For as long as I can remember, the question “how are you?” has triggered so many different responses, reactions and thoughts in people. It has highlighted insecurities, lack of trust, emotional neediness, anger as well as conditioning.
How can three simple words become so complex, complicated and an emotional roller coaster?
They can because humans are the ones asking them. And humans are the ones either responding or not responding to them.
We are experts at making and taking simple processes and turning them into fishing line that gets into a tangled ball of mess.
THE BEGINNINGS OF – “HOW ARE YOU?”
During the early stages of our life, we hear adults asking this question. And often no explanation for why they ask is ever provided. As a result as children we learn from what we hear what we observe and the interaction between both people. In addition to, when and how to ask question and what the responses may or may not be, from people.
We learn to ask the question and we do so not necessarily to get a response rather because it is the polite and right thing to do.
As a child, I remember being asked the question, as opposed to asking it. My grandparents and parents encouraged me to answer very simply and politely with responses such as “I am very well thank you”. I don’t remember asking this question, I do remember being encouraged to say “how do you do”. This was more of a greeting than a question of the person.
Then in my teens, I started worrying about my mum. I consciously remember taking responsibility for her and what she was emotionally and physically going through. So I would regularly ask her how she was, as I was worried that she was not OK. I needed to know, so if required, I could do something to prevent any emotional or physical pain, for her.
The interesting thing at the time is that I also was not internally OK. And I was hoping someone would see this, as there was no way I was going to tell anyone. In fact I was not even aware that if you asked me how I was, that I was not sharing what was really happening for me. My mum and everyone else deserved to be asked and cared for, as I was OK. I was strong, tough and resilient, so if I was asked – my response was “I am fine”.
My definition for fine, that came later in life – Fu.ked, insecure, neurotic and emotional. A beautiful description of how I truly was.
The start of a pattern began; I became the asker of “how are you” rather than the asked.
THE CONDITIONING – “HOW ARE YOU?” – SELECTIVE IN YOUR QUESTIONING
Then as we continue down the pathway of life, with the experiences we have, we become conditioned around when, how and with whom we ask the question “how are you?” We develop different types of “how are you’s” in the speed, the tone, the delivery, the timing and the situation for when we ask the question.
I really am not interested – “how are you?”
The persona filled, smiling, with the sweet high pitched voice – “how are you?”. This you, surfaces when you see someone that you really do not want to talk to or engage with for any length of time. You do though, want to be courteous and niccccceeeee…… You know this type of approach will hopefully only prompt a quick reply, such as “I am good thank you”. Then you can be on your way.
Do you really care about how they feel? Your care at that moment really only goes as far as actually being polite enough to acknowledge and speak to them.
This is an approach I have used in the past in a number of situations:
- To protect myself, where the person was someone I did not trust, feel an infinity with or had been hurt by. Or where I had been betrayed by them or where I did not trust their intentions.
- To restrict time, where I did not have the comfort and belief in myself to say to the person, “sorry I do not have time to stop and talk”. I was worried I would upset them.
- To be polite in a formal setting, where the person was not important to me rather important to the business or in some other way. So I took a token polite, formal, courteous approach. A nice pleasantry.
In all cases, I was not truly interested in the response if I even heard it.
The like and accept me – “how are you?”
The gushy, energy and interest filled, with warm embracing hugs – “how are you?”. You are emotionally needy (or nosy) to know what the person has been doing and how they are. You are emotionally needy of connecting with them and showing you care, so they like and accept you, rather than reject you. Your measuring point of their like of you, is in how open they are and what they share with you.
So you stand there for a period of time listening to them talk about their trip away, their child’s talents, their new house and or their gossip and drama. You empathize, console, congratulate and you may even get jealous.
And when you depart you drop the fake smile. You feel tired from expending the energy that your emotional neediness prompted you to share. You may find yourself brewing in ‘if only’s’ wishing you had some of what they have.
You may judge and find fault in them to make yourself feel better, because at some level you don’t feel worthy enough to be accepted by them. And you may even use what they have said to you, as gossip and stories to share.
