At the time of this writing, the following was pinned to over 9000 Pinterest boards.
This is another one of those Internet-o-grams which sounds lovely and wistful at face value but actually compromises our ability to nurture each other. Social wellness is not a fairy tale. Like all other aspects of wellness, it doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it. We have to tell people what we need if we want them to know.
The sentiment expressed in this pin implies that others are responsible for magically discerning our needs and then responsible for coming to our rescue even after we’d denied the need. They’ll just know, right? They’ll just see through our disclaimed pain. They’ll pull us close even if we push them away. That’s a fairy tale, folks. Clinging to this desire only compounds whatever makes us feel “not okay” when those around us fail to live up to the fairy tale. We feel more lonely, more hurt, more frightened; whatever it is we want to them to hug away.
I realize it is scary to tell people we need help or that we are in pain. Most people would rather eat a spider than deliberately risk rejection, and rejection is complicated. It isn’t just “Ew, get away from me.” Rejection includes the risk that folks won’t want to help us, won’t know how to help us, or simply can’t help us. We are loath to make ourselves vulnerable for nothing, so to speak. No one wants to bare her soul only to have her confidante stare at it dumbfounded, speechless, and clueless.
But here’s a newsflash for you — the people you long to trust will have no chance of learning how to help you, comfort you, soothe you, or love you if you keep lying to them about what you need. They will have no ability to live up to your fairy tale standard if all you ever do is withhold from them the experience of learning how to live up to it.
It reminds me of those years I believed in the One True Love fairy tale. You know, the myth which decrees we only get ONE (don’t get me started…) and that this person will be born with the innate ability to know exactly what we need, want, and like a) at all times, and b) without being told. I remember reading the advice of some relationship guru coaching young girls of the world to speak up and tell those boys what we need, want, and like rather than simply expecting them to know (and then getting pissed or broken-hearted when they don’t). Younger Me shook my head and wondered, “But if he’s really my soulmate, won’t he already know? If I have to tell him he must not really be the One.” That’s the fairy tale effect, folks.
No, it is not reasonable for girls or boys to see through our lies and denials and refusals with fairy tale chivalry to make our dreams and wishes come true. People are not walking around with an inborn magical power to figure out secret needs and desires on the off-chance that they will bump into the one person to whom that magic power can be applied. Human beings do not work that way. We learn how to love each other and how to help each other. Period. No ONE can learn how to help us if we lie to EVERYONE about it. We are responsible for getting our needs met, which means we are responsible for communicating them. Lying about how we feel disables ANYONE who wants to help us.
So how are we supposed to respond to “How are you?” if this is asked casually or as a social reflex? If it is asked in public? Or at work? By someone we know isn’t really asking for more than a reflexive answer? Are we really supposed to stop, drop, and bare our souls right then and there? No, probably not, but we do not have to lie. We do not have to keep lying.
Boundaries are important. Appearances (especially in business) do matter. It’s not at all helpful to deny that timing, place, and good judgment are variables which require consideration. However, every time we lie to preserve a necessary status quo we condition ourselves to using dishonesty to perpetuate safety. It’s much safer to lie and say “I’m good,” “I’m fine,” or “I’m okay.”
Lying to cover becomes as much a social reflex as someone asking while counting on something benign (a lie) for an answer. When the opportunity to be honest with someone who cares comes along, we lie to stay safe again, because vulnerability feels unsafe. Lying is easier, it’s safer, we have practiced it innumerable times with success, and it feels harmless. All the while we are desperately wishing for someone to deconstruct this conditioning as described in the 9000-times pin shown above. If 9000 people feel the same way then 9000 people are living the same lies, so clearly this is not harmless. Ironically, the numbers are not lying about lying.
More to the point, these 9000 people could be helping each other. Imagine the world 9000 times more well. Imagine the world with 9000 fewer lies in it. Imagine the world with 9000 more hugs in it.
I know what’s coming next. How do we stop betraying ourselves and still keep up social graces, keep our jobs, keep boundaries intact, etc.? What do I say when someone asks and I don’t think it’s appropriate to bare my soul or spill my guts? I say something that’s true. Yes, it takes practice. Wellness is a practice.
“Good morning, Mercy. How are you?”
“Well, I’m really loving this coffee.” Or the weather. Or the lack of a staff meeting. Or the fact that traffic was light today. Or the color of that sweater you’re wearing. It can be anything true. It doesn’t have to be profound or witty. It can be anything but a lie.
“Hi, Mercy. How have you been?”
“I’ve been working hard.” Or I’ve been on my yoga mat a lot. Or hiking my heart out. Or I’ve busy with X, Y, Z. Or I’ve been doing, going, just got back from, looking forward to X, Y, Z. Again, something true. No fairy tales, no bullshit, no betraying myself.
It’s not a full solution. It’s a start. It breaks the conditioning. It stops the lies. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s a manageable shift in behavior that can be practiced almost anywhere and nearly every day. The practice is the important part. When I am afforded the opportunity to go deeper with someone willing and caring, I won’t defer or default to a lie. I’ll say something true.
Someone will hear me because I won’t be lying. Someone will believe me because I won’t be lying. Someone will hug me tight and it will not be compelled by a lie. 9000 people are longing for this with the lying part still included but haven’t yet stumbled upon a pin to help them get out of their own way.
One of my fantasies as a wellness enthusiast is to have some business cards made, only in place of business info print the line:
You don’t have to lie to me. It will be okay.
You don’t have to lie to make me care.
You don’t have to lie to me. I will still care.
Or maybe just:
You get the idea. I haven’t completely fleshed out the idea yet but the world needs something to balance the fairy tales if we are ever going to stop wishing for wellness and start practicing it.