“Alexithymia, Emotional Neglect & Capitalism: How are they Related?” by Laura K. Kerr, PhD
Alexithymia. Now that’s quite the word. Derived from the Ancient Greek, it means “without words for emotions,” and identifies difficulties with recognizing and naming feelings. Since emotions are central for understanding oneself and others, not being able to discern what you feel can cause distress, agitation, and anxiety — along with rocky, unsatisfying relationships. (Honestly, I think I might love you, but I’m not sure if what I am feeling is irritation, elation, or just fear.) While alexithymia can reach the level of a disorder, becoming an obstacle to finalizing decisions (What do I really want?) and making commitments (Do I really love him?), alexithymia also seems like an increasingly common response to the conditions of late modern capitalism. (I’ll get to the latter point shortly.)
Attributes of people who show signs of alexithymia include:
- Difficulty identifying feelings (in words)
- Difficulty finding the correct words to describe what they are feeling Rigid social prescriptions again! Kill creativity: no non-scripted feelings allowed.
- Difficulty distinguishing feelings from their associated body sensations Emotions ARE PHYSICAL! Feelings ARE BODY SENSATIONS.
- Restricted imagination (myth) having few fantasies and very realistic dreams Wow! What’s the source for this statement? It’s the either / or mistake which conveys judgement: Imagination = fantasy. Tell that to Nicola Tesla and thousands of other inventors.
- Focused mostly on the external world and factual information That’s a crime for sure! Somebody needs to be, in a nation of supernatural ignorance.
- Highly logical thinking I don’t think logic is relative: one is logical or not.
- Low levels of empathy Not this again!
Aust & colleagues saw greatest impairment when emotional neglect had occurred in childhood. But their study also showed some with alexithymia lack histories of emotional neglect. Furthermore, they confirmed alexithymic people with histories of emotional neglect could also be psychologically and physically healthy. Again, this mélange of non-consistent “symptoms” that we see in diagnosis of Asperger’s, High Functioning Autism, or whatever is the Label-of-the-Day in the psychology community!
Definitions from medical dictionaries:
a·lex·i·thy·mi·a Inability to describe emotions in a verbal manner.The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
alexithymia An inability to experience and communicate feelings consciously. Words CREATE consciousness Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.
alexithymia a personality trait characterized by difficulty in recognizing or describing one’s emotions. Dictionary of Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine by Churchill Livingstone © 2008 Elsevier Limited. All rights reserved.
My critique of the current description of Alexithymia:
I have personal experience with this curious manifestation – to the extent that at times I have difficulty distinguishing between physical illness (fairly vague, like the flu) and being “emotionally” upset. It does sometimes take me time to “know” what I’m “feeling.” That is, put a name to what I’m feeling. Commonly I may have no “feeling” at all about a situation: the default state in my reactions to the environment is to simply have no reaction at all. Why should I? Why must every moment of every day consist of emotional engagement in unimportant, fleeting exchanges with people or in buliding monstrous facades of hatred, revenge, subterfuge and power struggles over – What? Emotions are vital to controlling other human beings on the Social Pyramid. Keeping people upset, off-balance and consumed by “having the correct feelings” makes manipulation and segregation by authority easy.
Now that I’ve said that, my Asperger curiosity led me to investigate just what alexithymia is: its origin and place in human experience.
What I discovered is that:
All human infants are born Alexithymic by definition, equipped with a binary system of response to our environment. Pain or Pleasure. As infants we possess no WORDS with which to express our physical condition. We cry mightily if feeling pain; turn red in the face, move our bodies in ways that signal distress to our caregivers. We smile, gurgle and wiggle in ways that express pleasure to our caregivers. We have the potential for word language (grammar) but do not have verbal abilities. We do respond to the vocalizations made by our caregivers – to the tone, rythym and range of the female voice, but mostly to physical intervention; picking us up, holding and rocking us, feeding us.
As children grow, they are TAUGHT to identify WORDS with physical responses. The brain’s system of processing our reactions to the environment remains simple even in adulthood: there is one electrical pathway in the brain, and the brain doesn’t differentiate between physical pain and word (metaphysical) pain. It’s just pain. Children learn to “report” their pain or pleasure as words. This is not difficult to witness in action. Parents continually coax children to use words like sad, happy, etc. to describe their physical state, even before children are capable of processing language. Hence the blank little face we see staring at Mom in the grocery aisle, trying to decode what the big person wants.
Why do adults want children to parse pain and pleasure into little pieces and assign words to experiences? The induction into a verbal universe is at the core of modern socialization. How do we know this? Because this process is not consistent between cultures and in fact is culturally determined. Many traditional cultures (check out the Old Testament!) don’t venture beyond Guilt and Shame as allowable emotions. Obedience is the key; disobedience is harshly punished.
Some cultures rely very little on verbal language to “indoctrinate” children into the culture. Tribal people are often very “hands (or words) off” with young children, allowing them to absorb tribal life through rituals, physical adornment or body alterations, and adult behavior. Not until puberty, or thereabouts, will children become adults through a ritual that conveys their new position in society. “Emotion” words may not even exist.
Sadly, American culture in recent decades has become a swamp, a chaos, a nightmare of social emotions, in which emotional instability has become a lifelong indentity of self-worth and political rights. Victimhood is a popular career. The responses of pain and pleasure are reactions to the environment; that is the function of pain and pleasure is an alert system to “what’s going on” in the environment: it’s about real concrete objects and events. And then, the chemistry that induces these states normally subsides and is quickly turned off. To keep an animal in a state of “emotional” distress is slow torture (stress) that damages the body. Stress is a slow killer and it characterizes poor health in societies that use stress to control behavior.
American culture has raised the “word concepts” called emotions to the ultimate level of importance in both individual and social experience and interraction. Real concrete questions have no answer: What can we do to decrease racism, poverty and other inequalities? Why am I in a relationship with this abusive person? How can I guide a child past fear, so that they may to learn and practice the skills he or she will need to become an adult?
These vital tasks have been tossed aside for a social culture of incessant emotional disturbance. This is not surprising given the control-freak focus of Americans and the ‘mommification’ of child-rearing and public education (driven by psychological myth) that has infiltrated and now dictates rigid rules of human interaction.
The childlike dependency of Americans is very profitable: the “fix” for your unmet infantile needs can be purchased at any retail location.
Asperger individuals simply do not “take to” the notion that our real physical pain and pleasure system can be socialized. This is no surprise, since being Asperger is about not being social in the hyper-social sense. In fact, after sorting out the actual physical nature of emotions as word constructs that disguise real pain – “pain is pain” – I find that I’m much happier with my Asperger brain. I’m no longer stuck with the nagging social pressure to feel things that I don’t feel!
Why the rush to “instantaneous” emotion?