January 16, 2009
This is an excellent journaling exercise that can be adapted to any topic at any time. The entirety of the exercise is to find a difficult or complicated topic. Ask yourself a question about that topic and then write out 100 responses to that question.
For lots of people, one hundred sounds like a huge number for a writing exercise, but once you start thinking about the issue in smaller increments, you might be pleasantly surprised with how many thoughts come to mind so quickly. Most people find this exercise easier to do than they realize. On really big or complex topics, one hundred might not be enough. If you want to keep going past one hundred, please do so.
This exercise is good when you do not have an immediate or direct answer for your struggle. Start with listing the peripheral, simple reasons, and as you write more and more, you will likely reach more specific and complex answers to your concern.
Or this exercise is good to use when you feel like you are flooded with too many answers. Writing out every option that comes to mind can help to organize your thoughts and validate your big feelings.
Any of the following questions could be your starting point:
- What are 100 things that are on my mind right now?
- When I am feeling overwhelmed what 100 things are bothering me?
- What are 100 things that frighten me?
- What are 100 things that I am angry about?
- What are 100 positive things that happened when I was a child? (100 negative things? 100 harmful things? 100 helpful things?)
- What are 100 things that I like and enjoy?
- What are 100 things I wish I could say to my mother (father) but can’t or won’t?
- What are 100 things I wish my parents had handled better for me?
You can pick the topic and make the question relative to whatever you are experiencing at the time. Pick an issue that you are addressing in therapy now. Use this process to help sort through your thoughts and feelings.
The purpose of such a long list is to take sufficient time to get past the surface obvious answers to your question and to get into the deeper more subconscious answers to your question. Plus, the self-expression and self revelation required to do this exercise make it an interesting task. Breaking down any huge emotion, or any complex situation, or any frightening topic into smaller chunks will help you to develop a sense of mastery and control over the issue. Smaller items are easier to manage than the overwhelming whole. You might be able to fine-tune your struggle into more specific areas by doing this exercise than how it felt ahead of time.
For example, “I’m scared of everything” – a vague, over-whelming, sweeping out-of-control feeling – could become “I’m afraid of specific item A, specific item B, and specific situation C.” By definition, you can start to consciously realize and remember that there are lots of “everythings” in the world that are not specifically A, B, or C. Pinpointing troubled areas helps you to know there are other areas that are not a problem. That’s a good thing. Finding safety somewhere is better than feeling afraid “everywhere”.
It is best to complete the list in one sitting, if at all possible. Write your answers as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if an answer gets repeated more than once. The repetition of an answer can imply that that particular issue is truly bigger than many of the other issues listed.
Remember to pay attention to your own emotional saturation point. While this journaling exercise is intended to help you gain mastery over difficult topics, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed from pulling up too much at once, immediately step back for a few minutes and take a breather. Get grounded again before you start to work on it more. You might consider dividing your topic into an even smaller focus area, or you might purposefully start and stop a few times, just to keep more stabilized.
Once you have completed your lists of reasons, be sure to read over it a few times. When you are looking at it from a whole, you might see different things than when you were inching through the individual points. You might find several repeating themes, or whole new areas of thought that you hadn’t expected to surface. Be sure to discuss your findings with your therapist, especially when you learn new bits of information.
To make this an exercise in system communication, allow and encourage the other parts of your system to participate in the making of the list of 100 things. Individual parts can each have their own lists, or they can put their name / initials beside their contributions to the group lists. Or use this exercise to focus questions more in the directions of system work. For example:
- What are 100 kind things I can say or do for my inner kid parts this week?
- What are 100 areas of conversation that we as a system can talk about?
- What are 100 activities I want to do with my inner people?
- What are 100 things we can do in our internal world to make our internal landscape more pleasing and comfortable for us?
- What are 100 things that I hear from inside today?
These kinds of exercises, whether done on paper, or within your internal committee meetings can give you a format, a method, or a starting place to help you hear and understand your other system members.
Remember, developing good, effective internal communication is the key to your healing.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 15, 2009
Acronyms are some of my favorite writing exercises. I am repeatedly impressed with the amount and quality of helpful information that can surface through the use of acronyms.
Acronyms are helpful when you get stuck. They are also particularly helpful when addressing a topic head-on or “with logic” is getting you nowhere. Sometimes, it is better to take a more gentle, roundabout, less direct approach. Let the information and feelings surface on their own without having to break the no-talk rules that are often so deeply embedded within.
Acronyms are particularly helpful when you just can’t quite figure out how to say what is going on for you. Or, when the parts inside are struggling with whether to tell you or not, and they don’t want to say it directly.
Acronyms are a creative way of “telling without telling.”
Pick any word or phrase or theme that describes how you feeling or what you are thinking at that moment. For example:
- What’s bothering me today?
Upset about school; Angry with my boss; Blocked feelings
- How would I describe how I feel today?
Frustrated and mad; totally numb; scared of everything
- What about my relationship with _________.
My mother is stupid; Afternoons with Suzie; Uncle Sam is weird
- I am remembering ________.
Nights at that house; Visits from Ted; Nightmares
- I keep thinking about __________.
Voices I hear; Seeing others inside; My puppy Patches
Write this word or phrase vertically on the page.
As you think of that theme, take one letter at a time, and write down the first word or phrase that you think of that starts with that particular letter. Again, there is no right or wrong, just write down the words that come to mind as you think about your theme word. If you immediately think of more than one word for any particular letter, you can write down both words if you want to.
