Dr. Emily Anhalt
+ Your AuthorsArchive @dremilyanhalt CoFounder & CCO @joincoa • Psychoanalytic Psychologist • Emotional fitness consultant • Promoter of self-awareness in all forms ✨ Feb. 11, 2020 9 min read


40 of my favorite psychological concepts, introduced as thoroughly as I could manage in 280 characters or less.

These are core human behaviors that play out in all relationships, & are explored through therapy.

Enjoy, ask questions, & add your own!

🧠 Intellectualization: using reason & intellect to avoid feeling our emotions. Intellectualizers are more comfortable with logic & rationality than emotionality and are good at speaking through things without actually feeling them. This can be a strength but also a problem

😱 Fear of Breakdown: the things we fear the most are things that have already happened to us but were too painful to consciously experience at the time. Ex: my fear of bad things happening is a fear of facing the bad things I've already experienced

🥊 Sublimation: one of the healthier defense mechanisms - taking socially unacceptable impulses or desires and channeling them into socially acceptable actions or behaviors. Ex: taking a boxing class to deal with anger and aggression

🤷 Acting Out: when we are unable to voice repressed thoughts or feelings, we sometimes act them out through behavior. Ex: showing up late to therapy or forgetting payment instead of realizing and telling the therapist that we're upset with the treatment

😔 Survivor Guilt: a feeling we sometimes have when we survive or thrive in ways that loved ones are not surviving or thriving. We might unconsciously avoid or sabotage success to get rid of this guilt. Ex: not going after a promotion because your partner just got fired

💕 True Empathy: allowing yourself to actually feel what someone else is feeling in order to understand them. If you intellectually understand what someone is feeling but don’t feel it yourself, that's not empathy - it's sympathy. True empathy can be uncomfortable and difficult

🥰 Capacity to Be Alone: a paradoxical ability to be alone while someone else is present. This is a developmental achievement that not everyone reaches. Imagine the child who can self-entertain while parents are nearby vs. the one who needs to be entertained in every moment

👥 True Self / False Self: when we’re young, we borrow our identity from others (our false self). If given the freedom to explore, we get rid of false parts as we discover our true self - but, we often hold onto false parts (w/out realizing it) out of fear of disappointing others

🤕 Psychosomatization: physical manifestations of emotional states - often happens because we’re unable to feel things emotionally. Ex: feeling nauseous when what you really are is anxious. “We store our issues in our tissues.”

💔 Complex trauma: when something traumatic happens before we’ve had the time, resources, & support to recover from a previous traumatic experience (ad infinitum). Becomes increasingly difficult to heal (think of a repeatedly injured muscle that is never given any recovery time)

🔁 Repetition Compulsion: our tendency to recreate things over & over until we understand them. Ex: finding yourself in the same kind of relationship again & again but not understanding why / being unintentionally attracted to work environments that mirror your family dynamic

👅 Parapraxis: also known as a Freudian Slip. A parapraxis is an unintended action that might seem like a simple accident or coincidence but actually points to a repressed or uncomfortable truth that we are avoiding

✈️ Flight into Health: occurs when we seem to make a “spontaneous recovery” when faced with addressing particular issues in therapy. Ex: I've been talking about something painful when suddenly I feel “totally better” & decide that therapy has worked and I'm ready to stop going

⛽ Gaslighting: a manipulation technique in which we use psychological means to trick someone into questioning their own sanity. While gaslighting is sociopathic in its extreme form, we all engage in subtle forms (Ex: saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when you do)

🤱 The Good Enough Parent: a “perfect” parent does not prepare their child for an imperfect world. The “good enough” parent meets their child’s needs enough of the time that the child feels safe, but not so often that the child never learns to adapt to unfavorable circumstances

🦎 Autoplastic vs. Alloplastic Adaptation: appropriately & advantageously adapting our own self to our environment (meditating so we can handle stress) vs. appropriately & advantageously adapting our environment to meet our needs (choosing a job that complements our work style)

🙃 Reaction Formation: a defense mechanism where we worry that our true feelings or desires are unacceptable, so we attempt to convince ourselves or others that we feel the opposite way, often in a very exaggerated performance

🙈 Bastion: when a therapist doesn't see an unhealthy dynamic with a patient because they're invested in it continuing. Ex: patient is being excessively complimentary to avoid facing their anger toward the therapist (see 'reaction formation'), but the therapist doesn't realize

🖼️ The Frame: anything that provides reliable structure in therapy. Ex: starting & ending on time, being in the same room every week. If we can trust the stability of the frame, we are more likely to “come apart” in therapy & thus access messy but important parts of who we are

