Coined in 1972 by the Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Peter Sifneos, alexithymia refers to a condition in which a person experiences an emotional flatness, inability to verbalize feelings, and an outward appearance of emotionlessness. The person has trouble evaluating their own emotions and bodily sensations, cannot effectively communicate their feelings to others, and possess a very limited emotional vocabulary. They might know that they feel butterflies in the stomach, or that they sweat before taking an exam, but the alexithymic person would not realize they were experiencing anxiety.

Being so out of touch with their own emotions, the alexithymic often feels separated from the rest of society. Their inability to properly analyze their own emotional sensations can even lead them to somaticize, or confuse an emotional pain for a physical one.

The cause of alexithymia is unknown, but Sifneos has theorized a disconnection between the limbic system and neocortex, most notably the verbal centers, since seizure patients who have had that connection severed often become emotionally "flat."