Child Maltreatment Could Be A Factor In Alexithymia Development, Study Shows

In Education

Many individuals face the challenge of alexithymia, a condition characterized by a lack of words to express emotions. Alexithymic individuals struggle with recognizing and showing their feelings, leading to difficulties in intimate and social relationships. Research indicates that a possible factor in the development of adult alexithymia could be a history of child maltreatment.

Child maltreatment linked to alexithymia

A recent meta-analysis conducted by Stanford University researchers examined the relationship between adult alexithymia and various forms of maltreatment in children. This study, published in Psychological Bulletin, is the first to synthesize empirical evidence from global literature.

Senior co-author of the study Anat Talmon, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, said that the findings indicate a strong connection between child maltreatment and alexithymia, providing increased confidence in understanding the association. Talmon is an assistant professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.

According to lead study author Julia Ditzer, one out of every four children worldwide experiences maltreatment, which often goes unnoticed. The study identified three main types of child maltreatment, including emotional abuse, emotional neglect, and physical neglect, which were highly correlated with developing alexithymia. Emotional neglect and physical neglect frequently co-occur, while sexual abuse and physical abuse were also associated with alexithymia but to a lesser extent.

Emotional neglect and abuse are not easy to detect

Emotional neglect is when caregivers fail to meet a child’s emotional needs, while emotional abuse involves ridiculing, belittling, or blaming children for problems. Physical neglect refers to caregivers not providing adequate food, clothing, or a safe environment.

Unlike physical or sexual abuse, emotional neglect and abuse are harder to identify, making victims less likely to seek help. These experiences are highly damaging to children as their emotional needs go unfulfilled, and they may struggle to identify and recognize their own emotions, potentially leading to alexithymia.

Approximately 10% of the general population experience clinically significant alexithymia, with women comprising about 7% and men around 13%. This condition is linked to various psychological disorders, such as autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

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