Everyone Is a Huge Baby
We're living in a crisis of agency, externalization and projection.
The worst relationship I ever had involved a man who was fond of telling me about how much he was working on himself. It was constant. Every day included lengthy discussions of emotions, namely his, of processing my actions and how they affected him. When I would attempt to assert my independence—say, suggest I might go on a friend trip without him—he wouldn’t get mad. Instead, he would cry. He would say that my choice hurt him, that I wasn’t considering his feelings enough.
I had never heard someone talk this way before, but it sounded emotionally correct and authoritative. It seemed downright selfish for me to suggest he might have fewer feelings about my actions, because, I’d been told, over and over again, by television shows and therapists and self-help books, that feelings and processing them were good, period.
It took me years to crack the spell. It wasn't until a friend, and not even a particularly close one, pulled me aside and said, “hey I think that guy is being an asshole to you,” that it clicked. Oh yeah. Duh.
This past week, we all got a lesson in the kind of “therapy speak” my ex used to be an asshole to me when the surfer Sarah Brady posted text messages about her ex-boyfriend Jonah Hill, in which Hill appeared to be, at the very least, a bit of a dick to her. Much has been made of the language he used in his dickishness—specifically referring to “boundaries” around how Brady should act and who she should hang out with, when what he actually meant was “what I desire you to do for me” (which some have claimed is a form of emotional abuse or controlling behavior).
Many have begun to become sick of this kind of language, and have rightfully pointed out that therapy speak often leads to more disconnection and harm than it does healing. But I think the issue is larger than that. I think therapy speak, and how it has been invoked by people like Hill, points to a crisis of agency in our society. If the Hill texts show us anything, it’s that people have become so reluctant to take responsibility for their desires that they externalize them onto others.