Rhona Brown looks after the Catalyse website and its Twitter activity. She offers some thoughts here on how we might convey complex ideas in straightforward ways.
The new Catalyse website is very nearly up and running. Spending time in virtual environments and thinking about how to get CAT out into them led me to recall that a year or so ago I set myself a challenge using a little website called Up-goer Five. This is basically a simple text editor which uses only the first one thousand most common English language words. It doesn’t provide readability metrics but sets a limit on allowable words. This forces the writer to describe complex terms and ideas using more straightforward language. Its invitation goes like this:-
“Can you explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words? It’s not very easy. Type in the box to try it out.”
Up-goer Five has been used playfully by the science community in particular, to run contests comparing the most straightforward ways of expressing complicated concepts. You can see some of the results posted up on the site, and many an entertaining hour can be spent absorbing them and making guesses at the concepts being described. Try the Ten Hundred Words of Science collection.
As someone interested in notions of speech genres, accessibility of information, and how CAT ideas can be conveyed without the jargon that can so easily become a barrier to engagement, this was a challenge that grabbed me. Doing this sort of exercise immediately invokes an awareness of one’s addressee, much like the process of writing a reformulation or goodbye letter. In this case I wanted to experiment with conveying something which was straightforward but not couched in such simple language that it seemed patronising.
An early tweet to whoever was listening (we had perhaps a mere 60 followers at the time!) suggested we all had a go and that Catalyse could maintain a ‘gallery’ of efforts. This could act as an alternative glossary of CAT terms and could be added to, whether by those in role of therapist or of person making use of a CAT therapy.
I’m not sure if this tempted anyone to have a go with Up-goer Five. But my invitation stands. How would you describe CAT, or concepts within it, in as straightforward a way as possible?
Here’s my attempt at explaining Reciprocal Role Procedures using only the first thousand most common words. My addressee is someone naive to CAT who may experience significant difficulties borne of complex trauma, perhaps attracting a diagnosis of ‘personality disorder’.
When you have grown up with people or things going on in your life that made you feel scared, confused, cross, hurt, or sad, this can lead to conversations inside yourself, and ways of acting in the world, that continue into your grown up life and cause you problems. These can keep you feeling very bad, tire you out, make you lose hope, and can seem very hard to change on your own.
These ways of being can carry on in three ways:-
1) “Others do it to me”
You might still be in situations where people act in ways that scare you, hurt you or put you down. You might notice these things happening in small ways more than others would. You may feel it more than others when bad things happen again. You might feel very worn down and it may be hard to expect that things can ever be different. Sometimes you might think people are being cross or hard on you, even when that’s not what they mean to do. You might live your life as if the things that hurt you long ago are still happening, or about to happen, even when they’re not. This can keep you feeling scared. To keep yourself safe you might avoid doing things, or having much to do with other people, just in case. Your world can become very small and you may also feel very alone. Both of these can make you feel worse.
2) “I do it to myself”
You might end up being cross and hard towards yourself. You might expect too much of yourself. You might say things to yourself inside that make you feel bad, using words that are not kind. You might not take care of yourself very well, especially if you don’t really know how to because no-one looked after you well in the past. You might do things to hurt your body, like taking in too many things that are bad for you, or perhaps eating in ways that make you feel better for a short time but worse as time goes on. You might cut yourself or do other things which cause pain in your body. You might even try to end your life. Even if it doesn’t get as bad as that, you might not keep yourself very safe. You might carry on being around people who hurt you, instead of getting away from them and and staying away. If people are good and kind to you, you might not notice it. Or you might see it, but not allow yourself to accept care or to have any good things. You might not ask for help, or take it when it’s offered. This may stop other people stepping in and helping to keep you safe.
3) “I do it to others”
Sometimes you might find yourself doing things that make other people feel scared, confused, cross, hurt or sad. This can sometimes come as a shock. Seeing yourself acting in those ways can make you feel even worse. It can also make others respond to you in ways that hurt you more. Or others may stay away from you, leaving you feeling more alone. It can feel very hard to change.
Some people feel it’s easier if you meet with someone trained to help you understand how these things came about, and to spot exactly what they look like in your situation. Once you can see them better you can change them more easily, but this will take time. It might help to stay in touch with someone like this for a while in order to make changes that last. Not everyone feels helped by this though. It would be no surprise if the things in 1), 2) and 3) start to happen in a helping relationship. It’s important for you and the person helping you to be open with each other so that you can make sense of things together and sort out any problems that might come up between you.