Most people at one time or another have had difficulty identifying or describing how they are feeling — a temporary case of what experts call alexithymia. But for some, it can be a chronic problem, and one researcher suggests it can be remedied in part with some simple interventions.
“We know how important it is for people to empathize and be open with the people around us, because that makes someone more competent as a communicator,” said Colin Hesse, Ph.D., an assistant professor of communication at the University of Missouri.
Hesse and other communication experts are studying the ways alexithymia sufferers can ease the physical and mental costs of the disorder and succeed at relationships.
Experts estimate 8 to 10 percent of people suffer from high alexithymia. Those who have high alexithymia have trouble relating to others, as they tend to become anxious around others or avoid forming relationships.
Emotional distance often accompanies varies levels of autism, as well as post-traumatic stress disorders. Studies have shown that alexithymia has been related to eating and panic disorders, as well as substance abuse.
For individuals who have serious issues with sharing emotions, surrounding themselves with affectionate people may help improve their quality of life.
“We still need to study the best approaches, but we believe that affectionate communication ranging from hugs, touching, or even the posture taken during communication – can make a positive impact, even if it only relieves anxiety,” Hesse said.
Prior research has shown that affectionate communication can releases hormones that relieve stress.
In a paper published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Hesse and Kory Floyd of Arizona State University surveyed 921 people and measured shared affection, attachment levels, and the number of close relationships.
“Because there is so much gray area with alexithymia, the potential for what we learn could have benefits for people with conditions such as emotional distance and autism spectrum disorders,” Hesse said.
Source: University of Missouri