Stop Saying This, Part Three: “Everything in Moderation” and More


Continued from last month, here is the third installment of “Stop Saying This,” a series I’m doing on common but damaging phrases running amok among the helping professionals and “lay people” (aka friends, family, community members) alike.

“You need to step out of your comfort zone.”

It’s touted by the self-help industry, which has turned into the optimize-every-nano-detail-of-your-life industry. According to them, being in your comfort zone is a sign that you’re not moving forward, you’re not growing and you’ll never be in the top .01% of your field. It means your relationship won’t be extraordinary and you won’t reach beyond your potential. Which clearly means that your life is not worth living, because the only thing that has meaning is being the absolute best at everything you set out to do—not giving and receiving what you came here to give and receive, making genuine connections with other people, or whatever the hell you want your life to mean.

Coaches and even (increasingly) therapists talk about these gigantic goals as if they were the only choice for how someone should live their lives. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want to deal with the discomfort of the existential questioning that more and more people are engaging in as the chaos builds around us during these times.

Why is it that the “treatment provider” doesn’t have to challenge their comfort zone but that it is the prescribed remedy for their clients? Equally importantly, why exactly is someone a failure if they don’t want to colonize the moon or turn their hobby of popsicle-stick painting into a multinational, seven-figure business? Is nothing sacred? Does every aspect of life have to be monetized? Why are we creating a culture where people don’t know who they are unless they know who their “target audience” is?

Granted, therapists probably mean something different when they encourage clients to challenge themselves out of their comfort zone. Maybe they want to support people in changing old habits or beliefs that the clients have self-reported are in the way of the life they have identified as wanting for themselves. Comfort can be a sign of remaining in those old patterns that sabotage a client’s goals and that a client is doing what is familiar to them. It’s only fair to admit that comfort, or the desire for it, has gotten in my way many times, and it has kept me from what I want. It has caused me to hurt people I love, including myself.

Comfort, though, can also be a necessary refuge when you’re in the throes of healing.

You’ve no doubt heard that infuriating phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you strong?” (I’m coming for you). However, it is well known that rest and recovery are essential to building physical strength; it is no different in relational, emotional or mental terms. If we make a total enemy of comfort, we are making an enemy out of recovery.

Finally, we need to take a moment to question this whole “continual growth” philosophy that’s behind the constant push to get out of our comfort zone. The self-help industry has done a great job of convincing people that they’re failing if they’re not always growing, but continual, unchecked growth is cancer’s philosophy. Sometimes, it’s okay to get off your own back and just be. A culture that categorically demonizes comfort, a natural state we seek by default, is emotionally abusive. Whatever happened to “everything in moderation” (I’m coming for you, too)?

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

I think the burden of proof is on the person who says this phrase because, in the first place, by what mechanism would something that could kill you but doesn’t make you stronger? Actually, my experience is that what tries to kill me but doesn’t actually makes me sad and sick; what makes me stronger is belonging, love, connecting with people I know believe in me and can see my best even when I feel I’m at my worst (or actually am at my worst), sleep, sometimes exercise….in other words, a lot of things that look like comfort (exercise comforts me because it manages my chronic pain more effectively than anything else I’ve tried).

You should really only “encourage” someone by telling them that what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger if you want to downplay or disregard trauma. And the only reason someone might want to do that is if they’re not willing to step out of their comfort zone and learn how to really walk with people through real-life hell. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” implies that the appropriate response to injury or hardship is to callous up; there are, of course, many definitions of strong, many of them beautiful, but the common contexts this phrase is used in are not encouraging those types of strengths—when you want to encourage vulnerability, secure attachment with safe others, the ability to rest in a culture such as our feverishly, unendingly, pointlessly frenetic one, the last thing you should say is, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Strength is only a virtue when it’s authentic, not born out of trauma and not a coping mechanism. It’s not a virtue when it’s as exalted as it is in our current culture—that is, at the expense of weakness, which can also be a virtue. I know it can sound ridiculous or unbelievable to say that weakness is a virtue, but there are at least two reasons why this is true. First, weakness is a virtue because it tells the truth about an aspect of being human. Human beings are in many ways weak by definition. Not one single one of us is good at everything that is required to succeed in life.

Which brings us to the second reason weakness is a virtue: individual weaknesses are what allow for, and indeed demand, interdependency. And interdependency is stronger than both independence or dependence. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” assumes that stronger is always good and always better than weaker, which is neither a helpful nor accurate assumption. Not to mention that preferencing strength over weakness, or really any other quality, is really ableist. The reasons for retiring this phrase abound; it’s time to stop saying it.

