There’s one question always asked in therapy: how does that make you feel? Cliché, maybe. Emotion work is crucial for therapy to progress. For me, it’s the hardest question you can ask, and the most frustrating for anyone who works with me. You see, I deal with alexithymia.
I have difficulty linking the sensations in my body to the dictionary in my brain. I still feel emotions, but I have a really hard time identifying what it is I’m ‘feeling’. Before doing therapy work on this issue, I spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office thinking an ailment was something life-threatening. Putting this into perspective: within the past three years I learned that a rippy-chest sensation means I’ve been hurt emotionally. I still couldn’t tell you if it’s anger, sadness, or anything more complex.
In it’s most severe state, alexithymics lack the inability to express emotions or to understand others’ emotions: compared to robots. Typically it’s caught in childhood, and is more related to autism disorders. With more research, it’s now understood that the condition varies in severity, and is linked to other mental illnesses. I did ask my mother what kind of child I was, and she told me more stoic than many others. Therefore, I’m unsure if it’s something I was born with, or programmed into me very young (abusive home) compounded with my disorders.
You know who you remind me of? Seven of Nine, Sheldon, Data.
It’s important for me to share this as there’s a stigma out there that because I don’t feel very well, I don’t have the capacity for empathy, that I must be cold & stern and lack all creativity and imagination, and that I’m prone to unhealthy narcissism and/or dangerous personality disorders. Who truly is the heartless one?
Just because someone can say things such as I am mad doesn’t make them empathetic. It also doesn’t imply I care less than someone who has a better understanding of emotion. Empathy changes it’s etymology depending on the person expressing the action. In my case, I don’t understand why someone may be reacting in a way, but if they tell me they’re hurting, they’re hurting. Full stop.
Alexithymia has given me a unique position in life, one of which I have to take the time to understand people at a level may find extremely discomforting. Superficiality seems safe to many. Being someone who has to ask for clarification, and coming from a genuine place, people tear down the façade rather quickly.
Why does that make you cry? Why are you laughing? What does a flushed faced mean? I ask because I want to know, and I want to be able to identify within myself.
I make the choice daily to be vulnerable to understand, and this has cost me. As an example, many people have dismissed me as a possibility in all terms of the word relationship. My heart just did that rippy sensation. That’s me working on this issue: the minute I have a somatic response to something said or done, I say it. So, logically I’m hurt. Daily. I still don’t know why my heart just did that; something to bring up in therapy.
I’ll end by asking not to dismiss the Sheldon’s of the world, not to give up on us. For that sole action of repeated rejection may paradoxically cause the cold, stereotyped behavior. Encourage us to learn by not being afraid to explain what seems so simple, have patience if after repeated tries we still don’t really get it, and believe deep down we do give a fuck about you. I can tell you I’m grateful for everyone who has thus far.
I didn’t get the nick-name mama bear out of nowhere.