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Shouldn't I be over it by now?

Not all people who suffer a loss or bereavement need counselling, but those who do usually say this at some point in the process; usually very early on. In fact it's the feeling that they should be 'over it' by now that often prompts them to come for counselling in the first place. If they haven't said it themselves, someone else has said it and they're feeling bad because they're not.

To my mind there are three things wrong with the phrase 'I should be over it by now'

  1. Who says you 'should'?

  2. What does 'over it' mean?

  3. When is 'by now'?

When I was five years old my goldfish died. I cried about it in the morning, but by lunchtime I had remembered that fish are nice to eat. I think we can safely say I was 'over it' by then.

One of my clients had a baby over 20 years ago that died very young. She can function normally 99% of the time but still can't talk of them without crying. Is she 'over it' or not? Will she ever be?

This diagram shows three levels of 'heart' which represent the different levels of relationship and loss we can feel. On the outer edge, zone 3, are people who we care about. If we lose one of them we're sad but it's a fairly transient feeling. In common parlance, we 'get over it' relatively quickly.

Zone 2 are people who we're very close to. A loss from here is painful but sooner or later someone else comes along who fills their place.

And the centre, zone 1, is people who are special, irreplaceable. A loss here hurts lifelong. Like losing a limb, you never 'get over it'; you merely learn to function with the loss. It may take a few weeks, a few months, a few years - or never happen.

This diagram can apply purely to people, or it can include pets or jobs or characteristics or even belongings. People talk of items that have 'inexpressible sentimental value'; those are usually at least connected with people in zone 1, if not in it in their own right. And people - or things - are where they are. You can't move them because they 'should' be somewhere else. You might be heartbroken over your cat or find that your mother is in zone 3. You didn't choose to put them there - they just are. And probably more due to their behaviour and attitudes than to yours.

So what does this mean? Basically it means that the phrase 'I should be over it by now' is just pure nonsense. You may want to be over it. You may wish you could be over it. Nobody likes feeling intense pain, so naturally you'll want those feelings to go away. But telling yourself they 'should' won't change anything. In fact, quite the reverse. Grief is a natural process and if you try to prevent yourself feeling it, whether for your own sake or someone else's, you'll actually end up feeling it for longer.

When other people say 'you should be over it by now' they mean one of two things. Either they want you to be happy again because they don't want you to be sad. Or they want you to be happy again because they can't cope with you being sad. It's painful or embarrassing or inconvenient for them for you to be grieving, so they tell you that you shouldn't be. Because what really helps when you're already dying inside because of an irreplaceable loss, is a bit of guilt and emotional blackmail.

So #sodtheshoulds. You'll be over it when you're over it. If you need help (the general view is that people whose grief is still debilitating after 3 months could benefit from some professional support, but that's just a guideline) then reach out for it. But if you don't, that's fine too. Be kind to yourself and don't expect to 'get over' a zone 1 or even a zone 2 bereavement in a couple of weeks or months. You won't. And don't let anyone, particularly yourself, tell you that you should.

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Caeredwen is a counsellor, coach and physical therapist based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If you would like to contact her in confidence you can reach her at or via her website at

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