😩 Nameless Dread: the dreadful feeling of emptiness and non-understandable anxiety that we face as infants (because we don’t understand our environment) but that we also face periodically throughout life

💤 Manifest vs. Latent Dream Content: the literal subject matter of a dream vs. the underlying meaning being symbolized. Ex: I dream of a motorcycle (manifest) to represent my desire to escape (latent)

💪 Healthy Narcissism: narcissism has a bad rap but we all need a bit of it. Healthy narcissism is believing in yourself while maintaining an ability to enjoy the success of others. Kids whose belief in themself is not supported seek validation in unhealthy ways throughout life

🤢 Extreme Envy: envy that leads to a desire to destroy something another person has that you want, not because you don’t want the other person to have it, but because them having it forces you to confront your feelings about not having it

👀 Evenly Suspended Attention: the therapist’s attitude of not directing their attention to any one thing in particular while listening to the patient. This prevents them from prematurely foreclosing the possibility of surprise and discovery of other important things

⚡ Omnipotent Fantasy: the belief (which at its core, is really a wish) that we have more power over something than we actually do. Ex: Believing we can save people in our life from their pain, believing that if we worry enough bad things won’t happen

🧸 Transitional Object: an object that represents a parent, which allows a child to transition from being totally dependent to somewhat independent. Ex: teddy bear or blanket. Adults have them too. Ex: keeping a memento from a loved one so you feel close to them in their absence

🗣️ Free Association: a technique in therapy where you freely share any thoughts going through your mind without censoring yourself - your words don't need to be coherent or "relevant." This allows you to access deeper unconscious material & discover unexpected thoughts

🎭 Splitting: putting all of our good feelings in one place and our bad feelings in another, because it’s difficult to hold them at the same time. Ex: being very angry with one of your parents while being very forgiving of the other, even though neither is terrible or perfect

⚖️ The Depressive Position: when we can stop splitting (see above) & tolerate the fact that nothing is all good or all bad. Called the depressive position because it’s depressing! Holding both at the same time requires maturity and compassion

🧪 Reality Testing: the process of helping someone distinguish their thoughts, feelings, & fears from what’s objectively true in reality. Ex: If a patient says everyone hates them, a therapist might point out external evidence that suggests otherwise

💭 Reverie: daydreams that serve the purpose of helping us to realize a desire. Therapists who pay attention to their reverie during session will gain important information about what is happening in the room for themself and their patient

🔧 Corrective Experience: a familiar situation that results in a more positive outcome than past experiences, which shifts our self-perception. Ex: a teacher who gives a fidgety student an interesting project instead of disciplining them might increase their scholastic confidence

🎬 Enactment: when something that a patient is trying to understand in their life gets played out in session with the therapist. Ex: a patient is exploring the possibility of leaving their partner and suddenly feels the urge to stop going to therapy

🗻 Id, Ego, Superego: the three parts of our psyche as described by Freud. The Id speaks our primitive impulses and desires (I want). The Superego is the center of morality (I should). And the Ego (the “self”) balances the two so that we can function in society (I am)

🙅‍♂️ Ego Syntonic vs. Ego Dystonic: instincts or ideas that are acceptable to the self & are compatible with your values and ways of thinking vs. thoughts, impulses, & behaviors that are felt to be distressing, unacceptable, or inconsistent with the way you think about yourself

💡 Psychic Determinism: the idea that nothing in the mind is random or arbitrary; all psychological events have causes & meanings and can be understood in the context of events that preceded them. The opposite of “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"

♻️ Transference: a common process in therapy where the patient unknowingly redirects feelings about people in their life toward the therapist. This can be used to understand the patient’s relationships. Ex: A patient with judgmental parents assumes their therapist is judging them

💦 Erotic Transference: a common type of transference (see above) where the patient has romantic or sexual feelings for their therapist. These feelings are layered & symbolic and can be explored to understand other parts of the patient’s life

📽️ Projection: a common defense mechanism where we attribute characteristics we find unacceptable in ourself to another person to avoid facing them. Ex: the person who is cheating on their spouse becomes very paranoid that their spouse is cheating on them

🆔 Projective Identification: projection taken a step further, where we unknowingly take on projected feelings as our own. Ex: you're angry but don't want to face it. You unconsciously find a way to make me angry. The anger is yours, but you've made me feel it as though it’s mine

So there you have it

Psychology is as much art as it is science - the human condition is beautifully, endlessly complex. But imagine a world where we're taught & supported to think our thoughts & feel our feelings - even the messy ones. I think it'd change everything.


You can follow @dremilyanhalt.


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