What Do You Call A Person With No Feelings No Emotions? Is There Any Treatment For This?

Having alexithymia can make it hard for you to express or identify your emotions. The condition can occur with certain conditions, such as depression, neurological conditions, and brain injury. Follow this article to learn more about a person with no feelings no emotions and is there any treatment for this.

Alexithymia is a broad term to describe problems with feeling emotions. In fact, this Greek term used in Freudian psychodynamic theories loosely translates to “no words for emotion.” While the condition is not well-known, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 people has it.

While Freudian theories are largely considered dated, this condition seems to be increasing in awareness. It’s often seen as a secondary diagnosis in other preexisting mental health conditions and disabilities, including depression and autism. However, this does not mean that everyone with these conditions has problems expressing and identifying emotions. In fact, studies show that it only affects a small percentage.

People who do have alexithymia may describe themselves as having difficulties with expressing emotions that are deemed socially appropriate, such as happiness on a joyous occasion. Others may have trouble identifying their emotions. Such individuals don’t necessarily have apathy. They instead may not have as strong of emotions as their peers, and may have difficulties feeling empathy.

Read on to learn more about the possible causes of alexithymia, as well as treatments for this condition.

What do you call a person with no feelings and no emotions?

As a condition marked by a lack of feelings, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of alexithymia. Since this condition is associated with an inability to express feelings, an affected person might come across as being out of touch or apathetic.

Clinically speaking, one who cannot feel emotion is said to be emotionally detached, although the term is also applied to people who can feel emotion but who choose to avoid situations for expressing emotion. They may do this because of anxiety or stress. A more specific term is alexithymia (from the Greek meaning “having no words for emotions”). Alexthymics have difficulty in identifying and describing their own emotions or in detecting emotions in others.

People who do have alexithymia may describe themselves as having difficulties with expressing emotions that are deemed socially appropriate, such as happiness on a joyous occasion. Others may have trouble identifying their emotions. Such individuals don’t necessarily have apathy. They instead may not have as strong of emotions as their peers, and may have difficulties feeling empathy.

What is alexithymia?

Alexithymia is when a person has difficulty identifying and expressing emotions. It is not a mental health disorder. People with alexithymia may have problems maintaining relationships and taking part in social situations. They may have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression, or no diagnosable mental health conditions. Alexithymia also has links with autism.

Up to 13% of the population experience alexithymia, according to some research. It is more common in males than females, with one study among a prison population in China indicating that over 30% of the prisoners experienced it.

Researchers describe alexithymia as a construct relating to a difficulty experiencing, identifying, and expressing emotions. It is not a clinical diagnosis, and mental health professionals do not consider it a disorder, although it may occur alongside some mental health conditions.

Peter Sifneos, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, first described alexithymia in the early 1970s. The word comes from Greek: ‘a’ meaning lack, ‘lexis’ meaning word, and ‘thymos’ meaning emotion — overall, it means having a lack of words for emotions.

People with alexithymia have:

  • Problems with introspection, or observing their own mental and emotional processes.
  • Experience confusion around bodily sensations connected to emotions.
  • Struggle to communicate their emotions to others.

Alexithymia also makes it difficult for people to identify and respond to emotions in others. These issues can lead to difficulties in social settings and interpersonal relationships.

What are the causes of alexithymia?

Alexithymia isn’t well understood. There’s a possibility it may be genetic. The condition may also be a result of brain damage to the insula. This part of the brain is known for its role in social skills, empathy, and emotions, with some studies linking insula lesions to apathy and anxiety. Following are some of the causes of alexithymia; where a person has no feelings and no emotions.

  • Links to autism
  • Emotions and depression
  • Possible trauma
  • Other associated conditions

Links to autism:

The symptoms of autism spectrum disorder are wide-ranging, but there are still some stereotypes associated with this condition. One major stereotype is a lack of empathy, something that has largely been debunked. At the same time, some research indicates that up to half of people with autism also experience alexithymia. In other words, it’s alexithymia that causes the lack of empathy, and not autism itself.

Emotions and depression:

It’s also possible to experience alexithymia with depression. It has been noted in major depressive and postpartum disorders, as well as schizophrenia. Research indicates that between 32 and 51 percent of people with depressive disorders also have alexithymia.

Possible trauma:

Additionally, this condition has been noted in people who have experienced trauma, especially during early childhood. Trauma and neglect at this stage may cause changes in the brain that can make it difficult to feel and identify emotions later in life.

Other associated conditions:

Research also indicates that this condition may be present in certain neurological diseases and injuries. These include:

  • Alzheimers
  • Dystonia
  • Epilepsy
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury

What are the symptoms of alexithymia?

