How are you? Such a simple question but one we so often shy away from truly answering.
Certainly in Britain, we tend to respond with a quick, almost automatic, ‘I’m fine thank you’, before launching into things we’ve done, or things that are happening in our lives rather than addressing our real feelings.
I noticed this today, when I checked in with a friend who suffers with anxiety. I get in touch from time to time simply to ask how they’re doing and to allow them the chance to share as much or as little as they wish. At the end of their beautiful, honest reply, they asked me how I was.
It wasn’t until I was a few sentences in, writing about various things in my life that were going well, I realised I was writing about all the things I was DOing rather than how I was BEing.
This awareness is a key part of personal growth.
So, I admitted that while I was happy with so many things, there was still a sadness and longing that’s been walled up inside me for decades. It feels freeing when you actually admit how you feel to someone who you know cares about you and who can hold space without trying to fix or find a solution.
What’s even more beautiful is when someone truly sees you. Someone who sees beneath the words, the facial expressions, the body language. This was what happened to me recently on an amazing course called Listening to Life, led by Nicky Clinch.
Nicky has the most profound sense of intuition and perception and could see beneath my ‘happy’ exterior and my big smile and asked me more about that sadness. To feel seen and heard in this way is an experience I’ve rarely had in my life before.
My smile is genuine. I’m a happy person and I always see the positive or the opportunity in every situation. I have never felt like it’s a mask. But being in Nicky’s presence allowed me to be honest with myself that I still have healing to do on the ‘inner’ me. It allowed me to drop into my heart space and see myself with compassion and love.
ThIS experience led me to wonder…
Have I really felt like no-one would listen to me if I opened up?
Have I avoided deep conversation because I felt as if the other person couldn’t handle my truth?
Or is this all a story I’ve made up – possibly way back in childhood – to protect me from scary situations?
And if so, is it actually true that the people around me can’t handle my truth or is that just a story that’s protected me from being open to deeply intimate relationships? (Of all kinds, not just romantic.)
Are we all walking around, like wounded children in adult bodies, desperate to feel less alone, less sad, less angry?
While it would be amazing if everyone had access to high quality, professional coaching with trauma-informed coaches, (perhaps in 10 years time it will be possible!), in the meantime I’d like to make a suggestion….
First, that we all spend a little more time tapping into what’s really going on inside our bodies. To understand what we’re feeling, where we’re feeling it and how that affects the relationships we have with others.
For example, that knotted feeling you get in your gut every time you’re in a situation where you have to speak up – maybe in a meeting at work, a presentation at school or sharing a sensitive topic with family or friends who may have a different point of view. That horrible churning, stomach-wrenching pain might stem back from a time when you were 5 years old and had to speak in front of the class and everyone laughed at you. Or maybe you answered a question in maths class and it was wrong and the teacher belittled you. In that moment, 5 year old you made up a story that speaking up was scary and made you feel bad.
As the mind can’t distinguish between real and imagined events, every time you were in a similar situation after that, the brain brought up that memory and attached the two together. Now, as an adult, all you know is that you ‘have a fear of speaking in public’ or of sharing your truth with those closest to you. Your story has become your identity. The way you live your life is now driven, in part, by avoiding situations where that fear is going to come up.
Unfortunately, avoidance is never going to help us heal the trauma and move forward. Neither is numbing – where we use anything to shut out the pain. This could be alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, but might also be excessive shopping, exercise, a strict diet, Netflix binges or any activity that distracts us from the inner pain.
Second, I would like to suggest that we all begin to listen to each other. Not simply hearing and formulating a response while the other is still speaking, but to truly listen. It’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly if your ‘story’ is being the person who fixes other people’s problems and is therefore needed, wanted and loved through the act of fixing.
Before we can ever feel safe enough to share our problems, however big or small, we need to feel safe in someone else’s presence. It need not even be someone you know well, but simply someone who allows you to feel safe, heard, seen.
Practice the art of listening every day.
Speak to the check out person at the supermarket, speak to the taxi driver, speak to your colleague at work, speak to your children. And then allow yourself to simply listen to their words without judgement or needing to fix or respond.
And the next time someone asks ‘How are you?’, you have the choice to stay small and stuck in your story with ‘I’m fine thanks’, or to be honest and open a new line of conversation and new possibilities.
Who knows where that might lead?
Disclaimer: **Please note, I am not a trained coach. Everything I write about has been gained from my own experiences of life or of being coached, either in group or 1-1 situations. If any of this resonates with you and you’re ready to start healing, please find a reputable coach with experience that relates to your personal trauma or issue.**