(Clinical terms you've been unsure of, but
were afraid to ask about.)
BY SHARI SCHREIBER, M.A.
Aberrant: Considered outside the norm, or abnormal; "his aberrant behavior made her feel uneasy, and she was concerned for her children's safety when he visited with the family."
Ambivalent: Conflicting or mixed desires and feelings create ambivalence. Example: Part of us wants to attend a special function--but another part knows we're going to encounter an individual we really don't want to run into. We feel torn and confused about which choice will serve us better. We're ambivalent about going to this event, even though we've looked forward to it. Another example is, you might want to attend a friend's party, but feel too tired to shower, shave, dress and make the drive to get you there! It's a struggle, but staying home and relaxing could be the better choice for you in this instance. Note~ humans are complex and intricate. We seldom ever experience just one single emotion at a time, as different facets of us can feel quite differently at the same time.
Archaic: This means old, ancient or it happened very early in life--as in, this archaic issue stems from painful experiences in infancy/early childhood.
Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD: This is considered a learning disability, and it's a neurological (physical) issue. ADHD is an ADD with a hyperactivity component. Each can exist in adults as well as children, and neither is a personality defect, or character flaw! ADD and Bipolar Disorders are both cyclical conditions that impact mood stability. They do not drive acting-out behaviors--as are described below, under Borderline Personality Disorder. Read about ADD/ADHD here.
Bipolar Disorder: This is a mood disorder that's defined by extreme shifts in mood; up or down (elated or depressed), agitated/hyper or under-functioning. There are three specific types of Bipolar Disorder, but many suffer from non-specific or atypical types, which can go undetected/undiagnosed by physicians during a psychiatric evaluation. This is a clinical condition that's usually responsive to medication. Read more about this mood disorder here.
Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD: Personality disorders drive erratic behaviors that are disruptive/damaging to relationships. Borderlines are often misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, because their temperament and moods can fluctuate wildly. Some individuals should be dual-diagnosed, as these two disorders frequently coexist. In my view, BPD houses a panoply of other disorders; Attachment Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, etc. Even Anxiety and Panic Disorders can be part of a Borderline's symptomology. Hallmarks of BPD include; desperate attempts to gain attention, intense/irrational abandonment fears, lack of empathy, lying, extreme jealousy, poor impulse control, cheating or extramarital affairs, drug/alcohol abuse, hyper-sexuality, 'crazy-making' interactions, low self-esteem, rebound relationships, passive-aggression, cognitive distortion, suicidal ideation, self-harming behaviors, splitting (love you/hate you), etc. Find articles on Borderline Personality Disorder here.
Codependency: By definition, this is an unequal/unbalanced distribution of power in a relationship; one person is dependent (often, on a substance or activity) and has little or no self-worth or empowerment--the other is The Co-dependent or enabler, who controls the partner, and needs to be needed due (also) to poor self-worth. Codependency is not the disease; it's a symptom of deeper issues, like enmeshment, fear of abandonment, attachment difficulties, insecurities, etc. Read more about this issue here.
Cognitive distortion: You'll see this term used in reference to Borderline Personality Disorder. Basically, it's when someone's processing plant (brain) twists/distorts information and experiences that are either past or present. You may be trying to have a rational conversation with your lover--but rather than staying on track, they double-back so to speak, and bring up something that's unrelated to the immediate train of thought or topic at hand. When someone's responses to you feel seriously incongruent with what you would expect, they are considered to be 'thought disordered.' In any case, their interactions deflect your efforts to get through to them (feel understood) or make a point--which derails your ability to gain resolution with an issue.
Co-morbid: Co-morbidity refers to dual, mixed or multiple diagnoses which simultaneously exist within an individual. This is the only place on this site that you'll see this clinical term used, as I've just always simply disliked it.
Compensatory: This adjective describes behavior that takes the place of genuine feelings and desires. As an example; let's say a guy's interested in a girl, and he waits a week or more to phone, so he can seem disinterested or 'cool.' He thinks this makes him appear more confident than he is--but this game is only masking his desire to connect, and it's compensating for his insecurity, poor self-worth, feelings of inadequacy, etc.
