It’s Not Therapy’s Fault That Your Friends Are Jerks

Are you in the right space to receive information that may hurt you? People are blaming therapy for their relationship problems again.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
4 min readApr 10

A teenager doing a “talk to the hand” gesture to another teenager, which makes me believe this photo must have been taken before the invention of the modern camera.
Sometimes they start little interpretive dance routines! You don’t have to engage them. Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

Greetings, reader. I’d like to thank you for being vulnerable and authentic enough to click on this blog post. If you’re not at capacity, and can hold appropriate space, I’ll explain: Last Friday, an article by Rebecca Fishbein entitled “Is Therapy-Speak Making Us Selfish?” went viral. In that piece, Fishbein relates multiple stories about people who used “therapy speak,” the pop-psych-TikTok lingo of intimacy — “boundary,” “toxic,” “trauma response,” you get it — to navigate breakups or arguments.

The stories Fishbein relates vary widely. One is about a twenty-something who was a few minutes late to a friend’s birthday dinner, and who claimed she felt “unsafe and unloved” when that friend gave her the stink-eye. Another story is about a young man who stopped speaking to his parents and asked his sister not to intervene on their behalf; the sister accused him of acting “like he’s the only real person in the world and everybody else has to do exactly what he says to make him safe.”

One of these stories is drama between some probably-drunk recent college grads. One sounds like the aftermath of abuse: It’s common for kids to cut their abusive parents off when they become adults, and it’s also common for those parents to cast their estranged child’s actions as unreasonable. There are all sorts of reasons for people to use “therapy speak,” in other words, and one is that they’ve actually been getting much-needed therapy for their problems.

Still, in the vast majority of the examples provided, the therapy-speak was being used in bad faith; people are using weighty concepts like trauma and emotional labor to get out of doing the basic work of relationships, like showing up on time or being considerate of other people’s feelings. It’s a common complaint, and I, like everyone, have seen people dodge accountability by claiming that it interferes with their “self-care.”

So, to return to Fishbein’s question: Is therapy-speak making us selfish? No. We already are selfish — all of us some of the time; some of us all of the time…

Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.