Tell That To Your Face

“How are you?” “I’m fine.” We say it all the time. It’s short and sweet. Like strawberry shortcake. But far too often it’s not true. It’s written all over our faces that we’re not actually fine. I don’t know about you, but my face ALWAYS gives away that I am not okay even if I say I am.

So why do we say “I’m fine” if we don’t really mean it? We want others to think everything is working out great for us because we’re afraid of the shame, embarrassment, and judgment that might come if people knew that we don’t have our shit together.

We’re hoping to convince ourselves and others that everything really is okay. But pretending that we don’t have any problems, difficult emotions, or conflicts is a façade. It seems easier to simply avoid certain problems, traumatic memories, and difficult feelings. However, avoidance isn’t a good long-term strategy for our well being. Often, the longer we try to ignore things, the bigger the problems become. So, why do we deny our problems or pretend to be okay when we’re not?

We pretend to be fine in order to avoid conflict. We fear that by sharing our true feelings or opinions, someone might get upset with us. This can create anxiety or at least feel uncomfortable. We use “I’m fine” to shield ourselves from painful emotions. Many of us grew up in households where we weren’t allowed to express our feelings of anger or sadness. We were told “I’ll give you something to cry about,” “suck it up,” or “get over it.” We were punished when we expressed our feelings or our feelings were ignored. As a result, we learned to suppress our emotions.

We also deny our problems and feelings because sometimes they’re overwhelming. We don’t always know how to articulate what we feel or how to solve our problems, so we try to ignore them. We don’t want to be difficult or to be a burden to others because we fear that might push people away. It feels safer to pretend we’re fine and to be a dependable coworker, cheerful friend, or a laid-back partner who doesn’t complain.

I’d rather be honest and authentic and disappoint some people than to exhaust myself trying to keep up the façade of perfection.” -Crystal Paine

If you’ve ever felt like you had to hold it together in order to put up a front for others, just know there is freedom in expressing your true feelings. Many people put on a proverbial mask to avoid showing their vulnerability and potentially making others feel uncomfortable. If you’re not accustomed to opening your heart to people, start by sharing one thing you’re thinking or feeling but may be tempted to keep inside. Opening up to others will allow you to be yourself, and from there you’ll see who’s willing to accept what you have to say without judgment. You can also offer support to others and let them know you’re happy to listen with an open ear. Giving people room to share pieces of themselves lets them know you’re there for them and they can be honest with you.

Many times when we avoid sharing our feelings with others, it’s because we haven’t processed our emotions. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, without judgment, and learn to recognize when you’re lying to yourself. Stop telling yourself you’re “fine” when you’re not. Keep it real. You’re not going to be honest with others if you’re not being honest with yourself.

We tend to beat ourselves up when we do not respond, act, speak, or think how others believe we should. We put pressure on ourselves to meet everyone else’s expectations without truly acknowledging our own needs. It’s a heavy burden to hide behind a mask and pretend that everything is hunky-dory. There’s power in being vulnerable and sharing your authentic self with others. You don’t have to hide, pretend, or feel bad about not always being positive. You’re not weak, you’re human, and you never have to apologize for that.

20 thoughts on “Tell That To Your Face

  1. Great blog post! You were so right when you said that we cant be honest with others if we are not honest to ourselves! I think a lot of the time we pretend to be fine is to avoid conflict as you said. Sometimes saying you are not ok is a sign of strength!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts! It takes intention and courage to speak up when we’re not fine. But in doing so we help ourselves work through our troubles so we can live happy healthy lives 😀

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  2. Question: do we say we’re fine to avoid the inevitible questions people ask when they hear you’re not “fine”? People get really nosey at times. You mentioned avoiding conflict, but nosey is a whole other issue.

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    1. I agree that people getting nosey is an issue. I will admit I will say “I’m fine” to someone I know is nosey and I don’t want to continue the conversation for that reason. I think many of us (myself included) default to this response of “I’m fine” with people who ask how we’re doing even when we’re not, whether it’s to avoid conflict or we’re busy and in a rush.

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  3. I completely agree that the words ‘How are you? I’m fine” are so meaningless. We just toss these words out like when we say hi. We just say them, not really expecting anything in return. I almost resent it when total strangers ask me ‘how are you.” they aren’t asking me how I really am and it’s clear that they don’t really care about my well being. It’s just what you say to be polite. But if you don’t really mean it, then how can that even be polite?

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    1. Completely agree with you Helen! Saying “I’m fine” is truly a default response. Even when my friends ask how I’m doing, my initial response tends to be “I’m fine.” It takes a lot of intention to break that default response and actually be honest with those people I want to open up to.

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  4. I absolutely do this! I think it’s bc I don’t believe someone else truly cares how I am and they’re only asking it as a pleasantry so I give the expected response of “I’m ok” or “I’m fine” bc that’s what we’re supposed to do. IF I felt that someone was asking it with sincerity, then I might give a more genuine response in return.

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  5. This made me think -I am one of those as soon as someone asks how am I doing I automatically reply with ‘I am fine’. I think its also because you think people don’t really want to know how are you actually doing rather its a polite thing to ask.

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    1. Saying “I’m fine” is definitely a default response for me. I think many people who tend to ask how we’re doing are doing so to be polite like you said. I think those people who genuinely care and want to know we tend to be more open and honest with them. But even still sometimes we hold back from being honest with them because we don’t want to burden them with our troubles.

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  6. It’s interesting how in life, when you pass someone on the street that you know, you say “Hey, how are you?” and the response is usually “I’m fine” even if they are not. Its everything you said, it’s the embarrassment, its the not wanting to bother other people with your troubles.

    I have a friend and me and him don’t ask each other if we are both okay. We ask how each-other is feeling. And it really makes you sit and think, really about how you feel. And I much prefer that.

    Such a great post Amy! 🙂 So glad you are back to writing again!

    Olivia | http://www.olivialucieblake.com

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    1. Thanks Olivia! I really like how you and your friend ask how each other are feeling. You’re right, it makes you stop and think so you are more likely to give an honest response instead of the default answer “I’m fine.”

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  7. I found your post about being open about your sadness inspiring. I read recently in the book Chatter that people who talk more about their troubles have fewer friends. Is the social cost of brutal honesty worth it for you?

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    1. I don’t believe that the quantity of friends matters. What matters is the quality of those relationships in your life, and the friendships I have are very near and dear to me. Sharing my personal experiences in a brutally honest way has only connected me with a larger support network.

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  8. Very interesting perspective! That used to be me as well, but with time, my “I’m fine” has shifted to mean “I know you don’t care so I won’t waste either of our time”. 😅

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