Jess is a young black woman who recently started working at Goldman Sachs— remarkable for her wallet / rough on her soul –where her primarily white and male colleagues treat her like she’s an assistant. To make matters worse, her mentor is the conservative guy she sparred with in college, who she finds infuriating and sometimes annoyingly alluring.
When Jess talks to her dad or friends, especially when talking to herself, she repeatedly states that everything’s fine.
I’m letting you in on a secret. When someone says fine, their therapist hears:
F Freaked out
Let’s talk about avoiding reality. We’ve all done it, so perhaps you can relate.
You know when someone says: How are you?
And, the truth is: I’m late because I couldn’t find clean pants, my boss wants me to run a report I don’t understand, I think my friends hate me because they all got drinks without me and I found out about it from an Instagram post, and, I’m worried about the existential threat that democracy as we know it is ending…
But instead, you say: Fine!
People tell themselves or others that they are fine to protect themselves from having to face how entirely not fine everything feels. Unfortunately, deep down, you know when you are struggling. Saying things are okay when they are actually negative creates cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling that your words and your feelings are incongruent. Cognitive dissonance is a destabilizing feeling that can lead to depression and isolation.
If you’ve been lying to yourself or others and faking fine when, in truth, you feel like a hot mess, try these tips:
Journal a Balanced List: Try writing down the top 3-5 things from these categories (1) making you happy, (2) working smoothly, and (3) causing you concern. Noting a few items from each category limits avoidance.
Label your feelings: Take inventory of how you feel and write down 3-5 feelings that the above list provokes in you—struggling to find the words? Some ideas (includes anger, disgust, love, compassion, sadness, hurt, joy, guilt, and many others).
Pause Pretending: Pick 15 minutes each day to sit with your authentic thoughts. Over time, expand the window to as much of your day as possible.
Compartmentalize Only When Necessary: Life sometimes requires a mask. A preschool teacher isn’t going to tell three-year-olds she’s feeling anxious about her finances. Expect that there will always be limited moments of faking fine to others.
If Jess had allowed herself to recognize her true feelings by journaling and labeling, shared her true feelings with others rather than pretending, and validated those feelings instead of avoiding them, she may have been able to live a congruent and authentic life. This, over time, would have led to increased happiness, stronger relationships with others, and a more complete sense of self.