Be Quick to Listen, Slow to ‘Therapy Speak’
Be Quick to Listen, Slow to ‘Therapy Speak’

Using terms like trauma, abuse, and toxic too flippantly has consequences for our relationships.

I was going through a breakup when I started therapy post-pandemic. My friends were telling me that I needed to work on healthier emotional boundaries. They said I was probably experiencing trauma from a toxic ex. Most likely, I’d been in a codependent relationship.

When I went to fill out the intake questionnaire before my first appointment, I regurgitated what I’d heard. I was seeking therapy to “establish healthier emotional boundaries because of a codependent relationship that had left me traumatized.”

But after a few sterile sessions full of the jargon I’d picked up from friends and the internet, I stopped using these terms—trauma, codependence, emotional boundaries. I was using language to distance myself from reality. I was confusing self-preservation for emotional maturity.

It’s not like these words were entirely inaccurate. It’s that they’d become clichés, shorthand that kept me from understanding the nuances of my own experience. I wasn’t undergoing “trauma.” But I was scared of what another romantic relationship would look like and worried about whether it would turn out the same way this one had.

I’m not alone in my use of “therapy speak.” Thanks to social media, terms once confined to clinical settings are ubiquitous in everyday conversations. A difficult roommate is “toxic”; conflict is “abuse”; every ex-boyfriend is a “narcissist”; and stress is always “trauma.” We are all “victims”; we are all “gaslit.”

Sometimes, of course, these words are warranted. With mental illness on the rise, it’s helpful to have common language at our disposal. As …

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