Zoë Blade's notebook

Affective alexithymia

I only figured out I'm autistic in 2022. I'm still learning. Writing these articles is how I learn things. They're all works in progress, to various extents. No-one can speak for an entire minority group. These are just my personal experiences, things I've found out from talking to my friends, and discussions I've seen on autistic forums. Please don't take me as authoritative. I'm not.

Machines need love too...

— Ginger, The Terminator, 1984

Affective alexithymia is the inability to feel your own emotions, with the possible exception of very strong ones.

My unconsciousness is aware of which emotions I'm having. My consciousness isn't. Now that I'm aware of this, I realise that it's a surreal and very specific disability to have, a bizarre situation to be in.

Like everyone else, I have emotions. Unlike everyone else, I can't feel them.

It seems my unconsciousness is able to both regulate my emotions (e.g. by stimming when I'm emotionally uncomfortable), and cater to them (e.g. by convincing my consciousness to buy things that make my unconsiousness happy, such as things related to my "special interests"). I believe I do these things much like other people, though I seem to cater to my emotional needs less than others, but I'm oblivious to why I'm doing them.

The regulating reactions are impulsive; the catering behaviours are urges. From my (my consciousness's) point of view, I just sometimes do "irrational" things. These things are presumably quite rational in the context of wanting to be happy, but because I can't tell when I'm happy, they appear irrational and almost random to me. I'm just occasionally doing things because I want to, without knowing why I want to.

I'm now intellectually aware that most people literally viscerally feel emotions, and that they feel them pretty much all the time,[1] even when they're not strong enough to make them show it.

I'm therefore also now intellectually aware of the likelihood that I'm also having imperceptible mild emotions all the time (even if I still can't tell which ones or when), as well as the perceptibly strong emotions that make me react to them to regulate them, and hence I can deduce I'm having. So even though I can only be sure I'm having a specific emotion when I smile or laugh or stim or so on, I have to assume I'm also having mild emotions often.

I'm trying to cater to these emotions more, even the mild ones I can't deduce because they don't make me physically do anything. Second guessing my unconsciousness's needs seems counterproductive. Instead, I'm trying to be more lenient in letting her do "irrational" things, such as buy nice things I don't strictly need. Where I'd previously deny myself such luxuries on the grounds I didn't need them and had no logical use for them, I'm starting to realise my unconsciousness probably wants them for a good reason, to help make her happy, which is presumably very important for my longterm mental health. I'm trying not to neglect her.

Basically, I kind of "feel sorry" for my unconsciousness being paired with a consciousness who can't feel her emotions (or, for that matter, her hunger and thirst) and therefore her needs. Now that I'm aware I have these needs in the first place, I'm trying my best to cater to them.

Similarly, I'm trying to cater more to other people's emotions too, now I realise they quite literally feel them. I didn't realise it was so easy to accidentally literally hurt people with words and actions. This explains a lot.


  1. "People's everyday life seems profoundly emotional: participants experienced at least one emotion 90% of the time. The most frequent emotion was joy, followed by love and anxiety. People experienced positive emotions 2.5 times more often than negative emotions, but also experienced positive and negative emotions simultaneously relatively frequently." "Emotions in Everyday Life" Debra Trampe, Jordi Quoidbach, Maxime Taquet, PubMed Central, Dec 2015

Senses: Affective alexithymia | Alexithymia | Auditory processing disorder | Dissociation | Interoceptive hyposensitivity