“Everything in moderation,” doing business as “Don’t be so black and white” and/or “Let’s find a balance/middle ground.”

While our culture is ever more polarized (though we actually aren’t as divided as the media—or social media—would have us believe if you look at survey data from organizations like Pew Research), the reliance on finding “a middle ground” and the obsession with getting away from black-and-white thinking at all costs is still way too common.

It’s very popular to propose a “middle-ground” solution when there’s a conflict that doesn’t look easily resolvable. This middle ground often requires somewhat violent compromise on both sides (have you ever watched how fast negotiating a “win-win” so often devolves into an “I’ll lose this if you lose that” race to the bottom?), which is apparently supposed to bring peace between the sides—as if having to give up meaningful things in order to “resolve” the conflict won’t cause resentment and simply drive the conflict underground to fester.

This situation, where both parties “agree” to give some things up—and the more persistent the conflict, the bigger and more meaningful are the things that each side has to forfeit—is the “middle ground” and it’s often worse than allowing the conflict to persist. For the most part, the suggestion of a middle ground is either intended to avoid real resolution or ends up doing so anyway. In the rare event that a true middle ground is found or that the gray areas don’t blur needs or details, it can be beautiful. But the skills to pull that off aren’t common enough for us to allow this phrase to be thrown about without careful consideration for any and all conflicts, issues, and discomforts.

More importantly, though, can we please apply “everything in moderation” to itself for just a second? Can we moderate our use of moderation and stop making it our crutch when we don’t see how both or all sides of a conflict can truly get what they want? Do we really mean everything in moderation?

Should we have a “balanced” viewpoint about Hitler or genocide? Any “so-called” middle ground between, say, committed sexists and folks like myself who believe women are people is not a place I want to be. Any “balance” between those who believe people of color are equally human and should therefore have full equality with white people and racists is dehumanizing because there is no way people of color would get to keep their full humanity as they walk toward the dividing line between themselves and those who believe that POC having equal rights deprives white people of those or other rights.

If you can think of getting to a middle ground that doesn’t involve compromise, I’d love to hear it. If you can think of a way where applying moderation to everything doesn’t involve apologizing for Nazis or misogynists or racists, etc., please let me know. Until then, can we please strike this misleading, dehumanizing phrase of dismissal cloaked in “maturity” from common use?

“I’m Sorry If…/I’m Sorry You…”

I’m going to stop you right there. Any sentence that starts “I’m sorry if….” or “I’m sorry you…” has nothing to do with an apology. “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you” need to be retired from speech altogether, whether it’s a therapist or a friend saying either one. Regarding “I’m sorry you feel that way,” I’ve had that phrase said to me in response to the following things I’ve said: “I’m so lonely it’s difficult to breathe”; “You told me you would get back to me in a week over two weeks ago. It’s frustrating I have to keep bringing this up”; “I have been wanting to go hiking this whole summer, which I told you several times. You knew about this hike for over a week and you’re just now telling me the day of that it’s happening? It doesn’t feel like you’re ‘trying to include me.’”

How is “I’m sorry you feel that way” at all appropriate for any of those things, especially the first one? The person who told me she was sorry I felt so lonely was someone who appointed herself my pastor (this is a different one than the one who had inappropriate feelings that I’ve discussed before) as opposed to my friend. The appropriate response to someone who is struggling with loneliness so much that it physically hurts them is not a fake apology—it’s to include them, especially if you think you want to be a pastor. Either way, it is callous and dehumanizing to brush someone off that way, regardless of your role in the world.

A therapist saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” comes off as worse than pity. It comes off as high and mighty, like you, the client, wouldn’t have to come to therapy if only you felt differently. To head off any comments to the effect of “but that’s not how it’s meant,” I will preemptively say the only two things I’m going to say about this: first, I’ve had multiple therapists nitpick about using the word “thought” when I mean “feeling: and vice versa. If you’re going to be picky about my words, you’d best be getting picky about your own. And, relatedly, number two: say what you mean and mean what you say.

If you don’t intend to apologize (which is taking responsibility for an action you yourself committed such that you have identified new ways of relating as an effort to not commit the offense again), then don’t use the words “I’m sorry.” Find another way to say whatever it is you’re trying to say by “I’m sorry you feel that way.” If you’re a therapist, it’s your job to be a good communicator.

