“How did your day go?”
“It was horrible.”
“Aw, cheer up. It’ll get better soon!”
“Cheer up” means, “don’t feel the way you do.”
It’s not the same as, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Or, “Can I do anything to help?” Or even, “I hope you feel better soon.”
It might even mean “I don’t want to hear about it.”
In which case, it’s an emotion-phobic exchange. Under the guise of casual politeness of course.
Emotion phobic communication
Such exchanges occur all the time. You just have to listen carefully to read between the lines.
Whenever you talk about how you’re really feeling or what you really think — and it happens to be negative — people get uncomfortable. (Granted, there are times when talking about such things is inappropriate or disrespectful.)
They might squirm, fidget, or attack you sideways.
They might also try to shut you up. Or put nicely, censor you, change the topic, distract you, or make it all seem like it’s a-okay.
We all deflect
If Vincent’s mad about a project at work. And Traci so happens to be in the same room. It’s not okay for Vincent to vent without Traci’s consent, let alone expect her to be receptive, concerned, or even able to listen.
But Vincent vents anyway. And Traci deflects his vent by saying, “Look Vincent, I have to pick up my mom from the airport in ten minutes. Do you want to talk about this problem later?”
In this situation, Traci sets a boundary.
We set boundaries all the time.
You’re not indefinitely available to other people whenever they want to vent about something. And no one is indefinitely available to you.
If someone asks you specifically how you are doing, what’s wrong, or what you think. And you tell them. And they deflect your thoughts and/or feelings.
They’re probably invalidating you instead of setting a boundary.
Because after all, they asked. They got what they asked for. They didn’t like it.
And now in defense they’re trying to tell you:
- How you really feel,
- What you shouldn’t feel,
- What you should feel
- What you will feel, or
It’s all very subtle of course.
Until you notice — then it’s glaring.
Are you being censored?
Anytime you talk about how some adversity (person, animal, situation, place or thing) upset, disappointed or wronged you, the other person will either:
- Be comfortable hearing about it, all of it (e.g, your closest friend)
- Be comfortable hearing about it, but only parts of it, or casually (e.g., an acquaintance)
- Be comfortable telling you they’d rather not hear about it (like a healthy deflection)
- Be uncomfortable hearing about it, but not tell you directly
It’s the last case the other person might say something that actually invalidates your feelings.
75 ways people say “I don’t want to hear about how you’re really feeling”
- Oh, it’s not so bad.
- It’s all good.
- Cheer up.
- Just let it go.
- Things will get better.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Don’t worry, you’ll feel better.
- C’mon, you’re okay.
- Move on.
- Forgive and forget.
- Life’s too short to worry about this.
- There’s nothing you can do now.
- You can’t change it, so why worry?
- The past is the past.
- Don’t dwell.
- There’s no point fretting over it.
- It’s not worth it.
- You shouldn’t ruminate.
- You’re only going to make it worse by complaining.
- If you focus on the negative, you’ll be miserable.
- Don’t feed into it.
- Don’t let it take up your energy.
- Take the high road.
- Be the better person.
- Toughen up.
- Choose your battles wisely. (This shouldn’t count.)
- Oh, they didn’t mean it.
- What’s the big deal? (This shouldn’t be a big deal.)
- I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. (I don’t want to understand what the fuss is about.)
- Get some perspective. (Quit being so myopic.)
- Wow, how could you say/think/feel that? (I think it’s impossible for you to say/think/feel that.)
- You’re making this bigger than it is. (It’s a small thing.)
- You’re over-exaggerating. (It’s your problem.)
- You’re looking too much into it. (You’re causing yourself agony.)
- It’s not about you.
- Don’t take it personally.
- You shouldn’t have gotten wrapped up in it.
- It doesn’t mean anything.
- Don’t let it get to you.
- Don’t beat yourself up about it.
- Don’t let it ruin your day.
- This is trivial.
- They don’t matter to you.
- Don’t let them under your skin.
- Try to calm down.
- You have better things to do than get upset.
- Don’t be a drama queen.
- Don’t be such a baby.
- Don’t be so sour.
- You’re too sensitive.
- Your reaction doesn’t make sense.
- Try to stay logical.
- It’s best to stay level-headed.
- Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
- You don’t really mean that.
- Think about what you’re saying here.
- Don’t say things you don’t really mean.
- Are you sure it wasn’t your fault?
- You co-created this situation — what’s the value in the lesson?
- Just send them love.
- Look on the bright side.
- Stay positive.
- Find something to be grateful for.
- Maybe it’s a good thing it happened?
- It’s your choice to feel/react/respond that way. (They’re off the hook for their actions.)
- I’m sorry you feel that way, because you shouldn’t.
- I’m sorry you misunderstood me.
- Well, no one’s perfect.
- Everyone makes mistakes.
- They did that to you because they’re acting out of fear. (That lets them off the hook.)
- They’re acting out of pain. (That lets them off the hook.)
- It’s their own stuff.
- You just need to [insert acitivty here].
- [Insert change of topic here.]
- Get a grip already.
“Something’s wrong with you.”
The examples above imply:
- It’s a bad thing you’re feeling/thinking that way
- The feeling/thinking is a problem
- That problem needs to “go away”
- You need to make that problem feeling/thinking go away (instead of addressing the problem that the uncomfortable feeling/thinking alerts you of)
- If you don’t make that problem feeling/thinking go away, then
- Something’s wrong with you
- And things will get worse
- So just stop feeling/thinking that way
It’s not about you
The problem with that logic is: You’re not the problem.
You may be temporarily experiencing a negative emotion. But it’s not the end of the world. (They only think it is.)
Your emotions may be alerting you to problems in your environment and/or your thinking. But you don’t have a problem with feeling the way you do. After all, you were comfortable enough with that feeling to share it!
The real problem is: They’re uncomfortable with how you’re feeling.
It’s the other person’s problem
Instead of looking at their own reaction and owning up to their own discomfort when you talk about something that’s “too” emotional — the other person blames you.
Makes it all your fault that they’re unwilling to get emotional, or to be fully present, or to genuinely accept that you feel the way you feel.
People who don’t want to experience their own negative emotions sure as heck don’t want you to express yours. Because then they might have to take response ability for their actions, connect with you, empathize, or get in touch with themselves — which they’ve (unconsciously) decided is way too painful.
You become someone else’s problem when you voice what they can’t accept in their own self.
Pay attention when someone deflects your feelings
Start to listen for those phrases in your every day. You’ll pick up on when people try to censor you.
You might decide not to let someone censor you. Or you might see how uncomfortable they actually are, and rethink how you can (casually) relate to them.
Emotion-phobic exchanges aren’t always the end of the world. Some might even be well-intentioned. But they can prick you when you don’t notice. So just pay attention.
Context matters too. You can’t pour your heart out to everyone. Emotional intimacy is exclusive, not open.
Just remember, you deserve better than emotional censorship.
And also remember, you’re capable of censoring yourself, too.
Have you been censored?
Do you hear any of the above phrases in your daily grind? Do you have any other phrases to add?
How do such phrases impact you?
How do you respond?
Do you want to learn more about how to work with your emotions? Sign up for the free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct.