You Said What?: Clarifying Emotionally Charged Words

In the course of counseling I hear certain charged words over and over again. Part of getting to know a new client is learning, what do these words mean to them? Often people will express frustration with me. How can I not know what “victim” means? Let me give you an idea of the spectrum of meanings ascribed to these words.


Tad: “I had my first drink at 11, first joint and cigarette at 12, added crack at 14, and meth at 15. It’s amazing I didn’t kill myself. I’m 40 and sober for the first time in my life.”

Molly: “When I get sad and depressed, I re-read the Twilight books. I’ve read the series at least 100 times! I’m addicted.”


Cam: “My mother abused me. She took away my kindle when I didn’t clean my room.”

Calli: “My ex-husband really wasn’t abusive. He never broke any of my bones or caused any permanent damage.”


Martha: “It doesn’t bother me if he uses porn or chats with girls on-line. I just don’t want him to meet any of them in person.”

Joseph: “I know she’s been having an affair for the past 20 years, but I still love her. If that’s what it takes to stay married, then I can accept that.”


Monica: “At dinner the truth is, he stayed on his phone the whole time and completely ignored me.”

Kaleb: “The truth is, I was on my phone with the babysitter because the kids were sick. You were ignoring the problem with our kids.”


Douglas: “I miss my uncle. He used to be my best friend, but now he got taken away because he wasn’t supposed to be in my bed.”

Virginia: “My husband is abusive and should be locked up. He yells at me even though he knows that I can’t stand it.”

Words come with layers of meaning, experiences and contexts: personal, familial, community, geography, religion, culture, ethnicity, political, societal, and what’s happening in the world at large. Let’s take the few extra minutes to learn exactly what someone means, remembering, the basis of a relationship is not defining the words the same way. It’s understanding each other’s vocabulary.