Pregnancies and births risking alexithymia?

Paola Manfredi


Many studies have been carried out since the second half of the 1940s when Ruesch (1948), MacLean (1949) and later Marty, de M’Uzan and David in 1963, working separately, drew attention to some modalities of psychic functioning that can be considered the precursors of the construct of alexithymia, as it was outlined in 1970 by Nemiah and Sifneos. In particular, compared to Nemiah and Sifneos’s original concept, the current way of seeing alexithymia has changed: it is no longer seen as a dichotomic characteristic of the “all or nothing” kind, but as a feature that can be present with varying intensity in different subjects. It is also thought that alexithymia can affect circumscribed “mental areas” in a person’s functioning, and therefore be present only for certain affects or contexts and situations (Taylor et al., 1997; 2000). It has also been revealed that alexithymia goes with a certain interpersonal style, characterized by social conformity, conflict avoidance, and by bloodless, cold or distancing, superficial relationships. These characteristics then lead to alexithymic patients being classified according to a pattern of avoiding attachment (avoidant-dismissing) (Taylor, 2000; Verhaeghe, 2004). 
Although there are no recent epidemiological studies (even since the Tas 20 validation study on the Italian population made by Bressi et al., 1996, over ten years have passed), the growing volume of studies witnesses on the one hand an interest rooted in clinical work and on the other an ever more widespread psychic functioning marked by the inability to express and elaborate affects. It has also been pointed out that the professional figures dealing with people’s health and illness, who should have heightened awareness of the affects, are less capable of reading their own and others’ emotions: it would in fact seem that training in Medicine selects and incentivates alexithymic functioning (Dabrassi & Manfredi 2006; Hoffmann, Formica & Di Maria, 2007).
With these premises, one wonders about the functioning of the divisions of obstetrics and specifically about the first experiences of mother and infant and about how the psychosomatic pathologies that may accompany pregnancy can be managed, in the awareness that these issues leave significant traces in our life and help to create the predisposition towards health or illness.

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Rivista di Psicologia Clinica. Teoria e metodi dell'intervento

Rivista Telematica a Carattere Scientifico Registrazione presso il Tribunale civile di Roma (n.149/2006 del 17/03/2006)

ISSN 1828-9363