Emotional mutism: what it is and what are its symptoms

Emotions are essential for human beings. That’s why psychology has always been interested in these, how they influence our thinking, behavior, relationships and even our mental health.

Over the past decades, the concept of emotional intelligence has gained traction in the world of behavioral science as research repeatedly confirms that the correct expression and regulation of emotions promotes children’s mental well-being. . However, some people may have difficulty connecting their emotions. This is called emotional mutism.

    What is emotional mutism

    Emotional mutism is a concept often used to refer to alexithymia, which is the inability to express our own emotions and can be the result of a neurological disorder or pathology, for example, a dissocial disorder or a disorder post-traumatic stress disorder.

    But emotional mutism does not affect all people the same, as there are two types of mutism: primary and secondary. Primary mutism is the most serious and is caused by brain damage. For example, because of a stroke or multiple sclerosis. In addition, symptoms of emotional mutism may appear in people with autism or with Parkinson’s disease (during the first stage of development). ADHD patients can also suffer from this disorder.

    Secondary emotional mutism is one that has its origin in poor learning or is the result of a disorder. which makes appropriate recognition and emotional expression impossible. For example. post-traumatic stress that appears after sexual abuse. Studies indicate that 30% of people with certain psychological disorders may suffer from emotional mutism.

    Symptoms of this disorder

    Although emotional silence may appear as a lack of emotional expression, the problem is much deeper, as the lack of expression is also linked to problems identifying emotions and the interpretation of the minds of others (theory of mind), that is, of their thoughts or emotional states.

    In summary, the symptoms of emotional mutism are:

    • Difficulty identifying and interpreting the thoughts, emotions and feelings of others
    • Limited understanding of what causes the feelings
    • Difficulty expressing feelings and emotions, recognizing them and using them as internal signals
    • Difficulty recognizing facial signals in others
    • Problems locating sensations in one’s own body
    • Tendency to use action as a coping strategy in conflict situations
    • Cognitive rigidity
    • Concrete thought, devoid of symbols and abstractions

    Although emotional mutism does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), these symptoms are characteristic of many psychological disorders. Emotional mutism is not necessarily a pathology, but can appear to be part of a disorder or as a result of brain injury.

    Types of emotional mutism

    As I commented in the previous lines, emotional mutism can appear for different causes.

    These causes are used to classify the different types of emotional mutism. There is primary and secondary emotional mutism.

    Primary emotional mutism

    The causes of primary emotional mutism are biological, which means that there is a neurological deficit that affects the connection between the limbic system and the neocortex, for example. The limbic system handles emotions and the neocortex could be thought of as our emotional brain. However, primary emotional mutism can also result from a communication problem between the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. In general, we could say that the first regulates emotions and the second language.

    The origin of these facts can be hereditary or be due to a neurological disease such as Parkinson’s disease.

    Secondary emotional mutism

    This type of emotional mutism usually appears as a result of a traumatic experience in which the person has suffered so much that they can be affected. For example, in the case of post-traumatic stress caused by rape or war experiences, etc.

    However, emotional mutism also appears as a symptom of other psychopathologies or impaired learning, for example in the case of a depressive disorder, emotional poor upbringing or various eating disorders.

    Treatment and intervention

    Treatment for emotional mutism can be complex, primarily because the patient will rarely ask for help, but it will be a family member or friend who will participate in the request for assistance. The reason why the person concerned does not ask for help is due to a lack of knowledge of the problem. This makes the family indispensable in these cases. It is only with their collaboration and support that treatment can take effect.

    Because the causes can be varied, so can the treatment. However, the intervention is usually performed with three options: drug administration (when the individual suffers from primary emotional mutism), psychotherapy, and a planned life strategy (which is why family support is so important. ).

    Psychological therapy may be different depending on the type of emotional mutismSince these treatment strategies focused on improving emotional intelligence are probably only effective for secondary emotional mutism.

    The development of empathy has also been shown to be effective in patients with ADHD. In these cases, some of the activities that can be carried out are:

    • Improve self-knowledge and observe one’s emotions.
    • Observation of other people’s emotions.
    • The ability to understand, label and regulate one’s emotions.
    • Learn to express your emotions.
    • Speak freely about emotions and don’t hide emotional difficulties.
    • Learn how to problem solve and work on coping style and decision making.
    • Work on self-motivation and learn to persevere towards goals and objectives.

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