Gaslighting, Codependency, and Narcissism ring a bell?
How about these:
10 Ways to Tell if You’re Being Gaslighted.
What to Do if You’re Dating a Narcissist.
How to Break the Cycle of Codependency for Good.
These titles are similar to the uncountable articles I see on a weekly basis by writers who have no mental health training whatsoever. Many of these terms (aside from gaslighting, which I’ll talk about later) are used when a therapist is diagnosing a client or as a specific part of treatment (i.e. codependency is a commonly used term in addiction treatment). These are words that any good therapist would never casually drop to a client in a therapy session — unless it was part of the client’s everyday lingo or they had a therapeutic intent for doing so, like offering psychoeducation on what narcissism or codependency is as it relates to the client’s mental health. A therapist would also never (well, they should never) diagnose someone that is not their client (i.e. saying the client’s spouse sounds like a narcissist would be an absolute no, no!).
Why a writer’s words matter — a lot!
I went back to school to get my Master’s in Mental Health when I was 38. Part of me did it just to delve deeper into a realm that fascinated me: humans healing humans through evidence-based practices. One thing that I learned in my two years of training that I will take with me to the grave: speak in laymen’s terms.
Did you hear that writers? Write for your audience.
Sometimes we learn the hard way. Well, I do anyway. I learned what not to do by dropping therapeutic terminology casually to clients in one too many sessions (What, you don’t know what codependency is? Let me enlighten you!), which made me seem like “the expert.” The therapist is meant to be a partner in the mental health journey — a trusted confidante that walks alongside the client and not ten steps ahead. A client with a self-esteem issue who is nonchalantly spouted a term that only a small percentage of the population is familiar with might feel more insecurity and self-doubt, which can be more harmful than helpful to their delicate psyche. Anyone acting as an expert creates a sense of separation, making it harder to build a trusting rapport.
Not every almost 40-year-old chooses to jump on the Master’s train to get really cozy with all the mental health jargon out there. Not every reader of a mental health article is familiarized with all the jargon, nor do they want to spend oodles of time researching terms. Most readers want a quick, insightful read that will make them feel like they’ve gained something of value. Most therapy clients want to be heard, understood, and supported, without being talked at by a so-called expert.
Push your glasses up and look me in the eye.
If you’re a writer, consider you are writing to a friend; a friend who is very unfamiliar with jargon you’ve spent a good amount of time researching. Also, consider your reader is not clicking on your article for an encyclopedia of information they could easily find on Wikipedia. Your reader wants to connect with you and gain something other than simple information from that connection. Just like a good therapist, the reader (or the client) wants to sit down with the writer and sip on their words like a good cup of tea.
So, writers, stop trying to show-off. Pardon my bluntness, but get off of your pedestal and walk beside your readers. And don’t pretend like you have a Master’s or a Ph.D. in mental health unless you really do have a degree in the subject (in which case you’d most likely be writing for your audience anyway). Unless you’re writing for a psychology journal, drop the mental health jargon and get naked with your words already. Say what you’re trying to say in laymen’s terms.
I’m going to put on my expert hat for a moment to let you know gaslighting is not a psychological term. I think most readers of their umpteenth article on the subject know it was a term coined by a playwright and is a fancy word for psychological manipulation, which is a form of abuse. Most gaslighting articles spend five paragraphs outlining what it is. Five paragraphs to outline a term? Ummm, that might be the best way to lose a reader in one click! Maybe writers are trying to make it a new slang term (it does make good click-bait), but it’s a bit too convoluted for that, don’t you think? Write what you know; share it in a language anyone could understand and watch your readership grow exponentially!
This world is hungry for connection, not separation.
We don’t need experts, we need down-to-earth, grounded people that get us. How do we know they get us? They write to us.
Writers, like therapists, often get people at their most vulnerable, tender times. Getting people at their most vulnerable puts a writer and a therapist in a pivotal position; they have the opportunity to change the world, one simple word at a time.
I’m all about changing the world, how about you?
Was that a yes? How silly of me. If you’re a writer, of course you want to inspire others! It’s so great we have that in common!
Ummm, I don’t mean to be rude, but would you mind taking a few steps down from your podium? You know, the one you’re looking down on me from?
[Dramatic step down, followed by a long pause.]
Wow, we’re the same height. And your eyes, they’re such a glorious color. Who would have known? [Big smile from both parties].
I feel closer to you already. Thank you for meeting me where I’m at. I feel like you get me.
[The reader hits “follow” on Medium. The writer sees their new follow and chops up their podium for firewood.]
This post was previously published on Living Mindfully and is republished here with permission from the author.
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