The reason I interrupt people when they begin a sentence with “I’m sorry if…” is because again, I’m not going to be made the problem for having feelings when what really needs to happen is the other person needs to take some damn responsibility. If I inform you that you’ve hurt me, then you’ve hurt me; there’s no need to throw doubt in there with that “if.”

Even if you can’t genuinely apologize for the action that hurt me, you should be able to apologize for hurting me (otherwise, you shouldn’t be a therapist. If you’re not sorry when you hurt other people who are your clients and are thus paying you to help them, therapy is the way wrong field for you). The sentence for taking responsibility for hurting someone starts this way: “I’m sorry that…” and is followed by specifics and devoid of excuses or explanations unless or until asked for such. “I’m sorry that I hurt you in these specific ways.” Then, you ask if there’s anything else and then stop talking. You may feel like you have a great reason for what you did, but, if the person you hurt doesn’t ask for that, all it’s going to do is invalidate your apology even if you gave a real one.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that the main thing getting in the way of real resolution of conflict is genuine taking of responsibility. Let’s stop asking people to trample all over their needs and values on their way to this magical middle ground. Let’s stop letting those who purport to want to help get away with fake apologies (when they offer any at all). And let’s start accepting only real relational offerings that do not make us contort, disavow comfort, strong-arm ourselves into being appearing strong, or shoulder responsibility that is not ours.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Yep, I went to see my physician uncle, and he would explain the facts of life to me that Saturday morning in the old Missouri Pacific Railroad Hospital in Little Rock. He concluded by giving me the encouragement to go and live like there was no tomorrow. Which in a few months, now the issue became mania, a way from very dark to that more akin to stepping into a crystal like river of cool water, with a thought process like a runaway train.
    The interesting facets of which you write about, challenge people with limited imaginations for a way to understand. With appropriate resources, a certain balance could be realized in due time.

    Might you elaborate further on where the margins are in a democracy of We, the People? What creates the margins in a digital and non-digitizing world? Where are the margins and then how can We, who have experienced much of what you write about impart honor and reverence into the space/place that might have been trashing us? There seems to be something missing from our keyboard? Our “engagements? Trying to pursue justice when the scales keep running away? Or perhaps were “fired”? Where is the design for access?

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  2. Shout it from the mountaintops, Megan! This is soul food and so desperately needed right now, especially the parts about accountability and pseudo-apologies.

    “what makes me stronger is belonging, love, connecting with people I know believe in me and can see my best even when I feel I’m at my worst (or actually am at my worst)” This part literally brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. (And you know who you are – so much LOVE back at you for loving me through all of this ugliness right now.)

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  3. Excellent article Megan.
    Your articles have made me smile. You might do a Ted talk….there is much humour in our day to day interactions, but they sure don’t seem funny unless we see their ridiculousness. And you shine a light on those phrases that we get so used to, whether saying or hearing them.

    I think often people are dumbstruck and mumble an apology, yet are really pissed off. Yep it’s difficult to then try to bring in the old “middle ground”.
    I have heard folks referring to B/W thinking, and I have noticed it often comes from folk that seem to suffer the same “syndrome”.

    You know what MY petpeeve is? “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”. I hear it on MIA, when communicating about psychiatry.

    When someone is upset, or became conscious of what is going on, it’s not the time to suggest that what they found abusive, hurtful or intolerable actually has a middle ground.

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  4. Brilliant. But strange to find oneself finding validation on the net and these days nowhere else. I have to deal with this kind of horse shit on a regular basis. But not from a position of empowerment but finding myself having to silly shall around it as these are the standard motifs of a system that cares just enough not to leave you alone!

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  5. I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you” need to be retired from speech altogether

    What about in situations where you ARE genuinely sorry someone feels a certain way — even though you may not accept personal responsibility for the way they feel? Should you be dishonest? Or when you HAVE hurt someone, perrhaps inadvertantly, and you ARE sorry about it?

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    • “I’m sorry you feel” surely, “I thought we’d medicated the fuck out of your capacity to feel” or think for that matter.
      What I like about this series of articles is not the specific clichés which may be more or less sincere but how they are used by people to excuse themselves from having any rational discourse about what might be quite complex difficulties. In doing so they can guarantee that the person they claim to be helping ends up frustrated as shit.
      Having said that I must remember that the next time someone decides what’s wrong with me and what treatment to take I should probably respond by thinking “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Although it’s maybe pointless saying so as they most probably would stop listening after the first two words.
      Personally I’m desperately sorry anyone sought to get me wrapped up in this awful racket and I’ve remained trapped by its manipulative machinations for decades. A sorry escapade indeed to find your life stolen from under your feet and behind your back.

