If We’re Always ‘Fine,’ That’s Not So Good
The automatic answer we tend to give isn't helping anyone
In an era of fragile snowflakes and coddling at every turn, we don’t always want to encourage more conversation about “feelings.”
But a lot of Americans could stand to be a little more honest about what is going on in their lives with those around them.
"Asking, 'How are you?' and responding, 'I'm fine,' are social conventions," Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, a psychologist in Los Angeles, California, told LifeZette. "Most of the time, we don't even stop to think about them. But in the interest of honesty — quite often, we are not fine."
Saying we are when we're not is a standard nicety, a passive-aggressive jab, a way to hide true feelings — and an enemy of authenticity.
Are We Really That Busy?
In other cultures, it's often the custom to ask about and discuss each family member and in-law before embarking on the true reason for a conversation. Friends have a wider scope of knowledge of each others' families, challenges, and circumstances. People tend to sense when someone is suffering or might need help or attention. Emotional status is freely shared.
What "I'm fine" otherwise masks, or hides, is crucial. It allows a person to avoid discussing an emotional state. It also gives the message to others that a current emotional state is unimportant, or not worth discussing.
What We Gain from Being Honest
Some people are quite defensive of their position of "fine."
"We are perpetuating the idea that, as people, we are all expected to be happy or 'fine' all the time, or at least pretend we are," Dr. Erica Wollerman, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Diego, California, noted. "This is a concept that is dramatically damaging to people's mental health, because it adds to the stigma around not being 'fine' and makes it harder to reach out for help."
Psychotherapist Tina Gilbertson of Denver, Colorado, believes a little more honesty could actually attract some help.
"I once told a neighbor, who asked how I was, that I was feeling down because business was slow," Gilbertson told LifeZette. "She got out her address book and started scrolling through it, looking for people to connect me with. Her desire to help made my day, and I actually felt better after that."
Kubacky shared other guidelines: "I recommend answering with reasonable honesty, matched to the situation and the person. In other words, when the grocery store clerk asks, stick with convention. You don't need to disclose all your business to a stranger, and you will probably aggravate the people behind you in line. When a friend asks, try an honest answer. You may be surprised and rewarded with the kind of positive and caring response that you receive."
Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.