If someone asks how you are, if you are like most people, you will answer with the four-letter word that begins with the letter F (no, not that one). It is to be expected, in casual social conversation. Either you don’t know the other person well or don’t have time to elaborate, so the words “I’m fine” are part of common parlance.
This morning as a client entered my office, that was her response when I inquired as to her emotional state. Her face told me otherwise. Then she began to share that tomorrow was the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Letting the “fine” wall down allowed for genuine expression. Tears, dialogue and delving into their paradoxical relationship ensued. By the time she left, some clarity had been reached.
I first heard about the use of the acronym F.I.N.E. when I began working in the addictions field in the 1980s. What it stands for may vary, but it’s always undesirable states:
- Fanatical, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional
- Frantic, Insane, Nuts, Egotistical
- Feeling Insecure, Numb, Empty
- Feelings Inside Not Expressed.
What prevents us from acknowledging our full range of human emotions? If we were willing to openly say what isn’t being said and allow others to witness our true state of being, the baggage we carry would be a whole lot lighter.
- We want to maintain a façade of having it together.
- We don’t want to air family secrets/skeletons in the closet.
- We don’t want to burden someone else with our problems.
- We are in denial.
- We don’t trust that anyone can assist us with our issues.
- We are socially/culturally conditioned.
- We may believe we don’t deserve support.
- We may not have the words to express how we feel.
- We may want to avoid the pain of acknowledging our true feelings.
- We may want people to read our minds.
- We want to hold to the status quo since changing feels intimidating, daunting and frightening.
- We think we need to “act as if” in order to keep all the proverbial plates spinning.
- We want people to see through the mask and reach in to offer assistance.
As I peruse this list, I can admit that I have experienced each one of these factors. I was taught by well-meaning parents to present really well. When my mom was asked how she was doing on any given day, she would answer, “Fine and dandy.” At times of crisis, whether it was as a result of illness, death of a loved one or even her own trajectory toward transition at the end of her life, her response, was “Hangin’ in there, Babe. Hangin’ in there.” I learned emotional intelligence and denial in equal measure.
I had an investment in being seen as the competent/confident one on whom others could rely, since it was my version of social capital and a hedge against rejection. I asked myself, “Who wouldn’t love a caregiver?” The irony is that even when care and support were offered to me, I would often deflect, indicating that I was “fine.” As long as I saw myself in that way, there was no need to ask for or expect anything from anyone, nor run the risk of having my requests denied.
Amanda Owen, author of Born to Receive: 7 Powerful Steps Women Can Take Today to Reclaim Their Half of The Universe, sets the stage by defining the language we use to describe what she considers personal power — that of a balance between the two states.
Receive: to accept willingly
Receptive: ready or willing to receive
Receptivity: a willingness or readiness to receive
Reciprocity: a mode of exchange in which transactions take place between individuals who are symmetrically placed, i.e., they are exchanging as equals, neither being in a dominant position
Boundaries: those invisible borders that help you maintain autonomy and personal sovereignty, as well as the freedom to say yes to what you want and no to what you don’t want, regardless of the opinions or expectations of others.
Enmeshment: lack of awareness or adherence to the idea that as emotionally intimate or bonded as you might feel to another person, you are still separate and unique individuals.
There were times when I would want to duck under the covers and hide from the reality of certain circumstances. When my parents were at the end of their lives and for a while after they died, I took care of business and by doing so, denied myself the freedom to feel whatever arose. Years later, (a decade for my dad and eight years for my mom), I still maintain the “fine” finesse most of the time. It is when a song will come on the radio or someone will say something one of them would have said with the same inflection or mannerism, that the floodgates might open. Am I still okay in the midst of feeling not so fine? Of course. Will it feel this way forever? Of course not. My insistence on saying I was fine was a contributing factors to a series of health crises that began in 2013 and extended into this year.
I also notice a tendency among those who use “fine” as their default, to micromanage. In their minds, it prevents the building blocks from tumbling down, thus maintaining the illusion that all is well. If they take care of all the fine details of any situation, they tell themselves that the camouflage is working. The fear of intimacy, of someone seeing past the facade, prevents placing themselves in a vulnerable state.
While you are encouraged to be true to your feelings in any given moment, you can choose to use the acronym, and reframe it to Free, Inside, Now, Empowered.