“Ho are you doing?” is perhaps one of the most common questions people ask. Often the default response is “good” or some variation of it, even when they’re not doing very well. There are several possible reasons for this. To start, Simone SaundersRSW, trauma therapist and founder of The cognitive corner, says people rarely answer the question honestly because it’s usually used as a joke rather than a genuine inquiry into someone’s well-being. She adds that it’s also hard to decide how to react when you really disagree when you don’t know how your answer will be received or if it’s appropriate for the storyline.
Also, clinical psychologist Tracy DalgleishPhD says we are socialized from a young age to believe that vulnerability is a sign of weakness and that we should keep our feelings to ourselves.
The Benefits of Expressing How You Really Feel
While it may seem terribly vulnerable to share what you’re really doing, expressing that you’re struggling with something to other people has many benefits, according to mental health experts. One of the benefits is that talking about what you’re going through helps understand and process your feelings, Saunders says. Dr. Dalgleish adds that bottling up and downplaying our emotions contributes to stress, burnout, depression and anxiety. “I use the analogy of a pot of boiling water,” she says. “You have to remove the lid to let the steam escape over time. Otherwise, the pan is boiling. When we hold what we are actually doing inside, we are more likely to struggle.
Saunders says sharing can help too build emotional intimacy in our relationships, helping us build a strong support system. Sharing with others is also a form of co-regulation. “These revelations and the opening of our internal experiences can help to regulate the nervous systemsays Dr. Dalgleish. In other words, we feel soothed and calm when we connect with others. She cautions that this applies to sharing and being vulnerable with someone, do not throw or dump on others.
How to react when you disagree
Think about what you need in conversation
So how exactly should we respond when someone asks how we’re doing if we’re not doing so well? It depends on two things: why you share and who you share it with. Saunders recommends asking yourself first what you’re looking to get out of sharing — maybe it’s support, a listening ear, or just need to express your feelings. “It will help you gauge the level of vulnerability you might want to express,” she says.
For example, if you just need someone to listen, Dr. Dalgleish suggests starting the conversation with, “I want to share something, but I just need a listening ear.” On the other hand, if you want help with a challenge, she suggests something like, “I’m struggling with X, and I really need solutions.”
Determine if it is safe to share with the person
It’s also important that the person you share your feelings with is trustworthy, empathetic, and provides a safe space, says Dr. Dalgleish. Think about how they reacted to your vulnerability in the past and how they made you feel. For example, Dr. Dalgleish says that if the person has already criticized you or dismissed your feelings, it may be best not to discuss it with them.
Saunders also notes that there are different levels of vulnerability depending on who you’re talking to and the level of emotional intimacy in the relationship. “To an acquaintance or someone you’re not close with, a version of the truth may feel more comfortable than a deep dive,” she says. “Whereas a close friend or family member may be more vulnerable.”
For example, Saunders says you can respond to an acquaintance with something like, “I’ve had better days” or “I feel tired.” Or, if you’re in a professional environment and want to respond authentically while still being light-hearted, you can do so with responses like, “This week’s been pretty hectic, so I’m looking forward to the weekend” or “The weather’s got me in a bit of a pickle.”
Whereas with someone you have a close relationship with and feel safe in, Saunders suggests responses such as, “I really have a hard time with X” or “My stress has kept me up at night for the past few nights.” Or, if you want to dive deeper, she says, try something like, “I’m glad you asked…I’m not doing very well; do you have a moment today when we can talk more about it? »
No matter who you share with, Saunders says the above answers allow the conversation to go deeper if both parties feel ready to do so while allowing the vulnerability to stop there if necessary.
Remember, you’re not the only one struggling
If you still find it hard to share, Dr. Dalgleish reminds us that everyone struggles, so you’re not the only one going through something. Bringing compassion to our struggles and sharing our true selves is part of our healing journey, she adds. Remembering this can help you be more open to sharing.
And practice makes it easier to be vulnerable
From a practical perspective, Saunders says switching to more authentic responses can feel less daunting if you try to experiment with different people and responses. “Choose days/places/people you want to be more honest with and test how you feel,” she says. “You can think about the questions: Was my vulnerability consistent with the level of safety in this relationship? How did I feel after sharing? With these tips and scripts in mind and a good dose of practice, to be vulnerable may become easier over time.