Getting Over It

Posted on September 19, 2013


On Labor Day, I suffered a great personal tragedy.[1]  We had some friends over for a barbecue.  My ipod and docking speakers were sitting on a small resin table outside providing us with music.  The back door was left open.  The wind blew the back door which knocked over the table which caused my ipod and speakers to tumble to the ground.  The speakers were uninjured.  Sadly, my ipod’s screen was broken.  It would still function, but without being able to see the screen, there is no easy way to select what you want to hear.  I would guess that this particular ipod has been a loyal companion for seven or eight years (which is roughly 200 in technology years).  I responded to this loss in what I thought was a reasonable fashion; I went on Amazon and ordered a new one.  That may seem like entering into a rebound relationship and a therapist should know better.

I survived the next few days while waiting for the delivery of the new ipod in what I thought was a resourceful fashion.   I found that I could plug the ipod into the car stereo and scroll through artists for what I wanted to listen to.  Then when I got into the gym, I could just press play and it would pick up where it left off in the car.  It really helps in this procedure if you choose to listen to an artist who is in the first part of the alphabet as the scrolling is somewhat tedious in the car.

On Thursday I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new ipod.  Amazon is generally prompt in their deliveries, so I had no doubt it would be there as promised.  When I arrived home about 7pm after my last client of the day, there was no package waiting for me.  My wife and I made a thorough search outside, but to no avail.  We had been having some work done outside so there is that moment of worry when you think, “One of the workmen wouldn’t have taken the package, would they?”  I went online to Amazon which said it was out for delivery.  I left feedback that my order had not been delivered, allowed myself a little indulgence in brooding that it had not arrived as promised.  Before bed, I checked the Amazon site which indicated that the order had been delivered to my front door at 1700 (that’s 5pm for those not familiar with military time).[2]  I opened the door and there it was.  I plugged it into my computer to charge and sync and went to bed.

The next morning I got up to go to the gym and grabbed my shiny new ipod to go with me.  Now if you are really into your music (as you have probably gathered that I am) and perhaps slightly OCD, the first song you play on a new stereo or in a new car or on a new ipod is important.  It needs to be the right song.  But it was 5am and I did not have a clear vision of what the song should be.  I decided to let my new friend choose.  I pressed “shuffle songs.”  Out of the thousands of songs on that ipod, the first song was (are you anxious to find out?) “Get Over It” by The Eagles.

I saw The Eagles at The Forum in 1980 on The Long Run tour.  It was their last time around before breaking up for 14 years.  At the time I had a girlfriend who worked for one of those ticket scalping agencies,[3] and she scored us tickets for the 4th row.  It was a great show, but frankly Don Henley was looking a little weary at the end when he came out from behind the drums and took up his guitar to play “Best of My Love.  But I digress.

Rock and roll legend has it (and I am not motivated, i.e. too lazy, to verify the information) that what led to the reunion in 1994 was Don Henley reading A Nation of Victims by Charles Sykes.  The book caused him to want to bury the hatchet with his bandmates.  The result was a reunion and the song “Get Over It.”  The song is essentially a tirade against those who make public issues of and file lawsuits over their past emotional injuries.

I have read A Nation of Victims and liked the book.[4]  On the surface, this may seem like an odd position for a therapist to take, but hear me out.  Central to my philosophy of therapy is that people are resilient.  In this life you have to be.  People are capable of creating and maintaining healthy relationships and are capable of taking positive action in their lives to solve their problems and to meet their personal goals.  Often the solution to one’s problems is already in one’s repertoire.  When I was in grad school the first time (for my MBA), my organizational theory professor coached the students when faced with a problem to always ask, “What do I know that applies here?”  In therapy we sometimes call this looking for the “exceptions” or “shining moments.”  When is the problem not a problem?  When and how have you successfully dealt with a similar situation in the past (or the present).  Picturing oneself as a victim of circumstances beyond one’s control can get in the way of taking action and moving forward.

