Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches and Lectures


The Impact of the Military Lifestyle on Alexithymia in Adult Military Children

Event Title

ABCT (Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies) 2020 54th Annual Convention

Event Location

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Document Type


Presentation Date


Date Range

2020-11-17 to 2020-11-22


Objective: Military families experience numerous stressors (e.g., frequent relocation, parental deployment) that negatively impact military children’s interpersonal functioning and attachment within familial and social relationships. The disruptions subsequently place military children at risk for alexithymia - the inability to identify, experience, and/or express emotions – that develops into adulthood; however, this has not been examined empirically. Adult alexithymia increases the risk for mental health and relationship difficulties as well as poor response to cognitive behavioral therapies. Consistent with the ABCT convention theme, “Enhancing the Impact of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies,” understanding whether, and to what extent adults raised in military families experience interfering levels of alexithymia has important implications for the development of psychological interventions and improving psychotherapy response among this population. Therefore, the current study aimed to better understand the impact of military stressors on alexithymia among adult military children.

Participants were (N=584, n=291 adult children of military members, n=293 adult children of civilian parents) recruited through Amazon’s MTurk, and self-reported on individual, military, and relationship demographics and a measure of alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale [TAS]). In addition to an overall score, the TAS provides description of feelings, identification of feelings, and externalization of thinking subscales.

Independent samples t-tests demonstrated that adult military children reported significantly higher levels of total alexithymia (t(582)=2.086, p=.04), and greater difficulty in emotion description (t(582)=2.085, p=.04) and emotion identification (t(582)=2.381, p=.02) compared to adult civilian children. No difference was found in externally oriented thinking (p=.60). Regression analyses revealed that, among adult military children, neither frequency of relocation (p=.47) nor frequency of parental deployment (p=.08) was associated with overall alexithymia. Regression analyses revealed that higher parental deployment frequency during specific age periods – 6-8 years (b=0.127, p=.03), 9-11 years (b=0.133, p=.02), 15-18 years (b=0.141, p=.02) – was related to greater alexithymia during adulthood; other age groups were unrelated to adult alexithymia. Parental military branch (p=.97) and which parent was the military member (p=.40) were not related to overall alexithymia.

The findings demonstrate that adult military children have greater difficulty with emotional identification and expression compared to adults raised by civilian parents. While these differences appear unrelated to total frequency of parental deployments, deployments during specific age periods do appear related to adult alexithymia, suggesting critical periods for the development of alexithymia. Research and clinical implications will be presented.