In our family, the only time we ever use the phrase “I’m just fine” seems to be when everything is anything but fine. Luckily, we caught on to the pattern and at this point it’s become a big family joke. But I don’t think I’d have to put out an extensive poll to find that many other people do or experience the same thing: telling others we are “fine” when really, we feel pretty awful.
Sometimes this works for us, it gives us some time and space to process exactly what it is we’re experiencing and it helps us set healthy boundaries. But when it becomes habitual or a way of avoiding our feelings it can be harmful.
It takes time, practice, and playing with the language that will work best for you but it is often helpful to find a way to both share truthfully with others and maintain healthy boundaries. For example, when working through a stressful experience try to tell someone who asks how you’re doing “I’m actually working through something right now so I’m not great but with a little more time I know I’ll be feeling better.” If there’s follow-up, continue to balance honesty and respect of the space you need to figure things out.
However, when we experience extreme distress, priority goes to the honesty end of things: find a way communicate openly with someone you trust. This may mean taking a walk with a a good friend, calling up a family member, reaching out to a mentor or sponsor, making an appointment with your therapist, or calling a confidential support hotline. Support comes in many different shapes and forms…
This week has been a harder one, with more and more news of violence and unexpected loss, many people fall somewhere between mildly and totally shaken. It has been broadcast and blogged all over but bears repeating: if you or someone you know needs help, call (a few helpful numbers linked below.) If you ARE the helper (parent, teacher, caregiver, pastor, counselor, awesome friend, etc…) don’t forget that this applies to you as well. Build your support network and practice asking for help.
Often we hear “don’t be afraid to ask for help” and it’s true: there is definitely a stigma related to needing support. We also seem to fear disappointment. “Talking about it won’t change anything” is something I hear pretty often. So we settle on being “just fine.” But when we shift the emphasis away from “change” to “understanding” we begin to see the possibilities more clearly.
(To speak to what I know for a minute) In therapy, we don’t usually talk through conflict like we would talk through a math problem, because therapy doesn’t just involve conflicts: it involves living, breathing people with names and gifts and challenges and communities and fears and so much more! Truly, our lives are more complex than any calculus formula you can think of. By talking through an experience we begin to pull pieces together, pieces we’ve known about all along and pieces of our lives that we had totally forgotten about. We start to see the problem a little differently. We start to see ourselves a little differently. And slowly and subtly change starts to happen from this place of understanding. This place that starts to feel much better than “just fine.”