Alexithymia – the disease of feeling labels


By David Joel Miller.

So you have a feeling but what is it?

Trying on Feelings

Trying on Feelings

Alexithymia is defined as the inability to recognize feelings or to be able to identify what it is that you are feeling. Texts report that this is largely a disorder characterized by men who the authors tell us, prefer taking action over having feelings.

This personality disorder has not yet risen to the level of a recognized disease that insurance will cover but I expect that as soon as a researcher does enough work in the area it may well be.

This is not a disorder of numbing. We do believe that a normal response of the brain to severe physical and emotional pain is to numb out and not feel. Numbing is related to dissociative identity disorder and trauma.

Alexithymia is NOT related to dissociation in any meaningful way I am aware of. I put NOT in the sentence to confuse those people who like to leave comments saying “you said A was the same as B.” I also put that in tests for my students some of whom insist on missing the question anyway and tell me they missed the word “NOT.”

So since we now know what Alexithymia is Not – what is it.

Well, it is best described as the inability to know what you are feeling and if you do feel something, then you just don’t have a word to describe that feeling. Men are mostly prone to this disorder.

Most men have three feelings. They also have about 6 colors. For men, it is either Red Blue or maybe a shade of purple. Women have wisteria, plum, fuchsia and a whole lot more colors between Red and Purple. Also Red, for the record, is a lot closer to Crimson than to the blood color we men think it is.

So men recognize three feelings GOOD, BAD and Pissed off. Pissed off comes in three shades loud, louder and loudest. This results in a lot of conflict between men and women. Women want men to share how they are feeling. Men believed “we shared that on the first night we were together when we said we felt GOOD.” There should be no need to report on a feeling again until that GOOD turns into BAD or pissed off.

So one thing that people with Alexithymia need to do is go to a color mixing class. Not literally but figuratively.

So how many shades of good are there?

I have seen “feelings wheels” and charts but they just do not capture those levels of intensity. There are some differences between being irritated, upset, angry and ENRAGED.  Men are prone to describe this as moving from Bad to PISSED-OFF.

How does happy look? Is it closer to the color of contentment or ecstasy?  So as we begin to learn new feeling words we increase not only our feelings vocabulary but also our ability to recognize these feelings as they occur.

We do not expect everyone to progress in this getting to know feelings at the same rate. Some of you are in feelings kindergarten and others of you have been to a feelings graduate school. I am aware some of you majored in one feeling, say ANGER, to the exclusion of all others.

I did not say anything about sharing your feelings just yet. You can’t share anything about a subject you don’t understand. So the process goes, feel what you are feeling, identify what this feeling is, decide what to do with this feeling and lastly if you chose to share with someone, do so in an appropriate way.

Women complain that men are emotionally unavailable. This is often true. We are also menstrual and makeup unavailable. We are also more willing to learn about makeup than feelings most of the time. If you grew up, as most men do, believing that men are tough and do not have feelings, learning to be emotionally available is like learning to take torture in a foreign language.

Now ladies, don’t go getting superior on me. Remember that the man you are with, the emotionally unavailable one, he learned about feelings and how to deal with them from – did you guess?

We guys learned that stuff mostly from our mothers who were just as quick as our fathers to tell us that men did not cry and that we should just get back into that soccer or football game anyway.

Having not learned to recognize and make use of feelings we guys miss out on a lot of valuable information that we should have recognized. If this business deal feels risky, that may be because out gut is telling us things our brain wants to ignore.

People who do not listen to their feelings can make really bad decisions. We can work or play on an injured limb. You may win this game but permanently harm that joint.

Come to think of it, you ladies do the same thing sometimes. You marry that guy anyway even if something about him feels wrong, thinking that he will change, love will conquer all and that wishing and trying will make it so. You know you do those things, don’t you?

Some of you are sharpening you pens right now to tell me all men are not like and that there are women who have no feelings. I know all that. These are generalities; sometimes the pumps or work boots are on the other foot.

Point is that if you never learned to identify and make use of feelings this can all seems strange. Believe me, learning to recognize, identify and then make proper use of feelings can be well worth the effort.

So how many feelings can you recognize when you feel them?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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3 thoughts on “Alexithymia – the disease of feeling labels

  1. Pingback: Motivational March | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Alexithymia and the Feelings Palette. | counselorssoapbox

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