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Alexithymia and Autism - Making sense of big emotions

Have you ever wondered why your autistic friend, sibling, child never seems to know how they feel?

They can name their feelings but just can’t seem to make the connection between how they feel within themselves. They may say things like “I feel empty” or “I can’t feel anything at all”.

This inability to name, describe and sense feelings is known as Alexithymia and is more common in Autisic individuals than you may expect. With estimates suggesting that 10% of the neurotypical population have been diagnosed with the condition, recent research indicates that up to 50% of Autistics also have the condition.

Furthermore, we know that Alexithymia is also associated with other mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and some psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Not being able to name or identify the sensation of a feeling or emotion within yourself is a major barrier to being able to self-regulate and cope with difficult emotions.

As a psychologist one of the most important skills towards a meaningful life is being able to detect that a strong emotion is present and then creating space between yourself and the emotion.

Creating space between the emotion and your mind stops us becoming stuck with the feeling. Even being able to simply identify your feelings and name them has shown to reduce activity in the emotional centre of the brain. This makes sense because once we know what feeling we are experiencing we feel in control and less overwhelmed by uncertainty and can do something about it. 

So what can we do about improving our mind-body connection?

  1. Start a mind-body ritual which entails an activity and focusing on the sensations you experience as you do this activity (i.e., washing your hands, eating a certain food, doing a stretch yoga class).

  2. Consider engaging in interoception training at Happy Brain - this form of training focuses on increasing your awareness of your senses so that you can detect them more easily and take the best action to help regulate.  


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