Written by Michael Mantz, M.D.
In my first article on our 6th sense we explored the basics of interoception – our ability to sense our bodily sensations and feeling states. Interoception forms the backbone of our emotions and becoming more adept at interoception can improve emotional regulation, empathy, decision-making and creative problem solving. Click HERE if you want to read this article.
Alexithymia is the lack of emotional awareness, in particular, the difficulty in describing and identifying emotions. People who are alexithymic have problems with identifying emotions from the bodily sensations they feel. Interestingly, people with alexithymia usually have constricted imaginal capacities – effectively reducing their capacity to come up with new ways to overcome challenges they may face. Alexithymia is a risk factor for maladaptive social functioning and is associated with a host of mental disorders including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, trauma and substance use disorders.
Most patients that I work with have some degree of alexithymia (I believe that most of us do). From my clinical experience, I have found that working with my patients’ interoceptive capacity is the most effective way to help them improve their ability to identify and describe their emotions, thus enhancing their overall psychological functioning.
In the video below I will introduce you to a classic mindfulness-based meditation, the body scan, repackaged to emphasize interoceptive skill training. I suggest you forget the word “meditation” with this practice, if it brings to you many problematic associations such as trying to relax, or trying to stop your thoughts, since that can interfere with the progress one can make with these practices.
There are 2 main skills that this body scan practice can help you develop:
1) Getting more proficient at catching your attention chasing after thoughts and gently boomeranging it back to the sensations of your body.
2) Becoming more adept at tuning into your bodily sensations throughout your body and becoming more aware of them.
I recommend 10 minutes of interoceptive practices 6 days a week to help you build this important skill.