We’ve all been there. You’re staring at someone who clearly isn’t alright, yet they keep denying it with one or two-word sentences.
It’s frustrating because these phrases tend to shut down any form of communication.
But, knowing what’s behind some of these common responses could help you approach people who are hesitant to share their feelings with understanding, patience, and compassion.
So, here are 10 phrases someone might use to hide their true feelings, and how to react to each one:
1) “I’m fine.”
Except…they’re obviously not fine.
And although the internet loves to joke about how women tend to use this phrase when they’re mad at their partners, I think we can agree it’s a term everyone resorts to when they don’t want to go into their feelings.
So, while it might be frustrating to hear, keep in mind that sometimes people need time before they can calmly express themselves.
When I’m hit with this phrase, I usually respond with something like:
“You don’t seem fine. When you’re ready to talk, I’m here for you.”
2) “It’s nothing.”
A colleague can arrive at work after a terrible morning at home, their car breaking down, and then a truck driving past and spraying puddle water all over them.
Yet when you ask, “What’s up with you?”
They’ll say, “Oh, it’s nothing. Honestly, I’m fine!”
By saying it’s nothing, they’re trying to deflect attention away from their feelings.
In this situation, it helps to remind them that their feelings are important. Don’t pressure them, but just as before, let them know you’re there whenever they feel ready to talk.
3) “Don’t worry about it.”
But you are worried about it, otherwise, you wouldn’t have asked them…
When people use this phrase, it’s usually because they:
- Don’t want to talk about it
- Don’t want to worry you
But what they don’t realize is that brushing things under the rug makes the other person more concerned. Even if it’s something small, they start to imagine the worst.
So, rather than get annoyed when someone uses this line, try this instead:
“I appreciate you trying to protect me, but I care about you and want to support you if something is wrong.”
This might help them open up.
4) “It’s not a big deal.”
I’ve often found that when someone says something isn’t a big deal, it’s because they’re embarrassed or ashamed. They want to downplay their feelings as much as possible.
And that’s fair enough, after all, people have the right to choose what they share and what they keep personal.
But if someone constantly uses this phrase, it might be worth being a bit more persistent. A simple and respectful response would be:
“If it’s important to you, then it’s a big deal to me too. Let’s talk when you’re ready.”
5) “I don’t care.”
Ah, when someone says they don’t care, it’s usually a sign that they care deeply.
But they just don’t want to admit it. They’re putting up emotional barriers, perhaps to avoid confronting their own feelings, or from facing judgment from others.
For example, my husband came home particularly annoyed the other day, and when I asked what was wrong, he went into a big rant about everything dysfunctional about his family.
But he finished by saying, “Anyway, I don’t care.”
I gently reminded him that two things are possible at the same time; caring and being annoyed/hurt/angry.
If this one–worder grates on your nerves, you’re not alone.
It’s super frustrating when you’re trying to understand how someone feels and this is all they respond with.
Just like “I don’t care”, this is another form of feigned indifference.
The only thing you can really do in this situation is let them know that you care and that you’re willing to talk when they are.
Most people will come around if you give them the time to cool down and gather their thoughts and emotions.
7) “No, it’s fine, go ahead.”
Alright, I’ll hold my hands up to this one, I’ve been guilty of using it in the past.
I have to say, it usually comes from not wanting to rock the boat. I was pretty insecure, so I’d just go with whatever everyone else wanted without voicing my feelings or opinions.
I really appreciated people who’d respond with something like:
“Are you sure? If you’re not totally happy with it, let’s work out something we both want to do.”
8) “I’m not mad.”
If someone says this and their expression is deadpan, their tone flat, and their eyes squinted…they’re most definitely mad!
But for whatever reason, they’re not ready to share why.
Perhaps they’re not ready for the confrontation, or they’re trying to brush the issue away without addressing it at all.
If their words and body language don’t align, you can call them out on it. Calmly and respectfully, of course.
Something simple like this will do the trick:
“Your words say one thing but your body language says another. If you’re upset, it’s okay to talk about it.”
9) “Sure, whatever you want.”
Quite similar to point 7, if someone uses this phrase, it’s likely they’re hiding their true feelings and just agreeing to what everyone else wants to do.
If they were genuine, they’d say something like, “Sounds good!” Or, “I’m up for that.”
The “sure” part of the sentences hints at hesitance, and the “whatever you want” sounds like they’re giving in because they don’t want to cause a fuss or enter into conflict.
To get to the bottom of their feelings, you can ask them:
“But what do you want? Your opinion matters too.”
10) “I guess so.”
This is a very non-committal response. Usually used when someone is uncertain or has reservations they don’t feel comfortable sharing.
For example, you ask a friend, “Shall we go to the new Chinese restaurant? I heard it’s got good reviews!”
But rather than being met with an enthusiastic, “Yeah! Sounds good. I’m starving.” You instead get, “I guess so.”
It’s a bit deflating, right?
But as I’ve already mentioned, there are many reasons why someone might hold back from saying how they really feel. Rather than getting frustrated with their lack of excitement, you could respond with:
“You don’t sound so sure. Let’s think of a place we’ll both enjoy.”
When someone doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their true feelings, it can be frustrating. Often, we just want to help them but their lack of communication makes that hard.
As I’ve mentioned above, giving people time is the best thing to do. A simple reminder that you’re there for them will help them feel supported, but ultimately, it’s up to them when they decide to open up.