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date: 06 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Alexithymia is a dimensional personality trait characterized by difficulties in identifying and describing subjective feelings, a limited imaginal capacity, and an externally oriented cognitive style. In this chapter we provide an extensive review of empirical research on alexithymia and conclude that there is strong support for the validity, stability (reliability), and dimensional nature of the construct. We review evidence indicating that this construct is distinct from DSM-based personality disorders, and from dimensional personality traits and temperament. Consistent with clinical reports, alexithymia is associated with several common medical and psychiatric disorders, influences the outcome of insight-oriented psychotherapy, and can adversely affect response to some medical treatments. Although longitudinal studies are needed to establish whether alexithymia is a risk factor for medical and psychiatric disorders, individuals with a high degree of alexithymia have insecure attachments to others and employ maladaptive defenses and coping styles that are illness risk factors themselves. More planning and research are needed to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of therapies aimed at reducing alexithymia.

Keywords: alexithymia, affect deficits, attachment styles, coping styles, defense mechanisms, emotional intelligence, Five-Factor Model, openness to experience, psychological mindedness, trauma, psychotherapy outcome

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