Many of us enjoy exchanging pleasantries as we pass each other whilst taking our walk in the countryside, or nod and share a few friendly words in a familiar work or social setting. There's often a smile as we ask, 'hello, how are you?', which is often unthinkingly followed by the usual, 'I'm fine thanks, how are you?'
There'd be surprise if there was any other response to the non-question that's been asked. It's a polite greeting, which sometimes doesn't even warrant waiting for the reply before we continue on our way.
But what happens when we say we're fine when we're not? We're regularly advised to talk about our feelings, reminded of the importance of sharing with others when we're down, of letting them help. But how do we do that?
- Context is important when we're asked how we are. Did the question consist of a quick nod of recognition or was there a more concerned degree of interest being shown? What else were you both doing when you met? Were you both on your way somewhere else? Is the time and place appropriate for you to start disclosing that you're struggling or would it be better to plan a future meet?
- Staying quiet can, at times, seem the easiest option, even though it can result in us experiencing escalating stress levels, tension and unhappiness. We may not even know ourselves why we're feeling that way, are unable to find the words to explain what's going on, are frustrated by our low mood. Keeping a journal or talking to someone else can sometimes help us process those feelings of confusion and overwhelm.
- Acting as if we're fine may have become an important tool in our survival armory. It enables us to function on a daily basis, provides a welcome veneer to hide behind, allowing us to get through each day. If we really thought about explaining how we feel we'd have concerns about falling apart and be uneasy as to how we'd recover sufficiently afterwards.
- Making ourselves vulnerable can be a concern too. Once aired, details about messy or distressing personal situations cannot be retracted. Yes, someone may care about us, be interested and supportive, but how will they view us on future occasions; will it change our relationship and if so, will that be okay?
- Offering verbal clues can sometimes be a good way to start a conversation when we're feeling low and out of sorts. Comments like, 'I'm okay, thanks, not too bad, surviving, I've been better, I'm getting there' are all indicators that we're not the happiest we've ever been! Those replies could be an opportunity for the other person to enquire if we're really okay, prompt them to ask if we'd like to talk or maybe suggest we arrange a coffee. But, for them to follow-up depends on how busy they are, how they're feeling themselves and whether they're inclined to be supportive.
- How close is your relationship? Do you want to risk changing the dynamics of the relationship by sharing how much you're struggling, reveal what's actually going on when you're asked how you are? And actually, sometimes it can become a bit of an issue if, whenever we meet, our personal situation becomes the opening topic conversation. Sometimes not talking about our problems can give us a break and stop us from being constantly immersed in our situation.
- Can you trust the other person to do right by you? No one wants to disclose their innermost anxieties and concerns, only to then find themselves the subject of gossip a few hours later. Feeling able to confidentially share with another, and for that to be received in a supportive way is a major component when we're not feeling fine.
- Ultimately it's our responsibility to share if we're in need of a little caring friendship. But to do so requires us to be in the 'right place' to ask someone if they've time for a chat, to feel confident enough to reveal that we're feeling low and in need of someone to talk to. And, also, to not take it personally if they reply that they're too busy to talk right now, but will get back to us and speak later.
- It's also important to be clear about what we need. Is it advice, someone to simply listen without comment, an ally, a hug? Doing that allows everyone to know what's expected of them.
And don't forget that none of us operate in a vacuum. The other person will, no doubt, have their own story, issues and problems of concern to them. Try to reciprocate and allow time for them to be heard too. And if you find you're really struggling remember that talking to your GP or contacting a counsellor or hypnotherapist could provide the professional support you need on your journey to feeling really fine.
Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.
She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.
To order a copy or for more information, help and free articles visit http://www.lifestyletherapy.net