Stereotypes and Cliches


When I was nineteen years old, I found out about stereotypes and cliches the hard way. As I came from a dysfunctional family(that would be a too polite way to describe it), I had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized for two months, and then attended group therapy for a year.

My mother especially came from a large family, so I have many uncles, aunts and cousins. I could have had many visitors while admitted; but I only had four. My mother mostly, my father twice(he was why I was in the hospital) and two cousins. Everyone else stayed away because mental illness of any kind, in those years(60s, 70s, 80s), was further stigmatized by the stereotypes and cliches that kept us marginalized.

I’m not angry at my family; I hold no animosity against them whatsoever. But I am still deeply disappointed that they didn’t try harder to understand.

People tend to hang on to even worn-out attitudes because they are convenient.

Another example is that I am eccentric. But in my very conservative, very “straight-laced” family where conformity(obedience), especially to our Christian (Catholic) Faith was expected, I, and a few cousins that I believe were also eccentric, stood out – and were constantly admonished for it. But this attitude was certainly not unique to us; it was quite prevalent.

I came to believe that I was a bad person, somehow sick, and sough help from a psychiatrist. A major part of his help to me came simply in the form of telling me that there was nothing wrong with me being eccentric, it was just too bad my family didn’t understand – stereotypes and cliches.

Cliches sometimes have their uses, they often are a convenient way of expressing an idea or thought. But they do require that the other person understands the reference. If they don’t, that can lead to lots of trouble.

Our situation is not definitely helped by stereotypes; they do far more harm then good(a cliche). Ever read a dictionary definition of eccentric: a person who is unconventional and slightly strange. “Slightly strange?” Political correctness gone mad? If I saw a person walking towards me with that description, I’d probably cross the street.

In my case, my life changed dramatically again when I got to know, by email, a psychologist named David Weeks, who has done the world’s first clinical investigation into eccentricity, and his research has helped me to finally understand myself, and be happy with who I am. That has been an amazing journey.

Despite the stereotypes and cliches. They may have their uses, but they should not rule.

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