When you’re ready for a conversation to end, it’s natural to look for an easy phrase that indicates you want to change the subject. You might say something like “well, it is what it is” or “forget it.” While this places an insistent period at the end of a stale exchange, it can also compromise your health. Psychologists refer to such phrases as thought-ending clichés. And while they are sometimes necessary, they can take a mental toll if used too often.
What are the clichés that kill the thought?
The term “thought-killing cliché” was coined by Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought reform and the psychology of totalism, who expounded his theories on the formation of the self. “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-killing cliché,” Lifton writes. “The most transcendent and complex human problems are compressed into short, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases that are easy to memorize and easily express. These become the beginning and the end of any ideological analysis.”
In less academic language, Lifton is pointing to the human tendency to take complex sentiments, concepts, and policies and boil them down to short, clever sentences that aren’t necessarily false, but don’t tell the whole story. A great example is when political parties say something like “this is all part of the liberal agenda…” or “this is all part of the Republican strategy to…” While these firings are not totally untrue, they do raise conversation to an impasse and prevent people from thinking more deeply about important issues.
12 common clichés that end with the thought
Below, find some thought-busting clichés specifically aimed at mental health. And remember, if you’re struggling to take care of your brain’s well-being or find yourself relying on these clichés often, it’s worth talking to a professional who can help you develop more sustainable self-talk skills.
- “It is what it is.”
- “So it goes.”
- “It could be worse.”
- “Time heals all.”
- “Somebody out there has it worse than you.”
- “What does not kill you makes you stronger”.
- “It’s always darkest before dawn.”
- “This too shall pass”.
- “It’s all about balance.”
- “Try to look on the bright side.”
- “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
- “The only way out is through.”
How to avoid clichés that end with the thought
Once you start hearing thought-busting clichés, you’ll hear them everywhere (often disguised as toxic positivity). Even commonly accepted pieces of lore such as “everything happens for a reason” technically fall prey to this human need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Some of the most damaging and reducing can be found in the realm of mental health. For example, if you’re feeling depressed or anxious and someone says something like “hang on,” you’ll probably feel worse, not better.
That said, now that you to know terminology, you can identify when you (or someone around you) are using this tactic. Then you can decide to rephrase your own thoughts or consider whether you can communicate to your partner why these types of phrases just aren’t helpful. At the very least, you’ll better understand why people feel the need to boil things down to basic, concise phrases. And hey, at the risk of using my own thought-ending cliché, that’s better than nothing.