WE say it all the time. It’s short and sweet. But, often, it’s not true.
And while everyone occasionally says they’re fine when they aren’t, we are especially prone to this form of avoidance now —during this time of political upheaval and pandemic.
When we say, “I’m fine” or “Everything’s fine,” perhaps we’re hoping to convince ourselves and others that everything really is OK. Denying our real emotion, though, is a façade.
In my role as a minister of a large congregation, I’ve literally spoken with hundreds of people these past couple of months.
What I’ve discovered is, we’re all stressed out and suffering right now.
Separation from family members, job loss, loneliness, anxiety about getting the coronavirus, worry about our democracy — it’s everywhere.
Still, we want others to think everything is working out great for us because we’re afraid of the shame, embarrassment and judgment that might come if people knew the truth (that we’re struggling, our lives are unmanageable, our loved ones are troubled, that we’re not perfect, etc.).
Denial is understandable.
Avoidance, however, isn’t a good long-term strategy.
Often, the longer we try to ignore things, the bigger the problems become.
So, why do we deny our problems or pretend to be OK?
We largely say “I’m fine” to shield ourselves from painful feelings.
In general, people in our culture are uncomfortable with strong emotions.
Many of us grew up in families where we weren’t allowed to be angry or sad.
We were told to stop crying and were punished when we did express our feelings.
Or our feelings were completely ignored.
As a result, we’ve learned to suppress our feelings and to numb them. How? With food or alcohol, or other compulsive behaviors.
Others of us grew up with parents who couldn’t regulate their own emotions.
If you had a parent who raged, you may be afraid of anger and want to avoid being angry or angering others.
If you had a parent who was deeply depressed, you may be unconsciously compelled to avoid your own feelings of sadness, grief or hopelessness.
This is totally understandable — it’s just not helping you right now.
Moving out of denial begins with being more honest with yourself.
You can do this through journaling and naming your feelings, or by working with a therapist, clergy person or sponsor.
Remember that feelings aren’t good or bad, so try not to judge them.
You might think of your feelings as messengers that are delivering helpful insights.
Rather than trying to change how you feel, try to be curious about why you’re feeling a particular way. What are your feelings trying to tell you?
And finally, please know that you’re not the only one struggling with these issues, and you didn’t cause them.
You are, however, the only one who can start to change them.
The winter months are approaching and the pandemic will be here for a while.
Like it or not, this will bring more “alone time” for reflection.
I hope all of us will make good use of this increased spaciousness — reflecting, praying, meditating and doing whatever else you do to bring yourself back to your authentic self.
After all, many good things can grow out of the darkness we are experiencing: wisdom, healing, courage, resolve and insight — to name just a few.
May this time bring you more than misery.
May it, in fact, help you emerge from the shadows and shine!
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]