Addiction and Alexithymia
Addicts and Emotions
A common problem among addicts is that they have trouble dealing with their emotions. It may have been this inability to cope with life that drove them to substance abuse in the first place. This means that when they become sober they will need to find a better way of handling their feelings. It is fair to say that this is one of the main goals for people who intend to find success in recovery. Failure to develop emotional maturity could mean that the individual is more at risk of relapse or an unsatisfying life away from addiction.
Alexithymia is an ancient Greek word that can be roughly translated as meaning, without words for emotions. It refers to a situation where an individual is unable to express their emotions in words and this leads to feelings of frustration. The individual who is dealing with Alexithymia will struggle when it comes to thinking introspectively. This lack of an ability to handle emotions also usually means that the individual will struggle in their relationships with other people.
Alexithymia and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. This type of intelligence is said to be made up of 5 separate factors which are referred to as a person’s emotional quotient (EQ). This EQ works in a similar way to IQ, but it measures emotional intelligence rather than analytical skills and special awareness.
* Empathyis the ability to identify and understand another person’s situation. With empathy one individual tries to put themselves in the shoes of the other person – it is not the same as pity.
* The individual has self awareness and control. This means that they are able to recognize their own emotions.
* Social expertness is the ability to navigate around other people’s emotions. For example, the individual will be aware of how their actions can impact how other people feel.
* Mastery of purpose and vision means that the person is able to motivate themselves to achieve their own goals.
* The individual is able to manage their own emotions because they have developed personal influence.
Alexithymia and Addiction
It is now accepted that there is an overlap between addiction and Alexithymia. The evidence does not conclude that addiction is always due to this difficulty with managing emotions. However, it may certainly be true in many cases – particularly for those addicts who also suffer from depression. There also seems to be a relationship between the absence of Alexithymia and the ability to remain abstinent in recovery. This suggests that in order for people to build a successful life away from addiction they will need to develop their emotional intelligence – this is sometimes referred to as emotional sobriety.
Dangers of Alexithymia
The dangers of Alexithymia include:
* The fact that the individual feels threatened by their emotions means that they will try to hide from them. This can lead them into alcohol or drug abuse.
* This person will not be able to appreciate the emotional landscape of other people. This means that they can regularly cause pain for other people without even realizing it.
* The individual will not be able to pick up on important emotional cues in their environment. This can mean that they are regularly falling into difficulties.
* People can feel deeply frustrated when they are unable to describe how they are feeling. It can feel like they are in a foreign country where nobody speaks their language.
Developing Emotional Sobriety in Recovery
When people give up alcohol or drugs they become physically sober. This is likely to mean that things in their life will improve, but it unlikely to fix all their problems. This is because the reason the addict fell into substance in the first place was due to their inability to manage life. Unless they develop a new way of interacting in the world they are likely to meet further suffering. Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, claimed that the development of emotional sobriety was crucial for those who want a good life away from addiction. This type of sobriety can be defined as the ability to deal with feelings positively. It includes such factors as:
* The individual has an increased ability to regulate their own behavior. This means that they are far less likely to fall into self-destructive patterns such as addiction.
* When people are emotionally sober they find it easy to live in the present moment. They don’t waste too much time worrying about the future or regretting the past.
* Such people will tend to have a positive outlook on life. They will be optimistic about the future and the state of the world.
* No matter how tough their life gets the individual with emotional sobriety will be able to cope. They are never overwhelmed by the challenges in life.
* This person will suffer from less stress than the average person. They understand that excessive stress is often self inflicted.
* The fact that this person suffers from less stress means that they are less likely to suffer from stress related illness. This may mean that they will live longer and in better health as a result.
* The individual will be less likely to be a victim of strong emotions. This is good because many types of bad behavior are a result of people feeling overcome by their emotions.
* This type of person will not feel the need to run away from life. This means that they will not be attracted to substance abuse or other self-destructive behaviors.
* The individual who is emotionally sober will find it easy to develop deep and meaningful relationships with other people.
Emotional Rollercoaster in Early Recovery
Early recovery is often described as an emotional rollercoaster. What this means is that the individual who has been burying their emotions for years will suffer a rebound effect. It can feel like their emotions are out of control; one minute they can feel on top of the world and next they can be full of despair. It is vital that the individual begins developing their emotional intelligence right away in recovery. If they fail to do this it will mean that they are more at risk of relapse.
Skills Involved in Emotional Intelligence
It is suggested that emotional intelligence requires 5 separate skills which are:
* The person has the ability to quickly and effectively reduce their own stress levels.
* They are able to connect with other people using non verbal communication.
* The individual has the ability to recognize and manage their own emotions.
* They are able to resolve conflicts confidently and in a positive way.
* The person has developed the ability to use humor when dealing with difficulty situations. They can appreciate the lighter side of life even when times are hard.
How to Increase Emotional Intelligence
There are things that people can do to increase their emotional intelligence and emotional sobriety such as:
* Techniques such as mindfulness mediation are highly effective when it comes to allowing people better understand their internal landscape. Not only does this practice give the individual a deeper awareness of their emotions but also the ability to better deal with them.
* In order to fix a problem the individual has to first acknowledge that there is a problem. This means being able to identify deficiencies in emotional intelligence and being willing to rectify these.
* Many people in recovery have found that entering therapy has been a great way to increase their emotional maturity. The therapist is skilled at helping the individual delve into their issues and face any problems.
* Those individuals who belong to a 12 step group may find that this helps them develop emotional sobriety. Although Bill W. warned that just attending meetings is not enough – it is the steps and not the meetings that cause people to grow.
* One of the most important tasks in recovery is the development of effective coping mechanisms. The more coping tools that the individual has the better they will be able to face life.
* Learning to empathize with other people is an important skill to develop in recovery. It is only by really trying to understand the other person that humans can relate to each other deeply – the individual can even get to understand themselves better by doing this.
* The natural way to develop emotional maturity is to just develop the willingness to face life on life’s terms. This takes courage but it leads to real growth and development.
* It can be helpful to spend time with those individuals who have already developed a level of emotional sobriety. Humans are highly influenced by those they interact with.
* It is important that the individual develops the ability to deal with stress. This could involve using relaxation techniques or other strategies.
* Some people find that keeping a journal in recovery can be highly beneficial. This allows them to track their progress as they develop emotional intelligence.
* It is really helpful to be able to read the body language of other people. This understanding of non verbal communication is vital for those who hope to achieve emotional sobriety.