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·275 words·2 mins

Here are four terms that are used in such conflicting ways as to greatly limit their usefulness:

  • High maintenance
  • Co-dependent
  • Bullying
  • Enabling

Through reviewing the available research and interfacing professionally with specialists in these realms, I’ve noticed there is very little consensus on their actual meaning and proper application to people and behaviors.

Take bullying, for example. One authority states that intent is key, that if the target doesn’t have ill intent or purposeful hostility, it can be mistreatment but not bullying. Another states that a bully’s intent does not matter, only the effect on the target. I am not an authority beyond what any reading or experience would tell me, but I would argue that a bully’s intent certainly matters but is nearly impossible to discern, making its PRACTICAL role in identifying and establishing whether a behavior is bullying basically non-existent.

But with anything, there’s nuance, there’s wiggle room, and labels are descriptive, not prescriptive. It’s tough though – communication is tough enough, even without factoring in the reality that even when we use the same words that we’re not necessarily all talking about the same thing.

And don’t get me started on co-dependent or high maintenance, both riddled with cultural bias and framing effects from the relative position of the particular “judge” of those characteristics.

Granted, all words are like this to some degree (language evolves, semiotic slippage, etc), but these particularly frustrate me since they’re used in a semi-diagnostic way for invalidation both clinically and among the general public.

And by semi-diagnostic, I mean you can’t bill insurance for it but can sure get a good look from atop your high horse.


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