As part of my efforts to improve my relationship skills, I read many of the posts on CharismaTips.com. It’s a site oriented towards male geeks who want better dating skills, but it appears to be useful for a broader range of personal interactions, and is oriented toward geeks.
I ran into more trouble than I expected when I tried to follow this advice:
Make a list of every positive emotion you can think of. For each emotion write down a short headline to a story, moment, or experience, when you felt that emotion.
After much research, I decided that a large part of the problem was connected with Alexithymia. According to Wikipedia it is:
a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.
- difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
- difficulty describing feelings to other people
- constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
- a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.
Talking about emotions is reportedly valuable in creating a feeling of closeness with another person, but when I try to think of stories I might tell about emotions, I often come up completely blank, or remember situations where the context suggests I felt something corresponding to an emotion, but for which I’m unable to find a memory of feelings. I think my mood is often best described as neutral, which I gather isn’t the case for most people.
Therefore, alexithymia is viewed as “blindfeel”, the emotional equivalent of blindsight. According to this thesis, alexithymia is a deficit in reaching the conscious awareness and in maintaining the voluntary control of emotions, rather than a disruption in the sensory/perceptual aspect of emotions.
One of the tests for Alexithymia suggests that it is associated with low interest in sex, although I can’t find much evidence on that subject. I certainly feel much less interest in sex than the average person.
I wonder if one of the reasons I don’t form many close relationships with people is that I don’t notice any reactions in me corresponding to what people call “love at first sight”. If I’ve ever felt even mild versions of that, I can’t recall them.
Alexithymia also seems to affect people’s reactions to music:
an apparent reduction in emotional responsiveness to music in the ASD group can be accounted for by the higher mean level of alexithymia in that group.
I don’t notice myself reacting to music by itself, but it does seem to manipulate my emotions when it’s part of a movie.
Alexithymia is clearly a separate phenomenon from Aspergers/autism, but it is reported to occur in 50% to 85% of autistic people. It could be responsible for a significant fraction of the problems autistics have relating to other people. In particular, autism by itself doesn’t seem to cause problems with eye contact:
only the degree of alexithymia, and not autism symptom severity, predicted eye fixation.
There don’t seem to be any good ideas for dealing with Alexithymia, although that might reflect how little research has been done so far rather than any inherent difficulty.
The most promising claim I’ve found is this:
So how did I “cure” myself? It’s a bit of a long story but I will give you some bits of it for now.
One of the things I did was to start to read about feelings. This might have started giving me the vocabulary.
Something else I did was I started taking time to think about my feelings. To reflect on them.
Then I also started to write about them in personal journals.
I’m starting to do this, but it clearly won’t produce clear results soon.
I’ve bought and used a dvd designed to teach people how to recognize emotions in faces. It’s got a lot of potentially useful information in it, but it leaves much to be desired – I’m fairly sure it’s mistaken to list lying as a detectable emotion (guilt or fear of detection are detectable, but the most rigorous studies seem to say that people rarely do much better than chance at detecting lies). I’m unsure whether I’m learning much from it.