A limited ability to understand, process, or describe one’s own feelings is referred to as alexithymia, literally “no words for feelings”. This concept, first introduced by P.E. Sifneos1), was derived from his observations of psychosomatic patients who had deficits in identifying, describing, and working with their own feelings and who had difficulty distinguishing between their feelings and bodily sensations related to emotions. In addition to psychosomatic patients, alexithymia has recently been used to refer to deficits in the emotional functioning of broader populations and to include common medical and psychiatric disorders (e.g., eating disorders, substance abuse, and posttraumatic stress disorder). In this thematic series, the latest brain imaging findings on the neurological basis of alexithymia are presented. We also present findings on social cognition and the influence of alexithymia on the long-term prognosis of chronic medical illness, and conclude with a discussion of areas that might be the focus future studies of alexithymia, including a shift in focus from alexithymia to “alexisomia”. 1) Sifneos PE. The prevalence of 'alexithymic' characteristics in psychosomatic patients. Psychother Psychosom. 1973; 22(2):255-62.
Dr Gen Komaki