ÇWhen you’re ready for the end of a conversation, it’s natural to look for an easy phrase that signals you want to change the subject. Maybe you say something like “well, that’s what it is” or “just forget about it”. While this puts an insistent period at the end of a stale exchange, it can also compromise your health. Psychologists refer to these phrases as thought-ending clichés. And while they are needed every now and then, they can come at a mental cost if employed too often.
What are thought-ending clichés?
The term “thought-ending cliché” was coined by Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, who outlined his theories on ego formation. “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-ending cliché,” writes Lifton. “The most comprehensive and complex human problems are compressed into short, highly reductive sentences that sound definitive, easily memorized and easily expressed. They become the beginning and end of any ideological analysis.”
In less academic language, Lifton is pointing to the human tendency to take complex feelings, concepts, and policies and reduce them to short, clever sentences that aren’t necessarily false, but don’t tell the full 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 dismissals are not entirely false, they do bring conversation to a impasse and prevent people from thinking more deeply about important issues.
12 common clichés that end
Below, find some thought-ending clichés specifically aimed at mental health. And remember, if you’re struggling to take care of your brain’s well-being or finding 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.”
- “Can be worse.”
- “Time heals everything.”
- “Someone out there has it worse than you.”
- “What does not kill you make you stronger.”
- “It’s always dark before dawn.”
- “This should pass too.”
- “It’s all about balance.”
- “Try to look on the bright side.”
- “The sun will come out tomorrow.”
- “The only way out is through.”
How to avoid clichés that end with thought
Once you start hearing thought-ending clichés, you’ll hear them everywhere (often disguised as toxic positivity). Even common pieces of popular wisdom such as “everything happens for a reason” technically fall prey to this human need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Some of the most harmful and reducing can be found in the field of mental health. For example, if you’re feeling depressed or anxious and someone says something like, “Hold on,” you’re likely to feel worse, not better.
That said, now that you to meet terminology, you can identify when you (or someone around you) is using this tactic. Then you may decide to reframe your own thoughts, or consider whether you can communicate to your partner why these kinds of phrases just aren’t helpful. At the very least, you’ll have a better understanding of why people feel the urge to boil things down to concise, basic sentences. And hey, at the risk of using my own thought-ending cliché, this is better than nothing.