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Feelings Mental Health Recovery

My Child is Emotionally Disconnected – Is it Alexithymia?

There is a clinical term for someone with the inability to correctly identify or describe hisrecoverypath or her feelings.  It’s called Alexithymia, a term introduced in 1972 by Peter Sifneos. It’s important to recognize that alexithymia isn’t a diagnosis, but rather a construct used to describe someone that demonstrates the inability to understand or articulate his or her feelings.  Someone affected by alexithymia literally cannot put words to their feelings, despite the desire to do so. It’s difficult for someone with alexithymia to relate to his or her own experiences or even grasp the experiences of others. This can be frustrating for everyone – for those lacking in their emotional response and for those expecting an emotional response.

Someone with alexithymia usually experiences these symptoms:

  • Difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the physical sensations of emotional stimulation
  • Difficulty identifying different types of feelings
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • Difficulty recognizing facial cues in others
  • Limited or rigid imagination
  • Constricted style of thinking
  • Hypersensitive to physical sensations
  • Detached or tentative connection with others

According to this article in Psych Central, emotional distance and alexithymia often accompany various levels of autism as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, panic and anxiety disorders, and sometimes substance abuse. It is important to note that affectionate communication (hugs, touch, and body language that is open and welcoming) can all have a positive impression on someone working with alexithymia. For some, alexithymia is an acute problem, resolving after the core causal factor has been managed (for example, substance abuse) while for others, it’s something one has to learn to live with and manage throughout their lives.

Parenting someone with alexithymia is not without its challenges. We want our children to be able to communicate with us and with their peers. We want to see them thrive emotionally and have long-lasting, meaningful relationships. Again, it’s important to note that affectionate communication will have positive effects. For example, if you notice your child has a facial expression that is a visual display of anger, it would be helpful to say something like, “You look angry. Is something bothering you?”  Or perhaps something major is coming up for them, like their first job interview, or a big test. Saying something like, “You have your interview coming up, are you feeling nervous?” can help him or her begin to label emotions. It’s helpful to understand that your loved one isn’t able to recognize emotional cues the way you do. This understanding will help with your own frustration when conflict or discord arises and it will allow you to facilitate a healthier means of communication.

The person living with alexithymia will also need to work toward strengthening his or her ability to recognize and understand feelings and emotions. This is something that can be learned by watching others and learning about what an emotion or feeling is supposed to feel like. This process is not easy and some of these tools may be of help:

  • Keep a journal in which you write every day, noting your observations or lack thereof.
  • Sink into literature and read as much as you can. Reading and processing language painted by a skilled author is a wonderful tool for learning and beginning to understand expressive language.
  • Take an acting class, or an art class. These types of classes will help someone with alexithymia begin to externalize emotive expression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Treatment: this is a form of psychotherapy built around skill-building and mindfulness techniques in order to recognize personal feeling states.

Having alexithymia is something that affects children and adults alike, and it can present in various levels of severity: mild, moderate, and severe. Once identified in someone, the work can begin toward learning to identity and experience emotive responses. They can then work toward having reciprocal relationships, which will ease the loneliness of being perpetually misunderstood.

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Feelings Recovery Self-Care Therapy Treatment

Working With Our Addiction to Anger

Angry Talk (Comic Style) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can you be addicted to anger? Does the adrenaline rush of being angry dictate your response to the world? Better yet, are you even aware this is happening? Or have you become so used to the rage response, it’s become part of your normative behavior.

We know anger is a natural occurrence, but for some, it becomes so deeply problematic, it devolves into an addiction. When we become our anger (or any emotion, for that matter), we disable our ability to communicate. In those moments when we are lost in the rage and its resulting dissension, our hearts are frozen; our eyes are blinded; our tongues are tied. No good can come from this.  But what can we do? How can we change this innately negative response to our frustration?

Anger management courses and other therapeutic modalities teach and use various methods in which one can learn to recognize the emotional and physical response to anger and rage. By first recognizing what is happening, one is allowed to begin to shift their response. First, we must familiarize ourselves with the addictive anger cycle itself:

1: You find yourself becoming uncomfortable or you aren’t getting something you want or think you need. You may be subconsciously or consciously reminded of feelings from long ago (childhood, for example), which are bringing untouched emotions to the surface.

2: You feel like no one understands you:  “No one gets it. They just don’t get it.” “I’m all alone.” “Whatever. I’m fine.” “No one listens to me.”

3: The frustration is building internally, but talking about it isn’t an option because you always deal with your anger and frustration alone. In fact, talking about it with others feels too difficult.

