As a therapist who counsels people with mental health disorders and addiction issues, I have come to the conclusion that the most over-utilized word in the English language just might be the word: fine.
Using “fine” to describe our current emotional state has become so second nature that it rolls off the tongue, almost as easily as your favorite curse word when someone cuts you off in traffic.
Even when coming into treatment for the first time after a serious suicide attempt or a near fatal drug overdose, clients tend to throw out “I’m fine” automatically when asked to share their feelings.
Realizing that one’s life has become so unmanageable that psychiatric care has become necessary can feel embarrassing, but attempting to mask that reality with an unconvincing “fine” is what’s truly discouraging. It’s as if our society has become allergic to authenticity.
We avoid pain and emotional honesty like the plague, and when people do finally muster up the courage to be vulnerable, they’re often met with gossip and rejection. Any show of struggle seems to represent a weakness that threatens to rub off on us and uncover our own hidden burdens.
Even when we’re in crisis and hurting the most, we often dig our heels in deeper and insist that it’s all coming up roses, instead of surrendering the façade and accepting help.
If you are in the throes of a ‘to the death’ marital battle, have lost custody of your children, were fired for being drunk on the job, or had to be talked off the ledge (literally), then you are absolutely and unequivocally NOT FINE.
It’s after a new client’s initial face-saving “fine” that I usually state, “If that were true you wouldn’t be here, so how about the truth this time?”
So why are so many of us afraid to face the truth? Why has authenticity become such a scary proposition?
One of my personal theories about why emotional dishonesty is running rampant these days lies in the rise of social media. Facebook and Instagram train us to maintain “friendships” by showcasing our “best self”, while conveniently tucking away her evil twin sister who rages, complains, lies, binge eats donut holes, sleeps around, or is so sad she can’t even get out of bed some days.
Though we are ashamed of our negative side, it is a legitimate part our story.
That ugly part of ourselves shouldn’t be blamed because it was likely born of pain. It was who showed up after we were betrayed, violated, or abused. It was who protected us when grief and loss threatened to take us down. It represents all of the defense mechanisms we use to cope with heartache.
If we stop trying to hide it and give it a voice, it might not act out as often as it does.
Continuing to ignore the broken part of ourselves keeps us sick and unable to achieve long-term emotional health. We as women, particularly women of color, need to start getting real about our pain.
I know when Mary J. sings Just Fine we’re ready to turn up. But if our lives are really NOT FINE, that’s okay too.
Here are 5 things to remember if you find yourself struggling to accept emotional challenges:
The Truth Can Set You Free
There is freedom in honesty. People don’t realize just how much extra energy they waste carrying around a secret or protecting a lie.
When people finally start speaking the truth in therapy, I can almost see a weight fall off of their shoulders. They actually report feeling lighter.
You may think that all of the chaos and insanity that comes with hiding an ugly truth is worth it, but here’s the rub: your loved ones probably already know you’ve got issues and are just waiting for you to admit it to yourself.
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
You’re not Jesus, so perfection is not expected. Do your best and commit the rest.
That is all.
Pain is Universal
Everybody is hurting in one way or another, and I do mean ERRBODY. Don’t be fooled by all the gushing folks do on Facebook and start wallowing in self-pity assuming that the hurt you experience is a special brand of misery.
Trust me, you’re not that special.
Pain is pain and everyone has a cross to bear. If you can’t find the cross in someone else’s life, it’s probably because it’s a pain you’ve never known.
Instead of feeling like your storm is unusual and God has singled you out for extreme weather testing, try being thankful that whatever all of the “happy” people are dealing with is so unfamiliar to you, you don’t even recognize it.
Bad Behavior Does Not Equal Bad Person
I think we’d all be a lot better off if we could separate bad behavior from our personal sense of self-worth. Admitting that you’ve made some wrong turns does not mean you are a defective human being.
You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Good people do bad things on occasion. Good people have bad attitudes every now and then and sometimes make bad choices.
Stop being a victim of your emotions, forgive yourself, and start taking responsibility for changes you still have the power to make.
You’ll Never Change Hidden Behavior
Iyanla Vanzant once said, “If you can’t face it you can’t heal it.” As a therapist, I couldn’t agree more.
I know it’s scary to admit that despite the image you’ve worked so hard to protect, there are still parts of you that you hope will never see the light of day. Yet, just because you bury something in the backyard doesn’t mean it’s dead.
In fact, if you bury it deep enough, it will eventually take root and sprout up at inconvenient times and in unexpected places. The truth is, all of us have been guilty of trying to sweep harsh realities and personal turmoil under the rug with a throw-away fine when pressed about our well-being.
Here’s the tea: you can be a perfectly normal, lovable, capable, and functional person even if everything is not always fine.
Personally, I know that I am a worthy human being and an anointed child of God, but if you catch me five minutes after an argument with my husband, you best believe, I am NOT FINE!
When my bank account is overdrawn or the bathroom scale tips too far in the wrong direction, I am NOT FINE.
Let’s do ourselves and the universe a favor and commit to keeping it real. The next time you’re feeling funky and someone asks you how you’re doing… dare to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
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