Do You Have Alexithymia?

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Alexithymia: Difficulty in experiencing, expressing and describing emotions.

Every day I hear from folks who have just realized that they grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Often they say, “Finally I understand what’s wrong with me!” Many describe a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.

It is a wonderful thing to finally understand yourself in a new and useful way. Unfortunately, however, it is not enough. Step 1 is seeing and understanding the problem. Step 2 is healing the problem.

If you grew up with parents who did not respond enough to your emotional needs (CEN), then as an adult you are probably faced with the particular set of challenges that are unique to CEN. Children who grow up receiving the message that their emotions are not valid naturally adapt by pushing their emotions down and away, so that they won’t burden their parents with their feelings and emotional needs. If you push your emotions away as a child, you will, as an adult, lack access to them. This is why one of the most universal struggles for the CEN adult is alexithymia.

Fortunately, alexithymia is a problem that can be fixed. Emotional awareness and knowledge can be learned. In fact there is a clear and direct process to learn it. Many people have had success doing it on their own, and many with a therapist’s help.

Here is a six-step exercise that, if done regularly, will gradually get you back in touch with your feelings, which is a major part of healing from CEN.

If you take even just five minutes for this exercise three times a day (or as often as you can manage), you are forcing your brain to perform activities that are novel. You are forging new neural networks which get stronger and perform better each time you do it, even when you are not successful in identifying or naming a feeling.

The Identifying and Naming Exercise

Step 1: Sit in a room alone with no distractions. Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen that takes over your mind, banishing all thoughts. Focus all of your attention on the screen, turning your attention inward.

Step 2: Ask yourself the question:

What am I feeling right now?

Step 3: Focus in on your internal experience. Be aware of any thoughts that might pop into your head, and erase them quickly. Keep your focus on:

“What am I feeling right now?

Step 4: Try to identify feeling words to express it. You may need more than one word. Consult a list of feeling words if you need it.

Step 5: If you’re having difficulty identifying any feelings, it is okay. Coming up with a word is less important than going through the process of trying to tune in. As long as you keep doing the exercise as often as possible, you will start to make progress. Be persistent and do not give up!

Step 6: If you do find a feeling word that seems like it may be accurate, you are ready to move on to the next step, which is trying to figure out why you are feeling that.

So now ask yourself:

Why would I be feeling ____ right now?”

Determining what you are feeling and why can be very difficult for many people, but it is especially so for those with Emotional Neglect. This exercise may seem simple, but it is not easy. Emotionally Neglected people often have great difficulty sitting with themselves, and that is a requirement for this exercise to work. If it seems very hard when you first attempt it, or even impossible, please keep trying.

As you gradually become more able to sit with yourself, focus inward, and tune into your feelings, you will also eventually start to be more aware of your emotions naturally, as they come up in your life.  You will find yourself changing: feeling more meaning in your life, more connected to others, more purpose and direction, and more trust in yourself.

Yes, in a few minutes per day, you can overcome alexithymia. In a few minutes a day, you can change your life.

To find out if Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is at work in your life, Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty. 

This article was originally published on and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral


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Indukant - November 26, 2020 Reply

I don’t know what is going on with me just only speaking and doesn’t feel anything emotionally, i don’t know but it happened after when i just shifted from my hometown to City for living…

Alexis - March 6, 2020 Reply

I dont know if this relates to this and I may just be normal and everyone feels this way, but I use to feel something when I liked someone but now it feels like it has faded out over time. Is this normal? I hope so

    Alexis - March 6, 2020 Reply

    And its like Im not sure what I feel for someone anymore kind of like trying to see in the dark when its pitch black and no light coming through, I try to make it out but I cant quite pinpoint what is what. Yes I can distinguish emotions but I have to lie to people since I cant figure out if I feel something for them or not

      Jonice - March 7, 2020 Reply

      Alexis, I think you can see that this is not healthy for you. You are missing something very important. I hope you will learn more about CEN and consider whether it applies to you. If you have not taken the Emotional Neglect Test, I urge you to do so.

    Jonice - March 7, 2020 Reply

    Dear Alexis, I would need to know you to answer specifically about you. But in general, this should not happen.

Ayane - August 29, 2019 Reply

I’ve been confused for a very long time about my emotions, I feel like I fake them unconsciously because I want people to feel great near me and see me as a good person. The most confusing part is that I’ve been in some relationships and friendships and I gave my all to the people I was close with, but when they left me behind I didn’t care, I didn’t even notice that they weren’t there anymore, I wasn’t missing them. I can cry only when I’m frustrated or really angry and I actually think that anger and numbness are the only emotions I can tell 100% that I surely feel. Of course, I laugh at jokes and so on, but I don’t think that I feel happy, loved, sad and so on. I tried this exercise and I just can’t figure out how I feel, my mind keeps telling me that I’m stupid for doing such things and I eventually stop. It’s really confusing, all I want to know is if I can really feel love and stuff, but everytime I try to understand my feelings I get lost.

    Jonice - September 1, 2019 Reply

    Dear Ayane, please do seek the help of a CEN Therapist from the list on this website. Having a supportive professional will help you walk through this.

Jo - August 4, 2019 Reply

I’m overcoming C-PTSD and this article has just clarified a whole lot. I always wondered why I had such trouble identifying my emotions, this makes so much sense. Thank you so much for this article

    Jonice - August 4, 2019 Reply

    I’m so glad you found the article helpful Jo! Please see the list of emotion words in the back of Running On Empty and start studying and learning them. It’s a good step toward overcoming alexithymia.

dfk - September 30, 2017 Reply

I have tried to describe the feelings I have, and failed, up to when I got this picture in my mind of a rock in the middle of a road, and I realized I was this rock. Everyone has to drive around me, I am exposed, everyone considers me a nuisance or a hazard, and if someone stopped to deal with me, they would just kick me to the side so I wouldn’t bother anyone. And this fit well with how I felt about how my parents acted toward me as I grew up.

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