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Let’s Get Over Telling People to “Get Over It”

Our emotional pain is our pathway to healing and connection, not despair.

Key points

  • The world is designed to encourage people to keep going—not to be slowed down by emotional pain.
  • People who struggle with their pain are often on the receiving end of stigma, ranging from frustration and contempt to avoidance and abandonment.
  • Paradoxically, the more we try to "get over" our emotional pain before we are ready by avoiding it, the more we suffer.

How many of us have been told repeatedly that we need to “get over it?"

Many of us continue to struggle with difficult life events long after they have occurred. Maybe we hold a torch for a past relationship long after a breakup. Perhaps we lament not getting into a certain school or receiving a promotion in our career. We may not have emotionally recovered from a traumatic event—such as the death of a loved one or childhood abuse. Whatever it is, we are struggling with it, and we can’t seem to “get over it."

Source: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash
Source: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

So, what does it mean to get over something exactly? While there’s no set definition, getting over something generally means that we are no longer in the emotional grips of a past event. Specifically, we are allowed to remember the event or events and the feelings we experienced. But we are not allowed to feel overwhelmed by our emotions.

We cannot harbor any feelings that would interfere with our being happy and healthy in the current moment. This includes our not being able to harbor any visible ill will towards the people who may have been involved in unpleasant events. We are expected to deal with it and move on.

And to be fair, when people implore us that we need to get over something, their intentions can often be benevolent. They see that we are in emotional pain and hope that we experience some sort of relief. Further, we may be engaging in behaviors that appear dysfunctional to them in some way, and they want us not to cause ourselves any harm. For example, if we have experienced a breakup and we refuse to try and date new people right away because we are so distraught, we may receive support from others. But if several years later, we are in the same place emotionally and still refuse to move ahead in a new relationship, our well-intentioned friends and loved ones may suggest we get over it.

And in theory, this approach should work. Don’t we want to move on from our pain? Wouldn’t it be a relief if we could get out of our own way and embrace everything that the world had to offer? And what better way to move on than a little tough love telling us to get over it, right? And yet, for some reason, we don’t really like being told to get over it. And not only does it not actually lead to our moving on, but also it can worsen an already emotionally damaging situation.

Why doesn't it work?

Well, the sad truth is that often when we are told to get over it, the people in our life are not really thinking about what is best for us. Rather, they are thinking about what’s best for them.

Let’s face it—intense emotions are stressful to the people around us. They don’t like it. And as much as they may love or care about us, if it comes down to their distress versus ours, many people will want to make sure that their stress is managed—even if it is at our expense. And so, when our friends and loved ones tell us to get over it, what they are really telling us is that we are stressing them out, and they can’t take it anymore.

And unfortunately, the fact that our intense emotions stress out those around us to the point where they want us to suppress our feelings is a manifestation of a larger truth. The world is designed to encourage people to keep going—not to be slowed down by emotional pain. And the people who struggle with their pain—at least outwardly—are often on the receiving end of stigma, ranging from frustration and contempt to avoidance and abandonment.

There is an allowance given to people who struggle for a time. The rest of the herd will wait for a bit. But after that, we need to get with the program, or we will be left behind by the very people who once supported us.

This realization is powerful and frightening and creates a context in which we are afraid to struggle with longer-lasting and intense negative emotions. We may not be over a breakup, but we suppress and avoid our pain rather than explore it. And this avoidance makes whatever we are experiencing worse, not better. So, paradoxically, the more we try to get over it by suppressing our emotions before we’ve thoroughly experienced and processed them, the worse things become for us. Soon we are spiraling into a cycle of feeling more disconnected from ourselves and from the world around us.

So, what could people do other than encourage us to get over it?

And how can we make sure that we don’t inadvertently tell others the same thing? I have been thinking a lot about this issue since talking with Amy Lee of the band Evanescence about their new album The Bitter Truth during our discussion on The Hardcore Humanism Podcast. Lee shared with me how she coped with the loss of her siblings and how she definitively did not want to get over it. Our conversation inspired a few thoughts on how we can all understand and approach this issue in a more effective way.

First, we have to view pain as part of our journey that we embrace and understand rather than avoid and suppress. This pain is where we develop our empathy for ourselves as well as for others. Without this empathy, we will all then try to avoid emotional distress for fear of being stigmatized and abandoned. And thus, we will all suffer. But if we are supportive and curious about each other’s pain and suffering, we all can rest a bit easier.

Second, we have to recognize that none of us can possibly understand why we continue to experience pain long after the world feels like it has passed its agreed-upon expiration date. Our bodies and our minds are programmed to experience pain for a reason—there’s something wrong. Sometimes it is something physical that can be “fixed” through medication or another medical technique. But oftentimes, we continue to suffer long after others think we should because there is still something wrong that we haven’t figured out yet. And we need the time and freedom to do so in order to feel whole.

Finally, one dynamic that often occurs is that people will hold on to their negative experiences not because they can’t get over them but because by holding on to their more negative feelings, they are holding on to the promise of something better in their lives. For example, let us say that there is a couple in which one member struggled with addiction. The individual’s addiction was based in part on a desire to avoid anything problematic in the relationship. Drinking or drug use suppressed the feelings of distress in the couple but then created other problems as the addicted individual was not as connected with their significant other.

When the member of the couple who struggled with addiction is in recovery, the relationship generally improves. But the person who struggled with addiction often displays many of the same avoidance patterns and will often become frustrated with their significant other for not getting over it and moving past the history of addiction. But their significant other cannot get over it—not because they don’t recognize the improvement, but because they hope that there will be a deeper transformation. They hope that the relationship will no longer be one of avoidance and suppression but one of openness and connection. So, being told to get over someone’s past addiction may seem like it makes sense on the surface and may help the person in recovery avoid stress, but it ultimately robs a couple of the opportunity for a deeper, more satisfying relationship.

So, let’s get over telling each other to get over it. Let’s tell each other that what matters is each other’s journey, including our healing. And we are here for each other to help no matter where that journey takes us.


You can listen to Dr. Mike's conversation with Amy Lee on the Hardcore Humanism Podcast on or on your favorite podcast app.

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