In the land where quotes and memes litter the highways of social media, it can be hard to find meaningful advice and guidance.
While I have always had an affinity for things that can make life simpler, I am developing a growing irritation with clichés that just don’t seem to be very respectful of the human experience. While they are often stated out of good intentions, some of the most popular clichés often suggest solutions without acknowledging an individual’s experience in any way.
Here are my thoughts on the 5 worst clichés for your mental health and why we need to squash them every chance we get!
#1 – Time heals everything.
No. No it doesn’t. In the history of mankind, time has not healed a single thing. Not so much as a scab! Why do we say this to people? Especially those who are grieving a difficult loss. Well intended I’m sure…. but cruel, nonetheless.
Despite the myth, however, there is a connection between time and healing. Time does provide the opportunity for healing. Someone who spends 3 months facing their struggles and learning new skills to cope will do much better than the person who spends the same 3 months on the couch complaining about the unfairness of life. So, it is not time that heals, it is the action we take as time passes.
The more time we have the more opportunity we have to connect with supportive and healing resources to help us reflect, learn, and accept what we need to in order to be ok. So, again, healing isn’t about time, it’s about what you do with it!
#2 – Just love yourself!
This one irritated me enough one day I actually devoted an entire blog post to it!—> Just Love Yourself: Why We Need to Stop Throwing Clichés at Depressed People
If I told you to walk to a random bus stop and love the next stranger you met, could you? Unlikely. Why? This is because that person is someone you have never spent any time with and know absolutely nothing about. The only place a scenario like that turns into instant love is Hollywood!
The idea that we can just love ourselves because someone suggests it seems more than a little backwards when you consider that most people know very little about themselves. Of course, some may be aware of their own experiences and background, but when it comes to a deep and reflective understanding of oneself (the kind required for love), most people struggling day to day are just not there. So, telling them to love themselves is akin to telling them to love a stranger.
Let’s start with suggesting they take time to get to know themselves and be willing to explore their inner world. Encourage them to learn about their own unique being and perspectives. We want to gently nudge them toward taking time to cultivate a relationship with themselves that can eventually lead to the kind inward appreciation and care we call self love.
So, no more “just love yourself”. After all, if we would not scold each other for not loving a stranger, why should we scold those who have become estranged to themselves?!?
#3 – Someone always has it worst than you!
Ugh! Talk about not helpful!
This, for me, is the same as telling someone, “Your problems are totally insignificant because someone you don’t know, has a problem you can‘t fix, that has nothing to do with you”, and then expecting them to have their ‘aha’ moment.
Really, it is THAT absurd!
If you know me, you know I am a huge advocate of gratitude, but I believe gratitude is not intended to make you feel insignificant. Perhaps instead of being the bearer of misery-by-cliché, we can first validate how someone feels and listen to their perspective. Then, we can move to supporting them in finding good things in their own life to focus on. Maybe something as simple as, “I’m sorry you are struggling with that. It does sound overwhelming. Is there anything I can do to help? What are you glad you don’t have to deal with while you are dealing with all this?”.
By acknowledging what you have heard and not drawing an external comparison, you avoid the possibility of putting the other person on the defensive. The focus becomes how to solve the problem instead of debating whether their problem is big enough to matter.
Given everything we have on our plates, it’s understandable that we would want to make our communication as short and effective as we can. But clichés don’t always hit the mark and could be damaging to those who are already vulnerable or having a difficult time. Next time you choose a cliché (or hear one), spend some time thinking about the actual message it is conveying and ask yourself if it is the best way to send that particular message. Words do matter and the better we get with our words, the better we will be with each other!
Bonus Round (just because I am enjoying myself!)
I could literally sit up all night writing about the world’s worst clichés BUT that would be a very long blog. I will leave you with a few honourable mentions that top my list as the WORST clichés for your mental health. Do you have a few more you can think of?
#1 – What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
Wait, so if I don’t want to be stronger then I have to die? Seems a little intense as a far as options go. If I am already struggling with a problem, I probably won’t feel like entertaining the idea that it might kill me. Just saying!
#2 – It is what it is!
Man, such a defeatist outlook.
Actually, it is not what it is. It is what you make it! So, decide to make it something you can learn and grow from if it is not something you can change.
Here’s to another week of growth and connection!
Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy