The meaning changed again – concept creep.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Concept Creep.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Problems increase when the definitions expand.

Recently psychologists have been studying an idea called concept creep. The principle involved is that once we have identified a problem, more and more things are included in the definition we are using. This expanding definition can be either good or bad depending on your point of view. It’s possible that once we recognize the existence of a problem we begin to find more cases of that problem. Problem recognition is related to the expert effect; if you don’t know what something is, you may not recognize it when you see it.

It’s also been suggested that having once created a category of problem, additional things which used not to be considered a problem get defined into the category. Besides expanding a problem category by adding things to the category, our view of problems may increase as milder things get defined as problems. Expanding categories creates the impression that there is an “epidemic” and that we are all now at risk to experience this problem.

When a concept expands, what used to be normal, is now a part of our definition of problems. I am not arguing here that these changing definitions are a bad thing. But what we need to look at is how these definitions have changed over time and how these words may have very different meanings to different people. Remember that looking words up in the dictionary will not help us here. Various dictionaries will have different meanings for the same word, and the dictionary creates its definition based on the way people have been using the word.

Let’s look at some categories of problems that have expanded.

Mental illness used to be rare.

The term mentally ill used to be roughly equivalent to the label crazy. Today professionals don’t use the term crazy because it implies the condition is not treatable, and this labeling appears to be a case of blaming the victim. Originally mentally ill people were labeled psychotic. The kinds of emotional problems normal people had, were defined as neurotic. Today’s list of mental illnesses includes over 400 separate conditions with an additional 400 or so issues included in a list titled “conditions for further study.”

Increasingly mental illnesses are seen as falling along a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. Mild clusters of symptoms are now considered cases of illnesses where in the past these symptoms might have been attributed to the person’s personality. A person who in the past was described as having a sour, negative attitude might today be diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder or even as having a case of Major Depressive Disorder – mild.

Is that self-abuse?

Our definitions of abuse, both abuse of the self and others, have not just changed, some of them have been turned upside down. Masturbation was once the poster child for the evils of self-abuse, a practice parents frantically sought to contain before this behavior sent their children to the torments of hell. Today masturbation is seen as a normal expression of sexuality.

Beating yourself with whips and chains along with cutting your skin and crawling across broken glass has moved in the opposite direction. These kinds of self-inflicted pain used to be viewed as “mortification of the flesh” a positive spiritual behavior. Today pretty much any episode of self-inflicted damage to the body is viewed as “nonsuicidal self-injury” a symptom of a serious mental disorder.

Sometimes abuse of others doesn’t involve abuse.

Abuse of someone else used to be extremely clear-cut and easily recognizable. Abuse back then referred to beating someone, resulting in visible physical harm. Hitting children with a small stick was considered disciplining that child, a parental responsibility. Such beatings were often accompanied by the old biblical adage “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Today we are all reasonably clear that any hitting of a child that leaves marks meets the criteria for child abuse. Some people will even argue that any corporal punishment is child abuse. Please don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not suggesting that abuse is okay. What I’m trying to do here is chart the way in which our understanding of the concept of abuse has changed.

Abuse now includes not just physical beatings but also includes neglect and emotional abuse. The concept of abuse as also been expanded to include spousal abuse, elder abuse, and animal abuse. When it comes to elders, financial abuse is also a recognized form of abuse that triggers reporting by a mandated reporter.

“Goldsmith and Freyd (2005) considered emotional neglect, or “emotional unavailability,” to be a form of emotional abuse.” Quoted in Haslam, 2016.

Some of these expanded definitions of abuse spilled over to inform the next example of concept creep, bullying.

Would you recognize bullying if you did it?

I looked up the word bully in my trusty old “Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” from 1898. It gives us two separate definitions of the word bully depending on whether the word is used as a noun, the person doing the bullying, or it is used as a verb, the act of bullying.

The root of the word bully comes from an older word which means noisy. Bullies were people who were blustering, quarrelsome and overbearing. A Bully was someone who was trying to dominate others. In common usage, back then a “bully” was a term for a pimp, someone who lived off the earnings of a prostitute.

The thing a bully did, when he was bullying, was to be overbearing, blustering, or menacing. A bully got what he wanted by making others fear him.

