Alexithymia : A Psychological Analysis Based on Clinical and Healthy Individuals

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Individuals with an alexithymic personality trait have been described as having not only difficulties in expressing and differentiating emotions, but also as having characteristics similar to psychotic individuals. Further, the alexithymic trait is believed to cause the individual psychosomatic disorders. This thesis, however, argues that the alexithymic trait may not cause psychosomatic disorders. The alternative hypothesis, that alexithymia is a result of psychological or bodily distress, was examined through a comparative study in four parts involving psychosomatic (Ps, n = 47), psychoneurotic (Pn, n = 48), and healthy (H, n = 48) groups. The data-based on alexithymic tests (BIQ and SSPS), TAT, and MMPI-were analyzed regarding the degree of alexithymia, verbal expressions, and personality variables (i.e., self and object representations, and neurotic and psychotic characteristics). Part I showed that the Ps group did not differ from the Pn in total verbal expressions but did differ from the H group. The three groups, however, did not differ in emotional expressions when the proportion of emotional words to the total number of words was considered. The findings based on the alexithymic tests were contradictory. Part II, examining four aspects of operational thinking (OP-a further dimension of alexithymia), showed non-significant differences between the Ps and Pn groups. However, the Ps and H groups showed significant differences in two aspects of OP which were associated with these two groups' cognitive ability. Part III, examining self and object representations, showed that the Ps and Pn groups did not differ in these variables. The Ps group, like the Pn, could nuance and differentiate expressions concerning the self and others. Part IV revealed that the Ps and Pn groups did not differ in neurotic characteristics and in the quality of object relations. The Ps group revealed a psychotic profile positioned between the Pn (highest) and H (lowest) group profiles. Finally, the Ps group was able to differentiate bodily sensations from emotional experiences. It is concluded that the view of alexithymia as a specific trait of psychosomatic patients should be revised.

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