We aimed to clarify the associations between negative emotionality, avoidant coping, and alexithymia. We hypothesized that negative emotionality and avoidance strategies would interact negatively in associating with alexithymia.
We examined, in one study conducted in Italy and another in the US (total N = 415), the associations among avoidant coping, negative emotionality, and alexithymia, using cross-sectional designs.
Study 1: Participants completed paper-and-pencil measures of alexithymia, avoidant coping, and negative emotionality. Study 2: Participants completed the above-mentioned measures plus a measure of experiential avoidance (EA), by means of an online questionnaire.
As expected, an antagonistic avoidant coping × negative emotionality interaction was found to relate to alexithymia in both studies. In Study 2, EA mediated the effects of such interaction on alexithymia (mediated moderation). The interaction found implied that alexithymia would be adopted as a defence against negative affect or as a consequence of avoidant strategies.
The studies suggested that two different psychological pathways to alexithymia may be at work: Preference for avoidance and negative emotionality. This result appeared theoretically relevant and may stimulate further research.
Alexithymia may develop from habitual avoidance, regardless of negative emotionality.
Practitioners could consider addressing negative emotional regulation or automatic and habitual avoidant responses in dealing with alexithymic patients.