In the land where quotes and memes litter the highways of social media, it can be hard to find meaningful advice and guidance. As a therapist, I have always had an affinity for solutions that can make life simpler. When it comes to mental health, however, I have seen the damage done by oversimplified cliches that do more to ignore the human experience than improve it. While they are mostly stated out of good intentions, some of the most popular cliches suggest vague solutions without acknowledging an individual’s experience in any way.
While I could probably recite a thousand, here are my thoughts on the 3 worst cliches for your mental health and why we need to squash them every chance we get!
#1 - Time heals everything.
No, it does not. In the history of mankind, time has not healed a single thing. Why do we say this to people? Especially to 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 is not about time, it is 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!
If I told you to walk to a random bus stop and love the next stranger you met, could you? Unlikely. Why? Primarily 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 have not yet been able to build to that level of self-connection. So, telling them to "just love yourself” is akin to telling them to love a total stranger.
To be more helpful, we could start with suggesting they take time to get to know themselves and encourage reflection on their own needs and inner world. 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 worse than you!
Ugh! Talk about not helpful!
We would never say, “Your problems are do not matter because someone you do not know, has a problem they cannot fix,” and then expecting the listener to have their ‘aha’ moment. It is absurd at best.
I am a huge advocate of gratitude, but being grateful should not make you feel insignificant. Instead of being the bearer of misery-by-cliche, we can validate how someone feels by listening to their perspective. Only after that, should we move to supporting them in building positive perspectives on their own life. If this cliché is your default consider something like, “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.
With everything we have on our plates each day, it is understandable that we would want to make our communication as short and effective as we can. But, cliches can be problematic and cause real harm to those who are already vulnerable or having a difficult time.
Next time you choose a cliche (or hear one), spend some time thinking about the actual message it is trying to convey and ask yourself if there is a better 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!
What clichés do you find unhelpful? Drop by our Facebook Page and share them with us!
Bonnie J. Skinner is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Counsellor. Having developed her career in community based mental health across Canada, Bonnie now owns and operates a practice in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario where she helps individuals, couples , families and organizations overcome obstacles to their chosen goals. Learn more at www.skinnerpsychotherapy.com.