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ALEXITHYMIA: Emotionally Retarded

Please buy this book: The Body Keeps the Score, because that is where this blog was stolen from:

The reason that traumatized people become overwhelmed by telling their stories, and the reason they have cognitive flashbacks, is that their brains have changed. As Freud and Breuer observed, trauma does not simply act as a releasing agent for symptoms. Rather, ‘the psychical trauma-or more precisely the memory of trauma acts like a foreign body which long after its entry must continue to be regarded as an agent that is still at work.‘ Like a deep seated splinter that causes an infection, it is the body’s response to the foreign object that becomes the problem more than the object itself.

brain areas that manage and interpret experience for the body
Brain areas that manage and interpret experience

Brain Damage

Modern neuroscience solidly supports Freud’s notion that many of our conscious thoughts are complex rationalizations for the flood of instincts, reflexes, motives, and deep-seated memories that emanate from the unconscious. Trauma interferes with the proper functioning of brain areas that manage and interpret experience. A robust sense of self–one that allows a person to state confidently, “This is what I think and feel” and “This is what is going on with me”–depends on a healthy and dynamic interplay among these areas.

Abnormal Insula

Almost every brain-imaging study of trauma patients finds abnormal activation of the insula. This part of the brain integrates and interprets the input from the internal organs–including our muscles, joints, and balance (proprioceptive) system–to generate the sense of being embodied. The insula can transmit signals to the amygdala that trigger the fight/flight responses. This does not require any cognitive input or any conscious recognition that something has gone awry–you just feel on edge and unable to focus or, at worst, have a sense of imminent doom. These powerful feelings are generated deep inside the brain and cannot be eliminated by reason or understanding.

Alexithymia

Being constantly assaulted by, but consciously cut off from, the origin of bodily sensations produces alexithymia: not being able to sense and communicate what is going on with you. Only by getting in touch with your body, by connecting viscerally with your self, can you regain a sense of who you are, your priorities and values. Alexithymia, dissociation, and shutdown all involve the brain structures that enable us to focus, know what we feel, and take action to protect ourselves. When these structures are subjected to inescapable shock, the result may be confusion and agitation, or it may be emotional detachment, often accompanied by out-of-body experiences–the feeling you’re watching yourself from far away. In other words trauma makes people feel like either some body else or no body. In order to overcome trauma, you need help to get back in touch with your body, with your Self.

emotional body
Becoming Some Body

There is no question that language is essential: Our sense of Self depends on being able to organize our memories into a coherent whole. This requires well-functioning connections between the conscious brain and the self system of the body–connections that are often damaged by trauma. The full story can be told only after those structures are repaired and after the groundwork has been laid: after no body becomes some body. THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, pp 248, 249.

trauma - the body keeps the score