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      • the next time someone decides what’s wrong with me and what treatment to take I should probably respond by thinking “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

        Better yet stay away from them entirely. But I appreciate the irony.

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        • Thanks, best as you say just to walk away if people persist with that kind of attitude. But, and I’m should be careful how I say this, sometimes it’s a lot easier to walk away than shake off somebody’s influence.
          I mean 20 years after making the conscious change to survivor status I’m back using the system. Not by choice so much as lack of choice. But a sorry state of affairs really!

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      • It is of utmost importance to remember that it’s cash in pocket, plus it’s self therapy for many who give it. It would be nice if some of them realized that it’s not a one way street.
        One can indeed reason with some helpers, or listeners. And the bonus is, a few therapists might not see their buddies as ill.
        I’m a buddy, I’m not a client, nor patient.

        It’s really difficult for a “therapist” to get rid of the things or people that stand in your way, so their main job is to preach about differences, middle grounds, and tolerate.

        Often, they should say, get the hell out.

        And when I talk to people, I want to be shocked and amazed at their wisdom. “therapists”” and “psychiatry” are some of the most “depressing” people.

        I know of a black lab who is a very wise therapist. The prisons get dogs, to give love, to “teach” caring, to make prisoners feel needed. Why is that? are they paying the dogs? Why not use expensive trained shrinks, psychologists or therapists?

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    • A shorter variation of the same sentiment.

      Sometimes people like to know you know what you’re apologizing FOR. And sometimes one may not be apologizing but is nonetheless sad to see another feeling so bad. Anyway, I’m not dense and understand the points being made, which are valid. It’s the sweeping generalizations about language I’m challenging. The exact same words in one context can have a completely different significance in another, so saying never use a particular phraseology seems that it could have the effect of inhibiting the conveyance of nuance and irony.

      I’m sort of anticipating charges that I’m ignoring the spirit of the article and obsessing on details; not positive about how I would respond. But I don’t think I am.

      Would be particularly interested in Kindred’s response, if she’s still around, as well as Megan’s.

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      • For me, it gets down to genuineness. A person can use a lot of different ways to express regret that they have harmed you, whether accidentally or intentionally. I have no button on “sorry” per se, but it is often used in insincere ways. Something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” isn’t really acknowledging any causal responsibility on the part of the speaker, whereas something like, “I’m really sorry you’re feeling hurt – it wasn’t my intention, and I want to understand what I did that hurt you,” would come off as a person who really regrets his/her action. So the term “sorry” isn’t really the issue for me, it’s whether the person is interested in understanding my experience and making sure it doesn’t happen again, or is just “apologizing” without really recognizing what happened or having any intention of doing anything differently should the same situation arise in the future.

        There is also a very legitimate use of “sorry” in the sense of, “I’m so sorry to hear you had to go through all that shit!” Or “I’m sorry to hear that you were treated disrespectfully.” This works OK for me if the person has taken the time to hear and understand my story and is acknowledging the pain/frustration or whatever involved. But it can be a slippery slope. “I’m sorry that happened to you” or “I’m sorry things didn’t work out the way you wanted” can come across as dismissive or condescending.

        Bottom line, to me, it’s about the sincerity of the message, not the specific words used. But others may feel differently.

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        • “For me, it gets down to genuineness. A person can use a lot of different ways to express regret that they have harmed you, whether accidentally or intentionally. I have no button on “sorry” per se, but it is often used in insincere ways. Something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” isn’t really acknowledging any causal responsibility on the part of the speaker, whereas something like, “I’m really sorry you’re feeling hurt – it wasn’t my intention, and I want to understand what I did that hurt you,” would come off as a person who really regrets his/her action. So the term “sorry” isn’t really the issue for me, it’s whether the person is interested in understanding my experience and making sure it doesn’t happen again, or is just “apologizing” without really recognizing what happened or having any intention of doing anything differently should the same situation arise in the future.”

          This part, specifically. Another word for apologizing repeatedly for the same transgression but never changing ones behavior is ‘abuse’.

