January 12, 2009
Creating a collage is another way of allowing your internal system parts to tell more about themselves.
Pictures can be a powerful way of communicating. And a collage – a collection of pictures – can tell a lifetime of stories.
Most trauma survivors were repeatedly told by their abusers, “Do not tell”. Violence, threats, abuse, and pain often accompanied these rules. How many times did you hear “don’t say anything to anyone” or “don’t talk about this” or “you better stay quiet”? All of those directives involve restrictions on being able to talk. Years later, even in the safety of therapy, the intimidation of the no-talk rules can still feel as powerful and real as ever.
One important aspect of healing and therapy is learning to work around the negative, confining rules and those scary points that keep people stuck. If some of your parts are too scared to tell what happened, maybe they could show what happened instead. Pictures can be a way of communicating when talking is a hindrance.
A picture paints a thousand words!
Sometimes writing is too complicated and can also be “against the rules,” especially in the early days of treatment. Thinking creatively, you can work around these rules too. Typing, for example, is actually different from writing. Cutting out printed words is also different from writing. Using stencils, stickers, and rubber stamps are also ways to show wording without having to write.
Collage allows the artist to show a mixture of pictures and words to tell stories without officially breaking no-talk and no-write rules. Collages can be made with a specific topic in mind, or they can be another useful format for the system descriptions.
To create your collage, use a variety of magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and telephone books, etc. Look through these printed materials and cut or tear out any picture, word, or phrase that seems relevant.
If you are sufficiently computer savvy, you can also create a collage from computer pictures. The web certainly has a wide variety of images available for collage purposes. If you can copy-paste and arrange pictures on a document, you can create an incredible collage without so much as lifting a piece of paper.
Let your internal system help pick out these pictures and words, and pay close attention to their interest in selecting pictures, even if you are not sure why they want that particular one. It is very important to not edit or limit the choices of pictures made by your insiders – let them pick whatever pictures they relate to. Each of your parts will have their own things to say, and everyone inside will relate to pictures in a very different way.
Don’t be alarmed or hesitant if you don’t understand why some of the pictures are selected. Chances are, you won’t understand the meaning of all the items picked. That’s ok – that means your insiders are getting ready to tell more about life from their own perspective. Be open to this new information – getting new communication is a big part of why this exercise is helpful. Besides, as you get to know the insiders that selected those pictures, and as the time is right, they will tell you the relevance and meaning of all their selections. If your insiders are picking pictures they relate to, they are completing the assignment, and that is a good thing. Don’t interfere!
Even though you might want to know why the various collage pictures are being selected, be very careful not to push your insiders to talk about everything at once. Not only will that put the others on the spot, and potentially chase them away from the assignment, but you could also easily overload and overwhelm yourself if you start demanding explanations for every picture or phrase that is selected. Select the pictures from a comfortable emotional distance and save the “talking time” for later. There will be plenty enough time on different days for your system members to explain their choices to you.
If you find that lots of your parts are doing this exercise at once, you can either make different piles for the pictures that belong to different folks, or just cut out everything you see and separate the piles of pictures into themes at a later point. I have known people to be working on dozens of tiny collages all at the same time. I have also known people to assemble gigantic collages on huge poster boards. Use whatever style works for best for you! The important point is that your parts are creatively showing you what has deep meaning for them.
The purpose of the collage is to provide another way to tell without telling. Using groupings of pictures and cut out words or phrases can help to say things that you are not allowed to say directly. Any form of expression is helpful in the therapeutic process, even if some of it stays unclear for a long while.
Another added benefit to this exercise is that you will get to know your system parts better. You might recognize patterns for who leans towards what type of pictures. You might hear a new voice that you don’t recognize insisting on a picture that has absolutely no relevance to you.
Collage work can help with the processing of traumatic memories. You might see entire story-lines displayed right in front of you in the groupings of magazine pictures. You might develop a greater awareness for who in your system dealt with what types of abusive situations.
Tending to everyone, listening, and allowing everyone in your system to have an unedited say in picture selection is important. As with any exercise that includes your whole system, it can lead to greater trust, system cooperation, and internal connection.
Kathy Broady LCSW