The Volokh Conspiracy

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"Strangers on the Internet" Podcast Episode 36: Therapy Speak as Relationship Abuse

Why the Sarah Brady and Jonah Hill controversy carries broader meaning


The 36th episode (Apple Podcasts link here and Spotify link here) of Strangers on the Internet with co-host and psychologist Michelle Lange explores how therapy language has at times been weaponized in romantic relationships.

The Internet is abuzz with discussion about allegations by Sarah Brady, a University of Hawai'i law student, that her ex-boyfriend and celebrity Jonah Hill emotionally abused her and dressed up the abuse in therapy language. According to screenshots of text messages she posted publicly, he designated it "boundaries" that she should not post swimsuit pictures of herself on social media, model, surf with men, or interact with female friends of whom he didn't approve, among other things.

We discuss the difference between boundaries and coercive control, the ways in which boundary speak doesn't absolve the speaker of problematic values injected into requests (or demands), and the general current trends in distorting psychological language to serve one's purposes. We also delve into what happens when a partner's mental health or other life circumstances make it difficult for them to give what the other person might actually deserve under optimal conditions. Tune in and join the discourse!