“Are you OK?”
Three little words that evoke more power than we think.
Three little words we don’t ask, or answer honestly, enough.
Three little words that evoke care and compassion.
What is “OK”? It’s a relative word meaning different things to different people. To some it means just existing, to others it means being content with who and where they are. There is a fear attached to not being OK, and a confusion about what OK really is. It’s also hard for us to recognize in other people – those who look “fine” could really be struggling inside, wait for someone to see beyond their mask and wanting help but not sure how to ask for it or open that line of communication.
I remember vividly my second year health psychology professor addressing our class and warning us not to use the communal greeting of “how are you?” as it is invasive to a person’s wellbeing and sometimes the answer would result in a 30min counseling session. Personally I find “how are you?” as a general greeting that many can answer with a false “fine” that we accept is true. Only the people that truly know us see through the B.S. and go – “no, no you aren’t fine”. Then a second more empathetic inquisition of “how are you, really?” is evoked, which usually breaks down the mask of “fine” and a more honest conversation is elicited.
“Are you OK?” is a harder question to ask and answer. It creates a certain vulnerability which some aren’t willing to address and they immediate go into their compensated “strong” state to avoid admitting any “weakness”. For those whom are sensitive to conflict (my amazing empaths I’m speaking to you), they are usually deferred by this hostile reaction and retreat, no further addressing the issue. Hostility comes from hurt. We feel and connect to their inner hurt and we need to not be distracted by the compensated defensive or deflective reaction. Populations that are fantastic at this are teenagers. The amount of anxiety and depression in teens is staggering…. and although teens may be more honest with their peers with their mental state they are defensive and hostile to any authority figure that addresses them about this. If you have teens, ask them “are you OK?”, and if they go “nuclear” on you and become defensive don’t react. Wait until the angry outburst passes, and listen to how they feel. Teens are sensitive to conflict, or anything that challenges their inflated false sense of self. They try to create a pretense of everything is fine, even if it’s not, as a survival compensation as they lack the basic coping mechanisms on how to address their true feelings. Teens need to be heard and they need tools to heal.
I am reminded of a conversation I recently had with a friend on the same thread of topic. We were discussing how it was difficult interacting with someone whom had a narcissistic personality and the difficulty in understanding narcissism just in itself. A narcissist by definition lacks empathy, or the inability to understand somebody else’s view point. When confronted with evidence contrasting their inflated sense of self they get super defensive and lash out in anger or personal attack. However, it’s important to mention that even though narcissists will react with anger or “know-it-all”ness, it’s coming from a core sense of hurt. There was emotional trauma caused as a child and the fragile mind created this compensated inflated ego to protect their broken spirit. They have tricked their conscious to think they are better than everyone else yet at the subconscious level they don’t feel good enough and don’t know how to cope with that.
Are you OK? A difficult question to ask. An even more difficult question to ask someone whom is hurting and will respond defensively or angrily, or try to evade the question completely. However it is this population of people that need to talk the most, that want to connect but are governed by fear, fear of being judged or fear of addressing their emotions. Regardless of our actions and reactions we all have the same human needs of being heard, connecting with others, and feeling unconditionally loved.
Have a conversation with the most “difficult” person in your life today (whether it’s yourself or a family member or friend) – they need to talk the most.