Why You Should Stop Saying, “I’m Fine.”

In casual conversations, we are frequently asked, "How are you?" The most common response to this question is "I'm fine." But what if you're not "fine"? What do you say then?

January 4, 2016
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You know the drill. You see your neighbor at the grocery store. Inevitably she asks how you’re doing. Your response? Probably something along the lines of, “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” She likely says the same thing in return. You may engage in a bit more small talk, then go on your way.

This kind of conversation happens so often that we may not even give it a second thought. Perhaps you really are doing okay, but what about those times when you’re not? What if you’re feeling down, or tired, or conflicted, or even depressed? What if you’re really struggling?

Saying you’re “fine” is a neutral description that’s neither positive or negative. And since we’re multi-dimensional individuals who experience a spectrum of human emotions, the truth is that you are probably not just “fine.” But society has seemed to condition so many of us to fake that we’re okay (even if we’re not), to endure hardship and not complain about it. This can take its toll, however, and I would encourage you to stop pretending and instead tell the truth about what you’re actually feeling. Here are some ideas to consider about why you should stop saying, “I’m fine.”

First off, assess your relationship with the other person. If he or she is a stranger or someone you only know as an acquaintance, it may not be appropriate to share your heart (at least not all of it). But if it’s someone you trust and know well, don’t be afraid to open up and express what’s really going on. Also, be mindful of your environment. Heavy conversations may not belong in a public space where others can hear, but are better suited for the privacy of a home or apartment.

Another aspect of moving beyond the rote saying “I’m fine” is to actually know what you’re feeling! It’s simple, really: You can’t properly tell someone else your emotions if you yourself don’t know what they are. I encourage you to regularly assess how you feel (I’m a therapist, and even I have to do this).

If you need help getting started, try to identify which of the following six basic emotions describe you in the present moment: happy, sad, mad, scared, surprised, disgusted. Once you’ve figured out which of these emotion(s) you’re experiencing, try to accept yourself without judgment. Too often, we shame ourselves for our feelings, but it’s okay to feel a certain way. Give yourself permission to embrace your inner truth.

One of the main barriers to sharing our true feelings with someone else is that we’re afraid to open ourselves up that much. Speaking your heart requires you to be brave and vulnerable, as there is risk involved. It requires you to be authentic and let down your walls. Being sincere and authentic is something we can practice and get better at over time. If you struggle with opening up with others, I challenge you to take a chance. Start small and let someone close to you know what’s really going on with you. You don’t have to overshare, but saying something like, “It’s been a rough week, and I’m having a hard time,” is honest, authentic, and shows that you are an imperfect human being just like the rest of us.

In addition to being truthful, another huge potential payoff of sharing your feelings is that it can lead to improved relationship connections. You can become emotionally closer to someone or may even gain help or support if you need it. So please be brave. Try deviating from the cliché phrase “I’m fine,” and express how you really feel.

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