Keeping up Appearances: Why you hide what's *really* going on

"Good morning, how are you?"  

"Doing great, thanks! And you?"

It's our ritual. Say good morning, reply that everything is great and keep on moving. But is it really? When someone asks how you are doing, do they really want to know? Do you want to tell them?

People respond well to a positive, perky image that everything is great. They want to believe that it's true, and so do you. There's also a deep fear of being judged - what happens if someone thinks, knows, that things aren't so rosy? You aspire to being perfect since that's what the media portrays and that's what you see around you - perfect people living perfect lives. The secret is this... the people around you are trying to appear perfect too, but even they have problems. EVERYONE has problems, no one is perfect even though it may seem that way sometimes.

Imagine this exchange instead:

"Good morning, how are you?"

"Actually pretty terrible. My boss hates me and my self esteem is in the toilet. Plus I'm really struggling with money and I committed way too much on that new car. Oh, and my kids are driving me crazy. I love them but they test my patience. I really just want to get away from it all and take a vacation."

How do you think someone would respond to hearing that? 

Chances are they would get nervous and not to know what to say. They might might smile sheepishly and walk away, leaving you feeling exposed and vulnerable. Or they might try to one up you with stories of their own miseries. But maybe, just maybe they would actually listen to you and care that you're having bad day, or a bad week, or a bad month. How would that feel? How would it feel to be heard, to be seen, to be understood? To have someone say, "it's ok to be here with the feelings you are having, to be who you are."

no one is perfect, hiding behind a mask

That's one of the reasons people seek a therapist. When you sit with your therapist, they actually expect you to say honestly what's going on, what isn't working, and what is causing you pain. They care about who you actually are. And then they help you find your way through the pain and the problems. A therapist can't magically make the problems go away, but they can help you do problem solving, cope with the pain the problems cause, see your life in a different way, or understand the root of the pain that you are feeling.

There are other ways to express yourself safely as well. A lot of people find comfort in writing in a journal, for example. A journal won't judge you or turn your words against you. You can be honest with your private feelings. Creativity is also a wonderful way to express yourself. You don't have to be a great artist to sit down with some pastels or paint and make a mess of color that somehow shows how you feel, without even using words.

The next time someone asks you how you are, try being honest without exposing yourself completely. You don't have to say you're great and you don't have to tell them your life story. Save that for your journal or for your therapist. Try it out and see if it feels just a little bit better to be authentically you.