The risk of asking 'how are you?'...
Are you ever upset or surprised when the people you are closest to and care about the most, in your life, do not ask how you are? How have you been? How are you coping?
You may have been unwell or something has happened in life to upset you, yet, family and friends, just do not ask. They carry on as normal around you, seemingly not noticing anything different. They still expect you to behave as you normally would.
Are they being unloving, uncaring and selfish? That may well be true for some of our friends and family members but it can be very confusing, when you are dealing with people, who do have qualities of care, love and support. How can they possibly not notice or ask; what is the matter with them?
When we ask someone 'how are you?’, what does it really mean? What is behind it and what can it open up?
For some people, it is an empty question, with no real need to know the answer. For example (and I know not all neighbours are like this!) but a neighbour may ask ‘how you are?’ but they don’t really want to know! They want to do the neighbourly thing and then be on their way. We have all done it ‘how are you, I’m fine and how are you?’.
For others, they ask and they are happy to hear a ‘little’ of what may be going on and they themselves may feel they can share some of their issues; a two way thing. Again, there is no real expectation of love, care or support here although there can still be value.
However, when someone we are close to asks us, we kind of sense and know, what they are really saying is, ‘I am here for you’. An invitation, to enter a space of care, love, support and listening.
So what can be behind the silence of not asking? Anxiety, worry, fear? Fear of getting something wrong, of not being able to provide the person with what they need. Fear of the responsibility of what the response may be. What if this person tells them something terrible, like ‘I am very ill’ or ‘I don’t want to be in this relationship any more’.
Those three simple words can, at times, open up something huge and it is indeed, quite a responsibility.
In not hearing it, we may rush to that vulnerable place of feeling unloved, uncared for and unsupported. Perhaps we may start to feel that we do not want to show them any care the next time they need it. We, too, may lose the ability to ask How are you?.
When we can begin to understand the angst that may exist behind the not asking, it is important to break down that silence. Try to let others know that, at this particular time in your life, you need to ‘hear’ their care for you; you need that invitation. Let them know it is fine if they are unsure of how to respond or how to make it better; they do not need to. You just need to hear and know ‘they are there for you’.
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About Jayne Phillips
Jayne is a fully qualified, professional Therapeutic Counsellor. A registered member of the BACP, working in private practice, in the city of Bath.