Normative Male Alexithymia
I wanted to follow up with the last few blogs on emotional intelligence and introduce a term coined over 20 years ago by Ron Levant. Normative Male Alexithymia is defined as “mildly (or sometimes more severely) emotionally shut down (and often depressed) men who struggle to identify their inner states” (Wexler, 2009).
Earlier in my life when someone asked me how I felt about a difficult or stressful experience, it was difficult for me to find the right words to accurately describe what I was going through. When I needed to say something, I noticed the pressure made it even harder to find the right words. When I started my clinical training as a therapist, I noticed similar struggles from many of my male identified clients (though not exclusively). I started wondering if this pattern had something more to do with how people assigned male at birth were socialized.
I stumbled across the term “normative male alexithymia” about 2 years ago and immediately connected it to my own experiences and my male identified clients’ experiences. Here is how I’ve made sense of it.
The term comes from the actual diagnosable condition where there is a clinically severe lack of ability in identifying and articulating ones own emotional experiences, as well as empathizing with others.
Normative male alexithymia is more about socialization as opposed to a condition due to biology, genetics or biological sex.
In many cases, boys are not modeled how to articulate a range of emotional expression.
Sexism in society has deemed emotional intelligence as feminine and therefore weak, discouraging boys and men from articulating a range of emotions.
Boys and men may have the same emotional experiences as girls and women but may legitimately find it difficult to articulate them because of this socialization.
As I fight my own battles with normative male alexithymia, having been socialized as male, I have found the following considerations to be helpful. Blaming individual men for their lack of emotional intelligence is short sighted, as easy as it might seem in the moment. The real root of the issue is found in the narratives that are spread in society about who should or shouldn’t be allowed to be emotionally intelligent and emotionally articulate. These narratives are often taken in and acted out by boys and men, but are perpetuated by everyone, regardless of sex and gender. Whether you are fighting this condition yourself, or see it in a loved one, have compassion. The real problem is much larger and requires people of all genders to come together and combat.
Reference: Wexler, D. B. (2009). Men in therapy: New approaches for effective treatment. New York: Norton.
Jimmy Bridges, LMFT
Jimmy is a couple and family therapist, and provides therapy related to anxiety, mood disorders, LGBTQ+ affirming services, gender issues, faith transitions, and couple’s counseling. He offers online services for teens, adults, couples and families.