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Therapy speak is just an excuse for behaving badly

Hill with Brady in 2021. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Last weekend, says Alexandra Jones in the Evening Standard, Hollywood actor Jonah Hill was accused of “emotional abuse” by his ex-girlfriend Sarah Brady. A 26-year-old surf instructor, Brady posted screenshots of her text messages with Hill, in which he described her behaviour as “triggering” and set down “boundaries” she would have to respect if they were to stay in a relationship. These included not posting Instagram photos of herself in a bikini or having “friendships with women who are in unstable places”. What’s striking isn’t just how “petty and controlling” Hill appears, but his bizarre use of “therapy speak” – the type of language psychotherapists love – to justify his coercive behaviour.

Therapy has become a “powerful kind of social currency” for millennials. Being “in therapy” is seen as cool – it implies you’re “evolved, self-aware and dealing with your issues” – so we all use words like “gaslighting” and “boundaries” without really knowing what they mean. And labelling our own behaviour in these pseudo-medical terms lets us deflect any real criticism. I have one friend who has solemnly diagnosed himself as a “sex and love addict” with an “anxious-avoidant attachment style”. What he really means, of course, is that he sleeps with women and never calls them again. But by reframing his naughtiness as a response to some kind of “trauma”, his behaviour is justified, and even respected. The truth is, sometimes it’s not your trauma, attachment style or boundaries. “Sometimes, you are just being a dick.”