Thought for the Day:

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”

James Earl Jones

Question for the Day:

Do you struggle with vulnerability and emotional honesty?

black woman in mask

As a therapist, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most over-utilized word in the English language 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 a serious issue such as a suicide attempt or a near fatal drug overdose has mandated the need for treatment, as if on instinct, clients will first throw out an unconvincing “I’m fine” when asked to share their feelings.

It’s like our society has become allergic to authenticity.  We avoid experiencing 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 could rub off on us and uncover our own hidden burdens.  Even when we’re in crisis and hurting the most, we often choose to hunker down and insist that it’s all coming up roses, instead of surrendering the façade and accepting help.  Sick in the Head

If you’re in the midst 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’re probably not fine. If you have an underlying health condition in the face of COVID-19, you’re certainly not fine.  And if you’re a black person living under the Trump administration which resists the idea that our lives matter, you are absolutely and unequivocally NOT FINE.  It’s usually after a new client’s initial face-saving “fine” when I typically state, “If that were true you wouldn’t be here.  So what’s really going on?”

im fine mask

One of my personal theories as to why emotional dishonesty is running amok 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 the best self’s 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.  Like Me On Fakebook Though we may be ashamed of our negative side, it’s a legitimate part our story.  That ugly part of us shouldn’t be blamed because it was likely born of pain.  It showed up to protect us after we were betrayed, violated, or abused.  It was who held us down when grief and loss threatened to take us out.  It represents all of the negative defense mechanisms we use to cope with heartache, so maybe we should stop trying to hide it and give it a voice. Perhaps then, it might not act up 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 some things to remember if you find yourself struggling to accept emotional challenges.

  1. The Truth Can Set You Free

There is freedom in honesty.  People don’t realize just how much extra energy it takes to carry around a secret or protect a lie.  When people finally start speaking the truth in therapy, I can almost see a weight fall off their shoulders and 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 tea:  your loved ones probably already know you’ve got issues and are just waiting for you to admit it to yourself.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.  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 don’t recognize.  Instead of feeling like your storm is unusual and God has singled you out for extreme weather testing, try being grateful instead. You might have ninety-nine problems, but there’s at least one, you don’t.

  1. Bad Behavior Does Not Equal Bad Person

I believe we’d all be a lot better off if we could start to 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.  Good people sometimes do wrong things, have bad attitudes, and make poor choices.  Stop being a victim of your emotions and forgive yourself.  Start focusing on the changes you still have the power to make.

  1. You’ll Never Change Hidden Behavior

Iyanla Vanzant has said, “If you can’t face it, you can’t heal it,” and as a therapist, this is one of her catch phrases that I cosign.  I know it’s scary to admit that despite the image you’ve worked so hard to create, there are still parts of you that you hope will never see daylight.  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.

its fine

The truth is, all of us have been guilty of trying to sweep harsh realities under the rug with a throw-away “fine” when pressed about our well-being. But here’s the truth, you can be a perfectly normal, lovable, capable, and functional human being even if everything is not always “fine.”

Personally, I know that I am worthy and a child of the living 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 may not be fine at all.  Yet the Word of God assures me that despite all my issues, I am still chosen, usable, and deserving of every good thing, and so are you.  Let’s do ourselves a favor and commit to being real.  It’ll be fine.  Believe me.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

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