Alexithymia – When You Have No Words For Feelings

One of the things that happens to people when they don’t grow up in an environment where their caregivers really ‘see’ them is that they have no idea how to put what they’re feeling into words.

Here’s how that comes about: when you’re growing up, you’ll experience a range of feelings, emotions and reactions. When you have good lines of communication with your adult caregivers, ie:

  • they notice your moods,
  • they ask you about your day,
  • they talk to you about what you’re thinking and feeling
  • they encourage you to express yourself truthfully

Then, when you’re going through some sort of emotional turmoil or reaction to a situation that just occurred, they’ll teach you the words you need to describe what you’re feeling verbally.

(At this point, let me just state that if you didn’t get this from your caregivers, it’s because they also didn’t get it from their caregivers, and so on and so forth, all the way back to Adam and Eve. This problem has been around for a LONG time.)

But let’s say you have the rare parents that are fully in touch with their own feelings, and able to teach you how to identify and express yours. Here’s how that conversation would sound, when little 8 year old Jonny comes home from school obviously in a bad mood:

“Jonny, when you have that feeling that you just want to kill someone, that means you’re feeling frustrated; or disappointed; or hurt; or let-down.”

Nothing releases pent-up emotions like talking them out.

Now that Jonny has the word to describe the maelstrom he’s experiencing internally -‘fru-stra-tion’ – five minutes later, he’s already going to start feeling much better and calmer.

If the parents are super-advanced, at this point they’ll maybe share some of the ways they’ve developed to manage their own feelings of frustration, like taking a shower, writing something down in a journal or simply, talking it out.

When you can associate the right word with your feelings, it instantly shrinks those sometimes huge, overwhelming emotions down into something manageable.

But if you haven’t got the words for your feelings (which is actually a known condition, called Alexithymia)? Then your feelings can start to get stuck in your system.

If that situation continues for any length of time, it can lead to all sorts of emotional and physical difficulties and problems.

The good news is that with a little bit of time and effort, this can be fixed fairly fast and easily, and you don’t have to be lost for words forever.


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