be polite or avoid causing disruption or get others to do what they want or whatever other reason. Which in turn might lead to the alexithymic person imitating emotion they don’t feel for the same purposes.
• Disconnect between mental and physical emotional response: An alexithymic person might feel very strong emotion, but their face, body language, and/or voice reveal nothing, or a muted version of what a neurotypical person might reveal. Alternately, their body, voice, and facial expression might react strongly in the manner and degree they would to a neurotypical person feeling the corresponding emotion, but the alexithymic person might feel something completely different, or nothing at all. This is, I believe, very common in autistic people, especially those who are on the more profoundly affected end of the autistic spectrum, and for whom it’s common to (for example) laugh loudly when they’re frightened or upset, or to look scared when they’re excited. I’m strongly affected by both the feeling something/expressing nothing and the feeling nothing/expressing something versions of this; as far as I know, I’m not affected by the feeling something/expressing something else version. I’m very visually unexpressive, though I think my vocal expressiveness has increased significantly since I was a teen. All of this is frequently likely to lead to very irritating interactions with neurotypical people when they read the wrong subtext into what an alexithymic person is saying because their face/body/voice are communicating different emotions than they would be if they were neurotypical. ETA3: The disconnect between internal mental and external physical states often results in alexithymic people calling their bodies/treating them as robotic/a vehicle/a meat shell/etc. A friend of mine refers to moving his body as piloting it. When you have to consciously make your body do things that other peoples’ seem to do naturally, and when it keeps doing things that have nothing to do with what you want it to do, you tend to think of it as separate from the you that is your brain, just as you might tend to think of all that weird and inexplicable emotion stuff that keeps happening as separate from the you that is your conscious thought processes. It’s easy not to think of your face as something that belongs to the you you when it doesn’t reflect your internal self consistently or at all.
I’ve almost definitely forgotten things, and I’ll edit this post to include them when I remember. I think I covered quite thoroughly the effect that all of these things have on an alexithymic’s potential approach to their own emotions and those of others in the Locus post, so I won’t repeat that here. I hope this is helpful and am willing to try answering any other questions if I am able.
ETA: I’ve been editing the various bullet points on this post since I put it up as I continue to think of more things to add, and here’s something that doesn’t fit into any of them: for me, and probably for a lot of alexithymic people, my difficulty with identifying emotions is highly variable. Some emotions, like happiness and excitement, are very strong and obvious and I have no trouble with them. Others, usually the muted emotions but also anxiety and panic, can be very difficult to notice or identify unless I do that analysing-physical-responses thing I described. So it’s not a single across-the-board impairment but based on the emotion, the intensity of that emotion, and the situation I’m feeling it in.
ETA2: I spent a little time looking at what other people with alexithymia say about it and apparently other non-emotional physical sensations, like sleepiness and hunger, can be similarly hard/impossible to identify. This matches my experience — I have a very strict mental list of things to watch for that mean I’m tired and need to sleep, which I’m not unlikely to miss even then; same for eating, though that specifically is exacerbated by my SSRI. I keep a very strict schedule with eating to make sure that I don’t just forget and then wonder why I can’t keep my head up twelve hours later, and would do the same with sleep if a sleep disorder didn’t make that impossible. This kind of scheduling strikes me very strongly as something Locus would do, as he’s very likely dissociated from his body but would recognise that he needs to keep it in optimal condition in order to maintain maximum effectiveness.
ETA3: A few more things…
• Feelings of defectiveness or alienation: When you’re obviously missing cognitive processes that every other person seems to have, it’s hard not to feel like you were shipped off the assembly line while still incomplete. I grew up very aware that people were talking familiarly about a lot of emotions and related experiences as if everyone had them and that I’d never encountered at all. I thought of myself as having been behind the door when they handed out anger, empathy, sexuality, and an understanding of gender as well as a lot of other social constructs. This coexists with the feelings of inhuman superiority I’ve described in kind of a weird way, where I wondered about and at times vaguely envied or resented other people for having these universal things that I didn’t, while I simultaneously was pleased (sometimes vindictively) that I was made without all these stupid useless functions that made everyone who had them act like irrational idiots. “I bet you’re enjoying your human emotions now,” I would think smugly when all those people with an F in their MBTI types ended up falling on their asses as an obvious and inevitable result of granting validity— even, confoundingly and appallingly, more validity than to logic and rationality! — to those feelings they were so proud of, the jackasses. Maybe they’d learn from the experience and see that I was correct all along, as I’d been saying at every opportunity and thinking when the opportunity was unavailable, because I was autistic as hell.
• This isn’t one of the patterns of alexithymic experience, but the sections on missing/muted emotions reminded me that while I don’t think Locus has anhedonia, since we see him displaying satisfaction when he fulfills his intentions effectively, I’m very sure that happiness is one of his muted emotions. Doing his job on Chorus is basically the time of his life, everything he wants to do, and we never see him display any positive emotion stronger than satisfaction. That single huff of satisfaction he does when things go exactly his way is probably the closest to laughter we’ll ever get out of him.