Anxiety Aunt: Help! My friend is in therapy but thinks she can now diagnose everyone around her

Headshot of Jay Hanna
Jay HannaThe West Australian
On the couch.
Camera IconOn the couch. Credit: StockSnap/Pixabay (user StockSnap)

Dear Aunty,

One of my friends is going through therapy but I have noticed she is now psychoanalysing everything in her life including her friendships. If suddenly she isn’t getting along with someone it’s because that person is narcissistic. If they have different communication styles or avoid confrontation, then they are gaslighting her. If she is stressed at work, it is because it is a toxic environment. Or, and this has been happening more and more often, if she is being rude she is simply expressing the right to “speak her truth”. Her behaviour is making me uneasy as she often applies these labels to my friends, who are all decent people. Should I say something to her?

Yours, Perturbed

Dear Perturbed,

One hears you loud and clear, my dear (as One types very quietly from behind the couch).

But why is your Aunt in hiding and trying not to make a sound, you may wonder? Well, One is in damage control because it turns out the postie One wrote about last week actually reads this column. One sometimes forgets that these words leave One’s typewriter and go flying off into the real world. Anyway, said postie now thinks your Aunt harbours feelings for him, even though One made it very clear how One feels about redheads.

As always One blames Bridgerton for stirring up long-dead romantic notions, so this is a public announcement to said postie: as far as your Aunt is concerned, love is dead.

Anyway, back to you, Perturbed. One is quite aware of this phenomenon you speak of. It is almost like the patient thinks that by sitting on a chesterfield couch for an hour each week they’ve somehow absorbed all the knowledge their psychologist or counsellor has acquired through many years of study. And it can indeed become quite irritating when friends in therapy start quoting psychobabble back at you or diagnosing your “quirks” as personality disorders.

More than once your Aunt has had to point out to friends who are in therapy that One is at peace with all of One’s issues. One isn’t in denial about any of it, in fact One regularly gets the skeletons out of the closet for a quick pirouette around the room to let them know they are seen, then One happily closes the door on them again.

That’s not to say therapy doesn’t have a place. One often advises readers that if they cannot work their way through their problems on their own or by talking it through with friends then perhaps it is time to seek professional help.

It should also be noted that sometimes to get to the root of a problem, you need to do a lot of digging. And that digging can, in turn, stir up a lot of soil in the shape of emotional trauma from unpleasantness from the past. Now, it can be argued that unless you do that, you are never going to get to where you need to go, which is a fair assessment. Yet it stands to reason that the process of therapy can result in some people feeling temporarily more exposed and less sure of themselves.

Your Aunt’s bet is that this is what is going on with your friend and that by diagnosing others around her, she feels less alone in her problems. One would suggest the best way forward is to be patient with your friend while she works through her issues. Hopefully her behaviour is just temporary and she will soon come to the realisation that everyone has problems and issues and, unless they choose to share them, it is really none of her business.

To be honest, Perturbed, we would all be a lot better off if we learned to be more tolerant and understanding given that everyone has their own crosses to bear or skeletons to dance with.

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