Lies, Damned Lies, and “It’s OK”

People lie for a variety of reasons. Some lies(“Lies”) are done to protect the feelings of others. Other lies (“Damned Lies”) are told to harm others, whether through their feelings or their reputations. But, the worst lie is one that we tell because it is almost an automatic response. “It’s OK” or “I’m OK” or anything that expresses that sentiment. The lie told by the person who is hurting but doesn’t want the person who cares, who sees the lie in those words, to know.

This is the worst of all lies, because it is a  Lie and unintentional Damned Lie. Your friends can see when you are hurting, when something has it so that, while you present a strong face to the world, underneath that, you want to break down and cry. Of course, you, being a strong, modern-type person are not going to let anyone know how much you are hurting, and so, when they ask if anything is wrong, you respond “It’s OK” or  “I’m OK.” You have just told someone who likely wants to do nothing more then help you, to take some of your burden onto their own shoulders, that you do not trust them. Maybe you are not meaning to do that. Maybe you are just trying to protect them, maybe you are trying to not look weak in front of your friends for whatever reason. But, the message you sent was clear: “Your help is not welcome.”

From the side of the person you have just told “It’s OK,” however, things are much different. They are your friend and they care enough to be asking after you, meaning they are not just shallowly asking because it is the expected response.(Sure some might be, but let us assume for now that this is a real friend.) They see past the mask, see the battered and bruised self of someone they care about, and yet, when they reach out, they are lied to. Worse is that, because of the lie, even though they know the truth, they can’t call you on it. One doesn’t tell a friend that you know you are being lied to.  All they can do is wonder what is up. Is it that you don’t trust them? Is it that you think you can handle it on your own? Are you blaming them for the problem? These are all the sorts of things that go through someone’s mind.

What is really behind this lie, though? I believe, ultimately, we do not want to feel vulnerable, even to our closest friends. To take off that mask that is “It’s OK,” we have to tell the person what we are really feeling. How do you tell someone you want to respect you that you want to curl up and cry because your boy/girlfriend dumped you over an E-mail? How do you tell your spouse that that crack they made to their friends about how fat/skinny/whatever another guy’s girlfriend made you feel horrible about yourself? How do you tell that woman that you have met that you want to go out on a date with her, but have had such bad luck in the past with rejection you are afraid to ask? All of these and more are reasons someone might say “It’s OK” when asked about something relating to where they feel vulnerable.  So, you think (not in so many words)”It won’t will make them feel better for me, and so..I will just tell a little lie.”

But, you just lied to them. Worse is that if the person has any shred of empathy for their fellow human beings, or knows you at all, they know you lied to them. It doesn’t matter why you lied to them, just that you told them something you knew was untrue. Maybe the person asking about your breakup wants to be there for you to vent and cry to. Maybe your spouse wants to do something to make up for their unintended insult(or, frankly, just needs to be told off for being so stupid and inconsiderate). Maybe that woman who you are afraid to ask out is afraid to ask you out because she thinks you don’t like her. By the lie of “It’s OK,” however, you have cut off any of these outcomes.

By cutting out outcomes that can either lead to the resolution of the problem, or the emotional release of catharsis, you create a bigger problem for yourself. You internalize the problem. You make it part of who you are. You scar your psyche and prevent healing for yourself, prevent yourself from moving on from the problem that caused the lie, making it fester and grow behind the mask you have worn.

How can you keep the worst from happening to yourself by this internalization? Ultimately, you cannot tell the whole truth to everyone. But, you need to know who you  can trust. They are often easy to spot: they are the people who stand by you when everyone else seems against you. If they ask, your response should not be “It’s OK” but “I can’t talk about it right now..can we talk later?” and then telling them all about it when later comes. Your friends, your real friends, care about you. They will not judge you for what you tell them. Give them the trust they deserve, because, when someone will walk through fire for you, they are someone worthy of telling the truth to.

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