Are You Teaching Others To Believe That You’re ‘OK’ – Even Though You’re Not?
“If you keep saying and pretending you are fine, others will believe you and expect that you behave that way.”
hen I trip or fall (and this happens a lot) , I jump up so fast that nobody can offer me their hand. Before you even have the chance to realise that I just crashed myself into the pavement, I will dust myself off, smile, and tell you that I’m OK.
When I was taken to hospital after a very dramatic fall, I spent the entire drive talking. It was my desperate attempt to deflect from the uncomfortable situation. I couldn’t stand the silence, concern and attention. I couldn’t stand being vulnerable.
When a drunk driver swerved onto my side of the road and hit my car on the motorway, I wrote about it on Facebook shortly after it had happened.
I ended my paragraph on a light and humorous tone with the words “I’m OK.”
I was in deep shock when I wrote those lines and desperate to reach my family. As I couldn’t reach them straight away – feeling scared and shacken – my post was an attempt to receive some attention, support and empathy for what had just happened to me.
I have many great friends and loved ones, so of course I got instant feedback and notes of care.
However, two days later I heard something an acquaintance had said, and it made me so, SO, angry.
I had cancelled all of my commitments for the days after the accident and this person felt impatient and frustrated with me for dropping out of a concert we were supposed to sing together. She had read about what had happened to me on Facebook and had assumed – based on the way I had written about it – that I was OK.
I was not OK.
I was so upset with her for saying those things, and for not acknowledging how hurt and in shock I actually was. I could have died in that accident and she thought I was exaggerating. But who could blame her?
It didn’t escape my notice that the neglectful way I had handled my own situation, had set the tone for how most other people would think about it.
I spilt many tears over this.
Not for the first time – but for the first time truly – I realised that MY words, MY behaviour, and MY actions, had led to this.
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” – Criss Jami
Reflecting on why I felt so angry with her and myself, I noticed a pattern in my self-depreciating behaviour of the past:
- I didn’t allow myself to authentically feel upset, hurt, or sad. Instead, I go into action and over-functioning mode, trying to make everyone else feel better
- I didn’t accept help or attention gracefully, which inspired apathy in others and frustration within me
- I believed that being ‘tough’, ‘rational’, and ‘drama free’ (aka bottling up my emotions and stuffing them away) is how a ‘strong woman’ faces obstacles
- In some deep and ugly place within me, I felt that I am not deserving of the attention, empathy, and compassion of others
- I feelt scared of being vulnerable, because I feared that someone could think that I was acting weak, and ‘like a girl’
The truth is: By posting about my accident on Facebook, by jumping up after I fell, by trying to talk away the silence and discomfort – I resisted help, and I didn’t allow myself to engage with my feelings in an honest way.
Ironically, as we resist help and try to camouflage how we really feel, many of us are actually trying to manipulate others to acknowledge how shitty, or angry, or sad, or anything we do actually feel.
It is the stereotypical scenario where a man can feel his girlfriend’s anger and when he asks her if everything is ‘OK’ she snaps “Yes. I’m FINE!” Expecting that her man will pick up on the tone of her voice, which is literally screaming “not OK”, she gets very upset when he shrugs his shoulders and believes that everything is fine.
If something wasn’t fine she would say so, right?
If I wasn’t OK, why did I write that I was? Why did I jump up and smile? Why did I talk and make jokes, while all I wanted to do was say ‘what a shit thing to happen to me’ and cry? Why did I not allow myself to experience those moments of silence and discomfort without trying to fill them in a self-destructive way?
On a small scale, this behaviour could be ignored or laughed about.
However, when blocking others out and not communicating authentically becomes a kneejerk reaction, it is a problem.
At first, many hands will reach down to pick you up after you have fallen. Yet, every time you push them away or jump up before they can even react to your fall; a few helping hands will go missing.
At some point—after (not so) many repeats of this self-depreciating behaviour—the people who love you will stand around and watch, hands in their pockets, as you try to get up off the ground by yourself.
You brush the dirt from your bleeding knees; awkwardly you stand by yourself, smiling, and laughingly reassure everyone that ‘no, you’re fine. Yes, really!’
Your lips tremble as you fight away tears of pain and sadness. Your heart aches with the realisation that no one seems to care about you; no one sees past the barriers to the actual sadness, pain and anger you are feeling.
They do this, not because they don’t love you, but because you trained them to believe that you are OK, and that you don’t need their help.
The next time I fall, I intend to breathe and allow myself to sink into the experience. I want to allow myself to cry, laugh, and lick my wounds. I want to grant myself (and others) the space to authentically react to the situation.
And, should a helping hand appear, I want to take it and say ‘Thank you, I really needed that.’
I leave you with my love,
Model/MUAH/Retouch*: Cat De Pillar Photograph: Bernd Rößler *No blemish retouch or body modification
The Good Enough Creative
A lot of us have internalised beliefs that keep us miserable + secretly thinking that our emotional suffering is a necessary [and even romantic] part of the creative process.
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