The concept of bullying is exploding. In the 20 years, 1990 to 2010, annual production of research articles on bullying increased 100 times, (Olweus (2013) Quoted in Haslam, 2016.)

Today the definition of bullying has expanded. Bullying now includes cyberbullying, actions not only to intimidate but to make people feel bad and which happen in the online world. The concept of bullying has also expanded into the workplace were things that used to be considered typical workplace politics may now be construed as “a hostile work environment.” Some researchers have suggested that excluding someone from the social group, or efforts to get others to exclude that person should also be included in our definition of bullying.

Why are they calling the police about that?

Media reporting on crimes, conspiracy theories, and a rash of calls to police reporting things that don’t meet most people’s understanding of crime may all be examples of concept creep in the area criminal behavior in public safety. More on these topics in an upcoming post.

David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.)  Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Levels or types of Borderline Personality Disorder

By David Joel Miller MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Are there different types of Borderline Personality Disorder?

personality disorder

Are there types of Borderline Personality Disorder?
Photos courtesy of Pixabay.

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) differ so much there might be more than one type of BPD or that we may be placing several different mental illnesses together under one label. Gunderson in his book Borderline Personality Disorder describes three levels of functioning in people with BPD. Hotchkiss appears to enlarge this idea into three types of borderlines.

Diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders are largely normal characteristics which have grown so large that they begin to interfere with everyday life. Everyone has sadness sometimes and we all are or should be anxious occasionally. That same concept of degree rather than nature is applicable to BPD.

Masterson wrote about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and described this as coming in low, medium and high levels. I think the use of that same sort of yardstick for measuring BPD might be useful.

Low Borderline characteristics or traits.

People with low BPD or beginning Borderline traits have or are able to sustain a primary relationship. This relationship may be rocky but the low borderline trait individual is able to have satisfying interactions with a partner. They will perceive this partner as supportive.

What brings a low symptom Borderline into treatment will be feelings of emptiness, loneliness or depression despite having a supportive partner. They may also suffer from chronic boredom or masochism. They want both a close relationship and fear that relationship because needing someone exposes you to becoming dependent on them.

As a result of the presence of that supportive person in their life, a mild BPD individual may go undiagnosed. They may lack the intense anger and have fewer and milder mood swings than those that appear in more severe cases. Their self-destructive behaviors will be fewer and less frequent and may be ascribed to life experiences like layoffs or fights with their S. O. rather than being recognized as BPD traits.

What tips the clinician off to the BPD traits is not the current relationship but a history of previous unstable relationships and a pattern of over-rapid entry into and speedy exit from relationships, as well as a history of being the victim of abuse or neglect.

Medium BPD.

As the symptoms of BPD become more severe you may experience more anger, more worries about losing your partner and more frantic efforts to keep your partner in the relationship. People with medium BPD are described as having difficulty seeing things from others point of view and devaluing others. They may manipulate as a way to get their needs met. They have the belief that asking will not get them what they need and that they need to force others to stay with them.

This level of borderline functioning is full of break-ups and make-ups, drama from current and previous relationships and recurrent self-harm or suicide attempts to force the partner to stay. Someone with medium intensity BPD may plan suicide with the thought that this will punish the other for not loving them enough.

High Borderline Personality Symptoms.

When BPD reaches this level the person with Borderline Personality Disorder is unable to maintain a relationship with a significant other. They are without a functioning support system and become increasingly lonely and angry. They may develop distorted thinking, delusions and eventually hallucinations. They may have episodes of panic involving various anxiety-provoking possibilities.

At this level of BPD symptoms, the most likely coping mechanisms are efforts to distract the self by using drugs and alcohol, abusing food, and acting out behaviors. Fights, promiscuity, self-mutilation or suicide attempts will be common.

Are relationships a cause or the result of the level of BPD?

There is some question as to whether having a significant relationship reduces the level of borderline traits or if people low in traits can maintain better relationships than those who are high in BPD traits.

One thing that seems clear is that if you have a supportive other in your life, especially in your primary relationship, you are more likely to be able to cope with your mental illness. Learning life skills can improve you functioning and increase the likelihood of finding a supportive partner. Healthy people attract healthy partners.

Are you doing all you can to create good relationships with others and to become the kind of person who can have happy supportive relationships?

Other posts on Borderline Personality Disorder are:

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

What causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

Levels or types of Borderline Personality Disorder

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.