Alexithymia is not something you “have” and cannot change. It is a term used to describe a relative inability to process one’s emotional experience. Alexithymia is not all or nothing; it is a matter of degree. Some people are very adept at emotional processing, others are not. But what does it mean to “process” one’s feelings? Why is this ability important? Alexithymia is not uncommon in the general population, but is much more prevalent in people who experience emotional and behavioral problems. Can it be improved?
Viewing entries tagged with 'emotions'
Without fail, my clients come to me having lost traction in the world. They are locked into patterns of behavioral stagnation (i.e., narrowed or limited behavioral repertoires), wherein they’ve become disconnected from what they want most in life, aside from relief from psychological pain. The reason most often given to explain this stagnation and paralysis is that they just don’t “feel” like they can move effectively in the world; their feelings of depression and/or anxiety dictate their behavior (or lack thereof). The implicit agreement they’ve made with themselves and the world is that they have to “feel” a certain way before they can act a certain way. “Once my depression/anxiety goes away, then I can live the life I want,” is the underlying agreement or assumption. It becomes an “if only…, then…” situation.“If only my depression would get better, then I could live the life that I want.” I’m reminded that my Zen teacher, Daniel Doen Silberberg, would often talk about this “If only…, then…” approach to the world. He would say, “We live our lives this way: ‘If only… If only… If only… If only….’ Dead.” Doen was referring to our relationships to both our external worlds (e.g., “If only I could have that house or car I want, then my life would be better.”) and our internal worlds (e.g., “If only I could make my depression go away, then I could live the life that I want.”), but it’s particularly poignant and pertinent when considering the impasse that many of my clients have come to in their young lives. Again, the implicit agreement they’ve made is “If only my bad feelings would go away, then I could live the life that I want.” It’s as though they’re waiting for the world-- someone or something--to come along and change their feelings so that they can begin living the lives they want. From this position, until their feelings change, they are doomed to lives of inertia and behavioral stagnation. The absence of “good” feelings (or the “right” feelings) becomes the reason for their paralysis.
Smoke billowing from a juniper root, a sage spindle spinning quickly, the smell of a coal forming on the fire board, in the middle of the desert, watching as an expert field staff made fire with sticks and her hands, I became mesmerized, fascinated and a little scared. “I am expected to do that?” I thought as I was sent off on my solo experience shortly after watching someone make fire within 10 seconds. I was left wondering if I was capable of this job, if it were possible for me to make fire like she did. Only one percent of the population can make fire using a bow drill, and they expect me to join that statistic. I was terrified. The journey of making fire was frustrating. I saw students who were better at it than I was, while staff who sat patiently next to me as I worked on my own fire set. Its 90% preparation, 10% skill, I heard over and over. The pressure was intense and I knew I had to “bust” 14 fires before I could move up a level as a field staff and no longer an intern. I wanted it more and more as I worked on my set and had bloody knuckles from the spindle whipping my hands as it flew off the fire board because I did not have enough down pressure, or my bow string was too loose. All the pieces needed to fit together to be successful. I had to look at all the moving parts, one piece was not more important than the other. They all needed to hold their own as they worked together.