Have you ever talked about an ex and referred to them as a narcissist? Or claimed they love-bombed you? You’re not alone. These are some of the most overused words when talking about relationships.
And there are a ton of other overused words that we throw around without really understanding what they mean. The problem is, when we constantly misuse serious terms, it dilutes their meaning.
So, let’s discuss what these overused words actually mean.
Most Overused Words
The term gaslighting comes from a 1944 film, but it didn’t gain popularity until the mid 2000’s. Since then, it’s become one of the most increasingly overused words.
Defined loosely, gaslighting means manipulating someone so that they begin to question their own reality.
It’s part of a pattern of abuse where the abuser consistently bullies, misleads, or manipulates their partner in order to make them question their own thoughts and perceptions. The abuser minimizes your thoughts, discredits you, belittles you, denies wrongdoing, shifts the blame, and may make you feel like you’re crazy.
A key word here is consistently. It’s a pattern. And the abuser knows they’re doing it. So, when your significant other tells you they didn’t leave the toilet seat up because they genuinely don’t remember doing it, it’s not gaslighting.
While not quite as overused as gaslighting, love-bombing is another one of those terms that is often misunderstood.
It’s a tactic often used by narcissists to influence and manipulate others with affection and attention. That can sound confusing, especially when you think about the fact that the early stages of dating almost always include increased amounts of affection and attention.
But with love-bombing, it’s over-the-top. It’s an excessive amount of praise, admiration, flattery, and grand romantic gestures. So, something like sending you a dozen roses every day for a week. That’s excessive. Or declaring that they’re in love with you after only a few dates.
Related Read: Personal Story: Why Paying Attention To Red Flags is Important
This is one of the most commonly overused words in our daily vocabulary. We’re constantly using the term ‘narcissist‘ when describing a person who is self-centered, arrogant, or otherwise just an ass. And while those are qualities associated with narcissism, they don’t define a narcissist.
Instead, the term narcissist describes a person with narcissistic personality disorder. It refers to a pattern of extreme self-involvement, lack of empathy, and excessive need for attention and praise.
The key here is that with true narcissism, the self-involvement is extreme and causes a person to ignore the needs of everyone around them. It’s also rare, occurring in less than 5% of the population.
So, what people usually mean is that someone has narcissistic traits.
Psychopath vs. Sociopath
Psychopath and Sociopath might not be words we use excessively, but they’re commonly used incorrectly. Or rather, interchangeably. But, while they share similarities, they’re not the same.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is characterized by an extreme disregard for other people. Both psychopaths and sociopaths have antisocial tendencies. They also both lack empathy for others.
But psychopaths can usually cover their underlying nature more easily. They can appear charming and charismatic and use that to manipulate others. Sociopaths aren’t as charming. Rather, they’re erratic and impulsive and generally act out in anger.
Psychopathy is also genetic, meaning people are born with it. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are made, influenced by environmental factors.
This is another word like narcissist. It’s overly used and overly labeled, often applied to people liberally. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say their ex is “toxic” before. What’s hard about this one, though, is that it’s somewhat loosely defined.
A toxic person is someone who brings negatively into your life. That’s a pretty broad definition! Which makes it easily misunderstood.
But it’s not just that they do something you don’t like, it’s that they cause harm. They can be emotionally draining, manipulative, controlling, or overly needy, but in general, toxic people make you feel bad about yourself.
Finally, we’ve got the word ‘triggered.‘ This is one of those overused words that annoys me more than any other.
Triggered, as it was originally intended, means having an emotional reaction to a disturbing topic. That emotional reaction comes from a persons own experience or past trauma. So, depictions of violence, suicide, sexual assault, or eating disorders might be triggering to someone who has been assaulted or is recovering from an eating disorder. That’s because the mention brings back painful memories and sometimes even PTSD-like symptoms.
But, lately, people use the word triggered to refer to anything that offends or upsets them. Which really irks me.
Thank you for writing this! I am so sick of hearing everyone called a narcissist. Anytime someone finds another person to be selfish or self-focused, they call that person a narcissist without understanding that narcissistic personality disorder is a disorder that has specific diagnostic criteria met by only a tiny portion of the population. It has gotten out of hand. With that term and all the others you have in your article. As if using simple single terms can encapsulate the broad range and complexity of human behavior.
Thank you for writing this! The irony is that when people throw these terms around that in and of itself is toxic haha.
I love this list! I especially like that you separated psycho and sociopath, considering the dsm no longer does, which is why so many people use it interchangeably. It drives me crazy, because they really are very different disorders. Sociopaths also carry many narcissistic traits.
Triggered is another one I see people use all the time.
To be honest, that’s one that IS really confusing. There are so many overlapping traits that it’s easy to see why it gets used interchangeably so much.
I agree that the word “triggered” is often overused these days without some not fully understanding or realising what it’s real meaning or intent is.
Yes, it’s such a pet peeve of mine!