Have you ever paused to consider the true impact of the words we use in our everyday conversations? Language, with its ability to shape perceptions and influence emotions, has a powerful impact on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We often seek solace and reassurance in comforting phrases, believing they can provide support and encouragement.
However, some seemingly comforting expressions can be deceptive, concealing harmful effects that may hinder personal growth, relationships, and emotional well-being. This video aims to shed light on some “comforting” phrases that can have adverse consequences when taken at face value.
With that said, here are 5 deceptive phrases that are actually harmful, according to experts:
“Think positive thoughts.”
While cultivating a positive mindset is essential, saying things like “just think positive” oversimplifies the complexity of human emotions and disregards the validity of negative feelings. Suppressing negative emotions or forcing oneself to be positive can lead to denial and stunted emotional development/growth, preventing people from addressing and processing their underlying issues, says psychologist Dr. Tiffany Sauber Millacci. Instead, allow the other person to be more authentic and feel what they feel while still encouraging them to be constructive about it by saying things like, “I’m listening and I’m here for you, let’s figure out how to get through this together.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
Often used to console those who have experienced loss or heartbreak, “time heals all wounds” may unintentionally minimize the depth of someone’s pain. It implies that the passage of time alone will magically mend emotional wounds, disregarding the need for active healing, self-care, and seeking support. While time may provide perspective and bring gradual relief, it is crucial to actively engage in the healing process, too, says psychiatrist Dr. Carly Snyder. Simply saying something like, “I’m sorry you’re going through that, I hope you feel better soon” is much more effective and comforting.
“Just be grateful for what you have.”
While gratitude is a powerful practice, this phrase can be harmful when used to dismiss or invalidate someone’s struggles or pain. According to an article published by the psychologists of Over A Cup of Tea: Psychological Wellness Centre, phrases like this make the other person feel guilty for being unhappy with their circumstances. It implies that expressing dissatisfaction or seeking improvement is unwarranted, preventing them from addressing legitimate concerns and working towards meaningful personal growth or social change. Thus, cultivating gratitude should be balanced with a healthy acknowledgment of how we feel.
“It’s all in your head.”
Using this phrase to dismiss someone’s struggles, especially regarding mental health, can be detrimental and contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Harvard psychologist Dr. Cortney Warren explains that such phrases undermine the other person’s perspective and dismisses their concerns as irrational or unfounded. It invalidates their experiences and can discourage them from seeking professional help or support. Instead, Dr. Warren recommends acknowledging their concerns with empathy, support, and understanding by saying things like, “I’m sorry you’re going through that, but I’m here for you. What can I do to help?”
“Let’s not make a big deal out of it.”
This phrase is similar to our earlier point, but it usually applies more to situations wherein someone feels they have just been mistreated. So saying things like “Let’s not make a big deal out of it and just ignore it” discourages them from speaking up against injustice and even enables perpetuating harmful systems and behaviors such as bullying or prejudice. As the psychologists from Over a Cup of Tea put it, “If things are bad for you, then they are bad for you whether other people agree or not.” So instead of silencing the other person with this harmful phrase, encourage constructive dialogue instead and advocate for them.
Language has the power to inspire, console, and connect us, and the phrases we use can have unintended consequences. By expanding our awareness of the potential harm behind deceptively “comforting” phrases, we can foster healthier communication and support systems. Thus, it’s vital that we strive for empathy, active listening, and validation when supporting others to ensure that our words truly contribute to their growth and well-being.
So, Psych2Goers, what are some ideas you have about how we can reframe comforting phrases to empower and uplift one anotherwithout perpetuating harmful beliefs and behaviors? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments down below! And if you found this video valuable/helpful, please support our work by hitting like and subscribing to our channel.
- Millacci, T. S. (2021, Apr 13). Toxic Positivity in Psychology: Examples & Research Findings. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/toxic-positivity-in-psychology/
- Mandriota, M. & Snyder, C. (2021, Sep 29). ‘Time Heals All Wounds:’ Is There Any Truth to This? VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/time-heals-all-wounds-is-there-any-truth-to-this-5189911
- Over A Cup of Tea (2019, Jul 16). 5 common phrases that must NOT be said while comforting your loved ones. https://www.overacupoftea.in/post/2019/07/17/5-common-phrases-that-must-not-be-said-while-comforting-your-loved-ones
- Warren, C. (2023, Jul 3). Harvard psychologist shares 9 toxic phrases ‘gaslighters’ always use—and how to respond. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/07/03/harvard-psychologist-toxic-phrases-people-use-when-they-are-gaslighting-you-how-to-respond.html