Professional psychological articles are so replete with jargon that I often find myself reading and re-reading the same paragraph 3-4 times and still not understanding what the author means to say. Now, I have nothing against jargon; it’s often a very nice shortcut between people with a shared understanding of terminology. On the other hand, I often get the feeling that psychological jargon is meant to create confusion in order to hide the fact that the individual really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But I recently heard an expression from a lay person that I think is an absolutely wonderful description of a complex human phenomenon, and I’ve never heard it used in a professional psychological discussion.

I was speaking with a gentleman who was describing some challenges he and his wife are having with their delinquent teen-aged daughter. She’s an expert at manipulating her mother and extorting a constant flow of money to fund her fun activities. The parents have been through counseling and parenting courses, all to no avail.  If the daughter manages to isolate her mother, within minutes all the training and commitment to do things differently go out the window and she immediately gives in. “At that moment” the man said, “She has no presence of mind“.

Presence of mind. What a great expression and concept. It so accurately describes what so many of us go through when confronted with our vulnerabilities. It’s as if, at that moment, despite all the knowledge, all the realization that what we are about to do is bad for us or someone else, all the promises to do things differently next time….at that moment, the mind is no longer present and we begin to respond at a much more primitive level of instinct, desire, and need.

I can sure relate with food. And I have brilliant, successful, and strong-willed friends who have quit smoking dozens of times, only to pick up that next cigarette in a moment of absence of mind. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have such moments.

Sometimes from the mouths of babes…..