Core Trauma: This involves wounds to our sense of Self during infancy and early childhood. Core trauma typically starts within the first year of life, if we're unable to form a solid and trusting bond with our birth mother, and sense that we are cherished, safe and loved. This difficulty influences all later attachment endeavors, and leaves one feeling unworthy of genuine care, concern and affection from another. Read more about this here.
Deflection: This is when we side-step taking responsibility for an issue, or we divert attention away from answering an uncomfortable question. As an example; you're asked by your partner if you are cheating on him/her. You deflect their query by crying, acting agitated or outraged that this question would even come up--but you never answer it directly.
Disempowerment: Quite simply, a lack of personal power. Low self-esteem or self-worth. Inability to feel worthy of receiving attention, admiration and love. Not capable of attracting healthy/rewarding personal and professional relationships. A sense of helplessness, inadequacy and hopelessness are all aspects of feeling disempowered. Reference entitlement issues (below).
Displacement: When someone's disappointment, rage or frustration is taken out on you--but they're actually upset with someone else (a parent, spouse, boss, etc.), and you're getting the heat for it. Their intense emotions are being displaced onto you, because you're the less threatening or safer target for their anger. Similar to transference (see below).
Dissociation: (Most people want to say dis-association, but that's incorrect terminology.) In very simple terms, this is when we separate from our feelings during an intensely painful or distressing experience. It's sort of like your body's still here, but your mind has checked out. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is an extreme example of this. The more familiar diagnostic term for this issue, is Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). In these instances, various aspects of one's personality step-in to assist him/her with managing the current crisis or difficulty, so that the primary Self can protect itself from more harm. Dissociation from emotions is common among core injured individuals, who may present with Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder. The acquired defense of hyper-analyzing one's pain in childhood rather than experiencing it in the body can save a young life~ but it makes for difficult relationship dynamics in adulthood. If one is disconnected from one's own pain, how can he/she relate to or empathize with another's? See below...
Empathy: This is the capacity to identify with, and relate to another's feelings, needs and experiences--to walk in their shoes so to speak, or view a situation from their perspective. If you can't feel sympathy and compassion for yourself, you have no genuine capacity to give these feelings to someone else! Real empathy is a byproduct of emotional growth. It's a stage of our development that we're supposed to have navigated between the ages of around 9 to 12 years old. If disruptive childhood events curtailed our ability to learn empathy, it's referred to as developmental arrest. Arrested emotional development is key to Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Disorders. *Not to be confused with sympathy (see below).
Engulfment: This can happen between a parent and child, or within a romantic endeavor. Fear of engulfment may look like, or be acted-out as fear of commitment. The feelings involved with this issue are; "I'm afraid that if I get too close to you, I'll have to give up too much of me," or "I can't be myself, when I'm around you." Engulfment means loss of Self--or the surrender of one's own needs and desires.
Enmeshment: This is the inability to discern and separate your feelings and needs from another's. A simple example would be, when a couple's trying to decide on which restaurant or movie they want, each is unable to assert his or her preference, for fear of incurring the other's anger or disappointment. This usually prompts a vicious cycle of; "well, I don't know, what do you want to do?" In short, it's the inability to sense where You end--and another begins! Enmeshment also inhibits you from being yourself, for fear of being rejected or abandoned by somebody. The root of this issue begins when an infant's mother disapproves of his need to separate/individuate when he starts to crawl, and discover that he's no longer physically joined or connected to her. Enmeshment is dangerous in romantic relationships, because each partner remains disconnected from his/her own feelings and needs, believing they should always prioritize the other's. This causes suppression of natural, normal feelings, and promotes passive-aggressive acting out in ways that are highly injurious to the partner and the relationship. Read more about this issue here.
Entitlement: True entitlement means you feel worthy of receiving love, monetary success, opportunity, good fortune, care and affection from others, etc. Many folks use/think about this word improperly. They're usually referencing the false-self in someone who thinks they're "entitled" to be indulged/spoiled, or that the world owes them a living--but real entitlement isn't demanding or boastful. False-self issues are solely ego driven, and are masking the real feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem. In other words, they're compensatory. Lack of healthy entitlement drives codependency, avoidant/passive aggressive behaviors, chronic financial struggles and addiction.
