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Stop Saying “I’m Fine” When You’re Not

Posted on October 22nd, 2014

There are a couple of great untruths in this world: Ticking the box to confirm that you’ve read the Terms and Conditions, telling your kids you’ll help them find the packet of skittles that you ate a few hours ago, and replying “I’m fine” every time someone asks you how you are.

This is a place of honesty, and if we’re being honest here, how many times have you replied with “I’m fine” when you are anything but fine? Once or twice? Regularly? Or has it become such an automatic reaction that you don’t even realize that you’re doing it? I’m guessing it’s probably the latter.

I know it’s something that I have to work at consistently to consciously make the effort to reply with how I am actually feeling.

The one thing you have to know is that you aren’t alone. In fact, The Mental Health Foundation found that “the average adult will say “I’m fine” 14 times a week, though just 19% really mean it. Almost a third of those surveyed said they often lie about how they are feeling to other people, while 1 in 10 went as far to say they always lie about their emotional state.”

In this blog, we’re going to come together and unpack just what it is that makes us reply with “I’m fine” and what you can do to start kicking the habit.

Why do we say “I’m fine” when we’re not?

We’ve all been there: You’ve had a particularly brutal day dealing with some sort of emotional apocalypse. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a custody battle, you’ve just found out your spouse has cheated on you, or you have finally signed those divorce papers.

You go pick up the kids from school and bump into another parent who asks how you are. “Oh, I’m fine”. The standard response. You certainly won’t let it on that you spent the morning crying in the bathtub. Pleasantries over, and it’s time to move on without anyone knowing just how much you’re going through.

There are a number of reasons why almost everyone gives the standard “I’m fine” response to people that ask how they are and we’re going to have a look at the most common ones.

  • It’s convenient: Society has dictated that we live busy lives. You see this with instant payments, deliveries, online shopping and more. We simply don’t think we have the time in our day to do things that we’ve always done. It has been ingrained into us that the busier we are, the more successful our lives must be. We’ve rehearsed the script and we stick to it. It’s polite and it’s convenient.
  • We don’t think the other person actually wants to know: We’re also guilty of projecting our thoughts onto what we think the other person may be feeling. “Why would so and so actually want to know that I am struggling?” So, we avoid getting into how we really are to ‘spare’ others from listening to our real emotions.
  • We don’t want to burden others: We live in an age where community isn’t once what it was and we’re more likely to keep in touch on our gadgets than person-to-person conversations. If you’ve been going through a rough time, it’s easy to feel like you have burdened your family, friends, and even strangers enough. We take on this ‘can-do’ attitude that makes us think we are stronger if we do it alone without burdening others with our emotional baggage.
  • To seem fine: We’ve been led to believe that self-reliance is a virtue and that getting help from others is a weakness. We want to put on a brave face for others so that we seem fine. We don’t want people to know that we are struggling. We want them to think that we are capable of looking after ourselves.

Why you need to stop saying “I’m fine”

First things first, you have to start accepting that it’s okay to not be okay. Your feelings and emotions are valid. They are cathartic. They are powerful. They are natural. You have to feel what your body and mind want you to feel in order to heal and move on.

What I love about starting to recognize your feelings and breaking that boundary of the generic “I’m fine” response is that it opens the door for you to both offer and seek support. If you start replying with something along the lines of “Today is not a good day, but it will get easier”, you open up a spot for a response from another person who may be having a hard time too.

By going beyond the generic “I’m fine” societal expectation, you are more likely to forge genuine connections with people you meet or strengthen bonds with people you already know. You are acknowledging that everything is not okay, and you’ll soon learn that you don’t have to be ‘not okay’ alone.

Every single one of us out there is going through something and it just takes one small act to break the mould and offer genuine conversation and connections the opportunity to become a bigger part of your life.

So, stop saying “I’m fine” when you’re not.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.

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