Thinking Out Loud

Looking Out for One Another

“Are you okay?” We all have asked this question many times to many people in our lives. Usually the answer is “I’m okay,” even when the person isn’t really okay. It is meant to reassure us on the one hand and on the other hand to stop the conversation from getting into too much depth.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge not being okay? Perhaps it shows weakness, an inability to cope with life. After all, we must take responsibility for our lives. No one else can. Perhaps it means we are a failure. Everyone else seems okay, so what’s wrong with me?

I imagine times past when life was more communal, when communities were smaller and families were in close proximity—perhaps, even in the same home. People must have noticed when you were not okay. Maybe everyone noticed and it was a matter-of-fact observation. Bob’s wife just had a new baby, that’s three little ones, he looks tired and discouraged. I’ll get some guys together this weekend to help him out.

Nowadays, who notices? We are in our individual homes, often far away from families, coping with our individual lives. We do not have the automatic community for support and understanding. If we are in need we must find a way to acknowledge the need and ask for help. But do we know how?

So often in my counseling practice I hear, “Everyone else seems to be coping just fine. What’s wrong with me?” As if having a difficult time isn’t a normal occurrence and shouldn’t be acknowledged. There is no loss of dignity and no shame struggling within ourselves and with life in general. It is no secret that the biggest struggle we have is with ourselves. No one is immune.

Because we live insular lives with our most immediate family, we must learn how to acknowledge our human struggles openly with extended family and friends. Not indiscriminately, of course, but with those we know will be there for us. We must not be afraid to do this. The circumstances of our lives can get overwhelming, requiring us to seek out others, asking for their support and help. It is part of taking responsibility for ourselves. In fact, it is irresponsible to do otherwise. We owe it to each other.

Communication tip: “I’d really like to talk with you because I’m going through a hard time.”

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