I’m Fine” and Other Lies that Will Give you a Bump on Your Tongue


When I was little, I would sometimes get one of those painful little bumps on my tongue. When I told my mother, she would say, “Oh, You must have told a lie. That’s what causes those.”

And then I would wrack my brain trying to remember what I lied about.

I never could come up with one.

Because the other thing she preached was this, “Always tell me the truth. I may not be angry at the mistake you made, but I’ll CERTAINLY be angry at the lie.”

She was smart.  She made lying riskier than telling the truth.  So I told the truth.

These days, I still tell the truth.

Unless I am lying.

To myself. 

Most of my lies these days are about denial.  By the way, are you familiar with the three levels of denial?

The Three Levels of Denial

1.  First you don’t know. But you don’t know that you don’t know, so it’s okay.

2.  Second, you don’t know. But you know you don’t know. So you make a choice. Either you continue to lie to yourself and other people.  OR you seek change.

3.  Third, you know. And – ONCE YOU KNOW, you can never pretend you don’t know you don’t know.  Lying to yourself and other people at this stage gets REALLY uncomfortable.

You know?


Which brings me to a LIE that I’ve heard a lot recently, both here at Life After Tampons and elsewhere.

And here’s that lie:

“I’m fine.”

I’ve been getting a lot of emails this week from people who are “fine.”  And that confuses me.  Because, if you are reading these words, if you are hanging out at a site that says, “Quit your Bitching. CHANGE your life,” you’re sort of here because you want to change something.

In other words, SOMETHING, even some teeniest of all things, is not “fine.” 

And, sometimes, it takes a pair to admit that.  (If you’re not sure what that means, ask a teenage boy.)

And what’s the big deal about asking for help anyway?

You don’t have to have a life that’s going down the toilet to be a woman who strives for personal growth and development.

Your life doesn’t have to be a train wreck to want to make changes to it.

And even if your life IS CURRENTLY a train wreck, no one who matters is judging.  (Remember that little adage about showing your butt and relationships?:  “If they care, it won’t matter.  If it matters, they don’t care.”)

Besides, I wonder what “I’m fine” is all about, anyway.

To me, when I hear that phrase, the first thing I think is, “Um.  Respectfully — Liar, liar.  Pants on Fire.”

Because, more than likely, this person is NOT fine.

She’s –

* afraid to take up space

* afraid that if she acknowledges – even a bit – how “not fine” she is, the whole lid will blow off and reveal a greater, but currently unacceptable, truth

* been hurt before trying to change her life. Maybe she was unsupported. Or laughed at. Or discounted. And those things hurt. So she doesn’t want to risk that again.


One of my friends used to say that the acronym for FINE is:

F – F*cked up

I – Insecure

N – Neurotic

E – Emotional 


It’s not really our fault. We’ve had a whole lifetime of schooling to say we’re fine when we’re not.

And then there’s this.


Once we stop lying to ourselves, many of us have to deal with a whole lot of suppressed anger.

We’re angry at life, angry at circumstances beyond our control.

But mostly, we’re angry at ourselves. For not challenging the status quo.

That’s okay.

Dealing with anger is like dealing with anything else. We just chunk it down. We do a bit at a time, while also building a base of counterweighting emotions.

We balance our anger with truth . . . and RIGHT ACTION.

We learn to become truth tellers. We risk sharing our anger, but we learn to do it in a way that is not destructive to ourselves or other people.

It’s simply a skill. Like hopscotch.

But, it’s sort of a messy process.

In the beginning, you might trip over yourself a bit.

And you have to be willing to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing, Sweet Cheeks – what choice do you really have?

The price of your denial is your dream.

Oh, you can still have bits of your dream.

But the biggest one. The one that you are afraid to say out loud??

That one.

That’s the price you pay to keep your illusion.


It’s okay. You don’t have to acknowledge any of this out loud. You don’t have to DO anything.