Etiology: This refers to the cause or origin of an issue--how something began or its point of inception, if you will.
Globalize: Folks use globalization to minimize or normalize their behaviors or reactions to something. If you're relating with someone who tries to make their bad traits or actions seem commonplace or like no big deal, you're with someone who's needing to justify their aberrant behaviors, or put one over on you. "Everyone's like that" or "anyone would feel/behave that way" are global statements, and they're typically untrue.
Hoovering: Hoover is the name of a vacuum cleaner company that's been around forever. The term hoover or 'hoovering' is descriptive of being sucked back into a relationship after someone's made it nearly impossible for you to stay. Specifically, this applies to the borderline personality's effort to try and re-engage you (when they feel depressed or empty) after having pushed you away, or broken up with you.
Impotency: a man's persistent inability to achieve orgasm through intercourse, difficulty getting/maintaining erections, or chronic premature ejaculation.
Infantilize: This refers to someone treating/speaking to you like you're an infant. Think of the word "infantile." Narcissistic people are notorious for infantilizing others which can be infuriating, especially after you've become an adult who can think for yourself!
Infatuation: Feelings of exhilaration when you begin a relationship, which have little to do with the other person. Infatuation is the ability to fall in love with Yourself, under the adoring gaze of a desirable other~ which is why it's so darned addictive! Don't confuse this feeling with love for someone. Love takes time to build and establish--and it's about gradually coming to trust, admire and respect somebody who's separate and different from you.
Integrity: Quite simply, this is about walking your talk. It requires you to do the hard stuff, the awkward stuff, and deal with feelings you'd normally want to sweep under the rug, and never look at again--'cause it makes you feel nauseous if you don't. Integrity means having enough emotional development to have gained empathy for another, and understand how you'd be feeling in their shoes. Integrity is a natural by-product of moral development, which cannot be achieved without a reasonable level of emotional growth. It means being completely honest with yourself, so that you can be honest with others.
Intimacy: I think of this as, Into-Me-See. It doesn't involve talking about your past relationships, or dysfunctional family secrets. It's about having the courage to say what's on your mind or in your heart in the present moment without censoring yourself~ and hoping your partner or friend won't reject or abandon you for it. It's basically the genuine you, sharing your Self with another (what a concept!).
Kitchen-sinking: This is when someone tries to overpower and derail you in the midst of a disagreement by bringing up issues that are ancient, or have already been discussed and resolved. In other words, they throw everything at you, but the kitchen sink. This tactic is used to control, as it deflects all your attempts to have important conversations leading to conflict resolution, and diverts the dialogue to issues that have nothing to do with the original topic at hand. Borderlines are notorious for playing this toxic game.
Learned Helplessness: This is a way of thinking that's implanted early in life, when it's impossible to separate from emotional, psychic or physical pain. It leaves one with a sense of "what's the use?" and inhibits him/her from sensing that there are options, and effective methods to escape their anguish. Animal studies were done many years ago, which illustrated this psychological phenomenon. Scientists stood above a room with shallow walls, and poked groups of dogs who couldn't escape shocks that were administered by the humans with electrical prods, no matter where the dogs positioned themselves in this room. After a certain number of days, the scientists opened the door to that room which would allow the dogs to flee their tormentors, but none of them left. They'd been conditioned to believe there was no escape from their pain, and remained. Learned helplessness is a leftover from childhood abuse.
Marriage: A partnership of two individuals committed to enhancing each other's strengths, and balancing each other's weaknesses. A stronger, more highly functioning unit than only one, which thrives on mutual support and protection, and encourages/celebrates autonomous growth. Healthy marriage must continually work to solidify and enhance the marital bond, so partners may continue to grow alongside each other, and their union reflects these developmental changes. Intimacy that stops growing, has begun dying.
