It Is What It Is

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Image credit: photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash.

When you hear the phrase, “It is what it is,” do you feel relaxed? Do you feel like screaming? Or do you go into an apathetic or complacent place? More and more we are hearing others, and ourselves, saying, “It is what it is.” What exactly does this mean?

It means different things to different people and it means different things depending on the situation or where we may be in a given moment. Determining what the phrase means to us can allow us to learn a lot about ourselves.

What Does The Phrase Mean?

“It is what it is,” means different things depending on who is saying it and their perspective on life.

  • The phrase would mean one thing to a person who tends to have more of a hopeful nature and is working toward letting things go that are outside of our control.
  • It means something entirely different to the person saying it if they tend to be of a more negative nature. To them the expression might be about giving up or giving in.

For some of us it may be an acceptance of what is happening. Similar to that of the serenity prayer that talks about accepting things we cannot change. For others it may have a more negative connotation, meaning, “screw it”, or “who cares.” What I do know is that I am hearing, “It is what it is,” in psychotherapy as well as so many other venues.

People are using this phrase on an increasing basis regarding so many situations, in various circumstances regardless of age, culture or ethnicity and often with different perspectives about the phrase. So what we mean when we use this expression may not be how someone else interprets it.

One Phrase With Many Meanings 

Some of us may say, “It is what it is”, to our partner, friend, family member or colleague…

  • In a passive aggressive way which another may interpret to be insensitive or hurtful.
  • Perhaps when we are not wanting to do something.
  • To avoid taking responsibility.
  • If we are minimizing or not paying attention to what the other person is saying.
  • In realizing we can’t change the past and instead choose to focus on the present or the future.

For some of us we may say it, or think it is what is as a way of…

  • Avoiding addressing what we may need to talk about if the subject is…

                      Too hard, too uncomfortable, too scary, or too anxiety-provoking.

  • To avoid interaction with someone, being flippant, or dismissing the topic as if rationalizing “That’s just who he is.” 

What Does Saying This Say About Us?

What may be most important is what we mean when we say, or think this. Determining what we believe the meaning behind the expression, may tell us a great deal about ourselves, our perceptions, our views of life, and our relationships. 

If we are using this phrase from a place of acceptance, the likelihood is that we are more in touch with our desire to feel peace and serenity. That we are more comfortable with the unknown and we may be more apt to process what we feel and what is happening to us in relationships, career, family, social situations and other life challenges. 

If we tend to use this phrase as a “screw it” response to situations and people, then it may mean that we tend to perceive situations and people in a more negative way. That we may feel stuck and unable to make a positive change in our world. Generally under these circumstances we feel more stressed and sometimes hopeless. 

In some contexts it can indicate an acceptance of complexity and ambiguity. In other contexts it can indicate an acceptance of limitations.

Liane Gabora, Ph.D. Psychology Today.

How Do We Determine If We Are Stuck?

How we are using this statement will determine whether we are coming from a calmer place and have an intention to move through and move forward with what is presented. Or if we use the expression from an angry, resentful, or frustrated place that may keep us stuck in the situation. 

When we tell ourselves, or hear, “It is what it is,” one way we may determine how we are meaning this phrase is to be mindful of how it feels in our bodies. Part of it might be noticing and tuning in to how we feel, emotionally, physically and spiritually when we use the expression. Take these first steps in identifying the underlying emotion.

When we say, “It is what it is”…

  • Do we feel calm and a sense of “Ahhh…” ?  This could indicate that we are comfortable with and accepting of the situation.
  • Do we feel more anxious or stressed? Or experience a sick feeling in our gut?  This could indicate that we are feeling stuck in an unhappy situation, or believe we are helpless to change something negative to a more positive perspective.
  • Is this our ‘go to’ phrase? Has it become more automatic? This could indicate that we are feeling apathetic, disengaged and/or disinterested in the conversation, the situation, or life in general.

Let Us Help You Get Unstuck

Some of us may notice that we tend to use the phrase, “It is what it is,” more in a negative perspective and want to shift that around to a more positive outlook and don’t know how.

Speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance & Counseling located on Long Island can help work through negativity or hopelessness.

Our licensed therapists have helped many people improve their perspective, work through their underlying history, and view the world in a more positive, hopeful light. 

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