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        • Yes Steve, and I think sincerity often involves a further dialogue, beyond the “sorry”. If someone stands me up, then tells me they are sorry, I would like some dialogue, an explanation.
          Perhaps saying “I’m sorry, I got behind with other stuff and I just put you behind my other responsibilities, but I should have called you earlier to explain. And come to think of it, perhaps I did not value our prior arrangement enough to actually make that call, and I am sorry that I was being lazy about our plans”

          Once you know there are bad feelings, they don’t magically go away. Hence lots of divorces lol. I also think we are taught to “get along”, which is absolutely not a given.
          And I might be heavily invested in something that the other person is not 🙂
          Sometimes it would be nice to know ahead of time.

          Years ago I learned how many people, in the most passionate sincere way say “Oh sweetie, it was SOOO nice to bump into you. I missed you, let’s do coffee real soon” And then after 8 months of not hearing, you make the call and then you try once more, but they are always busy. Two years later you bump into them again, and upon parting, they say exactly the same thing. “Let’s do coffee sweetie”.
          I expect no apology from them lol. I recognize the civil chatter which has zero meaning.

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  6. OH
    “Looks like we all agree that sincerity is the defining aspect.”

    “HOWEVER I wasn’t referring to “apology” situations necessarily. Someone may be feeling pain where it’s not even a question of you having caused it; you still feel “sorry they feel that way,” i.e. in pain. So what could be wrong with conveying that sympathy?”

    Of course often one might be made to feel at “fault”, where there is really a clash of ideals, personalities etc, and one obviously does not have to apologize to everyone for having their nose out of joint, or accept responsibilty or a feeling of fault every time someone is pissed off.
    Those situations are infinite, and pretty hard to tease apart as to who should have said or done, what.

    But Megan is not referring to all those infinite, impossible to tease apart, human interactions.
    I think Megan refers to often being “hurt” through the casual use of phrases or words by someone who is or who has the “upper hand” to begin with.
    And it’s useful exposure of those overused and learnt phrases, NOT to expect different from those who use them as a way to ignore greater issues, but the exposing of these phrases gives the ones subjected to them, or further frustrated by the phrases, a consciousness/recognition of what is, might be, transpiring.
    Recognizing it might give the one who is “hurt”, or usually feels “slighted”, the power to not accept it, or walk away.

    I’m sure, and have seen it, psychiatry often tells a subject, or organization, “I’m sorry you felt hurt by psychiatry”. So in many cases, there is no “middle ground”

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    • Saying “I’m sorry you felt hurt” could imply that you consider the reaction to be invalid. Saying “I’m sorry you have been hurt” doesn’t. All I’m saying is that “never” covers a lot of disparate possibilities.

      I’m not necessarily referring to social interactions. If someone breaks their arm and you say “I’m sorry it hurts so much” you are expressing sympathy, not implying that the pain is an illusion. Or if you know of an interaction they’ve had with someone else in which the person has objectively been wronged.

      If you are the potential agent of that pain it changes things. It also changes things if you have a rapport with someone and they understand intuitively what you mean, regardless of how it’s phrased.

      And yes, I’m picking at words, not trying to make a big deal out of this.

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  7. The problem as I see it is a lack of sincerity across the board. We seem to have collectively decided to have a polite but very superficial, egotistical and competitive society rather than a sincere, compassionate, collectivist society.

    It’s definitely a different situation when the conversation is between professional and client where there is a power imbalance than it is between friends, family or acquaintances. But to specifically answer OH: “I’m sorry to hear that” has always been one of my pet peeves because I tend to interpret people very literally. The literal interpretation of those words is that you’re sorry you just heard what they told you and that’s kind of a crappy thing to say to someone in pain if you stop to think about it. It’s part of a culture of positivity bullying where politeness is valued more than sincerity. We are taught to ask people how they are merely to be polite, and we are also taught to give a polite answer during these meaningless and superficial interactions, which we euphemistically call having “good social skills”. It can be kind of privately amusing to watch people stammer and struggle to respond when you give them a tragic story in response to their canned and completely insincere inquiry.

    There’s no wonder the suicide rate is as high as it is. Polite white culture (which dominates American culture overall) demands that no matter what is happening, you don’t react to it, you “cope” with it. You put on a happy face, you don’t complain, you don’t burden others, everyone has problems, etc, etc. You certainly don’t yell, cry, show anger or really any emotion – no matter how egregiously you’ve been or are being violated. You seek appropriate professional help and fake it til you make it.

    Consider these two responses to hearing someone is in pain:

    “I’m sorry to hear that”


    “That’s awful. I hope you feel better soon.”


    “I’m so sorry for your loss” is another phrase that transmits just about zero sincerity to the grieving person.

