When I had severe postpartum depression and anxiety, I couldn’t control my own thoughts. I worried my baby’s head would fall off. I worried my van would crash. I worried my children wouldn’t survive — or would survive — a nuclear holocaust. I worried I was a terrible mother, and I worried that all this worrying was fucking up my kids.
My husband helped. He got me to my psychiatrist, who prescribed the drugs I needed to deal with my illness. That helped. He gave me space to sleep and good food to eat. That helped. He took the kids as much as possible. That helped too. One thing, though, that wouldn’t have helped, which he luckily never did: He never told me to “get over it.”
The same thing happened when I disclosed the abuse I suffered as a child. I talked about how it affected my life in the past and how it still influenced the way I viewed my body. It still hurts, almost 30 years later. It’s still terrifying to think about. There’s a temptation, since it happened so long ago, to tell me to “get over it.”
It won’t help.
Disappointments work the same way. When I am sad that my kid threw a tantrum in Target or that Chik-Fil-A declined my card, telling me to “get over it” won’t mitigate my feelings. It won’t help. It won’t make anything better. In fact, it just makes me mad.
Because truthfully, no one gets to tell anyone else to “get over it.” You can’t tell someone to stop feeling their own feelings. There aren’t magic emotion faucets you can turn off at will. You can’t control them. You’re telling someone to do something that’s impossible, and it’s frustrating.
Believe me, if someone could just “get over it,” they would. No one wants to wallow in negative feelings, in sadness, anger, or grief. The only way to deal with these emotions is to let them run their course, let them pass over and through you and finally leave you behind.
“Get over it” denies the basic ways that human emotions work.
Being told to “get over it” also insinuates that someone’s inability to control their feelings is weak. The emotions themselves become a sign and symptom of that weakness. But there’s nothing weak about feeling a certain way. The insinuation is both rude and insulting. When you tell someone to “get over it,” you tell them that their emotions are not worth having, that they’re invalid.
Moreover, a person told to just “get over it” feels unheard, like no one is listening. If you really did listen to their concerns — to their grief or their anger or their sadness or disappointment — then you’d understand that they can’t just “get over it.” You’d understand that they need to process whatever is going on. You’d say something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I wish you felt differently,” because you’d hear what they’re going through.
A callous “get over it” would feel dismissive, inadequate, and even rude — the way it feels to the person hearing it.
And when you tell someone to “get over it,” you tell someone that their feelings are inconvenient to you. No one likes to be an inconvenience; it makes them feel small, and making someone feel small is cruel. It also emphasizes you and your emotions at the expense of the person who’s hurting. You take center stage.
When someone’s hurting, their feelings should be the ones in the spotlight, not the petty annoyance those feelings cause. You put yourself above them; you make yourself superior. No one deserves that, no matter how inconvenient their feelings might be to you.
You can’t tell someone to just “get over it.” Not over a mental illness, not over a deceased pet, not over a bad day, and not over an election. It’s minimizing. It’s rude. It’s unfeeling and cruel. But most of all, telling someone to just “get over it” makes you a jackass — a controlling, uncaring jackass.
So if you can’t think of something better to say — and there are many things, including, “I’m so sorry” and “I hope you feel better” — then keep your mouth shut.