The word alexithymia originates from the combination of three ancient Greek terms:
a: lack of
and literally translates to having no words for emotions. It is a clinical term that describes the phenomenon of being unable to express one's emotions verbally. Someone who is alexithymic typically has difficulty recognizing his or her emotions on a conscious level; because he does not recognize his emotions, he is unable to communicate how he feels to others. When asked how he feels about something, a person with alexithymia will often describe what he thinks or perhaps how he might respond behaviorally to the situation in question. Alexithymics often complain of chronic pain, gastrointenstinal problems (e.g., reflux, ulcers, indigestion, etc.), or frequent headaches for which no medical cause can be identified. When a person cannot recognize or express his emotions it becomes impossible to discharge (or process) these feelings in any meaningful way. Experts on the subject speculate that alexithymics' somatic complaints stem from unacknowledged and unprocessed emotions that have accumulated over time.
Dr. Reny Muller (http://homepages.spa.umn.edu/~larry/CLASS/NOTHING/READINGS/NoStorytoTell.pdf) suggests that the inability on the part of an alexithymic to express or process the emotions he experiences physiologically (i.e., the body sensations that always accompany any emotional experience) prevents him from developing a stable identity. "Who we know ourselves to be depends heavily on the story we tell ourselves about who we are," he explains. No words = No story = No identity.
There really is no widespread agreement on how best to treat alexithymia. Essentially, treatment requires teaching someone how to feel. My personal approach is to start with body sensations. I give patients a list of body sensations that are commonly associated with various emotions. I ask them to spend time each day simply noticing and writing down any sensations they experience in their bodies. Over time, I help them start to identify and name the emotion that describes a given set of body sensations.
If you think you or someone you know might be alexithymic, you can go online and complete a short screening questionnaire: http://www.alexithymia.us/test-alex.html