About one in ten is emotionally blind

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The inability to interpret your own emotions adequately: about one in ten is emotionally blind

Almost every tenth German is emotionally blind. This refers to the inability to adequately perceive and describe one's own feelings. The technical term is a Greek artificial word and is called "alexithymia". For emotional blindness, genetic factors can play an important role, but socialization also seems to play a crucial role. Some sufferers were observed to be neglected or physically tortured in early childhood.

Almost 11 percent of Germans are affected by alexithymia
A lot more people are affected by alexithymia than would be expected. "About 11 percent of Germans are affected, and one in five of the mentally ill," said the director of the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Charité in Berlin, Prof. Dr. Isabella Heuser. This term generally describes a person's difficulty in adequately perceiving their own emotions and interpreting them accordingly. Those affected are also unable to interpret other people's feelings accordingly. This has far-reaching consequences for those affected.

International conference on alexithymia
The technical term “Alexithym” was first coined for these people in 1974. Since then, the emotional disorder has been increasingly researched by medical professionals and psychologists. Experts are now planning an international conference on this phenomenon for the first time in Berlin. The focus of the conference program is on the interaction of triggering factors and the areas that can affect alexithymia, including facial expressions and gestures, the sensation of pain or the ability to empathize. Studies with imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging provide insights into emotion processing in the human brain. Scientists from the cluster's research projects will also present their research results. The conference “Berlin Alexithymia Conference 2010” is organized by the Alexithymia working group of the Cluster of Excellence “Languages ​​of Emotion”. The conference will take place from November 8 to 9, 2010 at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Social difficulties in everyday life
For those affected, the inability to interpret emotions is a major social problem. Emotional intelligence in particular is extremely important in our society. Especially in professional life, people have an extremely difficult time. Here, so-called "soft skills" are repeatedly asked, like Dr. Isabella Heuser explains. The same is missing from alexithymic people. “Emotional blindness” is not a disease, but a significant characteristic of people. "Alexithyme prefer to talk about subject matter and are rather short when it comes to emotional areas." Those affected often have disturbed relationships with other people in everyday life because emotional intelligence is extremely important for interpersonal communication. In addition, alexithymes are much more susceptible to mental illnesses such as depression, as the expert explains.

Those affected often redirect emotional discomfort to physical complaints
Those affected often switch to physical symptoms if they feel emotionally unwell. "Then they say they have a headache or a stomachache - actually like children," says the scientist. The switch to psychosomatic symptoms is very reminiscent of children, because toddlers are also “alexithymic beings” who only learn to express their feelings and interpret the emotions of others as they develop.

Genetic factors and physical abuse
According to the expert, genetic factors played an important role in the occurrence of alexithymia. "However, there are also indications that early childhood neglect, growing up in an insensitive family and physical abuse are risk factors." However, there are also hopes for those affected. The psychiatrist assumes that alexithymia can also be treated. Because "a person is capable of learning throughout his life," adds the expert. However, a suitable form of therapy still had to be developed. The congress in Berlin could take another step in the right direction. (sb, Nov 1, 2010)

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