Alexithymia and the Feelings Palette.

By David Joel Miller

Your feelings palette – What feelings paint your life?

Emotional Regulation

Managing feelings
Photo courtesy of Flickr ( istolethetv )

Most of us are familiar with the pallets artists use to hold and mix their paints when doing a painting or other artwork. The more colors on the palette the more opportunities the artist has to create an inspiring work of art.

Palettes are also defined as “a range of qualities in a non-visual art.” There are palettes for your taste buds and palettes to decorate the house. Designers use palettes of fabric or of looks and textures to make the things they design more appealing.

What we forget about, all too often, are those other pallets that get used to make life a better place, those feelings pallets you use to make that life within a place.


Difficulty feeling what we are feeling and struggles to describe what you are feeling is sometimes referred to as Alexithymia. The simplest description of this condition is “I ain’t got a word to describe how I feel.”

Alexithymia is not technically a diagnosable disorder, despite the huge number of people who have this problem. People with trouble recognizing what they feel and then a vocabulary that allows them to describe that feeling fall on a continuum from very mild to extremely severe. Using tests specific for Alexithymia the best estimate is that ten percent of the U. S. population may have a severe form of this condition.

Alexithymia and Mental Illness.

Alexithymia overlaps certain mental health disorders and people with those conditions are more likely to have Alexithymia and the resulting difficulty identifying, naming and working with feelings. Those with an Autism Spectrum disorder are more likely to show symptoms of what might be called Alexithymia.

Alexithymia also overlaps depression and anxiety and the more depressed or the more anxious someone is the harder it may be for them to recognize feelings. Disorders that cause numbing as in the Stress disorders, PTSD and Acute Stress disorders and dissociation can also have features of Alexithymia. Alexithymia has also been reported in those with an eating disorder.

People who have difficulty recognizing and naming feelings when they feel them also have difficulty in recognizing what others around them feel and may be perceived as uncaring and unfeeling.

There is a difference between not recognizing that you are feeling and the ability to name or describe a feeling. Some people know they are feeling something they just do not have the feelings vocabulary to describe to themselves and others what it is they are feeling.

Many men were socialized to have this condition. There was a time when feelings were suspect and people tried very hard to never ever have feelings. This resulted in a lack of learning about feelings and an inability to recognize what you feel and how to respond appropriately.

If the only feelings you have are “Good, Bad and ANGRY” you will be angry a lot. You also may have difficulty recognizing what makes you feel “good or bad” and how to regulate your emotions.

Learning to recognize feelings when you have them and learning to develop the skills to increase or decrease feelings when you need and want to, is an important part of anger management training.

How can you learn to control your anger if you do not recognize when you are or are becoming angry?

Learning about feelings.

Learning to recognize and identify feelings is a part of most counselor training programs. To date I have written about 60 posts on various feelings and emotions which you will find under:

Emotions and Feelings

Posts on Anger and Anger Management are at:

Anger Management

I think one reason feelings are so troubling to so many people is that if you do not know anything about feelings you have a hard time recognizing them. This goes for all kinds of other things as well. How can you find something if you don’t know what it looks like?

I wrote about this in a post about the “expert effect” which you will find at:

Expert effects Memory and the Purple Glass.

Periodically this year I would like to publish some posts on various feelings in the cause of “Emotionally Literacy” an effort to improve people’s ability to recognize feelings and make them your friends.

I hope you will all join me in these discussions.

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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 A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


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