Musings posted on her blog on July 3rd a post about “interoception”, which she defined as:
describes our sensitivity to sensations that originate in our bodies
Her post concentrates on the issues surrounding the muting of interoceptive signals that is quite often a “Thing” for autistics, and the problems that can result from that (such as a serious infection, in her case, which could have been caught weeks ago if she had been aware of the sensation); and on the issues of alexithymia, which often mean confusing emotional states with interoceptive information.
In my response to one of the comments on that post, I linked the concept of interoception to the concept of psychosomatic symptoms; and this post is to explore that concept further.
The definition of psychosomatic (in this particular case) is: adj. (of a physical illness or other condition) caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress.
So, interoception involves the sensations that one’s body experiences (the examples used by Musings involve: temperature, pain, itch, hunger, thirst, and sensations from our organs, to mention most) and our sensitivity to those sensations; and psychosomatism involves mental or emotional difficulties either producing or worsening unpleasant bodily sensations and / or problems. And autistics tend to be some combination of hypersensitive (very sensitive) and hyposensitive (much less sensitive than “normal”) to sensations.
This links in with the element of alexithymia, whereby we can link our emotional states to interoceptive information, and if there is an emotional problem / issue, we often tend to make things worse, because of psychosomatism. Musings mentioned that if she’s upset, she gets cold, and can’t always tell the difference between being cold because of the external temperature (or thermoregulation issues, which we also tend to have), or because she’s feeling upset and that’s how her brain interprets that information. What happens if being upset, or angry, or frustrated, makes you think you feel sick to your stomach, or that your body is tenser than it really is?
That tends to happen to me. And the answer is that quite often because I don’t recognize what the cause is, my tendency towards psychosomatic reactions kicks in, and suddenly I have a positive feedback spiral that’s making my nausea start to get out of control, or sending me into tension headache territory.
And even if you don’t have alexithymia, or your alexithymia isn’t serious, there’s still an element of interaction between the interoceptive information and psychosomatic reactions that, if you don’t have muted interoception (i.e. hyposensitivity to interoceptive information), can lead to positive feedback loops. If you don’t feel well physically, you quite often don’t tend to feel well emotionally, and if you have psychosomatic reactions… there you go! Swirling down the whirlpool of positive feedback.
So… that’s just some thoughts that occurred to me as I replied to a comment on the interoception post, and some other elements that came in… somehow. What about your thoughts?
I know this is an old entry but couldn’t resist the opportunity to share. As a preschool child through early elementary school, my Aspie son seemed to NOT know when he needed to eat. He was very thin and very active at that time of his life. My intuition told me that it would be downright foolish not to feed him until he said he was hungry. However, that is the precise advice doctors and nutritionists give to parents about feeding their children! I feel quite certain that one of his sensory issues was that he just didn’t experience being hungry.
I love your site/blog. Keep up the great work!