4: Stress begins to builds until you blow up. Someone or something is usually caught in the crossfire and they get hurt, either emotionally or physically. There is the part of you that doesn’t want this, but you have lost control. The guilt and shame begin to build.

5: You feel better after the explosion, perhaps even a bit relieved, until you look around and see the wreckage of your presence.

6: Now the guilt and shame really sets in. You find yourself ardently apologizing and promising not to repeat the behavior. Unfortunately, those on the receiving end may not accept your apology. What? Once again, “No one listens to me” becomes the inner mantra.

7: You internally justify your anger; it was really their fault anyway, right? (Wrong!)

8: You feel no better than before the explosion. In fact, the discomfort and frustration are still there, gnawing at you from the inside.

 

Processing anger like this is similar to releasing pressure from a pressure cooker while leaving it on the heat. Sure, some of the steam is released, but there is still steam building within. This technique is tantamount to placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It’s just not large enough, or effective enough to alleviate the problem. This circular pattern of frustration à anger à explosion à remorse is ultimately a dead end. What is really needed is a salve for the anger: a calming, healthy way in which to release the pressure.

 

1: Learn to understand and take care of your needs: Holding your emotions in cannot be an option.

2: Find a good therapist who can help teach you how to touch upon the things that trigger your anger and help you devise a healthier way to allow it to dissipate.

3:  Learn ways to let go of your anger which are healthy and non-harmful. Rather than beating a pillow, which only adds coals to the fire, discover how to gently cool the anger: take a walk, take 10 deep breaths, write, drink some water.

3: Ask for help. This may be difficult, but you can do this! You are not broken, you are not a bad person. You are struggling with an overpowering, difficult emotion and it is OK to ask for help.

4: Laugh. Laugh for no reason, just laugh. It not only opens your heart and softens your belly, it helps you see the ridiculousness in many things.

At some point, instead of your anger controlling you, you will learn to control your anger. Developing a practice of self-care will be paramount to paving a new path and changing the face of your addiction to anger.  Discovering ways to recognize the triggers to your anger and how to respond to them skillfully is going to be key. Remember, recognizing there is a problem is the first step to finding the solution. It takes time, and work, but it’s worth it. You can recover.

 

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Feelings Recovery

From Anger to Compassion

“Anger is like a hot stone. When you pick it up to hold or throw at someone, you get burned.”Ancient Proverb

Anger is an emotion most often legitimized by righteousness: anger at our assailant, anger at the hit-and-run driver, anger at our victimization, anger at our addiction. Justifiable anger certainly makes sense in some ways, but when we begin to examine our anger from a neutral position, finally seeing its source, our perceptions begin to change.  Working with anger has been a key part of my own recovery. Anger would consume me when I was a teen, and it continued to do so well into my early sobriety. At that time, the justification felt authentic. I responded to most things by getting angry: Scared? Anger. Stressed? Anger. You can see where I’m going with this. Like drugs and alcohol, the anger stopped working. It was one more thing I was addicted to. I liked my justification.

I’ve learned that anger is fear’s way of not showing its wide-eyed terror; it’s hurt’s way of shielding a broken heart and hurt feelings; it’s loneliness trying to appear courageous. Anger, despite its deeply embedded hooks, is merely a mask. In reality, it is a secondary emotion. Granted, everyone gets angry, however, what we choose to do with our anger will ultimately choose its outcome.  Because anger exhibits itself in our body’s “fight or flight” response, employing some self-awareness can be especially helpful.  For example, pay attention to your body’s physical reactions. You can ask yourself questions like: What’s happening with my breathing—is it faster? Is it shallow?  Is my stomach tight?  Am I afraid?  Stopping when the anger starts allows us to take care of the anger. It allows our anger the space it needs to dissipate, rather than being fed by the fires of our reactions. Buddhism suggests we observe our anger and send it compassion. In fact, they say compassion is the antidote to anger, which is a wonderful way of addressing anger. I rather like what Lama Surya Das has to say:

“I believe that anger is just an emotion. We needn’t be afraid of it or judge it too harshly. Emotions occur quickly; moods linger longer. These temporary states of mind are conditioned, and therefore can be reconditioned. Through self-discipline and practice, negativity can be transformed into positivity and freedom and self-mastery achieved.”

The truth is, feeding the fuel of anger only breeds more anger. Learning how to sit with the uncomfortable sensations that come with rage teaches us that those intense emotions will pass. It provides us with an opportunity to transform an emotion that has the potential of destroying us.

Here’s a story typically attributed to a Native American elder which explains this better than I ever could:

A grandfather imparting a life lesson to his grandson tells him, ‘I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.’ The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. The grandfather answers, ‘The one I feed.’”

Which emotion will you feed?