We’ve all heard it before. Forgot to lock the door when you left the house? Neglected to put an appointment in the family calendar? Gotten lost en route to a new place? “OMG, I’m having an ADHD moment”
Have a well-organized sock drawer? “I’m SO OCD!”
Had a rough experience at school and a teacher raised their voice to you? Perhaps you described this later on to your friends as being a trauma for you. Or the thought of being called upon again in the future is described as being “triggering.”
Teachers and parents often hear about how a certain child has reported that they are being bullied by a classmate. We go on the offensive, we will simply not stand by when bullying is reported!
A friendship ends because one friend accuses another of gaslighting.
In each of these cases, there MAY be some truth – but more often than not, an appropriation of diagnostic/ psychological language has happened. People with ADHD do not have “moments” – they have ADHD, a life-long neurological condition that they work really hard to overcome. A well-organized sock drawer suggests an organized mind (though admittedly – socks? Really?). OCD is a psychological diagnosis that exists when an individual has significant and long-lasting symptoms of debilitating anxiety resulting from obsessive thoughts that can only be eased by the performance of specific, often ritualized behaviours (compulsions) that can impair the individual’s daily functioning. It’s not a well-organized drawer of socks.
Trauma is perhaps one of the most misunderstood psychological phrases – and I am aware that trauma is largely an interpretive issue. If one feels trauma, one may have experienced trauma. But as with many things in life, there is a scale – there is the trauma associated with sexual assault, the trauma of abuse, the trauma of witnessing a horrific situation. Then there is the unpleasantness associated with being called upon by a teacher or being berated by a boss or perhaps being mocked online. There is a difference, though, between trauma and unpleasant experiences and to be respectful of those who experience real trauma, we need to be aware of the difference between trauma and unpleasant feelings associated with a situation. Additionally, offering “trigger warnings” is actually counterproductive and can enhance anxiety unnecessarily, as it presumes that the person offering the warning has some unique insight into the audience that they, in reality, do not have.
Bullying is also psychological experience that seems to be widely overstated. Bullying is a relational issue in which a power relationship is manipulated to the advantage of one over the other in a repetitive and systematic manner. Teasing does not constitute bullying, nor, in general, does a single incident of name calling or ostracization. Those are unpleasant and unfortunate situations, but to call them bullying situations serves to diminish the experiences of those who actually experience bullying. If everything is bullying, then nothing is bullying.
Does a friendship need to end if gaslighting is happening? Probably – gaslighting erodes trust, the foundation of a true friendship. But what if what has been defined as being gaslighting is really just a different perspective or an option that varies from someone else? It’s like the films Rashomon, The Usual Suspects, or Reservoir Dogs in which the same events are described wildly differently depending on the perspective of the character. Accusations of gaslighting might actually simply be a difference of opinions. The termination of a friendship over what essentially is a phrasing issue shows the significance and importance of the power of pseudo-diagnostic language.
It is important that we think in a positive manner about our emotional language. Kidnapping psychological terminology carries with it the potential to water-down actual psychological challenges. Doing so minimizes the experiences of those who actually have these conditions and experiences.
So, rather than having an ADHD moment, just call it what it is – forgetfulness/ disorganization; being “SO OCD” is really just being organized. Using such accurately descriptive language promotes a better understanding of mental health and shows allyship with those who actually have these conditions.