I’m fine has become an automatic response to being asked, “how are you?” It’s a safe answer that does not typically illicit further questions or comments. Furthermore, it is often asked almost in passing as if any other response would be startling. Thus, most of us walk around saying we are “fine” every day. But what do we really mean?
1. I’m not sure how I really feel.
a. “Fine” is the safety blanket of feelings. We fall back on this response so often that many of us have difficulty describing how we are actually feeling. So we say “fine” to avoid further questions or making the asker feel uncomfortable.
2. Nobody would understand how I’m really feeling.
a. Most people who are hurting are protective of not projecting their hurt onto others. Depression and pain often come with shame. To talk about this would show our vulnerability which can feel uncomfortable and threatening.
3. I don’t want to talk about it.
a. Talking about feelings can feel like tearing off wounds. Sharing with someone who lacks empathy or understanding (real or perceived) can be very discouraging and further feed into the above feelings of shame. The risk of exposure for their true feelings compounded with the risk of receiving an uninformed response can result in just avoiding talking about feelings.
4. I feel awful/scared/ashamed/confused/hurt….
a. But how do I share this? These feelings can lead to feeling overwhelmed and truly not knowing how to answer a simple question such as, “how are you?”
a. For those living with a mental illness or survivors of trauma, the question itself can feel daunting. A sigh is defined as, “to emit a long, deep, audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or a similar feeling.” According to Psychology Today, sighs are associated with a negative mood—a sign of disappointment, defeat, frustration, boredom, and longing. The internal tiredness, disappointment and/or sadness that a person is feeling somehow gets summed up, “I’m fine”
The next time you ask someone how they are, think about the response you’re already anticipating. What if we didn’t settle for “fine”. What if we stop, take a moment and ask with true sincerity how someone is doing. Or better yet, ask how they are feeling. We could all benefit from slowing down, taking an earnest interest in others as well as honestly evaluating how we ourselves are doing.