How many times have you declared those words?
And how many times were those utterances accurate, describing your well-being as exceptional? Thriving? Or, in the more modern use of the term, simply satisfactory?
And how many times were they offered in reflex, in deflection or even as an outright lie?
Here are some of the true feelings that can hide behind “I’m fine.” Do you relate to any of them?
“I’m afraid that if I start talking, I’ll start crying.”
My world is a mess right now and I’m trying to just get through. I may look okay, but I’m really just going through the motions.
“I’m trying very hard to pretend that I’m fine. Please don’t intrude on my delusion.”
If I really paid attention to my intuition, I would probably know that something is not right. But I’m not ready to face it yet so I’m going along with the idea that I’m fine.
“I’m not fine, but I don’t feel safe sharing that with you.”
Things are really hard right now and I wish I could talk about it but I’m afraid that you’ll ridicule me or somehow add to the pain. So I’d rather play it safe and keep my feelings tucked inside.
“I don’t know how I’m doing, to be quite honest with you. I don’t really give it much thought.”
I haven’t allowed myself to slow down enough to be aware of how I’m doing. I stay busy and pretend that as long as I’m doing, I am fine.
“I’m afraid that if I admit to not being fine, you’ll see me as weak.”
I know you see me as the strong one. The one that holds it all together. And I don’t want to be seen as weak or have you think that I can’t be counted on.
“I’m not fine and that’s my problem.”
I don’t want to burden you with my troubles. You have enough on your plate.
“I believe that I should be fine, so I play the part to the world.”
It’s been a long time since the event. I have so much going for me. I have nothing to complain about. I feel guilty for not feeling fine when so many others have it much worse.
“I don’t have the energy to explain my not-fineness to you.”
I’m tired. Defeated. And even just the thought of trying to explain how I feel is exhausting. So I give you the two syllables needed to stop you from probing further.
“I’m frustrated or upset with you, but I don’t want to rock the boat.”
I’m not fine, but I’m afraid that if I tell you how I feel, you’ll be angry or disappointed. And my fear of your reaction is greater than the pain of holding back. For now.
“I was taught that my feelings aren’t valid. So I suppress them.”
My parents taught me that feelings were stupid. I learned that nobody will listen or respect my emotions. So they stay hidden. Even from me.
“I want to be left alone.”
I really just want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers until this fades. Please don’t come in after me.
“I need time to process my feelings and put words to them.”
I want to open up, but I need to do it at my own pace once I wrap my brain around what I’m feeling.
“I need someone who will just listen. Not try to fix things.”
I’m not fine. But I’m also not helpless. I want to be able to share my feelings without you trying to step in and fix everything.
I’m not suggesting that the next time the cashier at the grocery store asks you how you’re doing, you should respond with a truthful unloading of your current worries. Unless you want to be the one they all try to avoid when you walk through the door, that is.
After all, many of our daily interactions are superficial and that’s okay.
But not all of them are.
And when “I’m fine” becomes a habit, a reflex, that we apply to our friends, family, therapists, doctors and even ourselves?
We’re robbing ourselves and our relationships of the vulnerability and connection that comes from the courage to respond with authenticity.
So next time somebody asks how you’re doing, respond consciously.
Here are some words to choose from:
sad nervous excited anxious lonely energized confused frazzled aroused irritated content elated angry lost melancholy fatigued overwhelmed engaged hurt fabulous frightened playful relieved embarrassed awed vulnerable relaxed jealous unsure apathetic curious grief-stricken grateful rough around the edges better every day making progress happy to be here
Or even just fine.