Why I no longer say “it’s okay”.

It’s okay, what a wonderful phrase! So easy, so versatile, “it’s okay” can be applied to all sorts of contexts and still make sense:

“Do you want extra rice?” “It’s okay”

“How’s the weather?” “It’s okay”

“Do you think this toenail is too long?” “It’s okay”

“I heard you’re going through a tough time….” “It’s okay”

The phrase certainly has its value, but a problem arises when “it’s okay” becomes an automatic response applied even in the wrong contexts.

The english language has ~ 1 million words (according to Merriam Webster’s FAQ ) available for my use.

Is “it’s okay” actually conveying what I really mean to say?

Most of the time: no.

And that’s not okay.

“It’s okay” is insufficient, even harmful, in these 5 contexts:

1. In receiving praise:

Person X: “I’m loving this blog post!!”
Me: “It’s okay.”

What I really mean:
“Oh my gosh, you noticed all the hard work that I put into it!!”

What “it’s okay” says instead:
“I don’t trust your sense of judgment.”

When I was a teenager, I was once disdainfully told “I boast too much and have a lot of pride” by a classmate. Since then, I got into the habit of downplaying myself.

Unfortunately, this defensive knee-jerk response also insults the clearly excellent taste of the complimenter and leaves us both feeling dissatisfied with the exchange.

2. In giving comfort to another:

Person X: “Work was really messed up today…”
Me: “It’s okay.”

What I really mean:
“I am here for you and I wish I could ease your suffering.”

What “it’s okay” says instead:
“There’s nothing to be frustrated about, get over it.”

The conversation shuts down as the one in pain feels unheard.

3. In receiving an apology:

Person X: “I’m so sorry for hurting you.”
Me: “It’s okay.”

What I really mean:
“I appreciate that you value our relationship”.

What “it’s okay” says instead:
“There was nothing to apologize for to begin with, you’re overreacting.”

“It’s okay” is a surefire way to callously dismiss a heartfelt apology.

4. In response to requests:

Person X: “Are you sure you don’t mind taking up this extra assignment?”
Me: “It’s okay.”

What I really mean:
“HELL YEA, OF COURSE I MIND.”

What “it’s okay” says instead:
“Sure!! I’ll happily do it, let me bake you some cookies too!”

I struggle with direct disagreement and often hide behind an “it’s okay….” to say no in the loudest non-verbal way possible.

But I can’t expect anyone to read my mind.

5. When upset with myself:

Me: “I’m so frustrated that this bread baking isn’t working out!!”
Also me: “It’s okay.”

What I really mean:
“My feelings are legitimate.”

What “it’s okay” says instead:
“My feelings are misplaced, there’s no need to feel this way.”

I push the wound away without examination by quickly slapping on a band-aid of a phrase. The negative emotion gets denied.

The inadvertent impact of “it’s okay” is a silencing of myself and others.

I’ve since had to look for other words to take the place of this convenient phrase.

This has been extremely difficult because it’s more than just having stock phrases on standby.

It’s about catching the reflex, processing my internal world in a new way, deciding on a reaction and finally, responding better.

This is what I’m practicing instead.

1. In receiving praise:
“I appreciate your kind words.”

2. In giving comfort to another:
Say nothing. Just listen.

3. In receiving an apology:
“Thank you.”

4. In response to requests:
I consider: what is okay and not okay?

5. When upset with myself:
I feel.

Perhaps your reflexive phrase is different from mine;
the question remains the same.
“Are you saying what you really mean?”

It’s been difficult, but rewarding. The opportunity to connect on a deeper, more authentic level with myself and the people around me presents itself each time I move away from “it’s okay”.

I’m learning that it’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to acknowledge pain. It’s okay to share joys and sorrows.

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