Not identifying feelings makes you depressed.

Man with feelings

Managing feelings.
Photo courtesy of

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Feelings illiteracy results in misidentifying your feelings.

In childhood, most of us learn a great many things. One thing a lot of people don’t learn about is feelings. Mostly we are taught to think logically. When you do feel unpleasant emotions, people are often told to ignore them. The result of all this lack of learning about feelings is a condition called emotional illiteracy.

What is feelings illiteracy?

While it’s not an official diagnosis inability to understand feelings as a factor in a great many mental health issues, it begins with not being able to recognize what it is you are feeling. Feelings illiteracy also means that you can’t identify what other people are feeling. People who lack feelings literacy can be extremely sensitive and perceive things others do and say as about them. Feelings illiteracy can lead to a lack of emotional intimacy when you can’t leave feelings, your efforts to be assertive to become aggressive, hostile, and bullying. Feelings illiteracy can lead to insecurity, anxiety, and being continually on guard in the world that feels frightening and hostile.

It’s challenging to manage emotions when you don’t know what they are.

If you’ve never learned to identify what you feel, you may misidentify them. Many people when asked how they feel will tell me they feel good; they feel bad; they feel angry. That’s the limit of their ability to identify feelings. When they feel insecure or threatened, many people respond by feeling angry rather than identifying what is making them feel anxious.

It’s common for some folks to interpret feeling lonely as a feeling of rejection and as a result, they withdraw from others rather than seek out more friendships or to improve their existing relationships.

Emotionally illiterate people blame their feelings on others.

You don’t know much about feelings and can identify what you’re feeling it’s tempting to believe that other people create those feelings inside you. If you feel bad, someone must’ve done something wrong. If you don’t feel happy, then someone must’ve withheld that happiness from you. As people become more emotionally literate, they come to recognize that they are responsible for how they feel.

Feelings illiteracy matters most when times are hard.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life was always smooth sailing? Well probably not, life without variations in feelings could become very dull. The times when feelings become most important is when we are struggling. How can you overcome a challenge if you don’t know what that challenge is? Recognizing that you’re feeling stressed improves your ability to cope with that stress.

It’s not unusual for adults to have the emotional literacy of a preschool child.

Teens who can’t identify feelings experience stress as depression.

Under stress, it’s common to misidentify emotions. If the only label you have for feelings is bad, you may not be able to tell the difference between the discomfort of stress and the more severe condition of chronic depression. One significant study found that teens who couldn’t identify various types of negative emotions were very prone to interpret their stress as depression.

The response that you use to feelings depends on identifying the feeling.

If you’re feeling irritated, you may want to find out why rather than respond with a default response of anger. The way you should react to guilt should be quite different than the way you respond to failure or rejection. Feeling restless doesn’t have to be in the negative; it can spur you to do something different. But you can’t fashion the correct response unless you can identify the feeling.

It’s easier to identify physical health than emotional health.

A great deal of material on the Internet these days is devoted to staying physically healthy. We can identify when we are overweight, have diabetes, experience high blood pressure, are having headaches, not getting enough sleep, or having some other physical health problems.

When it comes to poor emotional health, most people can identify the symptoms they have early enough to do anything about them. If you’re coughing and cannot go to work, you’ll probably call a doctor. If you too depressed to get out of bed or too anxious to leave the house most people are more likely to accept these problems is just the way they are because they can identify what they’re experiencing as anxiety or sadness.

Feelings illiteracy is an important component of emotional intelligence.

If you can’t recognize your feelings will have a great deal of difficulty empathizing with how other people are feeling. There are many occupations which allow you to work without interacting with other people. Your feelings can give you important information about the nature of those interactions. Being able to tell how the other person is feeling will facilitate and improve the relationship.

How would you know if you were emotionally literate?

The characteristics of feelings literacy or being emotionally literate include the ability to recognize what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it. You need to be able to put a name to that feeling. Identifying the feeling would allow you to decide what you want to do with that feeling. You should be able to manage your emotions. Emotional literacy involves the skills to repair emotional problems. Emotional literacy is a fluid skill in the more emotionally literate you become, the more you’re able to integrate all of these qualities of emotional literacy.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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What is empathy?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What is empathy?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Why is empathy in short supply?

Empathy is a vital ingredient in modern life.

Empathy is described variously as, understanding another’s feelings, the ability to

identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings or difficulties or the abilities to put yourself in the other’s position. It can have to do with both cognitive understanding and emotional experience.

Empathy is considered a fundamental skill for beginning counselors to have or to develop. I looked this word up in my 1898 Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia only to find – it’s not there!

The word empathy was introduced into the English language in the year 1908.  It came from a German word which had come into use extensively in the 1870s.  There was clearly a need for a word that more accurately expressed this concept.  Originally the word empathy was closely related to sympathy but went beyond the concept of feeling sorry for someone.  Empathy came to mean a ‘felt sense” or an understanding at a deeper level.

Today this word is often used to denote the ability to understand and experience what someone else is feeling.  To really feel empathy and you needed to not only understand what the person may be thinking but what they may be feeling.

In order to develop your understanding of the skill of empathy take a look at the list below of ways to tell if someone is truly empathetic.

Empathy is seeing life through someone else’s eyes.

Empathy is not simply saying I know what you mean or I understand what you are going through.  It is that true desire to actually be able to put yourself in the other person’s position and see what they’re seeing in the way they are seeing it.

Empathy is being genuinely curious about others.

People who are high in empathy are genuinely curious about other people’s lives and what it would be like to live life the way that person lives.

Empathy wants to understand not judge.

To have empathy you have to suspend judgment.  The people who are high in empathy make the effort to understand the other person, their life situations, and what they have gone through.  The goal of empathy is to experience what it would be like to be that other person.

Empathy values the other person’s experience.

Having empathy places a high value on other people and their experiences.  People from other backgrounds can have important contributions to make to our understanding of the world we live in.  An empathetic person does not look for ways to make the other person more like themselves.  They look for ways in which that other person’s thinking and behavior make sense, given their life experiences.

Empathy is a mirror that reflects what is inside us.

As you seek to practice empathy for others you are likely to discover that it says a lot about you.  Looking and listening to other people’s life experiences evokes emotions deep within ourselves.  Much of what we may be feeling about someone else reflects what we would be feeling in that situation.  Deep empathy moves beyond our own experience and attempts to experience things from the others point of view.

Empathy understands feelings as well as facts.

Empathy is about more than simply understand the facts and the situations of someone existence.  The highest form of empathy is to seek to understand how someone feels.  This goes beyond thief understand of facts of someone’s life, to how that person interprets those facts and the feelings those situations result in.

Have you developed your skills for experiencing empathy?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.