Masochism: Deriving pleasure from being invalidated, humiliated, abused or dominated; a taste for suffering.
Narcissism: There is so much to be said about narcissism, and I don't want to be redundant here. Narcissists see The World as their stage, and they're the lead character (the Star). To them, everyone else plays a supporting role that's far less significant. The Narcissist presumes to know what someone else is feeling or thinking, because he can't imagine that the other's experience is different from his own. He only has his frame of reference to draw from, due to a lack of empathy (see above), so his own preferences and ideations are overlaid (or projected) onto others. You are considered an extension of the Narcissist, like an appendage--without a mind or will of your own (far less than a whole or separate person). If you fail to be a 'positive' reflection of this individual, he/she will amputate you out of their life, whether you're their child, their best friend, their sibling, their therapist, etc. The Narcissist must control his relationships, and chooses associations that are weaker/more needful, so that he can always be in the one-up position, and remain in charge. All relationships exist only on the Narcissist's terms. 'Toxic Narcissism' is more descriptive of someone with BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder features.
Object Constancy: This term is often used in Object Relations Theory, which is regarded as a psychoanalytic treatment approach. All infants up until a certain age experience anxiety when their mom leaves the room (like at nap time), as they haven't yet acquired the sense that she'll ever return. At a specific stage in an infant's development, he/she begins to learn and trust that the mother will eventually come back after she leaves her baby's presence for awhile; this is referred to as object constancy. In Borderlines, this phase of their growth was not successfully negotiated, due to deficits in early care and attention. Borderlines weren't able to gain a solid sense of trust with their first 'object' of attachment (Mother). This often spawns an issue called anxious attachment--which manifests in their adult relationships as intense/irrational abandonment fears, extreme jealousy, a deep sense of despair when alone, panic attacks, etc.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): In my view, this should be named Obsessive-Control Disorder, for significant control issues are at the core of this issue. Anxiety/Panic Disorders and OCD result from years of shutting-down or denying various feelings/emotions. This is a reflexive problem that stems from having bypassed feelings, instincts and intuitions to the extent that you've dissociated from your body, and are functioning on 'automatic pilot.' To put this another way, when you're asleep at the wheel, the need for a system or regimen that helps you feel safer/more secure, is extremely heightened.
Paradoxical: Derived from the word, paradox. Simply put, this means an opposite, or contrary response from the norm, or what we'd typically expect. A paradoxical reaction to an antidepressant, has you feeling even more depressed or suicidal. Paradox is often observed in someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. They often respond to kind, loving gestures by picking a fight, devaluing you, pushing away, etc., as emotional distance feels better/safer than closeness!
Passive Aggression: This is a devious, diabolical way to convey your anger, disappointment or hurt to someone, without speaking with them about it. In essence, your feelings toward him/her get acted-out instead of talked about, but you might complain to others about your upset with that person. This can happen within families, when a member 'telegraphs' their feelings about one sibling to another--but doesn't directly address the person who's the source of their discomfort. Verbal passivity usually includes sarcasm, or under the breath comments that come at you in a kind of sideways manner, but feel like undermining, painful jabs/injuries, just the same. Passive-aggression is very hurtful and highly destructive to any type of relationship. Read more about this here.
Primitive: This refers to something very old and deep. A primitive wound usually references pre-verbal psychic/emotional trauma that occurred during infancy or early childhood before we were old enough to speak.
Projection: This is when we can only see our own issues when we've assigned them to someone else. The other person is a movie screen (of sorts), which allows us to view unfavorable aspects (in them), that we've not been able to face in ourselves. We typically feel very strongly about the issues we project onto another, because it's too distressing to recognize or claim them as ours. Projection is extremely common among borderline disordered individuals.
Psychosis: The simplest way to define psychosis, is that it's the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Within the realm of Borderline Personality Disorder, the Self is fragmented (or broken) to the extent that facts are distorted by one's subjective emotional experience, with no objective or rational inner frame of reference for what's real, valid and true.