This is the approach I took when I was emotionally needy to be liked and recognized by the person. I felt unworthy and vulnerable around them, and covered this up with an upbeat enthusiastic not real me.
In these cases, I was interested in their response as an indicator of my worthiness in terms of being liked and having a connection.
The rescuer – value me – “how are you?”
The slower, more gentle “how are you?”. The approach of deep concern and care with a dose of ‘I want to fix it and make it right for you’.
You want to rescue and save this person from what they have been going through, feeling, and experiencing. Most of all, you want to be of value to them and be there for them in their time of need.
And when they don’t turn to you for the help and support you are offering, you feel devalued and rejected. Or if they do turn to you then your conversations are all about them. How they feel, what is happening for them and you convince yourself that you are adding value to where they are at.
Actually you are invisible at a level. Your emotions, what is happening for you, has no focus in your interactions. The conversations, caring and energy exchange is one-way traffic. You end up with an emotionally dependent relationship where they only turn to you when they need help. And you end up feeling used and hurt, with a touch of resentment.
In these situations, my self-worth was based on the value I added to this persons life in the support I provided. If I was needed, then these people would not abandon or reject me. The most bizarre thing is that what I believed would not happen, was what happened. Once they did not need me anymore, they were gone.
THE IMPACT OF YOUR CONDITIONED QUESTIONING APPROACH ON THE CONDITIONED RESPONSES YOU RECEIVE
Our conditioned approaches to asking people how they are creates patterns of conditioning as to their responses and what they share.
- They don’t share, because they believe you are not interested.
- They don’t share, because they are too scared and vulnerable to.
- They don’t share, because they don’t want to upset you.
- They don’t share because they don’t trust you.
- They do share but only a little bit because they are scared, vulnerable or believe they don’t deserve to be cared about.
- They do share but only the wonderful things that happen for them, because they are needy to be heard and acknowledged, or so that you are left with the impression everything is alright in their world and other reasons.
- They do share but only the issues, trials, tribulations, pain and hardship they experience, because they feel safe with you or they need someone to listen and support them, or they want you to save them, or they are needy of reassurance.
- They share their truth, because they are comfortable in who they are, and you and the other person have an open, trusting and truthful relationship.
THE UNRAVELLING – “HOW ARE YOU?” – I DON’T WANT TO KNOW AND I DON’T ASK
Then a situation happens in your life, where the vulnerability and emotions that you have suppressed from your life surface. You do not have any space, capacity or energy to ask people “how are you?” as your focus becomes about how you are.
You recognize that people are hurting, going through things, just like what you experience. So you learn to value someone asking you the question – how are you? You learn to identify when people are not sincere in their intentions for asking. You gain insight into how you have been, when you have asked the question. And you make a commitment to yourself to value, honor and respect yourself, the people you ask and the question.
THE TRUE YOU – HOW ARE YOU? – YOU CHOOSE TO ASK, AND YOU ARE GENUINELY INTERESTED
Finally, you have clarity and you know what is true and right for you.
So you only ask someone “how are you?” if it is right for you at the time.
You consider how you are feeling and what is happening for you. As well as the time frame you have, the location, where the person is at and most importantly the purity of your intention. And if it is not right in any of those areas, you do not ask the question. Or if you do, you explain the context of why you cannot give it your full attention.
In these circumstances, if it is not right for me, or what is right for me, because of what I am picking up off the person i.e. they are not in a place to share, then my way of expressing this without the question is I say “I hope you are OK” or “I hope you are alright”.
And the times when everything is aligned and you ask the question of the person, this is when you really hear what they are saying. You ask questions, you engage in their process and you value yourself and the other person. This is because it is as simple as you are interested and you care.
Honor the question, honor yourself and honor the other person.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- Who are the people I ask “how are you?” to be polite?
- Who are the people I ask “how are you?” because I genuinely want to know?
- Who are the people I do not ask “how are you?” of and why?