Alexithymia? Let’s take another look at the facts AND the truth – Part 1

alexithymia score : 156 pointsThis is going to be a several-part series, because there’s so much to say about this topic. And I don’t have a lot of time, right now, to do it all justice.

There’s an online alexithymia test I’ve taken before. And I’ve taken it again, just for a refresher.

One of the things that gets me about these tests is that they talk about things being easy or difficult, about being able to do them or not, as a sign that you do/do not have an issue.

The problem with that is, as an autistic grown-up with 50+ years of practice at figuring this stuff out and learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to adjust, I’ve developed a ton of compensations that cover up the underlying issues. Yes, I can do them. Yes, some of them I can actually do with fluidity. But is any of it easy? Oh, hell, no. It’s still difficult. It still leaves me feeling stupid and deficient. But I can do it, so supposedly I have no problems.

Except… I do.

So, when I fill out these questionnaires, and I answer about my ability level (rather than my innate inclination), I don’t even show up on the radar. And it doesn’t reflect what I’m really experiencing. I now answer with both the facts and the truth  – like so:

Question 1: When asked which emotion I’m feeling, I frequently don’t know the answer.

Fact: When asked, I can give an answer that sounds credible.

Truth: When asked, I often truly do not know which emotion I’m feeling. I come up with something that seems plausible, and I go with that. I’ve trained myself to respond in a convincing manner that sounds good. Whether or not that’s really what I’m feeling, is beside the point. It’s really about the delivery (the projected “sense” of my response), not the actual content of what I’m saying. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to much care about what I’m truly saying and mean, rather how I’m saying it. What I want more than anything, is for the conversation to move along, without drawing attention to how oblivious and out-of-sorts I am. If I draw attention to my emotional blindness, it makes the interaction So Much More Difficult. And I don’t want that.

Question 2: I’m unsure of which words to use when describing my feelings.

Fact: I can come up with plausible descriptions of what I’m feeling, on a regular basis.

Truth: I really am at a loss, when it comes to describing emotions. Over the years, through trial-and-error, I’ve figured out how to describe what I’m feeling to others. But it’s more for their benefit, than mine. It’s really to move the conversation along (as I mentioned above), or to avert a freak-out by the other person who can’t imagine why I’m so “disconnected” from my feelings. Oh . My . God . women are the worst to be around, when I’m uber-alexitymic — they treat me like I’m emotionally stunted… all those psychtherapist friends of mine, over the years, convinced that I was a heavy-duty trauma survivor, because I was so “disconnected” from my feelings. Ugh. The ways they interacted with me… how incredibly annoying. It’s so much easier to just fake my way through it, and leave it at that, without delving deeper.

Question 3: I prefer to find out the emotional intricacies of my problems rather than just describe them in terms of practical facts.

Fact: Oh, God, no. No, thank you!

Truth: Thankfully, I can tell the truth about this one. It’s very simple. I do NOT want to sort out the emotional intricacies of my problems. I just want to fix sh*t that’s broken. Full stop. Thank you very much.

Question 4: When other people are hurt or upset, I have difficulty imagining what they are feeling.

Fact: I can often figure out what the deal is with them… if I put some energy into it.

Truth: This is a learned skill. But it’s not easy, I’m telling you. When I’m tired and out of sorts, it gets harder. When I’m rested and I am dealing with someone I know, I can recognize their emotional patterns, based on a whole lot of prior experience (science!). But if it’s a stranger, or someone I haven’t figured out, yet… yeah, good luck with that.

Question 5: People tell me to describe my feelings more, as if I haven’t elaborated enough.

Fact: I used to have problems with this, now I don’t so much.

Truth: This happens less now than it used to, for a numberof reasons.

First, I’ve learned how to describe my feelings in terms that others understand, but which don’t really reflect how I really feel. I don’t want to dwell on gray areas, so I come out with a definitive statement, to avoid having to elaborate. God, I hate it when people ask me to go into more detail about my feelings.

Second, I don’t spend a lot of time around people in situations that call for a lot of emotional processing. Most of my social interactions are at work, where it’s all about getting the job done, not emoting, not sharing (cringe). I eschew scenarios where I’ll be sitting around with people processing their emotional ups and downs — and where they’ll expect me to process mine with them. I have no interest in doing so. Even with my partner of 26 years. She’s learned, by now, to not keep asking me about my emotional state. And I’ve learned how to give her the kind of information she’s looking for.

The last reason I have less trouble with this, is that I’ve gotten more familiar with the vocabulary of emotions. So, I can figure out more easily what I’m feeling. Still, it does not come easy. Not in the least.

Question 6: Sex as a recreational activity seems kind of pointless.

Fact: Sort of. I mean, I kind of get it. I’ve had some great sex in my life, I have to say. But doing it for fun? For recreation? It doesn’t seem like a good use of time.

Truth: I’m hot/cold when it comes to sex. I will be either celibate and asexual, or sexually intense. I’ve gotten myself into trouble a bunch of times with women who got really turned on when I was hyper-sexual, and they wanted more than was possible (since I was married, and I have rules about not fooling around). Even though I understand the draw of hot sex, still, treating it as recreation just doesn’t seem like a good use of time. Not when there’s so much to do in the world. We’ve got too many problems that need solving, to spend a ton of time exchanging bodily fluids.

Question 7: I can describe my emotions with ease.

Fact: Sure.

