Getting Beyond “Get Over It”

As a Life Coach and Breathwork Therapist, my role is to teach people the emotional skills  that empower them to heal, find balance, and love well. And of all those skills, none may be as essential as the skill of uprooting from within ourselves one of the most destructive forms of emotional imprinting we receive growing up – Get Over It – and replacing it with empathy.

To me, those three words have singlehandedly done more to destroy our ability to be emotionally healthy than anything else I can think of. If there is one generic dysfunction that you would find in virtually every home in America, in one form or another, it would be the one-size-fits-all, lowest common denominator solution to the challenges of emotional development: Life Isn’t Fair – Get Over It.

To understand the origins of this ubiquitous dysfunctional mantra, we need to go back in time to remember a number of facts about the history of the American Family:

• There was a time when children were, to a great extent, brought into the world to be a work force for the family, and hardship was to be expected. The idea of creating an optimum childhood and  expansive life expectations did not emerge until relatively recently.

• Infant mortality rates were high up until the mid-1800’s, creating a lot of emotional trauma for parents who had no resources such as we are creating now for processing trauma and grief. The harsh and sad reality of infant mortality instilled a hardened and detached heart in many parents, who had to deeply shut down in order to survive.

• The stoic mindset of the Puritans, for whom pleasure was a sin and “idle hands are the Devil’s work”, cast a heavy shadow on the emotional development of children for whom disproportionate and unwarranted punishments were considered a parent’s duty. Breaking a child’s will into obedience was considered an essential stage of parenting, and withholding empathy for a child’s emotions and needs was the primary technique parents employed to achieve that goal.

There are other sources for the Get Over It School of Emotional Development, but consider just these three alone. Bracing one’s self against the simple, hard realities of everyday survival – overpowering one’s emotions just to survive the traumatic realities of life such as children dying – and the dour Puritan work ethic combined with shaming the innocent, emotionally orgasmic nature of children –  instilled a need to suppress and control a broad range of emotions in the majority of our country since the days of the Settlers. It also sheds light on the fact that America has been a heavy drinking country since those early days as well: Get Over It, and Get Drunk. The two patterns – self-denial and self-indulgence – are almost inextricably intertwined, and have been for a long, long time (and are at the root of eating disorders, for example).

Today however, hard work, self-denial, and the good old American John Wayne style of denying that we carry grief inside of us aren’t working. The addictive promise of The Good Life and Endless Expansion – the carrot that so many lower and middle class people have dangled in front of themselves to offset their emotional pain since the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny emerged in 1846 – is for all intents and purposes, a crippled promise that may or may not ever return to the peak prosperity years after World War II.

Today, many people are having children to create a promising and emotionally healthier future, and to set their children’s dreams free. Childhood diseases are almost a forgotten time. And the grim Puritanical outlook on life and parenting has evolved into a much more enlightened idea of how to live and love well. But the legacy of Get Over It continues on almost unchanged in many ways in our emotional lives, and in how we treat ourselves when it comes to emotional challenges, dysfunction and self-love.

Now to look at this in a balanced way, of course there are times when we have to “get over” something and just plow ahead to stay on course in our life. That kind of mental willpower can serve our purposes so that we stay on track and don’t lose focus. Sometimes it isn’t possible or expedient to take the time to process an impacting event – certainly in our professional lives we are required to contain our emotions and be handled adults – and sometimes we simply have to get through something and wait until it is the right time to slow down and go into Process Mode.

There is a world of difference however between the Get Over It response to an event or an experience that is hard, judgmental and repressive and the Get Through It response in which we are empathetic with ourselves and each other about the impact something has had on us, and we commit to processing out that impact with self-love and good emotional skills.

Get Over It is a form of denial, pure and simple: denial that we have needs, boundaries, and emotional rights – and that we have hearts that don’t want to be told to shut down, desensitize and give up on our real  lives. Get Over It justifies the idea that parts of ourselves and our lives are expendable in the face of dysfunctional ignorance, cowardice or heartlessness. Get Over It is the lowest possible common denominator of settling for a life in which fairness is impossible, being emotionally safe with one another is beyond our reach, and empathy is just a form of weakness to be mocked and brushed aside.

Get Over It is a weak, even lazy response to the challenge of keeping love alive between us. It oversimplifies what really happens between us when, for example, parents act out with their children and the children protest. “Get over it!” is an inherited parental copout around their own inappropriate behavior that can instill real feelings of abandonment and even betrayal in children who expect their parents to know how to show up and have good emotional skills.

Uprooting the old habits of using Get Over It as a solution to our emotional challenges, wounding and traumas is absolutely necessary if we are to break the cycles of Inherited Generational Dysfunction that have allowed all forms of abuse and addiction to thrive over and over again. Get Over It keeps us unconscious of the possibilities that come to life when we learn how to use empathy as the real solution to emotional challenges.

Empathy is not always easy – for ourselves or each other. It takes a real commitment to think with our hearts and hold a space of loving acceptance for hurt, wounded or traumatized emotions. It takes courage to step out of the pernicious and widespread judgement that giving emotions empathy “rewards bad behavior”, or that being empathetic isn’t manly, or that it never works to “open up that can of worms”.

In our culture, we have many deeply embedded excuses and justifications for using Get Over It to solve problems, and tout it as a form of higher wisdom, clarity and emotional maturity. Our media mutually reinforces this every day. But if you really want to heal and find true emotional maturity, both as an individual and in your relationships, empathy is the far greater wisdom that takes more courage, integrity and commitment than the easy way out of Get Over It.

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One thought on “Getting Beyond “Get Over It”

  1. Thanks Geoff, it’s good to read this. Makes me realize what a shift has taken place in my parenting. I didn’t totally buy it at first and it didn’t work instantly, but now after 8 months or so of abandoning “get over it”, things are much more peaceful in my home. I feel much greater intimacy with my kids and instead of hearing “You’re mean!” they say “I like you.” That means more to me than “I love you.” (I mean, I love a lot of people that I don’t really like!)

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