"Get over it"

When anger, fear and/or sadness is expressed, that is often what people hear in return.

“The “get-over- it” response conveys either a wish for the receiver to be truly over something for his or her sake, or for the sake of the listener who may be bored or frustrated. Either way, the response is usually unhelpful.

While there may be times the “get-over-it response” may be proportional to the situation, at other times it is clearly not, such as in the cases of divorce, serious accident, job loss, financial loss, illness, or death of a significant person. People just don’t “get over” life-changing events. At best they integrate the changes into their lives in the most positive way possible.

To help them do that, avoid saying “get over it.” Instead, start with the question, “What is the hardest part of this for you now?” That question leads into an exploration of the person’s subjective experience of how the circumstance currently impacts him or her. All experience is subjective; each person has a unique perspective. It is vital to understand how the person perceives his or her situation. It is also important to identify how that person perceives the experience as it applies to today.

Maybe the car accident was last year but the leg pain continues. Maybe the divorce is final but custody problems remain. Maybe the job loss six months or death of a spouse three years ago is creating financial strain today. Maybe the career problem ten years ago created a negative career trajectory where the person feels he or she has never gotten back on course. Maybe the verbal abuse one heard thirty years ago lingers with the person in the form of low self worth.

In other words, sometimes people aren’t “getting over” something because the something isn’t over for them in some way. They are still experiencing the pain even though the event may have been years ago.

It’s important to understand how this pain disrupts living a satisfying life today. Once that has been identified, the person can be counseled into understanding, accepting, and rebuilding. They shift their focus from the past and what they cannot change to the present and future.

Most of the time people just need to be heard and understood. This is especially true if they have never had opportunities to thoroughly process an event or if the event has been kept secret, such as in the cases of an abortion, sexual abuse or an affair. It is common, for example, for a person who has been sexually abused to struggle with the abuse when their children reach the same age as the abuse occurred.

In some cases, current triggers to past losses may bring sudden and acute symptoms of grief, giving others the impression the person hasn’t “gotten over it.” As any one who has ever suffered a major loss can tell you, a sight, smell or sound can bring on a deja vu feeling and tears can flow unexpectedly. This is normal and not because someone “hasn’t gotten over it.”

In some cases, a predisposition to anxiety and depression create a biochemical haven for ruminations to reside. Ruminations are like a mental cul de sac. People are literally “stuck” in negative thought patterns and may require medication to help them work through their sadness, fear or anger.

In some rarer cases, some people seem to enjoy their misery or “victim’s role.” Tempting though it may be to tell them to “get over it,” it is best to try to understand their point of view as well. Your may be surprised; your judgement may have been premature.

(First published as Stephanie Hittle’s Health Care Today column and used here by permission of the Dayton Daily News.)

Disclaimer: Information provided on these pages is general in nature and should not be used in place of individual counseling.