I'm fine and other lies 

by Russell Friedman & John W. James of The Grief Recovery Institute 
 
A common thread running through the articles we have written is the misinformation we are all subjected to about processing the normal emotions caused by loss. We do not want to create any new loss issues by blaming our parents in particular or society in general for having passed on ineffective ideas, skills, and tools for dealing with loss. All we want to do is help establish that what we have been using to process our sad, painful or negative feelings hasn't worked, and that we need to acquire more effective tools for dealing with loss events. 
 
Much of the incorrect information we learned and practiced may have convinced us not to show our REAL feelings at any cost. We were taught to bury any feelings that dealt with sadness. We were taught: "Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone." This and hundreds of other clichés about dealing with sad feelings taught us to lie about how we felt. And even the lying was protected under other misinformation like: "don't burden others with your feelings." 
 
When we make public appearances we often ask a large audience this question: "Do you like being lied to?" Of course no one says yes. Our next question is: "How many of you have ever said 'I'M FINE' when you were feeling terrible?" Every single hand in the audience goes up. Conclusion: Nobody likes being lied to...and everybody lies about their feelings. If this were a physical illness it would be an epidemic! 
 
Every time we lie to others we lie to ourselves. Our subconscious mind hears the lie and continues to bury the feelings generated by the initial event. Unresolved losses are cumulative, and cumulatively negative. Time does not heal the pain caused by loss and neither does lying about our feelings. 
 
It would be impossible to cure such a massive problem in a single column, but let's try for a little bit of recovery. Allow yourself to believe that the subconscious will take actions based on conscious commands. When we lied and said we were fine we told it that there was no problem so it need not search out a solution. The net effect is to allow the cause of the problem to go unattended and re-bury itself. The next time it attacks we may not be able to recognize the cause or source of the attack. 
 
A major key to recovery is to process every feeling in the moment you have it. It does not require any special skills to tell the truth about what you are feeling. 
 
For example: "How are you?" "I'm having a tough day, thanks for asking." Notice that the answer is truthful but does not invite any help or advice. It also has the capacity of serving notice that you are not on your game and the other party can respond accordingly. When you say "I'm fine," but you're not, you have sent a very confusing message. 
 
QUESTION: Sometimes I tell people "I'm fine" and they don't believe me. Why not? 
 
ANSWER: Approximately 20% of your ability to communicate is verbal, leaving about 80% as non-verbal. Non-verbal communication includes tone of voice as well as facial and body signals. When our verbal and non-verbal signals do not match, most people will respond to the non-verbal. So when you lie, most people can SEE it. 
 
© 2002 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at Editor@grief.net or by phone USA (818) 907-9600 Canada (519) 586-8825