The 3 Worst Sentences You Don’t Want To Hear Or Say
Take a breath and imagine someone saying to you:
“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“Get over it.”
Feel what happens inside when these words hit you. These are three of the most powerful sentences you can hear from someone – especially a person who supposedly loves you – when you are sharing from your experience in a vulnerable way.
This is a particular sore point for me because as a child I had a LOT of emotion and the majority of the time it was met with one or all of these sentences.
It wasn’t until I was around twelve years old that something new happened. I was sitting and talking to my father when he told me he had this weird thing going on with his knee and he was really concerned about it. This was unusual for my father to open up like this to me. As we talked, I could see he was really worried and I tried to comfort him. “Maybe you should have the doctor check it out. It’s probably nothing,” those kinds of things. Then out of nowhere I blurted out “I’m afraid of losing my other leg.” He stopped and looked me right in the eyes and said; “I can understand how you can feel that way.” Everything stopped, everything got quiet inside.
I said to myself, “So this is what it’s like to be heard, listened to, met.”
This was such a profound moment for me. The usual course of action in my family was that if someone was having an emotion, everyone else would do their best to kill it, stamp it out, stop it. The ammunition they used was: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” “You’re too sensitive.”“Get over it.”
It was in that profound moment with my father that I made a vow that if any of my friends ever told me something that could be perceived as out of the ordinary, the first words out of my mouth would be; “I can understand how you could feel that way.”
There isn’t a day that goes by in my office that a client doesn’t preface a sentence with, “You probably will think this is crazy but….” I am so grateful to have had that experience, so I can meet them with the response, “I can understand how you can feel that way.”
Because I have done some intake with them and know some of their story, I often add, “You come by it honestly.” I then list all the events that would end in the honest conclusion of – ‘these feelings.’
I can feel their nervous system begin to relax, the tension in their faces soften as they melt into the realization, “That’s right, of course I should feel this way, I’m not crazy.” And although they can see how they come by these feelings honestly, it’s at this point they can also acknowledge what it has cost them. Here the healing begins as we work together in turning it around to feelings that empower them.
Given that we live in a narcissistic, patriarchal culture those three sentences indicate how we protect the patriarchy. To be clear, I’m not speaking about political patriarchy. I’m talking about psychological patriarchy.
Author, therapist and founder of RLT, Terry Real https://www.terryreal.com is so expert in breaking this down, that you begin to understand that the patriarchal stressors influencing the world now are not just how men behave toward women.
He explains the Great Divide, meaning that if you were to divide a person in half and everything on the right side was associated with what is considered masculine, (for example: strength, independence, lack of emotion, logic, loyalty, dominance, aggression, selfishness)and everything on the left as feminine (for example: expressive, vulnerable, attuned, compassionate, dependent, irrational, weak, intuitive, emotional), you see how there is a tendency to lean towards the right side. This great divide influences how women treat other women, and how parents treat children. How one race treats another race. How Congress legislates healthcare for it’s constitutes. As one Congressman said, “Only weak people get sick.”
But it really comes down to a head game of oppression with the qualities on the right side exulted and qualities on the left held in contempt.
He goes on to explain what he calls the “core collusion” of protecting the masculine. It became clear to me that every time one of those sentences is spoken to someone, it is a way of bolstering the masculine, while holding contempt for the feminine.
So it’s important for therapists, healers, and coaches to support clients in healing the effects of those three toxic sentences and allow the feminine qualities to help bring balance to men and women.
However there is a part two. The client has their part to play in this as well. Often during a session I find something insightful coming out of my mouth only to be countered by the three phrases that do not serve the client. They are:
All are ways of not letting in what I said, stopping the flow, protecting the masculine.
A part of exploring one’s inner world is the ability to see gray. The masculine is always about black and white, absolutes. There is no room for subtleties.
When I have hit a nerve, their eyes get big, the head jerks a little, and then they swallow indicating to me that what I said was on the money. The money here being I’ve hit the vagus nerve. Usually it is something they do not want to feel. As I heard Stephen Jenkinson say recently, “The spiritual project of being human is to engage this stuff that every thing inside you screams to stay away from.” The best way to not feel is to run up into your left brain where we can debate it ad infinitum with, yeah but, how about, and what if’s.
Breakthroughs come from seeing something in a new way. This allows all kinds of things that were previously offline to come online. You begin to see not only new opportunities but openings for healthy action as well. Breakthroughs come when you shift out of the logical and predictable. They always come out of the gray area – never the black and white.
Often when I would get this push back in groups I would use a rubber ball. When I’d say something that would provoke a, “But what about..?”, I would throw them the rubber ball and tell them, “I am going to repeat what I said and rather then respond with one of those three phrases, I want you to throw the ball back to me instead.” I would repeat what I said. Sometimes it would take three throws before what I had said was allowed to drop down into them where they could feel it, way beyond the push back. This would often be followed by tears, or even laughter. As Joni Mitchell sang, “Laughing and crying, it’s the same release.”
Something to reflect on:
I’ve shared with you here the 3 worst sentences to hear and the 3 worst phrases to say.
Perhaps this has provoked some other sentences that you have heard that trigger the same kind of reaction in you. In fact in writing this another one comes to mind that my mother often used with me. “You’re too much.” It was a constant patriarchal reminder from her to be smaller then who I was. It might have come out of her own insecurities of, “How could someone so small create someone so big.”, but nevertheless it often had a contracting influence on me.
Take a moment and reflect on what sentences stop or contract you.
And to be balanced, what patriarchal phrases do you rely on to push back, being logical while proving how strong and intellectual you are and not at the effect of your emotions or your past?
I’d love to hear from you.