Hi, I am 41 years old and have 2 kids with my partner of 17 years. In the last 10 years a few large and small things have happened not all related to each other which have caused me to question a lot of stuff about my life.
My partner who is very supportive but has had a low level of frustration with me over the years as I don’t respond to her in quite the way she wants at key moments. It was her who put me onto alexithymia about a year ago and I score at about 125 so not too high.
As our life is busy but generally pretty good (kids health, good social life & we take good holidays etc) and as I am not the sort of person who thinks it is healthy to look too hard for “problems” I haven’t done anything about my score, such as counselling or making a post on this website.
This is my first post here and it is about the possible causes of alexithymia. Of these things that have happened over the last 5 years one of the first and biggest is that we have fallen out big time with my parents. How and why that happened is a complex story, basically we are all to blame in some way, but it is what happened since that is interesting.
A short while after the bust up my Dad (now retired but worked all his life with emotionally disturbed teens) produced a long (about 18 pages) account from a professional perspective suggesting quite clearly that my partner had potential dangerous psychological problems and that is what caused the bust up.
Whilst and because of all this I was experiencing an emotional “white-out”. It’s like when somebody turns up the volume too much and you loose the definition in the music. I went into a kind of shell. Time goes by, weeks then months and I can’t say anything to get my parents on side. My partner (who previously thought my parents where great) is increasing annoyed by my inability to do anything. She has quite clear ideas about the bust-up which I now agree with but at the time I just couldn’t process what had happened and couldn’t do anything about it as a result.
Then things got worse – my Dad, I think because I don’t accept that my partner has these psychological problems, and because we are unhappy about him seeing the kids under the circumstances, turns nasty. Those months turned into years and during that time we have received many hurtful comments, rude emails, physical action from my Dad to mess up things we had organised and letters threatening legal action against us.
I have spoken to him a few times and written in the last year or two, and he denies that anything he has done would be upsetting / threatening / damaging to us. He claims all these menacing communications are “helpful” and that it is entirely in my hands to sort it out. Whenever I try to explain that we must all take a bit of blame for the bust up and explain where I think he went wrong he denies that too.
It is this reaction from my Dad to the bust-up which has crystallised how I think about it now. But also, I no longer feel anything. Before during the “white-out” I felt a kind of panic and confusion as an emotion. Now a feel nothing. I do want to sort things out for the sake of the whole family, but I don’t have the emotional drive to do that with any real conviction.
My Dad now basically thinks he is totally infallible and 100% right and my partner 100% to blame and I am some kind of helpless victim. Whilst all this is going on my Mum is useless. She is just sad and keeps saying things like “I don’t understand” and “I can’t express myself like your Dad”. She can’t formulate any opinion. Either she is trapped between family members or she is emotionally incapable too.
So, this is where we are at, and this is why I am thinking about the causes of alexithymia. I my case I am wondering about my parents. My Dad had a very young mother who ran away a few times because she couldn’t cope. He went to a military boarding school which he doesn’t talk about much. My mum was an only child who was taken from the UK to Belgium and went to a convent school with really strict nuns as teachers. I was raised with my brother in a very rural area in an isolated house in the UK, we didn’t have much money and not much really happened. I used to think my parents where great. They are interesting and seem kind and considerate but with hindsight I think they made a conscious effort to create a very protected upbringing for me and my brother. He thinks this too in recent years and has spent time talking to his partner about how to communicate emotions better.
Looking back, I never remember my parents expressing much emotion apart from a very gentle steady constant unchanging care and kindness - I was never exposed to anything more dynamic, either good or bad. I have discovered this in conversation with my partner, through comparison to her parents and other people we know who seem much more complex emotionally - but in a good, healthy, dynamic and expressive way.
Also, I had a terrible time at school and felt most of the other kids where stupid narrow-minded bullies. I had a teacher who openly called me gay at the age of 10 and said other boys could hit me if I came onto them. This was at an ordinary state school in the UK in the early 80’s. I longed from the age of 13 to live in a diverse cosmopolitan city. I remember having quite romantic feelings from a very young age about girls – not boys (not that it matters) and I think on reflection I was a bit different. More emotional than others, not less, but in a way which was a bit out of control and was not easy for others to understand or respond to - this meant that I was ostracized, labelled as a bit weird causing me social anxiety which has been linked to sexual feelings and affected the rest of my life.
So, I think through a combination of parents who tried deliberately to make an emotional situation for me what was very calm and stable – a bit unreal. And through growing up in a backward rural area with a teacher who was totally out of order, and possily becuase I was a bit alexi or asperger's from birth, I never learnt how to understand, express and deal with more rich, complex emotions which I feel I had at an early age the potential to develop.
I have spent most of my adult life feeling kind of trapped. As if there is a true world out there to experience a kind of emotionally rich varied and fulfilling world but which I am separated from by a screen or film so that everything on the other-side seems blurry and incomprehensible. I have had a sociable and adventurous life as an adult. I love going to parties and being the centre of attention, but I am beginning to feel this is all a bit fake. It's not that I could think of better friends than I have, it just that I am realising now through more in depth conversations than I have ever had before that I have gone through life not really connecting with people.
My partner and I seem like we are splitting up now too. She is very emotionally complex. She had about 40 relationships before we met and a varied and adventurous lifestyle. Listening to her stories over the years has always confused me. There is so much to what she has done that I can never piece it all together. Also like a lot of men I have relied on her socially. Where we have other couples as friends, it is always the girls that are good at making arrangements, even if primarily they are my old friends. She does social media, I don't for example. That's not to say we havn't had a great time together, it's just that my lack of response that she needs to nuanced subtle emotional interactions has frustrated her continuously, with the problems with my parents being at the top of the pile. Her frustration has played out on me and I have been like "what did do wrong, what's the problem" - (typical Alexi response) and if she gets angry I just start to freeze and my brain goes into overdrive trying to figure it all out. Things have got worse and I just can't sort it all out. I went away with some friends recently and when I came back she said she was so relaxed without me around, and the kids are much happier with just one of us, but when we are together they play up because they sense the tension. Within 18 hours of being back she had a massive row with me because I didn't do with her what she had asked earlier that day, but I didn't think she was serious - I just thought it was a casual suggestion (typical alexi response - not getting the subtle but important communication)
I am really sad about us splitting up but I also think we have too for the sake of her mental health and the kids, and also I really want to have sex with other women. I have a high sex drive and so does my partner and we have never suffered in that dimension. But with looking into alexithymia it has explained a lot about my sexual hang-ups from a younger age. Remember I mentioned fancying lots of girls at school but also being labelled gay - well this played out with me becoming increasing sexually uptight because of the difficult stigmas kids create at school and not because I want to be uptight but because the whole non-verbal communication and emotions thing was not there for me and I did stupid stuff / made a fool of myself in front of girls I fancied (who totally didn't like me but I didn't know it). Now through talking to my partner (who is great) and noticing other people around me maturing I feel much more confident and easy going. I don't feel trapped like "a rabbit in the headlights" by the frightening emotional potential of sexual interaction (but I never understood it that way when I was younger, I just thought I was crap at getting with girls).
I often had flying dreams as a teenager and young adult where I always felt I could fly anywhere I wanted and be in total control, but as the dream went on I would slowly lose that ability. The more I concentrated on trying to fly the less I could do it. I knew I needed to allow the flying to “flow” through me but my rational mind would get in the way and stop me being relaxed and natural enough to do it.
So here I am in this weird place. Maybe I am alexi by birth. Maybe my parents made me alexi by controlling my emotional environment. Maybe I was alexi and did stupid stuff at school which made other kids (and girls) exclude me and reject me, which in turn made me scared of understanding and communicate my emotions. Maybe my 17 year relationship has just been a big "fix" to mask a fear that I can't really understand myself and connect with others and what I really want. And the bust up with my parents has kind of catalysed all this but at the same time created even more of an emotion "white-out" where I feel totally unable to do anything to sort anything out around me. And the crazy thing is I don't feel anything now. I know in my head I should feel bad for my partner because she has really loved me, and if only I could have understood myself better a long time ago, I could have avoided hurting her. But I don't even feel anything about that I just 'think it'.