Friday, May 6, 2011

The day I made my therapist cry

How my trauma egg brought my therapist to tears

Draw an egg, she said.

"You’ll be writing all the traumatic events that have ever happened in your life inside this egg,” my therapist explained.  

I better draw a pretty big, frickin egg, I thought to myself as I stared down at the blank canvas of white paper in the middle of the floor.

“Do you have a bigger piece of paper,” I asked, half-joking. 

So I had my instructions. Draw an egg and list all the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. I had two hours. I was afraid we’d need more time. A lot more time!

The concept of the “trauma egg” was introduced to me a few of weeks ago during one of our sessions. According to the pamphlet, the trauma egg represents the “Original Feeling Child.” Inside the egg, you list events which caused pain, fear, rejection and so on and so on.

The pamphlet included examples of traumatic events.

“My dog died.”

“My best friend moved.”

If this is what my therapist was expecting, she was in for a shock.

When I first asked why we needed two hours, my therapist explained:
- The first hour will be used to list all the traumatic events
- The second hour will be used to analyze them 

I was to start by listing the earliest memory of trauma at the very bottom of the egg and work my way up through the years. The greatest hits, so to speak. (Pun intended.) It was a way to establish my trauma history so that my therapist could better understand my make-up.

This is going to be so awesome! (Not!)

But first a warning from my therapist! She said some people, as they remember the trauma, are so overcome with emotion, that they break down and relive the emotions they felt at the time it happened. She assured me that she would help work through these emotions in the event that this happened to me.

Yeah, more awesomeness! 
Doing this exercise was supposed to help us identify patterns of trauma and coping mechanisms. So I grabbed the black marker and started writing.

Age 5, my uncle dies…

Age 8, the abuse starts…

Age 9, abuse continues…

Age 10-17, still getting abused over here…

My therapist asked questions specific to the event each time I added a new line. I answered every single one of her questions in a very matter of fact way as I wrote them down inside my newly formed “trauma egg.”

Meanwhile, my therapist was puzzled.  

“How are you not falling apart?”

“How are you keeping it together?”

“Why aren’t you in the corner in a fetal position sucking your thumb?”

Kidding! She didn’t really say it like that. 

On a serious note, she was concerned by my lack of emotion.

“I just don’t understand what’s holding you together. At some point, we need to look into your cultural make-up.”

Ah ha, the race card! There it is!

Again, kidding… But, yes, Latinas are strong women. That stereotype is true, folks.

Well, with the exception of one of my aunts on my dad’s side. She cries if you use your outside voice inside. She married into a family of loud mouths. Good luck with that…

So my therapist was puzzled. In her eyes, I was an enigma. In my eyes, I was a survivor. 

“But as you remember these events, how does remembering them now make you feel?” she asked.

“It happened. I survived. Life goes on,” was my response. And it was true. These events happened. I survived all of them and life continues to go on.

And then I continued…

Life doesn’t stop when something bad happens to you. You deal with it at that moment, figure out how best to handle and move on. (And then you cry yourself to sleep after the kids have gone to bed. See! Problem solved.)

Then she asked: “Do you ever find yourself dwelling on any of these experiences?”

I laughed with a hearty, “Ha!”  

I quickly explained why this was funny to me, mostly so she would stop staring.

“I don’t have time to ‘dwell’,” I said, using air quotes. “I’ve got way too much shit to do. I barely have time for this. But I know I need to do this for me and for my daughters. ”

In other words, let’s keep this party moving, shall we?   

"Can I get you some water?"

As I continue to list each trauma and give a brief summary of the actual event, I can feel my therapist cracking.

It started with some sniffling. Next came the covering of the mouth with both hands. Then there was the shaking of the head with the “you poor thing” look on her face.  

I eventually grabbed the tissue box and handed it to her as she wiped her tears from the corner of her eyes with her fingertips.

“Are you OK? Should we take a break? Would you like some water?” I asked her.  

We were only halfway through this trauma egg business and here I was comforting my therapist. I started to wonder if I could bill her for the session.

“Again, I don’t understand how you’re holding it together,” she said, in between wiping her tears and blowing her nose. 

Great, I think my therapist needs a therapist. And it's all because of my trauma egg. 

I shrugged my shoulders and kept writing and writing and writing until the session suddenly came to a halt. 

Sorry, but we're out of time... 

“We’ll have to stop here,” my therapist suddenly announced. “We’re out of time.”

As I stare at my half-empty egg, I realize that we didn’t even get through the 80s, which causes me to blurt out, “But we didn’t even get through the 80s!”

That’s OK, she said, and then explained our new game plan. 

1. Schedule a two-hour session to work on the 80s to the present.. 

2. Then schedule another two-hour session to analyze the trauma egg.  

3. Then schedule another two-hour session to work on improving coping mechanisms in order to deal with future trauma.

Let’s see, that’s two, four… six hours! Are you frickin kidding me! Six more hours of trauma egg!

But as quickly as the panic sets in, the control and the calmness take over.

Alright, let’s do this. I’ll survive. Let’s move on.


  1. I am currently taking counseling classes. News flash to me "people do this to heal and grow emotionally" I thought you did it to help others because you have a gift. Instead it's self help therapy. The good news is much of the process is self help simple. Now that you understand the exercise you can work it on your own. The professional can be a back board or sounding board for your progress.

    I was at a serious life cross road as a single mom. Stuck jobless, homeless, no family needing help. I went to a womens meeting to be connected with a mentor. It was really informal and almost group therapy. We would all share and then be matched up as Mentor Mentee depending on what we needed.

