Added: Shunta Lewin - Date: 10.02.2022 05:11 - Views: 35948 - Clicks: 3999
Stephen has been married twice. Two wedding days. Yet Stephen has no happy memories from either — or, in fact, from the marriages or any of his relationships. He met his first wife on a pre-nursing course when he was just Six years later, they were married. Three years after that, they got divorced; she was never really the right one for him, he says. Almost two decades on, in , he met his second wife through a dating site.
Most of my responses are learned responses. Which I am. So it is a lie. Still, not everyone with the condition has the same experiences. Some have gaps and distortions in the typical emotional repertoire. Surprisingly, given how generally unrecognized it is, studies show that about 1 in 10 people falls on the alexithymia spectrum. After working as a nurse for 10 years, Stephen decided he wanted to do something different. A two-year Access to University course led to a degree in astronomy and physics, and then to a job testing computer games.
He built a successful career for himself, working for various companies in their computer-testing departments, managing teams, and traveling around the world to speak at conferences. He had no problem conveying facts to colleagues. It all falls apart. I react mostly cognitively, rather than it being emotions making me react. Obviously, that is not valid. It seems fake. Because it is fake. And you can only pretend for so long.
He and his current wife stopped living together in He saw a general practitioner and was prescribed antidepressants. Though he was still in contact with his wife, it was clear that the relationship was no longer working. In June , he attempted suicide. I was taken to hospital and treated. A psychiatrist referred Stephen for a series of counseling sessions and then a course of psychodynamic psychotherapy, a type of Freudian-based therapy that, in trying to uncover unconscious drivers of thoughts and behavior, is similar to psychoanalysis. Source photograph from iStock. Freudian ideas are now out of favor with most academic psychologists, as Geoff Bird , associate professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford explains.
But when Bird read about alexithymia, he found the descriptions intriguing. Bird started his academic career studying autism, empathy and emotional awareness, which led to his interest in alexithymia. In one of his first studies in this field, he linked alexithymia, as measured with a item checklist developed at the University of Toronto, with a lack of empathy.
But what really drew Bird into alexithymia research were his interactions with people with autism. And you can see that immediately as soon as you meet some autistic people. In other words, emotion-related difficulties are intrinsic to alexithymia, not to autism.
Bird is passionate about spreading this message. But he volunteered to work at a care home because he wanted to do something productive with his time. Bird has since run a series of studies exploring alexithymia outside the context of autism. He has found, for example, that people with the condition have no trouble recognizing faces or distinguishing between pictures of people smiling and frowning.
That is really quite strange. As well as better characterizing alexithymia, Bird and his colleagues have also dug into what explains it, taking what could seem to be a circular argument — Stephen has problems with emotion because he has alexithymia, which is characterized by problems with emotion — and blowing it right apart. It makes me want to either run away or react verbally aggressively. Fear and anger — and confusion — he understands. Source photograph from iStock by Getty Images.
The ability to detect changes inside the body — everything from a racing heart to a diversion of blood flow, from a full bladder to a distension of the lungs — is known as interoception. Different emotions are associated with different physical changes. In anger, for example, the heart rate rises, blood rushes to the face and fists clench. In fear, the heart rate also rises, but blood drains from the face. What Bird, Brewer and others have found in people with alexithymia is a reduced ability, sometimes a complete inability, to produce, detect or interpret these internal bodily changes.
People with the condition have normal-range intelligence quotients. As , Stephen suffered extreme emotional neglect. When he was 6, his mother intentionally set fire to their home in Nottingham while she, Stephen, his younger brother and even younger sister were all inside. His father was a steelworker who worked all kinds of shifts.
We were always in trouble. Robbing shops. All kinds of stuff. So we went into care. For the rest of his childhood, Stephen was in and out of care homes. The only emotions he remembers feeling, even then, are fear, anger and confusion. I always felt uncomfortable. Alexithymia is often associated with trauma and neglect from a young age, Geoff Bird explains. Twin studies have suggested a genetic component, too. As Rebecca Brewer notes, the kind of anxiety that Stephen experiences is common in people with poor interoception. At the University of Sussex, Hugo Critchley and Sarah Garfinkel , who have expertise in psychiatry and neuroscience, are looking at ways to alter interoception, to bring anxiety down.
Garfinkel has put forward a 3-D model of interoception that has been well received by others in the field. First, objective accuracy at perceiving interoceptive als — how good you are at counting heartbeats, for example. Second, subjective report — how good you think you are. And third, metacognitive accuracy — how good you are at knowing how good you actually are. The third dimension is important because various studies have found that the gap between how good someone thinks they are at counting heartbeats, for example, and how good they actually are predicts their levels of anxiety.
Lisa Quadt, a research fellow with the Sussex group, is now running a clinical trial with the aim of testing whether decreasing this gap for people with autism can lower their anxiety. In a pilot study, Critchley, Garfinkel and graduate student Abigail McLanachan recruited a group of students who came into the lab for six training sessions.
In each session, they first did the heartbeat-counting task. McLanachan then got them to do a few minutes of jumping jacks or walking fast up the steep hill outside the building — whatever was necessary to raise their heart rate, to make it easier to detect.
Then they went back into the lab, did the tasks again and, as before, were given feedback each time. This was just a pilot study on a general student population. This will allow the team to monitor activity in the insula, which receives heart-rate data, and look at how changes in that activity may correspond to connections between the amygdala, which detects threats, and the prefrontal cortex, which can work out whether a potential threat really is or is not dangerous and so whether anxiety is warranted.
The hope, Critchley explains, is to see improved connectivity between these two regions, which studies have linked to decreased anxiety. In Oxford, meanwhile, Geoff Bird wants to look at the idea that there are two different types of alexithymia. This second group, which includes Stephen, might benefit more.
Stephen says that for him, this is certainly true. And in theory, an emotional-training technique is something he would welcome. For now, given the absence of available treatments for alexithymia, Stephen plans to use his newfound understanding of himself, gained through therapy, to try to move forward.
At first, he says, he hoped that therapy would fix everything. Though he and his wife are still separated, they talk regularly and now he tries not to reject her views on his anxiety. I can find out more about it. And I can develop certain tools that enable me to combat it. People without alexithymia could probably use such tools as well. Regular physical exercise should dampen down the kinds of bodily als from the heart and circulation, for example that the brain could interpret as being anxious — so it should dampen down feelings of anxiety, too.
Knowing that als from our bodies underpin our emotions could be empowering for all of us. Now, how does that make you feel? This story originally appeared on Mosaic. Spectrum: Autism Research News. About Subscribe. News The latest developments in autism research.
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