When therapy-speak enters the real world

Are you "setting boundaries" or avoiding confrontation?

Illustration of two people, one with a brain and the other with a speech bubble
Some people weaponize therapy terms without understanding what they mean
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

Over the past few years, discussing mental health and seeking professional help has become more destigmatized. And with that, some therapeutic terms have trickled into the lexicon, and a new mode of conversation known as therapy-speak has emerged. People are "setting boundaries," practicing "self-care" and identifying their "attachment styles" all over social media and in real life. Gaslighting has become so commonly used that it was Merriam-Webster's word of the year in 2022. But while learning to advocate for yourself is important, experts warn that some people are weaponizing these terms without understanding what they mean.

Some point to alleged text messages between actor Jonah Hill and his ex-girlfriend, surfer Sarah Brady, as an example of the misuse of therapy-speak in action and the potential harm it can cause. In the texts, Hill outlined conditions for dating him framed as "boundaries," but experts have pointed out that healthy boundaries are not supposed to be one-sided. Professionals have noted that many of these words are misunderstood and lose nuance in gaining popularity.

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Theara Coleman, The Week US

Theara Coleman has worked as a staff writer at The Week since September 2022. She frequently writes about technology, education, literature and general news. She was previously a contributing writer and assistant editor at Honeysuckle Magazine, where she covered racial politics and cannabis industry news.