They regularly fill your social media feeds, make for excellent fodder among friends, and speak the universal truths we all think but would never actually say…out loud.

While memes often have a dark side—humor dreamed up by some anonymous minds with way too much time on their hands—they also have a way of reflecting our truest selves and sometimes the sentiment, while funny, isn’t humorous at all especially when you look at the reality behind it.

We asked psychologist Jeffrey C. Singer, PhD, of Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany, New Jersey to deconstruct seven relatable expressions through a psychological lens.

#1: “Today I finally did something I’ve been avoiding for three years. It took 10 minutes. I will learn nothing from this.”

Okay, so this is probably something we can all relate to—who hasn’t stalled when it comes to the things we don’t want to do (hello, procrastinators anonymous!). However, what’s detrimental about this sentiment is that by avoiding a task for three years, you’re in fact reinforcing the avoidance, Singer says.

“This kind of conditioning, instrumental conditioning, has to do with schedules, or patterns of reinforcement operating in our surroundings and the direct impact of which will not likely be extinguished from the 10 minutes it took to complete, or from whatever level of satisfaction the person derived from its completion,” he says. “The more profound level of this expression is that change is hard, and we humans do not grow easily.”

There’s also a perceived inability to tolerate the discomfort of facing unpleasantness and distress. However, while facing it may be awkward for the short term, “being ‘there’ for as long as you can helps manage levels of avoidance; if it’s uncomfortable, it’s working.”

#2: “I found a cure for my anxiety. It turns out, all I need is for everyone to tell me they’re not mad at me every 15 minutes.”

Feeding insecurity takes an endless amount of energy to fuel, Singer says. This statement highlights just how uncomfortable many people are in knowing that others are upset with them.

He believes the key while challenging, is to maintain a comfortable balance between what you need to do and accommodating others. “Learning to tolerate these uncomfortable feelings is well worth the psychological investment of discomfort rather than to keep going for the short-term fix,” Singer says.

#3: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

Striving for uniqueness is nearly universal. “But if someone is really struggling to feel special, it might be a sign they have an unrealistically low perception of themselves,” Singer says. “Disowning your real strengths and uniqueness is a self-defeating way to avoid reaching your potential.”

He recommends taking an honest self-inventory, perhaps with a trusted friend, spouse, partner, or therapist, about what you have going for you. “This may mean owning, too, what actual flaws and deficits you have. But, by being painfully real with yourself, you’ll gain a sense of internal integrity,” Singer says.    

#4: “I have this weird self-esteem issue where I hate myself, yet I still think I’m better than everyone else.”

Enter the closeted narcissist. “They harbor the misguided notion that they are, in fact, better than others despite continually failing to meet their own unreasonable internal standards.

Such a fierce form of protection as this keeps them from having to face the fact that they are as average as their pals,”  Singer explains. Improving self-awareness and being kinder and more forgiving to yourself can help relax those unattainable standards.

#5: “My therapist thinks you need a therapist.”

People who have perfected the art of denial, avoidance, and blame can create wasteful drama, Singer says. They also might get into therapy as a way to avoid change and growth, especially if they can get their therapist to agree with their chronic victimhood.

Choosing to cling to these patterns can be destructive. Accepting growth feedback can be a difficult thing, but the more you work towards it, the easier it will be to learn from it and change, Singer says. “People are changing, growing, dynamic entities whose capacities develop through life, so tolerating painful feedback can change,” Singer says.

#6: “Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.”

“We are often seduced into thinking how rational we are. However, frequently, with the great teacher of Hindsight, we see the folly of our brilliance,” Singer says. “If we could be more honest with just how emotionally based our decision making actually is, we would feel much better and, in the long run, perform more efficiently.”

The need to own our emotional-based decision-making is especially true during this COVID pandemic. “This is because many of us have a need to engage in maneuvers that make us feel safe (taking your temperature every hour, anyone?) and give us the illusory sense of control that we never had in the first place,” Singer says.

#7: “When people tell you to drop the negative people in your life, but you are the negative people in your life.”

“We are creating our own reality, and therefore we create the people in it,” Singer says. Though we can’t control anything beyond ourselves, we can create and influence how we choose to perceive what happens around us.

“Being negative all the time will negate the capacity to feel joy, spontaneity, exhilaration, and vitality,” Singer points out. It also undermines the challenge of self-actualizing or of becoming your best you, he says. Being more aware of your negativity and replacing those thoughts with more realistic statements can help you become happier over time.

Being human isn’t easy, but being aware of our emotions—and courageous enough to accept them—opens a door to who we are.  Having greater insight into your behavior can lead to self-respect and, ultimately, more happiness in your life.


Last Updated: Sep 30, 2021