How are you?
This is the “go to” question used as a greeting by most of us. How do you answer that question? More often than not, I find myself saying, “I’m fine.”
Several years ago, I was in a Joy Retreat. It was a retreat on cultivating more joy in life. Yes, joy. We talked about our tendency to mindlessly answer “I’m fine” whenever confronted with inquiries as to our well-being. We learned that when we say, “I’m fine,” we’re actually using an acronym standing for F*#ked up, Insane, Neurotic, and Emotional.
Think about that for a moment. What did you answer the last time someone asked how you were? Does your answer depend on who’s asking? Or are you one of the rare ones who answers truthfully with your state of being in that moment? Are you really “fine,” or could you more closely identify with one of the words from the acronym?
The other day, I was chatting with someone I had just met, and for whatever reason, she started sharing elements of her state of being. I did ask. And it was so refreshing to get an answer other than “I’m fine.” At one point, she talked about the effects of the pandemic on her mental health. She said things like, “I’ve never used the word ‘anxious’ to describe myself until now,” and “I’m worried that if I let myself feel the fear, there will be no end to it.”
So honest and pure. And relatable.
After our conversation, she thanked me for letting her share her feelings. In all honesty, it was an honor to be a space holder for her. I know not everyone would feel that way. And that got me to thinking about why we might hold back in sharing how we really are with others.
From my perspective, I know the reasons why I tend to dole out the “I’m fine” card. Perhaps there’s just not enough time. If I’m on an elevator, for example, and someone asks, “how are you,” launching into my complete mental or physical state in that moment may not be appropriate. Whereas, waiting in line for something could offer the proper amount of time.
Another reason is because I don’t know the other person. What if the feelings I share seem “quaint” or “silly” in comparison to whatever the other person is feeling? They could just barely be holding on, and here I am going on and on about how sad I am that I don’t get to play my flute with Foreigner this October because one of the guitarists got Covid. (Which is all true, by the way.) What if the other person is struggling to pay their bills or just lost a loved one? It can be risky to share that level of detail with someone you don’t know. At the same time, if I shared the honesty my feelings, could that give permission for the other person to open up too?
Regardless, it’s understandable why we resort to “I’m fine” in daily conversation. But how often are you being honest with yourself about how you are? Are you also answering “I’m fine” to yourself as the day goes on? Do you rationalize your experiences to the point where you don’t even know what you feel anymore?
For example, when I’m experiencing something challenging in my life, I might say something to myself like, “This too shall pass.” Or “I’m sure other people have it way worse than me.” In all honesty, I might be feeling angry or sad or disappointed. But I flash the “I’m fine” card at myself because I think there’s not enough time or because, as the woman I was talking to the other day shared, if I start allowing myself to really feel my feelings, there might be no end to them.
Self-honesty is really important. In fact, how can we be honest with anyone around us if we are not honest with ourselves. But self-honesty can be just as challenging as expressing the truth to others. Maybe even more so at times.
In this episode of Growing in Uncertainty, I talk about why/how we hold ourselves back from being honest with ourselves, how a lack of self-honesty keeps us STUCK, and how we can inch closer to the truth within ourselves and potentially with others.