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.
Copyright © 2008-2017 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation
Excited to finally be mapping out my system through art.
I agree Linda. I have learned to incorporate collages into my healing as well. I just let my selves go picking pictures and words … words seem to be the most important right now … and how they are placed on the page. Just recently I created two collages. One represented the abuse and the second was taking back our life (with pictures of my abuser). I did a ritual burning of both. The one of my abuser would not burn so my husband poured gasoline on it. I was terrified he would get hurt. Fire was one of my abuser’s threats. My collages burned and I stood over them watching all off that pain turn to ashes.
ME+WE, that sounds very healing. I hope it was helpful for you. I can’t force art expression, it comes when it comes. Usually “out of nowhere”… the need to write, paint, collage..I usually learn a lot from it. And I’ve found when the urge comes, go with it right then, before it’s gone!
Absolutely collage making has been a vital part of my healing. I would have the uneasy feeling that I could only identify as “I’m in trouble “ not with the law, but inside. I’d end up often spending most of the night cutting words and pictures out of magazines with no understanding of why… the the collage would emerge telling a very expressive “story”…I’d say “Wow, where did that come from?”…much of what I’ve learned and what has been “said” has been through expressive art without any words…Amazing…
My “t” asked me to do a collage when i first started. We were excited to do this andgot all the materials but were quickly sabatged by parts that did not want to co-operate. I’m saving everything thinking later this might work.
Screen Rant says
Over at TopTenREVIEWS they rank the top ten digital scrapbooking products.
I like scrapbooks you can actually hold in your hand, and you can use these software programs to print out pages as well as to view them on your computer.
This is a really useful suggestion. You are very good at setting forth tools or ways to try to communicate within a system. It’s good to see them in writing.
I was wondering about your insights on hospitalization and it’s part in treatment. Especially when ones’ regular therapist doesn’t have visiting privileges. Just a general population facility, no real dealing with DID.
What if there is an unstoppable urge to be in hospital?
The thinking is that will be enough of a shock to make the walls come down. Letting us be together talking face 2 face. As you can hear the need to communicate has hit desperate. I mean we had this before, how hard could it be to get it again? Sheeeesh!
Sam (short for samantha)
Kathy Broady says
Thanks :). I’m glad you are finding some of these ideas useful and helpful. That’s excellent. 🙂
You’ve asked some good questions re: hospitalizaton. Let me think on those, and I’ll add that to the “Post about this” list. Hospitalization itself is such a big variable topic… so many different elements to that one.
My question for you is — what is it exactly that a hospital can give you that would make it more feasible that the walls will come down? And can you replicate that situation in your home setting? What is preventing you from doing that at home? And how will being in a hospital make it happen easier??
Try some of the acronym exercises for why you are being blocked. Use phrases such as these for starters: “Make the walls come down”, “Talking face to face”, “Need to communicate again”, “feeling desperate to talk together”, “what is blocking us”, “What happened to our communication” or “Why aren’t we talking together”. Dig, dig, dig, through writing several series of these. And don’t edit! Let the inside talk through the acronyms.
Or, a list of “100 Reasons why we are NOT talking now” might be a good starting place. “100 Reasons to Keep our Blocks in Place”. “100 Reasons we are resistant to talking again” — anything like that. Sometimes approaching it from the other angle will give you some insight into what the blockage is about. You already know you WANT communication. But, seems to me, the trouble is you don’t know why it is being blocked. So start there. Work at it from that view point instead.
Hope that helps –
WE use a program called Foto Fusion. It is technically a digital scrapbooking program, but it works great for collage. Also you can do slideshows if one collage isn’t big enough. I am not sure if you can include video but I think maybe you can.
there are all kinds of “scrap-booking” software on the market – some of which seem to have video components
thanks gobbies – I’ve downloaded the trial.
I like Castorgirl’s idea of Polyvore and also you can use photoshop and illustrator of course…. but you could also almost use a private wordpress blog if you wanted to be able to include photo, video, music, and write out feelings etc.
Because we have problems with making a mess and cutting into magazines etc, we often use online tools such as Polyvore to get around this. You can still collect your own pictures and do a mash-up to create a collage how you want it.
Some also use clips created for YouTube for the same purpose. Purely from the point of view of adding music to the clip it helps some of us convey a message that they couldn’t do through the other media.
The big limitation with the online tools is that it’s not tactile.
Kathy Broady says
Thanks for the resource ideas! I wasn’t aware of those — those are great ideas.
I can’t remember what online tools / computer programs other folks have mentioned while used in making their collages (the paint program is one, I think???), but yes. The “no mess” feature of making computer based collages is a great big bonus. Also, I think if someone is looking for a specific type of picture, it’s easier to find it searching online than by searching through a million magazines. Some folks don’t have access to a lot of magazines anyway, so… online images can be more vastly plentiful (and more cost effective) in that regards.
I smiled with the thought of your not wanting to cut into magazines — I might be wrong — but my first thought was since you are such an avid reader and librarian (?), books would be totally precious to you. Of course, cutting pictures out of books, or otherwise “maming” or damaging a book or magazine would not be comfortable for someone who finds great comfort in reading. For some folks, books are their best friends! I didn’t think to include that point in my article, so thanks for reminding me of that.
Adding music — in a more “video” type of collage presentation — oh gosh! Now – there’s an exciting concept! I like that idea a lot.
Thanks for sharing –