How to stop pretending everything is OK (Episode 42)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about her lifetime of memories of pretending to be OK so that the people around her wouldn’t have to worry about her. And she talks about how to stop pretending. You, too, can develop compassion for yourself so that you can dare to live your own life instead. For more information about Kay’s webinars or coaching practice, or to download the free Thought Download Guide or learn more about Human Giver Syndrome, go to

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Ready to stop pretending like everything is OK? We should talk.

Transcript: How to stop pretending everything is OK (Episode 42)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to “From One Caregiver to Another.” This is episode 42.

It feels really strange to say this out loud, but I’ve spent a lot of my life pretending that everything was okay. I started doing it when I was little, because I didn’t want people to worry about me or to feel obligated, to go out of their way, to take care of me.

And I really mean that I did this when I was very young. I can remember having this thought that I have to pretend like things are okay. I can remember that thought from as far back as when I was in kindergarten. So five years old. And by then I could really do it well, pretty much effortlessly that tells me I must have had a lot of practice before then.

Also I have to point out here that now that I know about Human Giver Syndrome and understand what it is, I do realize that pretending that everything is okay is a classic way Human Giver Syndrome has played out in my life. I’ve just always kept my emotions to myself, to help the people around me feel more comfortable and not worry so much about.

If you are interested in learning more about human giver syndrome and what it is, go to my website at slash learn more. And I’ll put that link in the show notes too. I do webinars on Human Giver Syndrome often. And as of the time this episode is being released, the topic of the next webinar is actually about setting boundaries, which is a question that I get a lot.

Here are a few ways that I remember this pretending showing up from the time I was really small. I can remember not asking for new batteries for my flashlight, which I used basically every single night so I could read under my covers after bedtime. Reading was my escape then. And it still is my escape now.

So when I couldn’t read at night, it was like punishing myself, except it really was punishing myself because I just didn’t want to ask for batteries. I didn’t want to put someone out to have to buy me new batteries. I can remember not telling my mom and dad when I was being pretty much eaten alive by mosquitoes on a family vacation.

And that was at the beach because I didn’t want to ruin their day. And I can recall. So clearly when I was eight years old, I fell out of a friend’s tree house and I landed directly on my kneecap. And because I wasn’t willing to admit how bad it hurt. And also my dad kept telling me it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I thought it was four days before my parents realized something was really wrong with me.

And they took me to get x-rays on my leg. And then we found out that I actually did have a broken kneecap. Then a couple of weeks later with my broken knee. Now in a cast, my dad told all four of us kids to come with him for the day so that he could go mow this big piece of farm land. My grandparents owned, I didn’t want to go, it was summer, it was hot and sticky.

And I was already pretty miserable in that cast, but I just didn’t say anything. And I went along anyway. So that property was pretty overgrown. And while I was there, I was crutching my way through this gigantic tangle of weeds, which was pretty much all that was there. And I stuck my crutch down in, I guess it was a little hole and I kind of tumbled over my broken leg.

Now I’m sure that that must have hurt, but I can’t even remember what that felt like. Because a couple of days later I got this massive case of poison Ivy all up and down that leg. Remember it was in a cast and all up and down my arm. And I got that poison Ivy. When I fell on the property, I fell into that pit or hole or whatever it was.

Looking back on it now, I was just so miserable and even thinking about it honestly makes me want to cry, but, you know, I played it down because it was less trouble for everyone. If I just didn’t make a fuss about it to this day, by the way, I am horribly allergic to poison Ivy and I wasn’t allergic before.

Now fast forward with me a few decades to when I’m much older and my husband had a broken foot, it was his right foot. So he couldn’t drive. And at the time our two boys who are now teenagers, they were very young. So in the middle of what was already a stressful and chaotic time for us, and I also had a full-time and a part-time job, then.

Well, I came down with shingles. This was after he broke his foot. It was the second time I had shingles. So I knew what was going on, but since there just wasn’t anybody to help take care of me anyway. I didn’t even bother to tell anybody. I just kept my illness to myself and I made sure nobody came in contact with the rash.

So I couldn’t infect them. And yes, that means I spent at least a couple of weeks making sure nobody touched me anywhere near my rash. So I spent that time physically pushing people away from me. And, you know, I’ve had a shingles outbreak again since then, at least twice, maybe more often. I can’t even remember anymore.

And I, I don’t think I’ve ever actually come right out and said, so when I was in the middle of, of an outbreak, why? Well, well, I think I just didn’t want to inconvenience anybody. No, it’s not that I think that I know that for sure. And you know what, I’m not proud of this at all. I am a, not a martyr. I do not want to be a martyr.

I do not want to be remembered as somebody who sacrificed everything for the sake of my family. That’s not the way I’m wired. And I really don’t want that. I can’t stand myself when I get into that sacrificial mode. And yet I do it anyway, but why? Well it’s because I was taught to pretend like everything was okay.