    Contrary to popular thought, it doesn’t take more effort to be sincere and caring and genuine in your interactions with others. There’s no requirement to solve or take responsibility for fixing people’s problems. It takes almost no effort to be kind. But it might take practice for those who have been socialized to be polite.

    Obviously, people have different values and behave accordingly. YMMV.

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    • Of course, there is no uniformly “correct” way to express sympathy. Personally I know that if I were in need of compassion either “I’m sorry to hear that” or “That’s awful. I hope you feel better soon” would be appreciated. Even more appreciated would be their sticking around after saying it and not using it as a convenient exit line.

      I do realize that this is mainly a conversation about people who being disingenuous with their “sympathy,” not an English lesson.

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      • I’m not talking about sympathy, actually. I don’t really place any value on sympathy. When I’m struggling or in pain, sympathy does shit all for me. Talking to me, checking up on me, distracting me with tales of your own woes, those are all helpful and welcome. Expressions of sympathy seem to me designed to make the person expressing it feel better and like they’ve “done something” when they’ve really only comforted themselves. This is specifically why I mentioned the messages the bereaved hear. When my dad died, I wanted to start punching people after about the tenth “I’m sorry for your loss”. These canned messages of sympathy are about as useful as “thoughts and prayers” during times of public tragedy. There are kinder ways to express heartfelt sadness (empathy) for another person’s pain. That’s all I’m saying.

        Now as you said, if someone sticks around and the conversation keeps going after that, it’s a different story. But my experience has been that most inquiries into how others are doing are superficial and pointless. I’ve discovered that when someone asks how I am in that superficial way, a good response is a simple “hi!”

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  8. I don’t think it’s a lack of sincerity so much as a lack of thought or a lack of responsibility. What Megan seems to be driving at is power or the abuse of power. What are often sincerely held beliefs are often used to deny the felt trauma. A man brought up with an inate sense of superiority may not ipso facto be accused of insincerity by saying there is no racism/sexism nowadays although best thought of as looking for a rise. Similarly a psychiatrist might express sorrow for our feelings of a sadness or anxiety and give us little chance to avoid ‘treatments’ which more often than not add to our traumas. And they can and do argue for coercive interventions (even the more progressive ones) by presenting case studies it seems impolite to argue with. So what I think Megan is arguing ng is against the power of language to invalidate experience (notwithstanding that some people are being overly sensitive, misattribuing responsibility, maybe in denial etc.)

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  9. A thought that occurred between signing out and sleeping (which has been happening alot) is that the impetus for this discussion, while generally applicable in many contexts, seems to come from within a milieu of “therapy,” “self-improvement” counseling, etc., and seems (correct me if I’m wrong) to largely analyze interactions which occur within a framework of “service provider” and “client”/”patient” relationship (This is a perception, NOT a criticism.)

    Why this is important at all is that in addition to exploring microaggression, it is essential to look beyond individual cluelessness to the “systemic” issue, if you like: When social interaction (even “positive”interaction) is an alienated process, dependent on one side of that interaction being materially compensated, the interaction becomes a commodity, alienated from what would be the general expectations of shared humanity in times of crisis. So how can it not feel superficial when, independently of the players’ motivation, the entire context of the “human” exchange is subservience to the corporate bottom line (and its definitions)?

    This is not a comment in any way on the “content” of a specific service or the integrity of any person. As I said, my focus is systemic.

    What I referred to above also represents a form of alienated labor (once human support has been commodified as “labor”). Karl Marx used the example of the shoe factory worker who could never afford a pair of the shoes he made. Since the motivation of working on an assembly line was to bring home a wage, not to take pride in making good shoes, the labor was once-removed from its goal, hence “alienated.” Though I don’t know if this makes things more clear or less.

    Where I’ve been slowly going with this is: I believe when superficial, stilted and “polite” interactions such as Megan very skillfully deconstructs occur within an artificial environment, such as one finds throughout the “mental health”/social services system, it is impossible to separate that interaction from the context of capitalism, and such alienated interactions are more the branches than the root problem. There should of course be a general understanding that we should attempt to treat each other as well as possible, given the totalitarian circumstances we are expected to live under, and consider “normal” (new OR old).

