This blog is not about getting in touch with your emotions. Rather, it’s about how many of you, when asked “How are you?” end up answering quite a different question, which is “How are you feeling about yourself, especially emotionally?” I’ve noticed this quite a bit over the decades in and out of my practice. Here’s what I’ve seen.

When a client comes in, I may ask, “How are you?” just to get the ball rolling if necessary, and often get these responses, “I think I’m doing okay,” “I’m not feeling great,” or “I’m not doing so well.” These responses reflect an internal appraisal of how they’re feeling about themselves or their interactions in the world, rather than of what they’re experiencing in the moment—a particular emotion—or in a specific area of their lives. The responses are more judgment and self-evaluation than actual description.

Because so many dysregulated eaters often lack a stable sense of self, how they feel about themselves fluctuates. They’re constantly consciously or unconsciously asking and answering the question, “Am I okay as a person?” rather than assuming they’re fine as a person and never giving it another thought. They take the question, “How are you?” very literally, as if they’re been asked, “How are you doing in the world, how competent or successful are you, what kind of person are you?” They’re often unsure because their answer is dependent on external factors—acceptance by others, success at work or parenting, how they’ve done around food, their adequacy or effectance in the world, etc.

These answers are a judgmental evaluation of one’s sense of worth and value at that moment. When people with a stable sense of self (see Stable Sense of Self and Maintaining A Stable Sense of Self) answer the question of how they are, they might reflect on their mood, physical health, or a specific emotion they’re experiencing in the moment. They’re not thinking “What kind of person am I really—good or bad?” That question has been settled, perhaps unconsciously but maybe even consciously: they’re fine and worthy and lovable and unique and that’s that.

When you know your worth, value, and lovability, it is not up for assessment—no matter what. It’s like knowing you’re breathing air. You don’t need to keep wondering if you are. You’re always breathing it and don’t ever need to think about it. This automatic knowing frees up your energy for other mental, emotional, and physical functions. So, the next time someone asks how you are, make sure your answer acknowledges that you know you’re a fine person in spite of whatever else is going on.