Telling the truth to yourself does NOT necessarily mean:

* you have to trash all your relationships. (though you might, eventually want to change some)

* you have to have to stop having your affair while you deal with the truest truth in your life. (though you might, eventually make that choice)

* you have to quit your job. (though you might, eventually make that choice)

* you have to pick up and move (though you might, eventually make that choice)


Just for today, maybe you can simply start with this — See if you’re ready to be nudged along to the next step in the Denial Chain.

So, as a reminder, here are the three phases of denial:

1. You don’t know. You don’t know you don’t know. (No change will work at this point because you don’t see any cause for change.)

2. You know. But you’re not willing to do anything about it. You may not even be willing to look at it. (That’s where you are if you’re saying you’re “fine” but you’re also getting those Liars Bumps on your tongue.)

3. You know. In fact, you know so well, you can NEVER say, “I’m fine” again. Unless you really, really are. So, you’re ready and willing to make some shifts in your behavior.

Where are you – truly, truly?

And then there is this – Are you FINE with that?

Love, Jen

Photo: flickr, superfantastic

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21 Responses to I’m Fine” and Other Lies that Will Give you a Bump on Your Tongue

  1. Someone I know says, “When someone says they’re fine, remember that the definition of fine is “pulverized.” That fits perfectly with your post. And, I totally agree. That word’s a trap, too. Once you say it, someone may say, “really … how ARE you?” because they can read your body language. But you can’t back out, right? Because then, you’re outed as liar, too. Just a no-win all around. But it’s so automatic, right?

  2. Cija says:

    I love this post! It is always so frustrating when you talk to someone and they say things are “fine” when they are so not fine. Thank you giving blanket permission and encouragement for people to say when they aren’t really “fine” and dig a little deeper. The world will be such a better place when people actually cop to their feelings and get real…for reals. 🙂

  3. Kate Britt says:

    That’s funny — my Mom always said that too, “you must have told a lie” when I’d have a sore bump on my tongue. Specifically, she used to say it about the ones that show up on the TIP of the tongue. Later, I connected that idea to “bite your tongue” — what people say to us when we’ve just said something they didn’t think we should have said. So….today, jamming on the thoughts in your article, I’ve just seen a bit further down that chain of sayings … when somebody says to us, “bite your tongue”, is it because we’ve just said a truth they didn’t want to hear? Hmmm.

    Anyway, Jen, you’re the only other person I’ve heard mention the connection between lies and tongue-zits. Maybe our mothers were friends. 😉 Cool!

  4. AHHH yes, the build up from always being fine:)

    Listen to this: A few months ago, I was staying in a hostal for a couple days waiting to settle in my apartment. One morning, as I was having my breakfast, some of the guests were having an “intense” argument. It is pretty comical LOL..you see, they were 4 people sharing a 5 dorm room (3 girls traveling together and 1 guy traveling alone). When they first met, they all hit it off really well. The guy told the girls, “listen, I snore at night, I carry ear plugs with me, please, take them, I don’t want to keep you girls up at night.” The girls refused, “we are FINE, don’t worry about it….” Well, as each day went by, there started being a distance between them. On the 4th night, the girls couldn’t take his snoring any longer, one of them got up in the middle of the night, walked over to him, shook him to wake him up and started yelling, “STOP IT, we can’t take it anymore…”

    • Jennifer says:

      Best example EVER of how we set ourselves up for unhappiness by not having the gumption to say “no” up front.

  5. susan says:

    Jen, have you been reading my mind? You have just put my life in a post. ! I was in denial about the state of my marriage for years. At first, I didn’t know what I didn’t know so I lived in paradise and everything was great. Fifteen years later I kinda knew and had periods of anger and depression that upset me greatly. But I felt stuck and trapped and couldn’t find the strength to do anything. For the past 2 years I have been very, very angry. I had no idea why I was so angry. I tried therapy and yoga but could not find a way to get rid of this horrible anger. It was ruining my life. Now I finally know that the anger was inevitable and I just had to wait it out. And yes, I’m finally getting divorced and the anger is dissipating. I’m fine!

