Alexithymia or emotional mutism and its consequences

Alexithymia or emotional mutism and its consequences

There are people who have real difficulties in identifying and expressing their emotions. They are unable to recognize how they feel and do not use emotional language in their relationships. What happens to them has a name: emotional mutism. Let's talk about it.


  • 1 What is emotional mutism?
  • 2 Characteristics of emotional mutism
  • 3 Types of emotional mutism
  • 4 Consequences
  • 5 Treatment of emotional mutism

What is emotional mutism?

exist people who are accused of insensitive and not having empathy because they do not express their emotions or are able to recognize them in others. They are considered cold and flat in affection. But what many do not know is that what happens to them is a difficulty called alexithymia or emotional mutism.

The psychiatrist Peter Sifneos was the first to define the alexithymia in 1973 as the absence of words to identify and express emotions, together with a life of impoverished internal fantasy. Thus, Sifneos referred to these types of people as different and strangers in a society governed by feelings. It is as if they were emotional ignorant. But in addition, later studies identified two dimensions in this pathology:

  • Cognitive dimension. It refers to problems and difficulties in identifying, interpreting and verbalizing emotions and feelings.
  • Affective dimension. It corresponds to the situations in which the person has trouble reacting, expressing and feeling emotions.

People with emotional mutism are not that they have no emotions but are unable to identify and put words to how they feel. Their emotional vocabulary is very small and they lack emotional intelligence.In addition, they present great difficulties in distinguishing emotions from bodily sensations, since all feelings come to them in the form of a matojo of tensions. Therefore, they often complain about diffuse problems and get to confuse emotional suffering with physical pain.

According to the Spanish Association of Neurology At least 10% of the world's population suffers emotional mutism.

Characteristics of emotional mutism

The characteristics that identify the people who present this difficulty are:

  • Problems identifying and expressing emotions and feelings
  • Difficulty differentiating the feelings of physiological activation that accompanies emotional activation
  • Poor or no fantasy and imagination
  • Use the action to face conflict situations
  • Pay more attention and deal with external events instead of internal ones
  • Establish relationships of emotional dependence or isolation
  • Concrete thinking

Types of emotional mutism

Emotional mutism does not affect all people equally.Thus, depending on the degree of involvement, two types are distinguished: primary emotional mutism and secondary emotional mutism.

Primary emotional mutism is considered the most serious and is the result of a brain injury. In this case there is a neurological deficit that affects the connection between the limbic system (in charge of emotional management) and the neocortex (rational brain) or a communication problem between the right hemisphere (related to emotional management) and the left hemisphere (responsible for language production). In addition, this type of selective mutism may be hereditary or due to a neurological disease such as a stroke or parkinson's.

Secondary emotional mutism appears as a result of the experience of a traumatic experience in which the person has been affected by large doses of suffering. For example, when you suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to a violation or kidnapping. In this case, secondary emotional mutism would be part of the symptomatology of this disorder. Although this type of mutism can also be caused by poor emotional education, addiction problems or even depressive or eating disorders.


Having emotional mutism can have serious consequences if it is not treated as it influences personal relationships. As a rule People who have alexithymia have great difficulties in relating due to their lack of knowledge about emotions.They don't know how to identify, express or explain how they feel, so connecting emotionally with others is an impossible task. In addition, it will also complicate your decision making due to the fundamental role that emotions have in this process.

When interacting as a couple they can have real conflicts, especially because of their inability to verbalize how they feel and more if the other member of the couple waits at some time for the person with emotional mutism to open emotionally. In any case it is always appropriate to go to a specialist to try to know and learn to detect the entire emotional universe outside the person with alexithymia.

Treatment of emotional mutism

In most cases it is usually rare for the person with emotional mutism to take the initiative to go to therapy due to their lack of awareness about the problem. So it will be the family or the couple who take the step and the fundamental support for the treatment to take effect.

As there are different degrees of emotional mutism the treatment will vary depending on it. However, the possible options are: drug administration, psychotherapy and a planned life strategy.

The objective will be to make the emotional universe known to the person with emotional mutism and understand what is happening to him. To do this, they are taught to identify and share their emotions and those of others, through workshops on emotional intelligence and social skills.