How Social Media And Therapy Speak Could Be Ruining Relationships

    Instagram is flooded with videos offering guidelines on ‘how to break up with a friend’, ‘how to identify your attachment style’, ‘navigating triggers’, ‘finding the right coping mechanisms’ and ‘breaking unhealthy old familial patterns’. Laced with the therapy terms, these videos are created by licensed therapists and regular app users. Each of these has one thing in common – the use of therapy speak. Terms once confined to therapeutic sessions—like ‘setting boundaries’, ‘anxious attachment style’, and ’triggered’—are now part of everyday conversation.

    “It has become common to hear terms that professionals study in Psychology. Social media has made access to these terms easy, and some are being used as trending words. The only problem is that they are being incorrectly used most of the time,” said Eti Goel, Psychologist and Trainer, EmoAid Wellness Centre, New Delhi.

    From social media to dating apps to celebrities, therapy speak can be found everywhere. In 2014, actress Gwyneth Paltrow was one of the first to introduce terms like ‘conscious uncoupling’, a term coined by a psychologist, when separating from then-husband Chris Martin. Since then, therapy vocabulary has become more common. For instance, Hinge, a popular dating app, uses prompts like “Therapy recently taught me___” and “A boundary of mine is___ to help create an engaging profile.”

    Nowadays, self-help advice is abundantly shared on social media platforms. It has led to words like ‘fight’ or ‘argument’ being replaced with ‘conflict’, and honest feedback being labelled as ‘triggering conversations’.

    How does this shift affect our relationships? Should we embrace having new vocabulary to express ourselves, or are we at the risk of misusing them? Where do we stand when we use such words with generations unfamiliar with this lingo?

    HerZindagi tries to understand how using therapy speak may have deeper impacts on our lives, and whether social media can act as a medium for self-awareness.

    Therapy Speak May Overcomplicate Simple Situations

    When complex terms are introduced during simple arguments, they can overwhelm the other person and escalate misunderstandings that the situation didn’t warrant.

    “I feel like using therapy-speak can overcomplicate simple misunderstandings. It can even lead to the creation of misunderstandings which never existed. It can escalate issues that never existed,” said Eti.

    The age group using such lingo is predominantly people below 40. For the chronically online generations, the gravity of these words is tremendous and they crop up too often around them.

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    “If we start addressing every action that our partner does, which creates some discomfort, as a trigger, it is more likely to overwhelm the other individual,” explains Eti. “I have seen friends calling each other ‘gaslighters’ every time they disagree with each others’ point of view. A strong word, it’s used here in a casual way. It loses its true meaning. However, it does create a lot more distance, as when you use these terms in their misinterpreted context, it shuts down the conversation and closes all doors of communication. This may end up creating a lot of distance,” she added.

    As part of her profession, Eti interacts with many young adults. She has also witnessed them using these terms with friends and parents, often to avoid difficult conversations. “Sometimes, they might not want to feel an emotion, address a situation or face the consequences of their actions. Using therapy lingo in such situations acts as a tool to skip it altogether,” she highlighted.

    The Words And Diagnosis, Often Lose Their True Essence and Weightage

    Using therapy lingo as casual everyday words may often lead them to lose their true significance.

    “I feel like we use these terms without knowing the weight they carry,” explains Eti.

    Social media often presents advice on language to express oneself formally and seriously. For instance, a therapist once advised users to break up with their friends by using lines like: ‘I’ve treasured our season of friendship but we’re moving in different directions in life.’ Such approaches can make conversations feel more robotic and work-like rather than friendly or familial.

    Another Twitter user highlighted the importance of friends asking if she has the bandwidth for their off-loading before venting to her. She even drafted a template to use when people don’t have the space, suggesting a response like, “Hey! I’m so glad you reached out. I’m actually at capacity right now, and I don’t think I can hold appropriate space for you.”

    It sparked a debate about whether friendships should have such stringent boundaries and whether being there for friends should be viewed as painful emotional labour, people debated whether in our weakest moments, are we supposed to be ‘appropriate’ friends or just vulnerable human beings. Needless to say, like all internet discourses, memes followed.

    This raises the question of whether therapy speak promotes self-awareness and setting healthy boundaries, or if it gives vocabulary to justify selfish or negative behaviour.

    Eti also highlights that people may deliberately and consciously choose these words to feel acknowledged and taken seriously.

    “Sometimes people might use these lingos to feel heard. If they express emotions using everyday common language, they probably assume that the other person might not take their concerns or emotions seriously enough”, she said.

    Many online have speculated that attending therapy is often used as a form of social currency. Similarly, using therapy terminology may set individuals apart, especially in a romantic context.

    Using Therapy Speak May Undermine Therapy Itself

    When used excessively, there is a risk of therapy words losing their value, even when used by licensed professionals. The situation is similar for conditions that people self-diagnose, based on social media information.

    “Many people, when they come for therapy, have already evaluated themselves, their patterns, beliefs, and actions based on the information provided on social media,” recalled Eti. “Every person who prefers cleanliness has started referring to themselves as having OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or everyone experiencing regular sadness has started labelling themselves as ‘depressive’,” she added.

    When people start self-diagnosing, the process undermines the struggles of people dealing with these conditions.

    “People self-diagnosing or using therapy lingo to describe events, not only de-values the impact of these words when used in the actual therapy process but also acts as a comical reference for someone who might have a clinical diagnosis for these conditions,” explained Eti.

    She also highlighted that people often assign labels to themselves and categorise their experiences to make sense of their rational minds. “However, mental health difficulties are not a joke, people struggle on an everyday basis to move beyond the impact these difficulties create in their lives, and I witness that every day. By using these therapy-speak so casually, we are belittling the real struggles that people are experiencing,” she cautioned.

    Therapy Speak May Broaden Communication Gap With Older Generations

    Older generations, less obsessed with Instagram, and its trends, often feel excluded from mainstream conversations that involve therapy speak. Given their idea of social media usage, they’re unlikely to follow young therapist influencers doling out advice on ‘toxic relationships’ and ‘creating boundaries.’

    When two generations, with differing emotional vocabulary, end up in an argument, using therapy speak can have myriad effects.

    “It can create a gap since a lot of responses from older generations might begin with ‘humare zamane mai toh nahi hota tha’ (These never occurred in our time) as a reply to such lingo,” said Eti, the psychologist.

    Eti emphasised that through this newfound lingo, people may be trying to find the right terms to express their feelings and thoughts.

    “We are never taught a lot about emotional vocabulary in school. Therefore, when people hear these terms, they may continue using these without understanding the correct meanings,” she said.

    They may also explain these to older generations incorrectly. “Many members of the older generations already feel disconnected with GenZ, and can’t catch up with their language. This leads to both generations being unable to hold a simple conversation, let alone a comforting one,” she added.

    Social media has fundamentally changed how we manage conflicts, emotions, disagreements, and interpersonal dynamics. While these platforms can enhance our ability to express emotions and articulate thoughts, it’s essential to differentiate between genuine communication and using language solely to assert dominance, win arguments, or outdo opponents in disputes.

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