    • Jennifer says:

      One of my wiser mentors at the time called it “your beautiful anger.” Ha!!!! I also want to thank you for taking a big risk and sharing so deeply here. I really honor that. Jen

  6. Andi-Roo says:

    I think we say “I’m fine” because it’s what’s expected — like, that’s the correct answer, because usually if the question, “How are you?” is asked, it’s tossed out flippantly as one of those social niceties that don’t mean anything. We’ve been taught to put, “I’m fine” on our auto-response. I know I tend to be kind of weirded-out if I asked someone how they are, & then they start spilling all their problems on me, which happens to me more often than I’d like to admit. I think I have “TALK TO ME” written on my forehead because complete strangers love to “share” with me.

    I know, too, that saying, “I’m NOT fine,” kind of obligates the person to whom you admitted this, to do something. They get this panicked, trapped look on their face that says, “Oh shit. NOW what do I do?” So sometimes we are sparing them the work that we know they are in no way equipped to handle.

    An example: After working through my worst point in Depression several years back, my sister revealed to me that she was quite angry and hurt that I had chosen to talk to someone else about my problem instead of her. Let me re-phrase to ensure you grasp the irony: My sister was pissed that I told someone ELSE, not her, that I wanted to kill myself. Sometimes, revealing that you AREN’T FINE to the wrong person can turn it into a “them” problem instead of a “me” problem. Her ill-placed irritation with me proved to me that I made the right choice in NOT sharing with her my “un-fine” state.

    I had several “NOT FINE” years, but now I’m pretty happy with where I am. Now when I say, “I’m fine”, what I mean might really be something along the lines of, “I’m NOT fine at this very moment, but I will be in a bit.” Or it might mean, “I’m NOT fine at the very moment, but there’s nothing to do but get through this day.” And finally, it might also mean, “I’m NOT fine at this moment, but I really WANT to be, and I’m working on it.”

    I am a loner, very independent and reluctant to ask for help, because it’s such a hassle to catch someone else up to where I’m at in the equation. The only people I don’t lie to about being “fine” are myself & my husband. Between the two of us, I really can get to “fine”.

    • Diane says:

      Thank you, Andi-Roo. It can be uncomfortable or out of place to share how not fine you are to some people or acquaintances. I do get that people are wanting be polite when they ask, “How are you?”. It seems to me that before I automatically ask that question, I should ask myself, “Are you REALLY interested, Diane, or are you just trying to be social and polite?”. Depending on the honest answer to my own question, I should make sure that a) I have allotted the time necessary for a good visit and b) I am prepared to really take an interest in the person’s answer. Your post caused me to think hard on my role and motivation as the “how are you?” question asker.

      • Jennifer says:

        Thank you both for starting a really neat conversation thread! As Andi-Roo pointed out, there are times when it’s just not appropriate to go into your entire sad tale of woe. However, in the example I was referring to, readers of LAT — which is a site all about CHANGE — are writing the “fine” thing to me. In these kinds of circumstances, we send a confusing mixed message, “I want help — Except I’m actually quite fine, thank you.”

        And then, Diane you weighed in about the perfunctory use of “how are you?” which can sometimes just be a conversation starter, rather than a real quest for information.

        Language is tricky. Every time I write something, for example, I have a clear picture in my mind of what I mean, but then all my beautiful readers weigh in and I see that — even then — there is room for interpretation.

        Thank you both! Jen

  7. Wow, I have been busy and out of touch with you and your world lately but I think the Universe just wanted me to be able to REALLY read your words and absorb them… I wasn’t fine for a couple of years and I told alot of people that I was fine because I felt alot of judgment from people that the reason I wasn’t fine wasn’t a good enough reason (yep, I’m serious)… So I have spent the last 6 months or so admitting how “un-FINE” I was and now I am Fuh-INE (as in “Girl, you’re so Fuh-INE)!