I want to be very fair to my parents here. They were very good and loving parents, but you know, I’m a child of the 1970s when pretty much every parent told their kids, especially girls not to bother people with our problems. And my parents didn’t tell me this to hurt me at the time. They really did think it was what was best for me.

And as a girl growing up, then. Stuffing down emotions was the thing to do to get ahead and be seen as strong, or at least I thought so. And that’s what the people in my life thought. So that’s what they taught me. And that’s what they modeled for me. That’s what they did in front of me. And I, I want to be fair to myself here too, because I want you to know that I don’t do this, pretending that everything is okay.

I don’t do that very much anymore. And when I do it now, I catch myself and I don’t do it for long before I see the pattern. I’ve learned how to change it in myself. And I really, really do not believe in this pretending anymore. Now I have to admit that the flip side of this is that I’ve also had to learn how to be vulnerable and not put up so many walls so that I could pretend and protect and defend myself.

If you’re thinking right now, that being vulnerable sounds terrifying or generally awful. And like, it might actually be worse than pretending. Well, I hear you. But what it has meant for me is that now I can honestly take care of myself and truly I have so much more compassion and love for myself, not to mention for the people around me.

It’s been really hard work, but I’m no special unicorn if I could learn to do it. So can you, so I think the big question then is how do you catch yourself pretending so that you can decide when you want to do something else? Because it’s always a choice you can keep pretending if you want. I’m never going to judge you for that.

There are times even now when I want to pretend to, and I’m working on not judging myself for that either whenever one of my coaching clients tells me something is really bothering them or that they want to change something, something like this, pretending we always start with the first step in my three step process.

Step one is noticing or observing or what some people would call kind of raising your general awareness. Step two would be to process what you see. Or we might also say you sit with it and then step three is to create whatever you want instead. But right now we’re just talking about noticing and becoming aware.

Specifically noticing when you are pretending that everything is okay. Now most of us at this point, want to skip ahead to step three, where we can create something different for ourselves, but that’s not going to work in the long run. If you try to skip ahead to step three, you’re just going to be relying on your willpower to force yourself into doing something.

And that never works. You cannot skip this first step, the noticing and learning to observe it’s this first step. That’s really the key to changing any habit. That’s so stuck in our brains. And of course today, while we’re talking about, is this habit of pretending that everything is okay, it’s a habit.

It’s a pattern. So to do this in my practice as a coach and in my life, I use a tool that’s known as a thought download, which is basically just writing down the thoughts and beliefs and emotions you notice in yourself. I’ve got a free guide on how to do this, and you can get it at the link in the show notes.

And that link is facilitator on The real big tip. I have to make step one, this noticing to make it help you the most and to take as much of the pain and suffering out of this noticing as possible is to notice without judging yourself. Self judgment is incredibly painful and yes, I know this from firsthand experience.

So I do know how hard this is. This business of not judging yourself is something I have to work on pretty much every day for myself. But I have to tell you that between getting the weight of my thoughts out of my head and onto paper and did then giving myself some relief from the intense suffering, I caused myself with my own self judgment.

This noticing has become one of the most important things I do to care for myself now. And I want to tell you that if you are a family caregiver, to like me, that means you are probably spending a lot of time around the person or people who initially taught you to pretend like everything is okay. Or if they didn’t teach you intentionally that the people you pick this up.

Which means seeing them is probably going to set off a whole string of habits, including this habit of pretending and all of the other things that can go along with that, including self judgment. So for us, this work of noticing when we are doing it so we can stop judging ourselves and learn to have compassion for ourselves.

This work is even more critical to our mental health and overall wellbeing. This step of noticing without judging yourself, as hard as that is, is going to allow us, you and me to begin to unlearn these habits of hidden suffering.

If you are spending a lot of time pretending, and if it’s as painful to you as it has been for me, I want to invite you to go to my website, to learn more about working with me as a coaching client, or even you can learn about how to disrupt Human Giver Syndrome.

As you begin to dare to live your own life what you’re going to find is that the noticing and maybe the coaching and the learning about something like Human Giver Syndrome, these are going to become tools in your toolkit so that you can have the life you want.

Thank you so much for listening. You can learn more about me and about all of this work at facilitatoronfire dot net, that’s facilitator on fire dot net. And I know this is my opinion, but I just think there’s a lot of really good stuff there. You’ll find links to my book and to learn more about Human Giver Syndrome.

If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who want to dare to live their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. There’s a link for that in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please leave a review, which will help other caregivers find their way here. And definitely tell a friend who happens to also be a caregiver. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram or in the "From One Caregiver to Another" boundaries discussion community.

"Caregiver Coaching" is for family caregivers who want to dare to live their own life. Facilitator on Fire's "Building Trust Across Generations" seminar helps leaders and managers build amazing teams that are attractive to people of all ages. Kay's keynote address, "Top Myths of Leading Generations," helps businesses see the hard costs of miscommunication between generations.