“Access to Me is a Gift” And Other Therapy-Speak We Use Incorrectly

The ubiquity of social media has given more people access to therapy concepts than ever before, which I think is great! Therapy isn’t accessible to everyone, and the availability of mental health information online gives everyone an opportunity to work on themselves on their own. I do think, however, that some of the information that’s out there on the web can be misleading at best, and harmful at worst. There are a lot of “mental health gurus” or “mindfulness coaches” who teach a distorted form of therapy concepts that are not overseen or regulated. This, I believe, is leading many people to use therapy concepts or “therapy-speak” incorrectly. So, here are a few terms that seem to be commonly misused, and how they should be used instead.

#7. You’re just gaslighting me.

Gaslighting is real and very harmful. It is a willful distortion of reality that leaves the victim feeling confused about what really happened and how they feel about it. It’s actually a pretty elaborate task. But too often we call things gaslighting that aren’t actually gaslighting. Someone disagreeing doesn’t mean they’re gaslighting. Someone being critical doesn’t mean they’re gaslighting. In a strangely paradoxical way, when we accuse someone of gaslighting just because they disagree or are critical of us, we are sort of gaslighting them.

#6. This is my boundary, and you have to respect it.

Boundaries are about teaching people how we will respond to them if they behave in certain ways. No one is obligated to respect our boundaries—and we are not obligated to respond favorably to people who don’t respect them. But what we can’t do is state a boundary and tell people they have to respect it. We state our boundaries and then tell people how we will respond if they violate those boundaries (e.g, “if you smoke when I’m around, I’m going to leave”). We do not state our boundaries as a way to limit or control their behavior, (e.g., “I have a boundary about people not smoking around me.”)

#5. I think you’re just triggered.

Are they triggered, or are they genuinely upset by something you said or did? I think this term is getting thrown around way too much these days—especially since the term has a very specific meaning that we seem to be forgetting. Being triggered is a response to a past trauma. The event that “triggers” the trauma is one that pushes us back into the state of mind we were in when we experienced the trauma. But we are not triggered when we don’t happen to like what someone else said, and other people aren’t “just being triggered” when they communicate that they are upset.

#4. I am traumatized by what you just said to me.

Like #5, it seems that a lot of us use “traumatized” incorrectly. A trauma is a severe psychological injury that results from a deeply distressing event. It is not the same as disliking what someone said (though things people say to us can sometimes be a trigger for past traumas).

#3. Well, that person’s just a narcissist.

People get upset over this one, but I do think we could all be better about not using the term “narcissist” when we really mean selfish, self-absorbed, entitled, or demanding. Someone can be high in narcissistic traits and still not be a narcissist, and we all have some degree of narcissistic traits.

#2. I’m just being honest/just speaking my truth.

Yeah, but is it necessary? Is it helpful? Does it serve a purpose? No one is entitled to being belligerent, mean, or cruel in the name of “just being honest.” Honest and open communication is a good thing, but using “honesty” to be unkind to someone else is not the move. Not every opinion that floats into our heads has to be spoken “in truth.”

#1. Access to me is a gift.

This is an inside thought. “Access to me is a gift” is a way we orient toward ourselves—how we choose to react when people don’t treat us right. But telling people that access to us is a gift as a way to manipulate or control is not okay. If our presence feels like a gift to others, we won’t need to tell them. If we find ourselves having to tell people that access to us is a gift, it might be time to introspect as to whether we are showing up in our relationships in a way that feels like a gift to the people around us.

The truth is, all of these terms can get confusing and probably all of us have used them the wrong way a time or two. I just think it’s time to, like, gatekeep these terms a bit? Maybe we should try being a bit more precise with our wording? I feel like communication and relationships in general would get a lot less complicated if we did.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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