Therapy Speak Is Making People Selfish And Difficult

While it may have started out as a push for self-advocacy and empowerment, therapy speak has made us unbearable to be around, entitled, selfish, and difficult.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
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“Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could potentially hurt you?” That’s how one Twitter user suggested we preface distressing information before sharing it with our friends. Most of us would argue that we talk to our friends as if they’re people, not HR memos, but this viral tweet (which was then rightfully memed into oblivion) is indicative of one of the most toxic trends present both online and in-person today: therapy speak.

You may not be able to define therapy speak, but you know it when you see it, as they say. It dominates the mental health obsessed corners of the online world, and is often prescribed by well-known TikTok platforms and Instagram self-help “experts” as the tried and true path to a healthier, higher existence of self-actualization. Therapy speak is used for everything from a day of excuse from work to ending both romantic and platonic friendships.

Fans of therapy speak on social media most often advocate for using it as a means of enforcing interpersonal boundaries, or “holding space” for oneself, when we’re mired in the various stressful responsibilities of the day-to-day. As one keen observer notes, “As therapy-speak has become increasingly mainstream, so too has the tendency to pathologize the most normal of feelings.” An uncomfortable encounter with a male co-worker might be indicative of toxic masculinity, for example, just as canceling a get-together with friends at the last moment might be done in the spirit of “self-care.”

Therapy speak provides its proponents with a bevy of excuses for not putting in work or participating in daily drudgery, and it’s even harder to argue with it when it comes delivered in the form of a corporate workplace style guide, which relies on faux sympathy and positioning yourself as the center of the conversation.

Therapy Speak Encourages Unaccountability

Miss your friend’s birthday party or baby shower? No worries, you were just setting a boundary. Ghost your sibling or best friend? Maybe their past behavior was toxic and made you feel unsafe. Skip a mandatory meeting? Maybe your co-workers are triggering. When we begin to see minor injuries to our self-esteem, or what’s really our ego, we become accustomed to seeing them everywhere, and we make ourselves susceptible to being a permanent victim.

Not only is therapy speak an exhausting practice to maintain (who wants to communicate in word salad for all eternity?), but it also makes us mean, dishonest, and selfish. Say you cancel plans with your girlfriends for a night out after a really stressful day at work. Instead of responding to their protestations with, “I’m holding space for myself right now” and needlessly making them feel guilty, you could say, “I had a really terrible day today, and I just don’t have the energy. I’m sorry. How about sometime next week?” Quick, to the point, honest, and most importantly, apologetic.

Therapy speak is imbued with a subtle implication of both blame and innocence.

The appeal in coded language like therapy speak is that there almost always is a subtle implication of both blame and innocence. If a friend says to you, “I’m in a place where I’m trying to honor my needs and act in alignment with what feels right within the scope of my life, and I’m afraid our friendship doesn’t fit in that framework,” then there is a subtle intimation within that ridiculous turn of phrase which implies you are the one at fault for the collapse of the friendship, not them. They’re the one protecting themselves from an onslaught of abuse, and you’re the abuser.

If you’ve ever been described as toxic or exhibiting toxic behavior, you know this firsthand. Once upon a time, that descriptor might have carried actual weight – it could have been used to describe abusive words and actions. But now, it’s a catch-all for what another individual might find offensive. With themselves in the victim's seat, they’re able to smoothly and effortlessly escape responsibility for their part in any breakdown.

Oftentimes, there’s also a huge element of projection at play. If someone were to wildly mischaracterize you as a narcissist, it’s entirely possible that they, and not you, are the ones struggling with narcissism. When we become accustomed to escaping accountability for our behavior, we become even more insulated in perceiving ourselves as blameless and innocent in all scenarios where a breakdown occurs. This kind of behavior breeds unaccountability, which in turn breeds narcissism, thereby producing a chronic victimhood it can be difficult to extricate ourselves or others from. 

What’s Missing 

Your favorite TikTok influencer who encourages you to use therapy speak is likely not a psychologist, and they’re definitely not your personal counselor. But their online behavior has real-life ramifications, and the consequences are that we become utterly insufferable.

It’s possible to communicate your needs and wants without coming off as selfish, entitled, and rude. 

It’s possible and even healthy to communicate your needs and wants in any relationship without coming off as selfish, pretentious, entitled, and rude. The missing part of that equation lies in thinking that we’re the only variable that matters. Our needs, our wants, our desires, our emotional health come before everything else, for our own safety and protection. 

Not only is that a miserable way to approach relationships, but it sounds lonely. The missing piece of the puzzle is holding space, as they say, for the other person, who has their own perspective on things. One psychologist describes this as a practice called mutuality, wherein we consider both our needs and the needs of the other person simultaneously. 

Not only is this a more caring and compassionate approach, but it’s the approach with the biggest chance of success. Relationships, no matter what kind they are, require care. Treating another person like garbage for our own “safety” is not self-care, nor is it somehow compassionate by virtue of it being the best thing for us. Treating people who matter to us like they matter to us, and with respect and dignity, is a better prescription than becoming a self-obsessed individual who’s unable to speak plainly or empathetically. 

Closing Thoughts

We’re all messy individuals, both mentally and emotionally, and we’re all processing something in one way or another. We’re all holding space or making space whether we realize it or not, and we’re all triggered by something. But does this mean that we should lose all capacity to rationally communicate with other human beings? Of course not. We treat others the way we’d want to be treated, and we practice honesty over hot air, sincerity over vacuousness, and respect over narcissism. You won’t hear that coming from TikTok psychologists, but you’d be better off if you did.

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