As a condition marked by lack of feelings, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of alexithymia. Since this condition is associated with an inability to express feelings, an affected person might come across as being out of touch or apathetic. However, a person with alexithymia might personally experience the following in social contexts:

Some inner signs of alexithymia are:

  • You are out of touch with your feelings. When you try to feel into your heart, you feel blocked.
  • Most of the time, you don’t get emotional nuances. You can only tell if you are feeling ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’, and not much more beyond that.
  • You cannot tell what others are thinking or feeling just by their body language and facial expressions.
  • In interactions, you don’t feel connected to other people – it’s as though there is a wall blocking you from them.
  • You feel alienated from your own body; you may have physical symptoms of panic attacks that seemingly come from nowhere.
  • You do not usually feel emotional but suddenly, you can become flooded with anxiety or burst out in rage.
  • While you crave intimacy, you find the prospect of close relationships daunting. They make you feel like you are losing control and put you too far outside of your comfort zone.
  • You may have lost your drive and motivation. You procrastinate at work and do not find much joy in any hobbies. Every day feels like a grind, simply getting through the day is difficult.
  • You are not interested in things that have to do with imagination or fantasy and prefer the concrete and practical.
  • You are confused about your identity and lack a sense of self.
  • You feel empty and numb, as though you are just an observer of your own life. You know you are missing out on life but you don’t know how else you can live.

Some outward signs of alexithymia are:

  • You have blank facial expressions and do not smile or frown when it is ‘socially appropriate’ to do so.
  • You can find no words when you try to express emotions. If someone asks ‘how are you feeling?’ you reply with generic terms like ‘fine’ or ‘okay’. If someone specifically asks what you are feeling, you draw a blank.
  • You appear cold and unfeeling. Others may think of you as arrogant or aloof.
  • Others may think you lack humor.
  • You use nervous laughter to fill in gaps, because silence makes you uncomfortable.
  • As you struggle to express your needs and desires, others do not understand what you want and become frustrated.
  • When speaking you go into endless descriptive details without any personal feelings. Your speech may be monotonous, dry, and hard to follow.

What are the levels of alexithymia?

It is thought that there are two distinct types of alexithymia:

  • Primary alexithymia
  • Secondary alexithymia

The need for distinguishing between primary and second-ary alexithymia emerged rather early in the literature54, but it took some time before this distinction was widely recognized in the field. Most studies that have contrib-uted to the complex body of knowledge on alexithymia.

Primary alexithymia:

Alexithymia is considered to be primary when emerging  “as  a life-long  dispositional  factor  that  can  lead to psychosomatic illness”. Primary alexithymia may derive from a psychic trauma occurring during childhood or from negative primary caregivers interactions.

Hence, primary alexithymia is currently thought of as a more or less stable personality trait that becomes molded during childhood and early adult years. Therefore, primary alexithymia is developmental in nature. It also has no purported organic or psychological risk factors (excluding those occurring in childhood).

Secondary alexithymia:

Secondary alexithymia is posited to arise not during development, but as a consequence of events occurring later in life. These may be events with psychological significance and/or medical-surgical events (illnesses or dis-ease) that have a direct or indirect effect on brain functioning. Therefore, secondary alexithymia may have both psychological and/or somatic (organic) mechanisms.

How is alexithymia related to other mental health issues?

Alexithymia can be perpetuated by the presence of a host of other conditions, such as;

  • Alexithymia and autism
  • Alexithymia and depression
  • Alexithymia and trauma
  • Alexithymia and neurological disease
  • Alexithymia and early childhood emotional abuse

Alexithymia and autism:

A stereotypical understanding of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is that it entails a lack of empathy, a theory which has been largely debunked. An alexithymic person’s failure to recognize intense feelings (such as confusion or danger) in others, and their lack of emotional expression means that Alexithymia is often misinterpreted as autism.

While individuals on the autism spectrum can also exhibit traits of Alexithymia, research on the correlation between the two conditions is inconclusive. The existing consensus seems to be that Alexithymia often occurs with autism and is not caused by autism.

Alexithymia and depression:

People who suffer from major depressive disorders and postpartum disorders are more likely to suffer from Alexithymia. A person with Alexithymia is twice as likely to also experience depression. But at the same time, research shows that symptoms of alexithymia decline with a reduction of symptoms of depression. Therefore, it is not possible to say whether Alexithymia is a cause or consequence of depression.

Alexithymia and trauma:

People who experience PTSD are more likely to develop Alexithymia. A study of Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder revealed that 41 percent of them were alexithymic. A similar survey of holocaust survivors revealed that those with PTSD scored  significantly higher when tested for Alexithymia than those without PTSD.

Alexithymia and neurological disease:

Patients with neurological diseases and conditions such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, dystonia, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy are more likely to have Alexithymia.

Alexithymia and early childhood emotional abuse:

Alexithymia is most likely caused by a combination of both biology and environment. In other words, some might be born more prone to alexithymia than others, and then experience traumatic events or relational wounds that serve as the final triggers. From a developmental perspective, alexithymia is a result of the disruption in one’s emotional development as a child.

It may be that your parents were depressed, cold, and distant, and were not able to mirror your feelings back to you or attune to you. Or, they might be afraid of emotions themselves and therefore punish you for expressing them. They may lack a language of feelings, and thus have  never modeled for you what it means to be emotionally literate.

How can alexithymia affect relationships?

