Alexithymia: An Indescribable Feeling

Emergy’s psychologist, emotional skills coach, and author Jarkko Rantanen says that according to research, every sixth Finnish man is alexithymic. The condition is seen in the workplace as excessive focus on tasks and loss of people’s true potential.

An alexithymic person has issues identify and express their emotions, and often has a hard time putting words to their feelings, and may not be able to distinguish between different emotions. They may also have trouble understanding nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions or body language.

“Some studies have found that alexithymia is more common in men, but it is also seen in women. About 5-10% of the Finnish population belongs to this group that does not recognize their own or others’ emotions.”

Alexithymia can be an inherited condition or its features can be adopted as a coping mechanism.

“Severe life experiences can, in a way, cut off the emotional connection: the emotional experiences are so violent that they want to pass them over. Also, upbringing can have an effect on this. If a child grows up in an environment where emotions are not seen or spoken about, they can learn to ignore their significance.”

Alexithymia as part of the workplace culture

Rantanen describes how alexithymia can also be viewed from a cultural perspective. Rantanen himself has studied emotions as part of organizational culture for years.

“Many workplaces only talk about things: strategy, goals, processes, numbers. No attention is paid to how people feel in the midst of all this. In a way, one could think that alexithymia has become a feature of the workplace,” Rantanen says.

Excessive focus on tasks slowly destroys working life.

“If feelings are constantly ignored and you are not allowed to feel anything in your work, it becomes unbearable. Often at the core of workplace problems are unexpressed and unresolved emotions.”

Rantanen reminds that everyone can learn to listen and awaken emotions instead of constantly ignoring themselves.

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