At an event the other day, I was talking with a couple of women, doing the usual “who are you and what do you do routine.” One (we’ll call her Jill) was still reeling from the unhappy ending of her twenty-something-year marriage a few months before. She said it had been a big deal for her to even come to the event since she didn’t want to go out much, but sitting at home alone wasn’t easy either.
Oh, I know how that feels! Dealing with the emotional, physical and financial fallout from a divorce can be a big challenge. Redefining yourself as a result of it can be even bigger. We chatted a bit and I told her it would get better—that she would feel better. I mentioned how hard it had been for me to go to a movie alone during my own dark times.
Before I could elaborate, however, the other woman (Wanda) interrupted. “Every time I go to one of these things, somebody says something like that,” she said, sighing and shaking her head in a “you poor pathetic things” kind of way. “I just don’t get why it’s such a big deal to you.” Wanda then proceeded to tell us, that although she’d never been married, she’d had relationships that ended and it was no different. “You just snap out of it and move along.”
Well, glad it was so easy for her. When I was feeling gutted like a fish with my heart laid out for the whole world to see, I sure couldn’t just “snap out of it.” I’d been married for decades—since I was a teenager—and suddenly finding myself not married anymore and very alone, was devastating. It pulled the rug out from under me in just about every way possible. Wanda, however, had barely noticed her breakups. She’d been single her whole life—that’s who she’d always been—so a relationship ending wasn’t a big deal to her.
Totally different life experiences with different perspectives. One isn’t right and the other wrong, just different. It would have been just as ridiculous for Jill to insist that Wanda grieve feelings she didn’t have as it was for Wanda to shame Jill for having them.
As The Tough Love Coach, wake-up calls are my specialty. But until you know why you’re feeling what you are and make peace with it, “snap out of it” and “get over it” comments just make things worse. Jill was already feeling bad enough about herself without Wanda implying that a stronger, better and more competent woman such as herself wouldn’t be thinking and feeling such silly things.
After talking with both women for a while, it became clear that Wanda was the one who needed to snap out of it. She wasn’t nearly as “together” as she pretended and, unlike Jill, she complained about everything. Also unlike Jill, Wanda wasn’t looking for solutions because there weren’t any—she’d already tried everything. There was nothing she could do to make her life better and that was that.
So, the bottom line is that someone like Jill who is fresh in the pain of a devastating experience needs validation and support. She needs to know it’s okay to have the feelings she is, that she can heal and that things will get better.
Someone like Wanda, however, who has been complaining for years about the same old things and won’t do anything about them, definitely needs a “snap out of it and stop wallowing in self-pity” talk. Then, once she’s off her high horse and can see her own muck, she can get to the bottom of her feelings, face up to what is really going on in her life—and why—and do something about it.
So, before you tell someone—even yourself—to “just snap out of it,” know what you’re really meaning. Know what’s really going on with you—what you really want and need—and then act accordingly with compassion.
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Paula Renaye is a tough-love media expert, empowerment speaker, certified professional coach and five-time award-winning self-help author. Her acclaimed new personal development book, Living the Life You Love: The No-Nonsense Guide to Total Transformation, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012. Writing as Paula Boyd, she is the author of the award-winning Jolene Jackson Mystery Series. Visit www.paulaboyd.com and www.paularenaye.com.