One of the exercises we did in therapy when I was in treatment was a Trauma Egg. Here’s a rough sketch of the different parts of a trauma egg. Now let me just say that the therapeutic usefulness of this tool is in the SHARING, not in the drawing. That’s pretty important. Sometimes we have a tendency to nurse our wounds; to stroke and enjoy the pain that wells up when we remember the traumatic events of the past. That’s not going to help you get better, it’ll keep you stuck.
Drawing a trauma egg is the psychological equivalent of getting on the scale before beginning a diet and exercise plan. Sharing it is the diet and exercise part.
Draw an oval on a large piece of paper – everyone has too much trauma to fit on a piece of notebook paper so use the back of some wrapping paper if you don’t have butcher paper. Put a line about 3/4 of the way up.
1 In the lower corners of the paper, write down a few words that pop into your mind when you think of your mother and father. Since my stepdad was a major part of my life, I included him too.
2 Now you’re ready to start filling in the egg. Using only symbols, no words, draw something that represents a traumatic event. Start with your earliest memories and go chronologically but don’t worry if you get something out of order. Draw a little bubble to enclose each representation as you go along. This should take at least an hour if not longer so make sure you take breaks if you need to.
3 – 5 Now it’s time to fill in the roles you played in your family of origin, the rules of your family, and the mission you feel your family gave you.
It took me two days to finish my trauma egg when I was in treatment and we devoted an entire group therapy session to sharing them. Although I thought art therapy was “touchy-feeling” bullshit, I really got into drawing my trauma egg. It was huge, and filled to the brim with traumatic events. When it was all finished I was nervous about sharing because I was worried that maybe what I thought was traumatic really wasn’t that bad. After all, I’ve never been raped or burned with cigarettes.
It’s like telling a little kid that it doesn’t hurt that much and they shouldn’t cry. That’s what I’d been doing to myself even though I know it’s bad parenting. The better strategy, the one I used with my children is to acknowledge the hurt, but insist on proper behavior. If you have little children, you can see for yourself how well this works. The next time your little one gets a boo-boo and comes crying to you, tell him or her “That hurts! That hurts a lot! We have to stay calm and take care of this boo-boo.” Then help the child wash and bandage the wound. Even toddlers can muster the self control to take care of themselves when they don’t have to cry louder to convince you that it really does hurt.
That group session was a strangely freeing validation. My mantra had always been that I had no reason to be unhappy. I had a good childhood. I wasn’t abused, I wasn’t raped, nobody burned me with cigarettes. I honestly thought it was a mistake to bring all that history up. I didn’t want to turn in to a victim, forever whining that if only I’d gotten what I needed as a child then I’d be able to be happy. I was telling myself to shut up, quit crying, it isn’t that bad, it doesn’t hurt.
Instead it was a clear look at my perception of what happened to me with a group of people I trusted. They agreed that some really bad things have happened to me. They said that it must have hurt. They felt sad that those things happened to me.
The rest of my recovery has been washing and bandaging the wounds. And healing.
When I decided to write this post, I went looking for my trauma egg. I wanted to take a snapshot to upload so you’d have a good visual of what one looks like. But I can’t find it. And you know what? That’s pretty cool. I’ve lost my trauma egg. hehe.
For a more detailed description on Trauma Eggs, buy The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes. It’s an excellent book, read the reviews, particularly if you want to understand why you’re attracted to someone who doesn’t treat you well.