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    • Exactly so Oldhead and I’m no marxist. What we are witnessing is precisely the commodification of ‘care’ with ‘care’ presumed to be the pretense of concern for a persons feelings and indifference to their circumstances. “Get your head straight and your life will work out fine” I’m advised. This ignoring in its enteirity the exercise of power in the world, the exercise of such power largely denied to the likes of me, niave enough to be sharing my thoughts with mental health professionals.
      But this kind of discourse seems to be seaping into everyday discourse, percolating everyday life, trickling down into the commons poisoning relationships and increasing our sense of alienation.
      Maybe it’s just my becoming further and further socially excluded that I experience this kind of miserably interaction so often. I’d be delighted to see some research on it because it seems likely to be a consequence of the proliferation of ‘mental health awareness/literacy’ marketing campaigns. It’s not just therapists that engages in this kind of thing. Often people do it voluntarily in circumstances where its not their duty to expand the market for mental health treatments. As listening ear counsellors, in self help groups, as teachers these days overly concerned with their charges ‘mental health’ while in effect operating to open up a huge market for the psy complex. I’m not entirely convinced these people are overly happy about this state of affairs but usually seemly strangle reluctant to discuss it. That is discuss why after they’ve offered their help and concern (professionally or otherwise) they insist on distracting you from the reality of your actual problems to affecting sincerely or otherwise concern for the state of mind your expressing. I mean maybe that’s a problem but if should somebody be consulting a therapists when their house is on fire is it beyond the therapists responsibility to insist your on to the wrong person you should call the fire department to put the flames out.
      Many a life has been lost this way. Many have found themselves often with sincere concern to resolve a temporary difficulty turned into a lifelong career patienthood. With all the drugs and therapy sessions, peer counselling, recovery programs etc. And all the while the actual difficulties that beset you are ignored and actually added to in effect.
      How does it help if someone is unemployed and isolated, out of the loop so to speak, to be given a diagnosis of mental illness and drugged into a soporific submission to occupy a place barely on the margins of society with no hope of support or concern that addresses their circumstances.

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      • Sorry to butt in Whatuser.
        You are correct, and no it’s not you. People think asylums are gone. We continue on in them. How does a 6 year old have any power over his learning style? How does he have any power over his teacher? Or the drugs?
        I hope in 20 years the biggest lawsuits start and shit hits the fan. Psychiatry might be doing all of us a favour by becoming more pathological.

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      • given a diagnosis of mental illness and drugged into a soporific submission to occupy a place barely on the margins of society

        A far better result for the system than you running around helping others make the same connections, and causing trouble in general.

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          • While ’empowerment’ is also a term used and abused to hoodwink us into thinking we can surmount impossible odds if we merely adopt the right attitude I won’t quibble. Let’s reclaim the language – It is indeed empowering to see things as they are even as that is the corrupting of our consciousness by this manipulation of our conscious awareness of power. It is empowering, humbling and not a little frightening to acknowledge the pervasiveness of the individualising of suffering even as it rears its remorseless indifference to our fate. We realise the immensity of the challenge and at least free ourselves of blame and loathing for the acts of power. Take care.

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          • Thanks, I hear ya. Their hardly quaking in their boots at the likes of me in this suffocating bourgeoise culture. But the corpus of ideas and the movements I support are frowned upon even if they have a respectable heritage but have been and increasingly neutralised. How has psychiatry gone from something your mother threatened you with to something your encouraged to actively seek help from voluntarily and not necessarily in desperation?

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      • “There is always an exception“ – bingo! And Americans love the exceptions. It is why poverty porn and disability porn and the like are so popular. The idea that some extraordinary (and probably very lucky) people manage to “rise above” their circumstances is the justification for oppressing the masses. It feeds into the “hard work”/“bootstrap”/“competition is healthy” mentality that is at the core of the capitalist/colonist/opportunist/classist economic system in which the majority end up at the lower end while a relative few are held up as shining examples for all to try to emulate.

        “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
        — John Steinbeck

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        • Remember the Helen Keller story? Told to us to show how “if we work hard enough, we can overcome adversity?” As it turns out, Helen Keller fought her whole adult life against that message, and in fact was a passionate advocate for workplace safety and other socialist issues, as she discovered that most blindness came from preventable accidents and poverty.

          “But there is much more to Helen Keller’s history than a brilliant deaf and blind woman who surmounted incredible obstacles. Helen Keller worked throughout her long life to achieve social change; she was an integral part of many important social movements in the 20th century. She was a socialist who believed she was able to overcome many of the difficulties in her life because of her class privilege—a privilege not shared by most of her blind or deaf contemporaries. “I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment,” she said. “I have learned that the power to rise is not within the reach of everyone.”