Truth: This hasn’t come easily. I can do it, but it’s not easy. Just because I can do something really well, doesn’t mean it’s second-nature to me. Plus, when I describe my emotions, I’m just barely scratching the surface. I’m nowhere near the full and detailed description of what’s going on with me — especially because there are no words for much of what I sense.

Question 8: You cannot functionally live your life without being aware of your deepest emotions.

Fact: Given the logical facts of how unexpressed and unresolved emotions mess with people’s heads and make life miserable for everyone, it’s simply common sense to me that you cannot be fully functional unless you have a working awareness of your deepest emotions.

Truth: I’m not sure I could ever be fully aware of my deepest emotions. They run through me like a lava field far beneath the surface of my bedrock life. They seethe and boil and rise and fall and far exceed any capability of language, indeed, awareness. They’re too fluid, too variable, and they can come and go at a moment’s notice, so no sooner do I become aware of them, than they disappear from view, replaced by something completely different. You can totally live your life without being fully aware of your deepest emotions – especially when those emotions are as intense and as mutable as mine.

Question 9: People sometimes get upset with me, and I can’t imagine why.

Fact: Not so much anymore.

Truth: Because I avoid people. That solves a ton of problems. ’nuff said.

Question 10: People tell me I don’t listen to their feelings properly, when in fact I’m doing my utmost to understand what they’re saying!

Fact: People don’t tell me that much.

Truth: Because I don’t spend much time with people, outside of my day job.  I used to get this all the time from my partner, and at one point, she was going to leave me, because she felt I was so emotionally distant. She didn’t feel cared for, which wasn’t true at all. I loved her with all my heart, but she didn’t “get” that from my behavior.

When she threatened to leave me, I started to work harder at listening and parsing out the data she was communicating. It’s been successful — partly because I’ve gotten better at the whole thing (I needed to be told I wasn’t doing it very well), partly because I now know what she wants to hear, and when I’m at a loss and don’t understand her at all, I can at least tell her something that will make her feel better. Mission accomplished. 🙂

Note: This is part of a 4-part series about Alexithymia criteria, as well as related thoughts about the “subcondition” in general. You can find additional content at the links below:


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14 thoughts on “Alexithymia? Let’s take another look at the facts AND the truth – Part 1

  1. I actually had to look up alexithymia. Gad, another defect autistics can be charged with! It’s not one of mine, but it reminds me of other tests like it. One reason they are so poorly designed is that they don’t take into account that sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t, or sometimes you are and sometimes you aren’t. No one is any one thing all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Yep, I hear you. I find the concept useful – within limits. It never occurred to me “it was a thing” — and it helps me understand that I’m not “emotionally stunted” or “holding back” as so many (women) have claimed. I’m just wired differently, and there’s really nothing inherently damaged about me.

      So there 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ugh. Emotionally stunted was one of the things about me psychs have picked up on. Yes, alexithymia is what it is called. It is a thing and I have it. Staying away from people certainly solves a LOT of problems.

    I thank you for this post. Pretty much my elaborated answers too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Thanks for writing – yeah… that “stunted” business… how ’bout that. Somebody needs to properly train people, so they don’t keep trying to fix something that just is. It’s so much more useful to start from the very beginning and educate about things, rather than assuming there’s some damage that needs to be explored. But you tend to find what you look for, so…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Part of it was me forever seeking some clarity on why I was so damaged, so broken, so weird. No one knew what to call the rough diamond I am. They could sense some neuroses, and many other deficits, but nothing to cloak it all together. I sought their help in untangling the mess I was.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. VisualVox

        Same here. When I realized the alexithymia connection, though, I could really take the pressure off. I just get confused about what I’m feeling. It’s not that I don’t feel anything. And it’s not that I’m incredibly messed up — I just feel that way. When I’m not feeling well physically, my mental health goes downhill fast. Realizing that I’m not a piece of trash — I’m just not feeling physically great, at the moment — has taken a lot of the pressure off.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Alexithymia? Let’s take another look at the facts AND the truth – Part 2 – Aspie Under Your Radar

  4. There are some instances where alexithymia is more of an issue than in my normality of life: when i had a lof of female housemates, and when i had to work or do stuff in female dominated environments.
    Alexithymia in my normal life? I don’t care. If I’m feeling shitty, i just have to troubleshoot it first. Is there some part of me in physical pain? Could i be angry, frustrated or in rage about something? Could i just be hungry or have indigestion? Or culture shock? It can take a while sometimes to decipher, so end result of not figuring it out can and have been confused eg with eating abnormalities.
    I’ve learned to give out answers that are expected for the hiwareyoufeeling enquiries and avoid most people. And again, animals are so much easier to read. If i meet a cat or a dog it’s so much easier to figure what kind of mood they are in than humans (as animals don’t lie).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Agreed. Especially about dealing with women. There seems to be an expectation that because I’m walking around in a female body, I’ll process everything like other women. And if/when I don’t, they all “volunteer” to help me “fix” my emotional issues.

      It’s a little tiring.

      Yes, animals. Much easier to deal with.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ayup. My cats understand exactly how i feel without me trying to use words to describe. And hopefully some day I’ll have a puppy too. At which point I’ll kindly point to people pestering me about my feelings and emotions to talk to the puppy 🐶


  5. Pingback: Alexithymia? Let’s take another look at the facts AND the truth – Part 3 – Aspie Under Your Radar

  6. Pingback: Alexithymia? Let’s take another look at the facts AND the truth – Part 4 – Aspie Under Your Radar

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