An important counterpoint to this is that everyone receives some emotional wounds in life, everyone has some amount of trauma, and life does not start us all out with an even playing field.  Attachment theory is based upon the assertion that early childhood experiences of our relationship with our caregivers impact how we attach in relationships as adults.  Those experiences create for us a template of how we view ourselves and others in relationship.  The two central relationship questions that are impacted by these experiences are “Am I loveable?” and “Are other people ‘safe?’”[5]  Though these are both yes or no questions, human beings are not binary creatures.  That is to say that on almost any trait, we are not at one of two extremes but somewhere on a continuum between the extremes.  Early childhood experiences and prior experiences in the current and previous relationships impacts how closely our radar is tuned to signs that we are not loveable or our partner is not an emotional safe haven for us.  Feeling emotionally unsafe in relationship is not “weakness” (as The Eagles suggest), but a normal response to life experience.  We are designed to organize information across a lifetime of experience and draw some conclusions from the data.  We don’t have to think about it; we do it automatically.  If we did not learn in this fashion, we probably would not survive.  We learn what stimuli clue us into physical danger.  We learn what actions are associated with an unpleasant outcome.  We also come to an understanding of who we are in relationship and who others are.

Then there is the topic of trauma.  One does not get through this life without some amount of trauma.  Some of these are Trauma with a capital “T.”  These are the life threatening situations or significant abuse or neglect.  They have a profound impact on how we cope with life stressors and with relationship anxiety.  In extreme cases these create Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Additionally, everyone has some “small t” traumata.  These are those moments that are significant enough that you remember everything about the incident.  Try this out.  If you think about one of the worst moments in your life, you can probably remember what if looked like, sounded like, smelled like, the emotions you were experiencing, the thoughts you had, and what it felt like in your body.  Those experiences are seared into our memories.  With the right stimulus, the memory is triggered and we can respond based upon that prior experience.  In some situations, this is adaptive.  Your brain is designed to recognize danger signals and respond accordingly.[6]  In relationships, this can sometimes be maladaptive.  When we take the time to understand, the way partners respond to each other makes sense.  The problem is that this often gets in the way of connection in close relationship.  This is also an area where it can be difficult, if not impossible, to “just get over it” without some help.  If we just push down our emotional pain and don’t deal with it, it pops up in other areas of our life.  It is like playing a game of whack-a-mole.  We particularly see this in addictive behavior.  There needs to be more to the cure than just stopping the behavior.  There needs to be healing or the underlying emotional wound will surface elsewhere.

Finally, that we don’t all enter life on an even playing field is a reality.  Advantages and disadvantages, be they financial, physical, mental, social, or political, abound.  Some of us were dealt great hands and some of us with tough hands.  To continue with the card playing analogy, whether your games is bridge, hearts, or Texas hold ‘em, you have to deal with the cards you are dealt.  Since bridge is my game, I will use that example.  If you are dealt a weak hand, you probably are not going to make a slam on that hand.  The point is to make the best of the hand you have.

As with most everything in life, the truth and healthiness is somewhere between two extremes.  Viewing oneself as a helpless victim can get in the way of having the relationships you want and generally getting what you want from life.  At the same time, there is a reality to attachment injuries and trauma that may need to be addressed.  Sometimes taking action (and not being a “victim”) means finding the help and support you need.  A friend of mine who is a retired psychiatrist in his 90’s has often observed that change happens when you are hurting enough to try something different.  There is wisdom in that observation.  I would add that to work toward that change, you need to believe that you are not just a victim, but that you have power to affect where life takes you from here.  Life is scary.  Life is difficult.  But it can also be very good.  From the darkest of circumstances, there are opportunities to move through the grief and pain and find joy, hope, and connection again.  In the immortal words of the great philosopher, Howard Jones, “Things can only get better.”

[1] Read that as tongue in cheek.

[2] I can only assume someone’s job performance is based upon getting packages delivered by 5pm so they enter 5pm even if it’s late.  I worked most of my life in a corporate environment; I get it

[3] If you own or work for such a company, please do not take offense at my description.

[4] At the moment, my copy seems to have escaped me.  Perhaps I loaned it out.  This happens with books.

[5] i.e. emotionally safe.

[6] Sort of like the robot in “Lost in Space.”  “Danger, Will Robinson.”