Is pretending to be ok robbing you of your life?

Is pretending to be ok robbing you of your life?

 An article written in conjunction with Davina Ho from E:SCAPE

August 24, 2017

Davina Ho

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Pretending is the biggest lie we are telling ourselves and we do it everyday and don’t even know it…

We pretend that it’s ok when someone’s late for a meeting for the tenth time in a row. We even pretend it’s ok when the waitress gets our order wrong.  We make excuses that we don’t want to cause a fuss but what does it say about us? That we don’t care about what we want, what our needs are or what is important to us?

On a larger scale, we pretend it’s ok when we don’t get that job promotion, we don’t get that raise, or that our colleague stole our idea and got credit for it because we don’t want to rock the boat in the office. Maybe we didn’t get that promotion because our boss thinks we are not ready for it, or there maybe for some other valid reason. Maybe your boss doesn't even know you are looking for a promotion! We don’t speak up about it despite being upset and eventually we are very likely to leave, feeling unappreciated.

What about in relationships, when our partner upsets us. Most of us are looking for an easy life; we let things go here and there so as not to upset the other person. However, you and your feelings matter, so is there a way to talk to them without coming across whiny and moany?

We say, ‘No it’s ok’ – as a matter of courtesy and politeness. For not wanting to look ‘difficult’ or coming across as ‘annoying’ but is getting what you want a selfish act? If you are paying for a meal and it’s wrong, is requesting for the thing you ordered being selfish? If your partner is always late or re-scheduling dates because of their job, is it not ok to feel frustrated with this instead of saying, ‘OK’?

What we find is that these minor infractions build up and are so automatic that we don’t even recognise our feelings when don’t want or get what we need. In fact we don’t even know what we want or need and always seem to be in search of something that’s missing – belonging, connection, meaning.

We search on Facebook and Instagram scrolling through hundreds of images of perfect lives feeling inadequate but do our best to portray the same feeling of ‘my life is perfect’ instead of having the hard conversations with the real people in our lives whom we should be trying to make more meaningful connections with.

Talking about your feelings these days is difficult and the last thing you want to do is look ungrateful or come across as annoying and difficult particularly in the workplace but also in your personal life.

So we asked Founder of RenOC and Executive Coach to Organisations and senior professionals, Karen Kwong, what we can do to stop pretending everything is ok all the time when it isn’t.


What do we have control over?

Here is a very common piece of advice that is often given in these scenarios.

’ You cannot control other people.  However, you can control your reactions to them’

At the height of stress and frustration, when you are feeling wholly and utterly wronged by someone it is very easy to want to lose your temper or throw something at them.  However, this reactive attitude comes across as you being difficult and annoying. Or the opposite reaction is you pretend it’s ok and it keeps happening until you lash out. Instead, take and deep breath, slowly count to 10, or 20, remove yourself if you have to for a few moments, keep breathing and think again about your reactions to their behaviour.  Then think hard about the following:

‘Stop asking why they keep doing it and ask yourself why you keep allowing them to keep doing it’

If you’re still feeling wronged and not quite buying into this, ask yourself this - if you see said person doing the same thing to a loved-one, would you allow this behaviour to continue?  Would you advise them to stay quiet and smile nicely?  Chances are, not.  So why would you put up with that for yourself?  Think about the message you are sending out to others about the level of respect for yourself.  What are your boundaries?  By saying nothing, you are actively permitting and encouraging such behaviours.  Remember that if you are feeling aggrieved, it is your responsibility to say so.  Other people are not mind readers.  If they continue to behave disrespectfully and unfairly after you have expressed yourself, then it is up to you to decide if and how you want to continue that relationship or give the restaurant your custom.

By not saying anything for fear of upsetting others, you are being considerate of others’ feelings – a wonderfully thoughtful trait.  However, if you are doing it at the expense of yourself – how considerate are you really being?  Especially as this frustration is likely to build and one day you will blow up and it is not going to be pretty…

If you are ready to have a conversation, in all cases, be it with a friend or partner, or even at work, I would suggest choosing the right time and place for having such conversations.

I would also ask you to think about the following before entering into any conversation:

  • What is going on here?  Why am I frustrated/angry/disappointed?

  • Is it me or is it something that X is doing?

  • Is my reaction reasonable?  Am I certain I am being reasonable? 

  • Do I know why they did what they did?  What is their perspective?  Am I listening to them?  Am I really listening to them?

  • What is the outcome I would like from this conversation?  How best do I convey my message?

  • Am I prepared to accept the outcome – good or bad?  (It’s amazing how many people even with a good outcome still feel aggrieved.  If you are still feeling aggrieved – what really is the problem?)