Rapprochement: This is a naturally occurring stage within an infant's separation/individuation phase of development. It refers to one's increasing need for autonomy or separateness from the mother, and frustration/anger that this can't be achieved, because of substantial dependency needs that remain intact during this time (about 15 - 24 months of age). This stage is often referred to as "the terrible two's" due to the toddler's need to rebel against the parental units, and have his/her way. This has far reaching implications for Borderlines, in reference to developmental arrest and the push-pull relational dynamics that occur when they begin to experience attachment or emotional dependency on another. Core damaged adults in solid/meaningful treatment typically want to leave therapy between 12 and 24 months, due to subconscious attachment/abandonment anxiety that's stirred at this point in their growth/development.
Sadism: Deriving pleasure from inflicting pain/suffering and domination or control over another.
Somatic: This is when our body (or physical self) manifests troubling, but subconsciously held unresolved psychic/emotional trauma. Therapeutic clients may suddenly get sleepy (for example), when their clinician gets close to an uncomfortable truth, and they want to 'check out.' Most ailments/illnesses are prompted by long-standing, unresolved pain and rage from childhood, which gets somaticized. During this process, our body's health is negatively impacted.
Symbiosis: An intimate, close union between two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship. Mutualism. The symbiotic bond is referenced throughout various articles on this wellness site. This term describes the intense/special attachment between a mother and her infant (or the lack of same) that's a deep infatuation or love affair between the two. It is this connection that influences our sense of worth in all future attachments, if the maternal bond is secure and loving.
Sympathy: The ability to feel sorry for another, whether a person or animal. An aspect of compassion. Not to be confused with empathy (see above).
Transference: This is natural within a therapeutic dynamic, where childhood feelings and struggles with a parent, get transferred onto the therapist. Often, a client will develop romantic and/or sexual feelings for their therapist, and a rich fantasy life involving him or her ensues. This very common phenomenon occurs because the client has seldom if ever received genuine love or care from a parental figure, and has no frame of reference for what it actually feels like. Hence, any sense of closeness or trust he/she develops within the therapeutic bond, is dealt with in the only way possible~ which means, his/her powerful feelings (which can approximate an authentic relationship bond) are sexualized. Transference is a healthy, necessary aspect of meaningful therapeutic intervention, which allows unresolved archaic issues to surface, so they can be dealt with and healed. If the therapist is gifted, he or she will handle this issue very sensitively, and help the client understand and resolve their infatuation toward their caregiver. Transference happens in interpersonal relationships, too. Somebody may unwittingly step on an emotional land mine we've had buried, that's left over from a painful earlier experience. In our mind's eye, this could seem like a minor slight--but it hurts like hell or makes us furious, because it's virtually pulling the scab off a much older, deeper wound. When we're highly reactive to something our head tells us is "no big deal," it's usually because someone has set off a bomb in our emotional minefield. This is especially true with a borderline disordered individual--which literally has us walking on eggshells! In general, this issue is a major cause of relationship disintegration (dis-integration), and it's all subconsciously driven.
Triangulation: This refers to the inclusion of a third element (person, pet, activity, substance) into a relationship, in order to ease the tension between two people. There's an old saying in the psychological community; "A three legged table is more stable than a two legged one." Personality disordered people have trouble with healthy intimacy and relational stability, so they're more prone to triangulating their primary relationship or having affairs. Borderlines and Narcissists typically fear attachment/closeness, so they may try to manage this anxiety by diverting their focus to another person. Illicit affairs are used to distract or divert from feelings the main attachment evokes. Diversions often take the form of working longer hours, getting a new pet, alcohol/drug abuse, having a baby, etc. Basically, anything that takes attention off the couple's connection, triangulates the relationship. (Derives from the word, triangle.)
Tricotillomania: the nervous compulsion to pull out facial hair (eyelashes, eyebrows, etc.) or body hair. Considered a facet of BPD self-mutilation.
Vaginismus: painful, spasmodic contracting of the vagina, which prevents sexual intercourse/penetration. This is a somatic issue, generally brought on by unresolved childhood incest or sexual abuse trauma. At its core, this is a very deep fear of closeness, and inability to trust another.
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