I’d like you to take the time to really think about, and evaluate, the significant relationships in your life. These may be with parents, spouses, siblings, children, mentors, or extended family. You don’t have to justify why a relationship is significant to you. I’d like you to include your relationship to God, whether or not you feel you’re where you should be spiritually. I recognize this could be a long list.
As you think about significant relationships, I’d like you to be aware of any strained or broken relationships you have. Even if you have not spoken to that person in years, the fact your relationship is broken is significant. Start with the relationship you have with yourself and end with the relationship you have with God. Fill in the middle with your other self-identified significant relationships.
For those of you with isolated lives and small families, you may not come up with ten. If not, just move up your relationship to God — but leave at least one spot open. I think you’ll find that as you do this exercise, a hidden relationship will surface. Perhaps one you haven’t thought of in years.
For those of you with large families, you’re going to need another piece of paper! Don’t try to shorten this exercise just because you have many relationships to put down. Your relationships are important, every one of them, and deserve periodic review. Go ahead and write them down.
Because it’s important to start with yourself, I’d like you to take the time to write down your personal story. This is the story of your heartache, your pain, your vulnerability. It’s the story you normally try so hard to cover up and protect. Whatever caused or causes you pain, I want you to write it down. Start as far back as you can remember and move forward. Think about your life growing up, the highlights, and the times of despair, humiliation, shame, or difficulty. Take it all the way up to the present.
For some of you, this will be difficult to do. You’ve spent a great deal of energy trying to forget this story. You’ve gotten so good at suppressing it, you may find you have trouble drawing it out now. In order to help draw it out, I’d like you to utilize pictures.
The first thing I’d like you to do is go to whatever box or collection you may have of any family picture or pictures from your life and go through them. Often, memories are awakened by looking at pictures. You remember a person, a house, a toy, a car, a childhood friend, a relative. All of these things can bring other memories to the surface.
The other way you can use pictures is to draw one. Initially, it may be difficult — even frightening — for you to think about putting your pain down in words. If this is a barrier for you, start first by interpreting your pain visually. Use crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolor or even oil-based paint. If you have a preferred medium, go ahead and use it. You are seeking to connect with the source of your pain through a different avenue than the written word. Once you’ve identified the feelings, you can begin to articulate the source.
If you are a musician or relate to feelings through music, you may find you have success in composing a song or using parts of songs you’ve heard to express yourself. Others of you will need to express your story in an allegory or a poem. Instead of using colors to evoke feelings, you will use poetic or allegorical imagery.
Often, writing things down is difficult at first, so it is necessary to prime the pump, so to speak. So if no words come initially, don’t give up. Be creative about ways to connect to your pain and your story. Once you’ve made connection, I am hopeful you will find that words flow more easily. And don’t worry about spell-check or grammar, punctation, or capital letters. This isn’t an English assignment. Reject any barriers to connecting to your story. Don’t be diverted by this sort of chaff; hone in on your target.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.