  • Think about some of the real facts that may have contribute to a fair and logical argument (not exaggerations or optional extras for effect).  They often help take away from the (your) emotion of the situation.

  • Where does my ego fit into all of this?

How should we phrase something to a friend or partner who does something that we dislike?

If it’s a minor infraction such as a pet hate of mine – wet towels on the bed, then I might politely ask them to please not do that again and here is where wet towels should go (yes, you really have to be that explicit).  It often helps those who require logical reasons in their minds to do something, to explain that a wet bed does not make for comfortable sleep.  For those who are more convinced by emotional reasoning, it might help to explain that it is annoying for you.


In the case of an un-emotive partner, it might be worth having a face-to-face conversation, casually but purposefully bringing up the subject.  It could be something along the lines of:

‘When you said ‘no worries’ when I had to cancel on you?  Were you really all right about it?  I ask because I was a little thrown by it.’ 

I would suggest opening the conversation with an objective but letting the person speak.  Be curious about their answers and see where they lead.  Once they have aired their views, you can better respond with your concerns.  So, if they genuinely meant that they were relaxed about your cancelling – it could be because they knew you had a busy week (ie considerate) or it could be because they don’t care.  You’ll know through their responses how to take the questioning further.  It is hard but try not to assume you know what they are going to say and once they have said something, before judging it, see if there is more by asking probing questions and rephrasing what they say as questions.  It’s amazing how much better the quality of the answers will be.  Additionally, in conversation, try and separate the person from their actions, such as ‘Your actions’ rather than ‘You’re a ****’ and above all, do avoid extremes like ‘You always...’

How should you approach your boss when it comes to something you are upset about?

Before you have this conversation, ask yourself what the objective is before speaking with your boss.  Although you want to stand up for yourself, bringing one’s boss into these matters can, depending on his/her perception of you, impact your work life, positively or negatively.  It may also be that for your work to be appropriately recognised, it may take more than just one discussion.  So, be smart about this.


It helps to outline the objective of the conversation and then once again to ask some pertinent questions.  Try and align the conversation to finding common ground between you and your boss.  Think about it from his/her perspective and what outcomes they’d like to see.  So in the case of someone taking credit for your work, introduce the subject of the project (common goal) and ask your boss what his/her thoughts are on its progress.  Depending on how that goes, it may say that you have some thoughts on the matter and highlight those.  You might then want to add your concerns here and say that although you are all about the team, you would like to better understand how individuals’ contributions to the project are being recognised, assessed and what the best way is to put forward ideas.  In doing so, you are making your boss responsible for managing his team appropriately and recognising individuals’ contributions where appropriate, not just through hearsay.  Additionally, you are taking the personal out of the conversation by ensuring that the benchmarks by which you are being measured are part of the process.  Well-founded facts, evidence and process always help discussions such as these.

What happens if the other person does not understand or continues to ignore your needs?

If the other person does not understand your needs, try and find out what it is that they don’t understand.  Attempt to use different examples or analogies to explain your needs.  As mentioned above, different reasoning methods work for different people.  So using an emotional reason on someone who bases all their decision making on logic,  is unlikely to work.  Sometimes, it is just as simple as saying,

‘It is important to me’. 

If they continue to ignore your needs, I ask you again to think about this,

‘Stop asking why they keep doing it and ask yourself why you keep allowing them to keep doing it.’

And start examining how important this relationship is to you and if you want to keep it.  If so, then how can you better manage your reactions to their behaviours?  And if you have done all that you can to manage those and you still can’t abide by their disrespecting you, then....?



How do you prepare for a conversation about how you feel?

Before embarking on any conversation, really have a think about what it is you’re trying to achieve and why you want to achieve it.  Think about it as a two-way conversation and not just you having a vent, no matter how frustrated you are.  Be prepared for the outcome – and honestly, it is often not as bad as you imagine it could be.

You have to know that you are in the right emotional and mental place to have a potentially difficult conversation.  This does not mean that you can’t still be upset, but if you are at peak belligerent boiling point, and you know that you are liable to blow up and have unreasonable reactions and outbursts (you do know what that point is), then I would suggest waiting a little bit, even 5 minutes, before having the conversation.  Also remember that there is no harm in starting a conversation, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed with very angry vitriol about to burst out, you can walk away and return to the conversation.  Remember that you manage your emotions and behaviours, and they manage theirs.

There is a reason why the wisdom of the  Serenity Prayer resonates so well for this very subject.  One doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate its sagacity.

‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change: courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference’           

R Niebuhr

Karen Kwong helps professionals consistently outperform in challenging business environments.  She is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with large established corporates across a number of industries primarily in financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications through to start-ups and social enterprises. Karen spent almost twenty years working at a senior level within fund management.  She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at:

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