If you get stuck on a letter that is difficult, you can adjust the exercise however you see fit. The easiest option is to turn the difficult letter into any “miscellaneous” letter of your choice, allowing you to fill that spot in with any words that come to mind about your theme.
Once you have completed the list of words for your acronym, read through what you have written. Take this writing exercise a step further by using that same list of words as parts of a paragraph. The words can be used in any order in combination with as many other words as needed to complete your paragraph.
Read through your paragraph. Is there a particular phrase, or word that stands out to you? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Pick a word or phrase that either needs further explanation, or seems to summarize your thoughts the best, or just “hits you” as important.
Using this new word or phrase, start the exercise again. Repeat this process as many times as necessary – with a new acronym, a new list of words, a new summary paragraph. You can repeat this process again and again because each new acronym will lead to greater understanding of the issue at hand.
Example of Acronym Writing:
Reaching the inside is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they have experienced terrible things that no one should ever have to endure. They need reassurance that they will never have to do that yucky stuff ever again. Let each part of you live a safe life.
R real scared
C crying, comfort
I understand that everybody feels real scared about writing, and talking, and telling. It is important to know the reality of what has happened so you can learn how to become safe. It is ok now for each of the child parts to have comfort. They are still crying because they have been hurt again and again. They need to know they can always be safe. I am here to help you find safety. Nobody deserves to be hurt, not even the inside parts that are named Nobody.
Pick the word or phrase that sticks out for you in this second paragraph. Do a third acronym with those words, then a fourth acronym, then a fifth, etc. Keep going until you have reached some answers to the words and feelings you were searching for.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 11, 2009
A fun and creative way to increase system communication and overall system familiarity is to make a scrapbook displaying pages that describe each of the people in your system. Getting to know your system is an absolute essential part to your healing and recovery, but doing system work doesn’t have to be drudgery. A system scrapbook can be a wonderful treasure and a priceless keepsake for many years to come. It can help create and solidify nice memories for you.
This exercise is similar to making any other personal scrapbook or souvenir album or photo album. You will need a scrapbook, or a notebook, or a binder full of paper. Have a wide variety of writing utensils available, ie: pens, pencils, crayons, markers. Allow for different colors to be used. If you want to get creative with your pages, you could also set out scissors, glue, glitter, strips of fabric or cloth, stencils, rubber stamps, yarn, buttons, dried flowers, photos, ribbons, pretty papers, etc.
Invite each and every one of your internal system parts to design their very own page or two or three about themselves.
The pages are to be created by each of your individual system people to introduce and describe themselves, their activities, their interests, their friends, their history, etc. They each can each decorate and design their pages however they so choose. Encourage your parts to creatively display as much information about themselves on their pages as they are comfortable. It’s also good to include drawings, or photos, or collage, or poems, or lists of information, or “Facts about Me”, etc. The sky is the limit with creative expression!
The purpose of this exercise is to assist your system in getting to know themselves and each other, to increase system communication, and to lower amnesiac barriers between the different parts. As everybody fills out their own personal pages, they are providing a good visual summary for the others in the system to get to know who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, who they know, etc.
There is a particular personal fulfillment in being able to creatively express who you are as an individual. The same principal applies to internal parts as well. Having this freedom of expression is a great way to encourage other levels of communication, and being recognized as an individual within a system is also an important emotional need. The self-worth of each of your internal parts can increase just by being recognized as a valuable part of your system.
Completing a personalized page will be a challenge for many insiders, as they often do not know what they like. It’s ok to let the pages be filled out gradually – there doesn’t have to be a time limit or a rush for completion. In fact, the longer you allow this exercise to continue, the better. Some of your insiders might have to look around in the outside world to find more things that they enjoy. Many of them won’t be used to the idea of “liking anything”. Having the freedom and encouragement to explore, and to pick and choose for themselves will be a very new – and possibly unsettling – but positive experience for many of your internal parts. The entire design side of this exercise could be a totally new experience for most of your parts.
Of course there will be those who are resistant to telling anything at all about themselves to anybody, even to other insiders. These parts do not need to be forced to participate. There will be plenty of other folks that find this exercise to be a fun and creative way to meet each other. Encourage as much of your system as possible to participate in making their own page, and remind everyone to keep looking through the other pages.
View the amount of participation and interest each insider shows as an emotional barometer. The amount and intensity of interest your parts show in completing their pages and looking through other pages will absolutely parallel how comfortable, interested, and willing they are to participate in overall system communication.
This project can be rather involved, and may take days, even weeks, to complete. That’s ok! Hopefully more and more insiders will get involved over time. And as you do ongoing work in your healing process, you will continue to meet new insiders. As those new parts surface, encourage them to add their pages to your scrapbook as soon as they are ready to do so.
Another value in this exercise comes in your working together as a team. Some of the older parts will probably have to help the younger ones. Who is comfortable being near the kids? Everyone will have to take turns. Who gets to go first? Some parts will have to share when they both want to include the same item on their page, and as a system, you’ll have opportunities to problem-solve the various dilemmas. If someone makes a mistake, who will comfort them or assist them? If someone breaks a crayon, will they get in trouble? If these parts see someone new in the scrapbook, will they try to communicate with that new person on the inside? The actual process of learning to work together as a group in creating such a valuable system book is invaluable.
Please do not show this book to anyone you do not completely trust as there is no need to set yourself up for uncomfortable situations with people who are not open to understanding dissociative disorders. This system treasure book is primarily intended for you to get to know you and all your other inside peoples. It is a good therapeutic exercise and I’m sure your therapist will be very interested in seeing it as well.
Get creative, and have fun!
Kathy Broady LCSW