In my experience working with individuals who struggle with grief and trauma, I find that it is common to struggle with knowing where to begin processing these experiences. An idea came to me as I helped my child sift through her crayons and markers, throwing out the dried-up markers and deciding what to do with the broken crayons. I was reminded of an activity I did with my family growing up. We took the broken crayons and melted them into cool new creations. My child and I melted her crayons in some miniature pie plates, kind of like an easy bake dishes. When I dumped out the spherical crayon I began thinking about my client’s mixed up emotions. A new lesson was birthed!
There are four parts to this lesson. I will explain the activities needed to prepare for the lesson followed by the lesson itself. Stay with me as I explain the activities and think about the ways the outcome for each activity is different from the others despite similar instructions.
Activity 1: Spherical
The first set of crayons are made using a muffin tin. Crayons from the dollar store are NOT recommended! Mine did not come off the pan easily and were mostly broken in the removal process. They also had more wax film on top after melting. It is also best to use a non-stick pan if you have one handy.
Okay. Here is what I did:
- Select black, blue, green, grey, orange, pink, purple, red, and yellow crayons.
- Break them up into pieces that fit into your muffin pan; no more than two crayon diameters high.
- Make sure the yellow crayon is in the middle.
- Heat the crayons in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes or until completely melted.
- Let cool until pan is completely cool.
- Gently tap crayons out of the pan.
Activity 2: Square Mixed
The second set of crayons is made using a brownie pan. Follow the same directions as “Activity 1” except using a different shaped pan, preferably a brownie pan though another shaped muffin tin is also fine. Do not use a circular pan or you will have simply made a second set of spherical crayons.
Activity 3: Square Single
Use jumbo crayons and melt each color in a separate well of a brownie pan or muffin tin. It is best to use a brownie pan for this activity since it will make more sense in the lesson to use a square shape. Go with what you have though! Ideally, you will end up with a black square, red square, yellow square, etc.
Activity 4: Rectangle
For this activity, you need a bread pan. Non-stick is best! A silicon bread pan is not recommended due to staining. Jumbo crayons are best for this activity as well. There are two ways you can try this activity. First, you can lay out the crayons in rows, unbroken. Second, you can break up the crayons and toss them in the pan. Melting takes about 20-25 minutes.
Now that you have melted down enough crayons that you are considering buying stock in a crayon making company, let’s talk about WHY we melted these crayons. Look at your crayons from Activity 1. Draw a picture using only the yellow color. You may not break the crayon.
Were you able to do it? If you were, contact me directly. I have some questions for you!
Yellow represents happiness or joy for most of us. I have heard it represent other emotions, so we will stick with happiness/joy for this activity. It should have been difficult for you to color with the yellow crayon since it is in the middle and surrounded by the other colors you melted with it. If some of the yellow ran to the sides of your crayon, that’s okay. The demonstration still works. This is a good depiction of how difficult it is to access our happiness or joy when we are grieving or overcoming traumatic life experiences. Other emotions, represented by the other colors in your crayon, are more readily accessible or interfere with our ability to access our joy. If your yellow ran to the edge of your crayon, this represents the experience of multiple, sometimes seemingly contradictory, emotions at the same time.
In the example of Activity 2, square mixed crayons, your yellow may not be seen at all. It is trapped in the middle of the crayon, completely surrounded by the other colors. The spherical crayon and the square crayon represent two examples of how people grieve or experience emotional injury. In the spherical example, we can see all the colors though we are unable to use yellow until we have worked through at least one other color, if not more. In the mixed square, we do not become aware of the yellow (unless we made the crayon) until we work through other colors. We cannot see the joy until we process our other emotions in the mixed square example.
Let’s look at Activity 3 now. For this activity, I asked you to make a single-color square, which is very different from all the other activities. Were you able to guess why I asked you to melt down your perfectly good crayon into a square shape? Well, some individuals manage their emotions in this manner. They are organized separately rather than running together as in the first two activities. Some will compartmentalize their emotions as if in boxes or a filing cabinet. When they are ready, they will open up a selected box or file and deal with that specific emotion. Or, they may be able to access their happy/joy compartment freely, which could give the appearance that they do not grieve or feel emotional pain. They only open the fear, sadness, or worry boxes at home when they are by themselves. When they leave the house, they store their “negative” emotion boxes and only use their happy box when they encounter the world. In some cases, an individual might decide to never open “negative” boxes, but they are still present.
This brings us to Activity 4. The mixed rectangle. The rectangle represents a single shared experience with two or more people. For the purposes of this example, I am going to say the rectangle represents the death of the family matriarch or patriarch. Pretend all the emotions possible regarding the loss of this family member are present in your rectangle. If you are brave enough, stand on a hard floor and hold the rectangle in front of you. Raise the rectangle as high as you can while keeping it in front of your body. Then, let go!
Try not to be mad at me now that you have broken crayon pieces all over your floor! What do you notice? The different shapes the rectangle broke into represents the diverse ways we process our emotions for the same experience. No two pieces are the same! Similarly, no two people have the same reaction to the same experience. Notice how the distribution of colors in the fragments is different. One piece has more sadness than another. One piece has more anger than another piece. One piece might not have any joy in it. The rectangle started out with equal portions of all the emotions, and the fragments display distinctly different proportions of those same emotions.
- Which activity best represents how you process your emotions?
- If you are having difficulty accessing your joy, is it time for you to seek out a counselor?
- Are you able to show grace and mercy toward those who process their emotions differently than you do?
- Is it possible for you to walk beside someone who only opens their “negative” boxes privately?
- If you did not melt the crayons before reading to the end of this blog, will you melt them now?
The Center for Hope and Healing is a private practice that provides individual therapy to individuals and families going through life transitions and mental health challenges such as the death of a loved one, divorce, and serious illness of self or loved one. Our goal is to help individuals foster resiliency, increase problem-solving and coping skills, reduce stress reactions, and develop healthy relationships, thereby improving overall wellness. Counseling and therapy sessions for St. Charles and St. Louis counties. Click here or call 636-328-0874 for more information.
Written By: Jessica Vogler, MS, MAC, PLPC
Jessica has experience working with adult survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, elementary aged children in an intensive outpatient treatment setting, and women with a trauma history. She is trained in EMDR, SHARE bereavement practices, and Effective Trauma Care.
Jessica enjoys working with children and women of all ages to overcome grief, heal from traumatic experiences, and strengthen identity. Trauma work specialty areas include adult survivors of childhood abuse and pregnancy/infant loss. Jessica also has a special interest in working with parents of special needs children who need to strengthen their resilience or grieve the loss of ideals that may not come to pass.
Under the supervision of Sonya Paramore, License Number: 2007022552