Seriously? How is that phrase helpful? And yet, we say it to ourselves, we hear it from others. When just insisting that we should simply “get over it” doesn’t work, we start to wonder “What’s wrong with me? Other people don’t struggle like this!”. Don’t they? I think this may be one of the most insidious myths out there. We assume that because people function – go to work, interact with friends, take care of kids or pets or homes, that they have figured out the magic formula for “getting over it”. The truth is that many of them are actually also hiding pain and trying to figure out what to do about it.
So, what is this really about and what does it mean to “get over it”? My therapist brain kicks in here and for me it means that the past doesn’t have power over the present. In other words, I may have sad or distressing memories, but when they pop up I think, “yeah, that was such a sad time”, or “I really miss them”, or “I wish things had been different”, but then I am able to refocus on the present. When we can’t “get over it” we feel stuck, depressed, or anxious, and then on top of feeling low we may judge ourselves for feeling that way. Wow! Way to kick yourself when you’re down! And this may not just happen in our own heads. Sometimes those around us don’t understand what we’re going through and they reinforce the shame we feel that we can’t “get over it”! Regardless of their intentions, it hurts.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase from other people – both as a therapist and as someone who randomly gets stopped in the grocery store so people can tell me their problems. (This seriously happens!) So, why are so many people feeling like this? And more importantly, why might you be feeling like this? Well, it’s a simple question with a simple answer. We don’t just “get over” certain things (usually painful, shaming, traumatic, or abusive things) because these experiences are far more complicated than that. If it was simple we would just let it go, get over it, move on. When we don’t it’s because we can’t…yet.
So now what? You don’t have to stay stuck in your pain and shame. You can move forward, but usually that means that you will need to move through the pain rather than just go around it or try to ignore it. As I work with people one of the most common realizations they have is “I’m not crazy!” I’ve heard it over and over again. And they’re right! Anxiety can make you feel “crazy”, trauma responses can have you looking “crazy” to others who don’t understand, and when these things feel true we start to wonder why we’re such a mess. The truth is usually pretty simple: we are responding in a reasonable way to an unreasonable experience. In other words, our response makes sense in light of what we have gone through whether it is grief, abuse, trauma, etc. AND keep in mind that when we experience something today and our reaction seems disproportionate, it’s probably because it triggered something from the past. So, again, our response makes sense when we look at the big picture of our lives.
If you’re feeling stuck, there’s hope. The process can be scary to begin because you may have been running from your feelings for a long time, but after you take that first step it gets better. You don’t have to be alone in this process. There are people who have been where you are and know how to get where you want to be – living a more peaceful, centered life where your present isn’t overshadowed by your past. Sometimes these people are therapists, sometimes they’re wise friends. Look for them. Seek them out because you are worth it. You don’t have to drag your past around with you. You can set it down and move forward.