Emotional Bankruptcy or Alexthymia


Emotional bankruptcy refers to the emotional condition experienced by most early recovering people. Emotional bankruptcy usually means that a person has used up every emotion in attempts to support their alcoholism / addiction and has no emotion left to manipulate themselves or others.

Alexithymia refers to a condition that is characterised by;

  • a difficulty in identifying and communicating feelings,
  • a difficulty in distinguishing between feelings and bodily sensations
  • impaired symbolization, as evidenced by paucity of fantasies and other imaginative activity, and
  • a preference for focusing on external events rather than inner experiences.

The term was coined from the Greek a- (prefix meaning “lack”), lexis (“word”) and thymos (“feelings”), and hence can be read literally as “a lack of words for feelings”.


These questions are from an alexthymia questionnaire. The answers may help you decide if you have a problem with emotional expression and / or experiences.

Instructions: Answer the questions as spontaneously as possible – don’t think about them first.

  1. When asked which emotion I’m feeling, I frequently don’t know the answer.
  2. I’m unsure of which words to use when describing my feelings.
  3. I prefer to find out the emotional intricacies of my problems rather than just describe them in terms of practical facts.
  4. When other people are hurt or upset, I have difficulty imagining what they are feeling.
  5. People tell me to describe my feelings more, as if I haven’t elaborated enough.
  6. People sometimes get upset with me, and I can’t imagine why
  7. People tell me I don’t listen to their feelings properly, when in fact I’m doing my utmost to understand what they’re saying!
  8. When I am upset I find it difficult to identify the feelings causing it.
  9. Describing the feelings I have about other people is often difficult.
  10. I prefer doing physical activities with friends rather than discussing each others’ emotional experiences.
  11. I don’t like people’s constant assumptions that I should understand or guess their needs… its as if they want me to read their minds!
  12. I sometimes experience confusing sensations in my body.
  13. Some people have told me I am cold or unresponsive to their needs.
  14. I can’t identify feelings that I vaguely sense are going on inside of me.
  15. I often ask other people what they would feel if in my personal situation (any situation), as this better helps me understand what to do.
  16. When involved in difficult or turbulent relationships, I sometimes develop confusing physical symptoms.
  17. I tend to rely on other people for interpreting the emotional details of personal/social events.
  18. I don’t like conversations in which more time is spent discussing emotional matters than daily activities because it detracts from my enjoyment.
  19. I often get confused about what the other person wants from a sexual relationship.
  20. People I’ve been in close relationships with have complained that I neglect them emotionally.
  21. I like it when someone describes the feelings they experience under circumstances similar to my own, because this helps me see what my own feelings might be.
  22. I get in a muddle when I try to describe how I feel about an important event.
  23. I make decisions based on principles rather than gut feelings.

Remember that all self-help concentrates on identifying problems – not putting a label on the person.

If you have answered yes to a lot of these questions discuss the matter with your sponsor or counselor. The 12-Steps will assist you in overcoming many of these emotional problems.

Alexithymia should not be confused with:

  • Sociopathy (a lack of concern for others)
  • Stoicism (deliberate resistance of emotional impulses)
  • Apathy (a lack of emotional reactivity or motivation)
  • Emotional repression (subconscious but motivated denial of emotion).

Is it true that alexithymics have no emotions?

No. Alexithymics do have emotions. Much of the time they are either unaware of the physiological expression of emotions in the body (such as blushing or elevated pulse) or do not understand their emotional significance.

When the cause and nature of the emotion is obvious, alexithymics have full-blown emotions like anyone else. Strong emotions tend to take them by surprise and they may not be able to limit their expression very well.

Alexithymics are prone to chronic anxiety.

This is partly due to a failure to label their emotions properly. Even in non-alexithymics, emotions that are not properly identified or understood are experienced psychologically as undifferentiated anxiety; this situation occurs much more frequently in alexithymics.

Furthermore the inability to make quick decisions on the basis of gut feeling tends to create considerable angst about personal choices.

What are the causes?

Different cases of alexithymia are likely to have different causes. The main possibilities  include;

  • heritable traits,
  • genetic abnormalities,
  • disrupted brain development,
  • brain injury,
  • drug or alcohol abuse,
  • mental trauma,
  • psychological defence against stress or disease, and
  • cultural or parental conditioning.

Many people in recovery from alcoholism, addiction, codependency and ACOA will recognise these symptoms. But, do not assume that you have alexthymia without professional help.


3 thoughts on “Emotional Bankruptcy or Alexthymia

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  3. It’s a day at a time life. That’s the only way to live. Think about it yesterday is gone, tomorrow in not here . So, what do you have? Even if you have to take it a minute at a time, enjoy it, stop being so hard on yourself. When doors close, lets open the new one’s. Just remember your not alone, everyone has some kind of problem. Big or small, something is always going to be in our path. Im not telling you to walk around it, it will work it self out if we deal with it. We grow from the pain, and learn from our experience that we encounter on our journey.
    What are we focused on? And always thinking about. Nine times out of ten were thinking about our own problems. When we are in our own heads we are behind enemy lines. Should we take the cotton out of our ears, and put in our mouth? Or should we just reach out to help someone less fortunate, or just having a bad day. You don’t have to go very far to find those kind of people. The world has changed, we live in a fast pace, push botton society. Do yourself a favor don’t get sucked into it. Take a personal inventory once in a while. It’s ok to slow it down, maybe you have been missing alot of the little things in your life.
    I always like to end with a daily reading or quote. This one is from Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now: Happiness is a choice. You don’t have to wait for everything to be perfectly straightened out in your family or with your business, or for all your problems to be solved. You don’t have to forgo happiness until you lose weight, break an unhealthy habit, or accomplish all your goals. No, God wants you to be happy right where you are, right now.
    Good luck and God bless on your daily ventures.


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