    By the time a few others who wanted help shared I was ready to just be a Mentor because I could see how to help them and where I had what they needed but none seemed to have what I did.

    Because I had not plat form (and they did not know what else to do with her) they put me with a strong odd ball of a single mom lawyer as her mentee. I liked her but almost as soon I could see she needed a mentor herself.

    Back to the whole idea of people setting out like they want to help other people because they really need the help.

    My question might be for you "What were or are you expecting from therapy?" Do you journal? Have you written out your traumas before?

  2. I totally get the need to compartmentalize trauma to prevent falling apart. Processing trauma is important, but people's processing "styles" are unique and the "cry it out" therapeutic model seems outdated.

    You got a great post out of it though!

  3. I could spend a whole day on the 80's. Imagine an argyle wearing douche with zero game and you will get a pretty clear picture of me in the 80's...

  4. Christian Single: We (me and my two daughters) started going to therapy a few months after I left my husband of 17 years. The act of leaving was a traumatic event in itself. Long story, possibly a future blog post.

    Pauline: I think I lived with the old trauma (70s-80s) for so long and so much new trauma has happened since then that I don't have room for the old trauma. Does that make sense? But you're right. People's processing styles are different and I'm obviously not the "cry it out" type.

    J.R.: Argyle-wearing douche -- Hilarious!!! Do you have any photos from the 80s? I really, really want to see some pics. Please?

  5. That must've been some $#!^ you got there, girlfriend... You're clearly a survivor, and it's amazing how we each cope with all the traumas that happened in our lives. Just like you, I'm not "the cry it out" type. I tend to shut down whenever I went to see my therapist. I'm no good at sharing negative feelings with others. I'm definitely "the cry until you sleep" type, though... just because that's usually when I'm alone.

    You're a brave woman for having gone through what you have. I've been reading your posts, and often I paused and just wonder how you managed to gather enough courage to do what you have done.

    Happy Mother's Day to you, wonderful friend.

  6. Yup, I got some $#!^ from my childhood, but I survived and I'll survive the new $#!^ that I'm going through now. I have to; I'm a mom. Now excuse me while I don my cape and magic bracelets [Insert theme song to "Wonder Woman" here]. LOL!

    I hope you're having a beautiful Mother's Day!

  7. I read this last night but couldn't comment. Love it. And if you read me at all, you know how I love to self-reflect. I learn lessons. I gain a clearer perspective. But all in all, all that we CAN do is let it go and move forward, right?

    Hope you're taking care of YOU in the process.


    Happy Mother's Day!

  8. That's right, T... Let it go and move forward. I love your ability to self reflect and put it all out there. One of my faves >>

  9. I started therapy, so far only session down, the easy one lol. I hate crying, especially in front of people. I won't be looking forward to a trauma egg! I'm quite similar to you, in that, when something happens I deal, move on and shed a tear or two quietly in bed at night. I'm not one to dwell. Althoug now that I'm a mom, all these strange emotions are coming out, hense therapy. This is a great post. What a great way to put a humorous spin on a not-so-fun experience. Hang in there.

  10. SMRC: I hate crying in front of people, too, but being a mom changes the game. New emotions, old emotions, their emotions. *sigh* Good luck with therapy, hon, and thanks for reading!

  11. Holy crap. That makes me laugh so hard! Then want to cry a little too. Then just make me want to hang out and drink wine with you because you are truly bad ass.

  12. H&H: Awwwww, thank you! Hanging out with a glass of wine is right up my ally. Cheers! :)

  13. I googled "trauma egg" and got your blog. It sounds painful and yet, you made me laugh because well, some of US don't cry. and some Therapists are not the best therapists. I actually said to a T two months ago at the end of a session...a difficult one - NOT for me, for her...(HER AA acquaintance killed herself?) (I don't think I should know that!!!!) at the end I said "I won't charge you for today". the next day she called and said she could not see me anymore and then cashed my check. I still may report her for "inappropriate self-disclosure". but well, the next Therapist, 3 weeks later said to me "My mother shot herself in the head last november". yikes, people. DON'T BECOME A THERAPIST IF YOU NEED ONE OK? I have never done a trauma egg. Would need a pad of paper and more than "hours" of defined "egg time". I'm like you, I take mine "hard boiled". to all those reading here, if your T cries more than you do? get a new T! empathy is good. keeping it together for her own supervision is better! good blog tho. Thanks for my lesson in "trauma egg therapy". Perhaps I'll pass.

    blogspot lost my blog so anon for now.

  14. btw, after years of therapy, sadly, half my egg could be filled with stuff dr's and therapists have done to me. no kidding! and that's after a really tough kidhood. amazing. thanks.

  15. Anonymous: If I can't laugh about it now, well, then I guess I need more trauma egg therapy. I hope you find a new therapist with thicker skin... Good luck to you and thanks for reading!

  16. Another informative blog… Thank you for sharing it… Best of luck for further endeavor too.

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  17. Okay, I actually found this quite funny. I do think your therapist needs counseling herself. I can’t believe she cried during your session together instead of you. I don’t think that’s pretty helpful if she was talking to someone emotionally unstable. It’s impressive that you have always remained so strong. I agree that one should not dwell on the things that happened in the past and just keep moving forward and make your life better. There’s no progress if you let it keep haunting you.

    Russell Dill

  18. I hope to read more of yourrrrr thoughts. Glad I found your writings.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments and for taking the time to read my blog! Trying to brush off the cobwebs and write on a more regular basis.