3 Grossly Misunderstood Psychological Concepts — And How They End Up Hurting Us

You've heard about boundaries, gaslighting, and more — but what happens when people use clinical terms incorrectly?

Woman drawing a boundary visibly within her life Karolina Grabowska | Canva  

You’ve probably heard terms like "boundaries", "gaslighting", and "narcissism" — among other clinical, psychological terms — on an almost daily basis for years now. If you’re anything like me, you’re likely tired of how these terms are being misused.

I know that I, for one, am frustrated at how the misunderstanding around these terms may end up doing harm when they're intended to be helpful.


Let’s go over each these often misused words one-by-one, so we can see how to use them properly and stop causing more damage through their overuse and misuse.

RELATED: No, You Aren't Being Gaslit

The three most misunderstood psychological concepts & how they do harm

1. Boundaries

Boundaries are not about controlling others.


There are many misconceptions surrounding the term "boundaries". Some people try to use boundaries as a way of controlling others, by putting rules onto them. However, boundaries are about setting limits for yourself, what you will and will not tolerate in your life, for the sake of protecting your state of comfort and well-being.

Conversely, rules are explicit guidelines agreed upon by all parties and are typically used for reasons concerning safety.

Both rules and boundaries are important for healthy relationships. Rules can help to create a safe and orderly environment, while boundaries can help to protect your own comfort and needs. When both rules and boundaries are respected, everyone involved can feel safe, respected, and comfortable.

However, as people are autonomous beings, it is better to express your boundaries when it comes to your own comfort and well-being, rather than expecting others to follow a set of rules.


For example, a boundary of yours might be not tolerating catty comments from a family members. Your boundary does not affect their personal autonomy necessarily. They can continue to speak the way they choose to speak and behave how they choose to behave, as they have autonomy. However, so do you. So, in this scenario, to enforce your boundaries could include limiting your time around those family members.

RELATED: 12 Emotionally Exhausting Signs It's Time To Set Boundaries With The People In Your Life

How do we set boundaries?

It is important to be clear about what you need and do not need from other people. Some people need to take this even further by determining what it is they need and do not need in their lives overall. Once this has been determined, communicate these needs as clearly and respectfully as possible.


It can be difficult to find the balance in communicating your boundaries. Sometimes, people have inflexible boundaries, which are rigid and unyielding. However, other people may have what are known as collapsed boundaries, or virtually nonexistent boundaries.

In between are those people who have healthy boundaries and are able to feel free to say yes or no without fear, guilt, or shame. They can refuse being around intolerance or other behaviors they dislike. They feel a sense of self-respect. Also, those with healthy boundaries are able to hold themselves, in addition to others, accountable for their actions.

Simply put, boundaries are your responsibility, not others’. When setting boundaries, you communicate what you are and are not comfortable with, as a way of developing and maintaining healthy relationships with others.

2. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is an intentional act.


Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which someone seeks to make another person doubt their perceptions, memories, or reality. This is often done by denying facts, distorting the truth, or presenting false information in a way that causes the victim to question their own sanity or judgment.

The term originates from a play and subsequent film called "Gas Light," where a character uses such tactics to drive his wife to madness.

To clarify, the goal of gaslighting is to intentionally make one’s victim doubt themselves. Intention matters. Gaslighting is a form of abuse that can cause someone to lose their sense of self-worth.

Some signs of those who have experienced gaslighting include:


Feeling confused and continuously second-guessing themselves
Finding it difficult to make simple decisions
Frequently wondering if they are too sensitive
Becoming withdrawn
Constantly apologizing

Here are also some examples of gaslighting:

“That never happened.”
“You’re just too sensitive.”
“You have a terrible memory.”
“I'm sorry you think that I hurt you.”

Again, gaslighting is an intentional form of abuse, with the purpose of making the victim question their own reality. It is important to distinguish between intentionality and a lack thereof. While unintentional harm still matters and can be considered abuse, such people may need to reconsider how they communicate.


RELATED: How Gaslighting Abuse Survivors Makes Them Question Reality

3. Narcissism

Nacrcissism is not a synonym for arrogance.

Narcissism refers to excessive self-centeredness, a grandiose sense of one’s own importance, and a lack of empathy towards others. Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by a constant need for admiration and validation, as well as a tendency to exploit or manipulate others for personal gain.


People with narcissistic tendencies often have an inflated sense of their own abilities and achievements while underestimating the contributions and feelings of others.

However, the term “narcissist” has been misused in our society. People may call someone a narcissist due to their confidence. However, confidence is not the same as narcissism.

Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, whereas confident people are simply more comfortable with themselves. Other people may call someone narcissistic due to being self-absorbed, when, in fact, we’re all self-absorbed to different degrees.

Remember, narcissism is a personality disorder. It is not simply a synonym for arrogance, self-absorption, or difficulty in getting along with others. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have narcissistic personality disorder, it is important to seek professional help.


RELATED: The Biggest Tell Of A Narcissist, According To Research

Miki Anderson is a licensed clinical mental health counselor in North Carolina, with in-depth knowledge on anxiety, depression, trauma, ethical non-monogamy, and kink lifestyles.