          Her story was intentionally turned around from the idea that she had privileges and protections that should be but are not extended to everyone, to “You can make it if you try hard – just look at poor Helen Keller.” There is active hostility toward the idea that success is largely moderated by privilege.

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        • @KS — All true, though you’re taking it in a slightly different (albeit consistent) direction. What you’re referring to is “the exception that proves the rule,” which can then be turned around to instead imply “if one person can do it anyone can.” Which happens all the time, it’s a pretty effective propaganda technique.

          I mainly agree that we get stronger via adversity, but we can OD on it too.

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          • And it’s not just the exceptional overcoming of difficulties that this applies to. No doubt many homeless people have been encouraged to strive to overcome our loss by the power of belief alone (although probably not by their carers who may fear losing a client) but mere thought cannot manifest bricks and mortar…
            Even as one homeless person is housed by their own efforts or with support in the current dispensation corporate landlord ism ensures another is rendered homeless. No society has ever housed all its people adequately without collective resources being deployed and few enough at that rate.

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  10. I’ve enjoyed this series because I run into these expressions – used out of context or without any real appreciation for what they mean – and I often wonder if it bothers anyone else as much as it bothers me.

    It’s funny also because in their original contexts these statements made sense. Out of context, they can be seen as horrendously dispassionate or invalidating. Why can’t people tell the difference? They either lack basic social intelligence or they seek to undermine you by covert means. When you get crap like this thrown in your direction, it is wise to see if you can tell where the one who spoke it is really coming from. It might not be from a very good place.

    The “comfort zone” phrase is for people who are already high achievers and aren’t satisfied. Athletes, performers, executives. They chose the game of excelling and they have to deal with its down sides as well as it rewards.

    “What doesn’t kill you…” seems a bit mindless, but fits the same mindset as above. Some of these people have taken incredible risks with their own lives or health to prove to themselves they could survive. Not all of us want to go there, or need to.

    The “middle ground” approach is an incomplete concept. Without extremes, moderation makes no sense. In some contexts, extremes may be appropriate.

    “I’m sorry..” is an artifact of an imperfect language. It can mean an apology OR it can be used to dismiss a bad reaction because the speaker doesn’t care how you react. You can complain that people use it, but really, I’m sorry to say, it’s probably not going away any time soon.

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  11. “That which does not kill me, makes me Stranger”

    Quote from The Joker during a financial diversion of funds for a mental health program in the Dark Knight.

    While there is honor among thieves, the corruption will flourish. Introduce a little chaos (“who else has got the documents?” waahahahahahahahhaah. Suspicion breeds confidence Senior Constable Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Well, unless the person who ‘suspects’ has the ability to torture you, and then there is a problem when you have nothing to confess. Our Chief Psychiatrist tells us that an Authorised Mental Heath Practitioner need only “suspect” [forget the “reasonable grounds” criteria protection contained in the law] that a person be made an involuntary patient and they can have them delivered [whilst intoxicated by deception] to a locked ward for ‘assessment’. First stop, ‘chemical restraint’ causing akathesia until you do provide the required information. It really struck me about how the information gathered from the use of torture is ignored when it isn’t what they want to hear, and they have to double down and keep torturing to NOT hear what they heard. That’s when mental health services are at their best. The Night always darkest before the Dawn).

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  12. whatuser,
    “How has psychiatry gone from something your mother threatened you with to something your encouraged to actively seek help from voluntarily and not necessarily in desperation?”

    Let me count the ways. It is a continuation from other oppressive and threatening systems. It creeps in spaces where there is power inequality. It relies on advertisement and making people believe that they are sinners and need to repent. It makes people believe they failed if they don’t enjoy being a peasant. And any signs such as involuntary breakdowns from being pigeon holed by generational oppressions, well that is perfect fodder.
    It is not a new system, but an old resurrected one. It exists on some tiny scale in most of us, if given the chance we do like to pass a judgment, because of course we are know it alls about the intricate lives of others.

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  13. I recognize I’m 4 months late to the party commenting on this article, but I just wanted to express my gratitude to Megan for writing it. I am both a consumer and (much more recently) a provider of therapy, and all of this is tremendously helpful to me professionally, especially the importance of good, sincere, detailed apologies. They are so tough to give in the moment because they require you (as a provider, here) to actually acknowledge how badly you have messed up in a very trusting and vulnerable situation, but they can really do wonders for mending those rifts and building better understanding and rapport.

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