    • Jennifer says:

      I hear ya, love. When you have a tragedy or extreme life difficulty (like the illness of a child, for example) I’m gonna bring you a casserole and a bunch of tissues. But then, in like 5 minutes, I’m gonna want you to feel better and put a good spin on things because witnessing you having your difficulty is just too darn uncomfortable for me.

      So, Kelly love, which you just PLEASE get on with it now????

      Ha!!!!! We’re doin it together, love. Jen

  8. Pingback: Soul Searching | Trading Pounds

  9. Carole Cross says:

    This post is just what I wrote about in my journal this week. Connection to others seems most imperative now!

    I often hunger deeply for true connection with others. My friends tease me about my existential conversations that always try to look at the larger connection of everything. I imagine that I could be annoying that way! 😉

    Sometimes communication happens and sometimes it does not. I won’t judge it because it is what it is. However I realized that when I have to be around people who just can’t really “be” here with me, connecting in the moment, not doing, just being, I find my soul wants to flee. I just don’t feel grounded in the superficial. Not that it’s bad, and it certainly is a comfortable place to live for many, I just can’t feel joyful riding the tip of feelings.

    I want to dive deep into conversations, roll around in the feelings and get all dirty! Then when we break through the veil of illusion, we wash ourselves clean in the crystal clear waters of understanding and peace.

    Because I long to speak of the soul, set our souls free, laugh out loud, and just do this by simply being me…I don’t hang out in frivolous talk for too long!

    It is not others that hold me back. It is my judging inner voice that holds me back. It is the part of me that doesn’t feel loved, that doesn’t feel a part of this I AM energy. The veil of separation seems so real. This belief holds my soul hostage in fears and beliefs that are unfounded and ungrounded. This Divine Energy, which is Everything, (which, Oh, by the way, includes ME!), is all there is!

    I want to feel this and speak about this with other wise women. Does anyone else feel that hunger?

    • Jennifer says:

      You’re talking to your Soul Sister, love. I so agree. Chit chat makes me CRAZY. I never know what to say. I always want to talk about your heart-wound that I can clearly see even though it’s invisible to everyone else. Oh my, I’m so glad you wrote in!!! Jen

  10. Mel Robbins, author, speaker, criminal lawyer, and mom, wrote “Stop Saying You’re Fine,” to address this very problem.

    Her take is that saying you’re fine means you’ve settled for less than what you want out of life.

    What’s tough about this is I was raised to default to “fine” no matter what was going on in my life. I know I’m not alone in this. Breaking this habit for a more authentic response has taken effort.

    After listening to Mel on TED, I posted her video on my blog at

    It’s a great complement to this post.

    Thanks Jennifer.

  11. Diana says:

    I have a B&B, and I have only one rule – what happens at the B&B stays at the B&B…. so what I’m going to write here is a general montage of my experience and refers to no one specifically (disclaimer over, and yes, all of these montages will be included in the memoir someday, so I’m not even really strict about the one rule I do have).

    I have seen people…ok, I have seen women of a certain (i.e. my) age come here, get out of the car and be FINE. Fine, fine fine. ” Wow, beautiful place you have here” fine. But because the b&b is a 400 year old house on top of a hill in Italy where birds chirp and rabbits are the most likely creatures to cross your path, something happens over time. Let’s say someone is staying here for 10 days. At some point, she inevitably makes it into my pottery studio while I’m working, sticks her hand in a block of clay and asks what I call a “floodgate” question. Something like “so, how did you decide to do this, leave everything and move her and… do this?” Within an hour, the conversation has transformed, “fine” has vanished, and a soul, dripping with beauty and sadness and complexity, stands before me. It’s happened again and again and again. It’s my honor to witness it and it makes me emotional to think of the times when this has happened in my presence.

    We carry these little sacks of vulnerability around with us, hoping no one will notice them. Because all our vulnerability will be exposed. But of course, that’s what we are; we’re shadowy, lilting, strong, beautiful, vulnerable essences. If we own it, if we really own our vulnerability, then we are, in a way, unstoppable, because that light that we give off when we stop being “fine” will shine us through the darkness.

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