The Dangers of Platitudes

Platitudes. Most people don’t know what they are, though they are present in our everyday lives. The definition of platitude is a statement that has lost its original weight and meaning due to being overused. Statements like “nobody’s perfect” and “it is what it is” are examples of them.

It can be frustrating to be on the receiving end of a platitude, even though people are usually well-meaning when they utilize them. This is because they are unthoughtful throwaway statements that aren’t well thought out.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re inherently bad. In cases where you’re trying to start a conversation or talking to people you aren’t familiar with, it’s not a big deal. When someone close to you tells you something close to their heart, though, to respond with a platitude would, at best, be insensitive. At worst, it can be invalidating, compound trauma, and slow down the recovery process.

Despite all that, it can be hard to think of a helpful or comforting response, especially regarding something like trauma. Platitudes are often the first thing we think of to ward off an awkward situation. To help with that, here are a few platitudes, why not to use them, and what you can say instead.

1. Time Heals All Wounds

When it comes to trauma, this is one platitude that we hear too many times. It states that regardless of the impact a situation has, if enough time passes, you’ll be able to get over it.

Not only is this poor advice, but it is also untrue. Things like trauma have a way of changing people. For example, the impact of losing a child or going through domestic abuse doesn’t dissipate over the years. One learns to live with the grief or psychiatric injury, but it is usually lifelong.

Instead of this platitude, try this “I know this is hard, but I also know that you will be able to get through this over time. If you need anything, I’m here for you.” Even better, empathize and validate: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It must be so difficult.”

2. Everything Happens For A Reason

This is one of the most frustrating platitudes. Even if the person saying it doesn’t mean it maliciously, it implies that whatever happens is justified or deserved. Not to mention, it can be insulting and insensitive.

Telling a sexual assault survivor that they went through that for a reason can be invalidating and even compound their trauma, causing what’s known as “secondary trauma.” Furthermore, it implies a lack of free will and takes the blame away from abusers. After all, if everything happens for a reason, why is it their fault?

When dealing with trauma, erase this platitude from your vocabulary. Instead, say something like, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. This is not your fault. Remember that I am always here for you,” and add “I believe you” for survivors of sexual violence.

Empathize. Validate.

3. Others Have It Worse

Hopefully, it’s not hard to see why this platitude is unacceptable. It suggests that trauma is a competition, which is untrue. It also implies that people aren’t allowed to feel bad about what they’re going through because their problem isn’t bad enough.

It’s condescending and not comforting at all. In most cases, it also makes a person less likely to open up to you.

Instead of saying this, try saying, “I’m sorry you’re going through that. I hope things get better for you soon” or even better, validate: “That sounds so difficult” or “That’s really terrible. I can understand why you’re upset. Anyone would be in your situation.”

Closing Thoughts

Though they might not seem harmful at first glance, using platitudes can cause a lot of harm. People generally say them to end an uncomfortable conversation when they don’t know what to say. Learn to say something different. Learn to validate rather than dismiss.

They’re a million other words and actions you can use. It’s up to us as individuals to employ a more empathetic vocabulary so we are able to support friends and family who have gone through traumatic experiences.

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