These characteristics can be frustrating in a relationship. It may feel like your partner doesn’t acknowledge your feelings or seems irritated when you feel emotional. It can lead to:

  • Lack of intimacy
  • Feeling unsupported by your partner
  • Feeling left out in your relationship

Alexithymia can also affect the way your partner reacts to situations that call for emotional empathy. A 2020 study found evidence to support the widely-held belief that people with alexithymia lack emotional empathy, or the ability to feel concerned for and share the emotions of others. Research from 2021 has linked alexithymia with fear of intimacy. If your partner lives with this fear, they may:

  • Sabotage their relationship
  • Fear rejection
  • Avoid physical contact
  • Exhibit sensitivity to criticism
  • Have trouble regulating their emotions
  • Lack of trust
  • Isolate themselves socially
  • Avoid discussing feelings or emotions

Commitment, romance, and satisfaction are also affected when alexithymia is part of a relationship, according to a 2015 study involving college students. All of this can have a profound effect on the non-alexithymic spouse. You may experience loneliness and emotional deprivation, leading to physical illnesses like heart disease and high blood pressure.

Is there any treatment for this?

Treatment of alexithymia may be incorporated into the overall treatment of the person’s broader condition. During an evaluation, a clinician will most likely talk with the person affected for a period of time and ask them to complete surveys and additional psychological testing. Based upon the results of the person’s psychological evaluation, they will have a better idea of how alexithymic symptoms may be associated with one or more forms of mental health conditions.

The treatment options for alexithymia are oftentimes very different from typical counseling or talk therapy. For people living with alexithymia, a mental health professional will often concentrate on building a foundation of naming emotions and appreciating a range of feelings.

The process will likely include both consideration of the experiences of other people and self-reflection. Even though some people with this emotional comprehension might sound very basic to others, for a person with alexithymia the process of growing their emotional intelligence and capacity may be difficult. Things such as:

  • Group therapy
  • Daily journaling
  • Skill based therapy
  • Engaging in the creative arts
  • Various relaxation techniques
  • Reading emotional books or stories

Might be used to help cultivate skills for identifying and understanding feelings on both a surface and in-depth level. Just as with the majority of mental health or medical concerns, a formal diagnosis and treatment should be done by a mental health professional with expertise in the area. When an affected person feels ready, a licensed mental health professional may be the next best step to help ease any distress the person might be feeling. People with alexithymia need to be patient with themselves as they decide what is best for them as a person.

In the past, alexithymia was classified and limited to psychosomatic disorders, which are disorders involving physical symptoms of the person’s body that are created and exacerbated by their mind. For example; a person who is very angry, yet does not express their anger, might develop a stomach ache.

The condition as a psychosomatic disorder often manifests in the form of bodily symptoms and complaints of a person who is unable to effectively express their emotions. Research has revealed that it may be present in people who do not experience psychosomatic disorders or physical complaints as well.

How can you help someone with alexithymia?

It can be difficult having an alexithymic partner. Relationships are likely also stressful for them as they navigate a world full of people who communicate with non-verbal cues they don’t understand. There are, however, many things you can do to improve the situation.

  • Clear communication
  • Labeling feelings
  • Interoceptive support
  • Couples therapy

Clear communication:

Expecting your partner to figure out what you’re feeling based on cues or context may leave you frustrated and hurt. Instead, try telling them how you feel directly. This reduces the chance of miscommunication. It helps to be clear and refer directly to your feelings or needs.

For example, if your partner repeatedly interrupts you while you work or study, relying on non-verbal cues to dissuade them may not work. Instead, use clear language to explain that now isn’t a good time to talk.

Labeling feelings:

Your partner may have a feeling they can’t identify or describe. You may be able to read their cues and tell them what you see, for example:

  • You look angry.
  • You seem tired
  • You appear to be frustrated.

Your comment might give them the clarification they’ve been looking for. With your support, they may learn to independently identify some of what they’re feeling.

Interoceptive support:

Physical states like sleep deprivation can affect mood. Since alexithymia can interfere with interoception, your partner might be irritable because of hunger or fatigue but unable to recognize this. If you’re aware, you can help them. You might prompt them to get the food or rest that they need.

Couples therapy:

Couples therapy may help your alexithymic partner learn to identify their feelings. It can also teach you more effective ways to communicate. It’s important to make your partner feel safe enough to try expressing their emotions. Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFCT) may help reduce the effects of alexithymia on relationships.

Conclusion:

Alexithymia is not a condition in its own right, but rather an inability to identify and describe emotions. People with alexithymia have difficulties recognizing and communicating their own emotions, and they also struggle to recognize and respond to emotions in others. There is no formal diagnosis for alexithymia, although several scales can help to identify its signs.

As it is not a disorder, health professionals do not currently recommend or prescribe treatment for alexithymia. However, if it co-occurs with another condition, such as depression or PTSD, people can seek treatment for those issues to avoid worsening symptoms or complications.

While not inherently dangerous, this condition may inadvertently lead to interpersonal and relationship issues. The good news is that there are therapies available that can help you improve on mental health skills. Not only will this help with relationships with others, but more importantly, you may feel better, too.