I have two young sons and sometimes one of them will throw a knock-down-drag-out-tantrum and I can feel the internal dialogue inherited from my family in my head screaming: “Shut up! Get over it kid!” Sometimes I am less than attuned, and while I don’t say “shut up,” my body posture or a flip comment probably conveys it. And yet, all the parenting research shows that this style of relating to kids never actually helps kids calm down or learn useful emotional self-soothing long-term, but instead teaches them to adapt in ways that shuts off some part of their heart and soul. I loved it the other day when I was just totally not into hearing out my son and he said “Nope it is ok for me to cry and you need to get over here and comfort me.” Note to self, “You clearly are doing something right if your kid can be so articulate and entitled about their feelings even though at that moment you were acting like a total asshole.”
There is a widespread illusion that what therapy is for is learning to “get over it”. I am sure there are some forms of therapy that espouse this but the research actually shows that it is being unconditionally cared about with another person—despite the brilliant techniques and tools—that makes the largest impact on clients over the long term. It is relationship that ultimately changes the brain—not the techniques themselves. I have a lot of techniques that I have honed over the years, but always at the core of my work is what is happening between me and a patient. And like my sons, I am always tracking inside myself when I am feeling the “get over it kid” dialogue towards a patient. I am also on the lookout for when the patient is saying to him or herself the same “just get over it” epithet.
And yet we can’t deny that some suffering in adults, just like some tantrums in kids, can feel really “un-cute” and annoying. Why are big feelings so annoying? I still have my very own “uncute” ways of acting at times towards myself and toward others. Therapists aren’t a stand-in for the Dalai Lama they are just people who have done lots of deep soul searching of our un-cute ways. Big feelings aren’t cute because we all are impacted when they come up. The “get over it” that any of us convey inside or outside is an attempt at getting some distance from those big feelings or un-met needs that leave us feeling uncomfortable. With my kids the discomfort or need vascillates between “I need a rest, I want to feel close instead of your tantrum or I want to feel like I am a competent soother of your hurts.” My job as a therapist is to be on the look out for “get over it” inside me or my clients, because relating in this dis-compassionate way makes everything worse and never soothes the soul.
How do we actually “get over it” then—whatever that means? There are two ways; we need people in our lives who have the emotional stamina to say to us when we are hurt “I love you and I am with you”. They utter these words as a gift, without demanding we change out of the state we are in. Second, our own inner voice needs to be trained to say “I love you and I am with you” whenever we feel upset because no amount of care from the outside will make up for the shitty things we are saying to ourself on the inside. With my patients, one foundational aspect of our work is to develop this inner resource of self-compassion in tangent with emotional “deep dives” into the psyche to grieve and heal what is found there. Long after our course of therapy is over the client takes home with them this voice that says “I love you and I am with you” to help them work through big upsets on their own. If they need relational support they have the sense of entitlement, like my son had above, to cultivate the kinds of friends that can say “I love you and I am with you”. Sadly, we live in a “get over it” culture. I suspect our tune will change when we listen deeply to what is being communicated to us all by the massive uptick in teen gun violence. What was not being listened to with compassion in these shooters long before they picked up a gun?
What should you do when faced with someone in your life who consistently conveys a “get over it” or “I don’t want to hear about your pain” reaction to you? If they are really a close friend, share with them exactly the kind of “I love you and I am with you” support you are needing and give them permission to say to you “I can’t support you right now”. If, however, it is a person who really can’t ever hear your feelings, don’t take it as a sign to reject them but take it as a sign that something in your suffering stirred some pain or un-met need in them and they aren’t ready to be with their own pain. If there are enough other reasons to connect maybe choose a lighter relationship with that person and reach out to others who do have the emotional stamina to stay with you when you are upset, and to whom you can offer the same.
Usually the “get over it” folks are holding on to their own big injury that they need to push underground—sometimes forever. Here is the rub though, your need for emotional support does not mean you have the right to force them to be emotional in ways they can’t. If you begin demanding an emotional stamina from someone that does not have it in this moment or ever, aren’t you then guilty of the same “get over it” to them? A better choice would be to send them love and compassion for the pain in them and re-orient your deeper sharing to people who can listen and practice practice practice inside with yourself “I love you and I am with you”. Try this: marinade in your own inner voice of “I love you and I am with you” for a week. What changes do you notice when you relate to your hurt feelings in this way?
Here is a sweet little song. Put it on and then read the words and think of your best friend. Put it on again and imagine you sing the lyrics directly from yourself to yourself.