The idea of learning to regulate, manage, or overcome emotion can be overwhelming. A few Sundays ago, the staff at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center developed an activity to help our students recognize and overcome their negative thoughts. We wanted to give each student an opportunity to confront these thoughts in a very physical way. Specifically with a baseball bat.
Preparing to Overcome Negative Thoughts
Ugly. Worthless. Big Mac. Freckle Face. Fat. Unlovable. These are painful words to read and even more painful to feel. We all have negative thoughts about ourselves and these thoughts can influence how we manage our emotions. To improve emotional regulation, we needed to help these young women attack the negative labels they had come to identify with.
Over the course of the week, each student and staff wrote down a word they believe about themselves or names that they had been called. We had the students paper mache balloons, paint them black, and wait to see what happened next. We purposefully decided to build anticipation, have them work on it all week, and focus on it continuously. We wanted each student to develop a small connection with their balloon.
I asked one of our students, Jane (not her real name), to share with me how she was feeling as we went through the week. As the students made paper mache balloons, with no explanation as to why, Jane said she didn’t like not knowing what it was for. She also didn’t like how the flour and water felt on her hands and Jane didn’t like spending time on something that was unpleasant.
Later in the week, they were asked to paint the balloons all black. Jane said she would have chosen a more happy or bright color instead of black. The negative feeling towards this balloon and the anxiety it created made the activity itself more powerful than I envisioned.
Overcoming Your Negative Thoughts
At the end of the week, we gathered all of the painted balloons with the painful words each student and staff chose. We started the activity by watching a short video. The video featured a random group of people who had their own balloons with their own hurtful words stamped across a black balloon. Each individual took the time to explain their word and why it hurt them, how they can’t forget it, and how it affects their lives daily. We paused the clip before it reached a certain point, and the girls were directed to head outside to the campfire where their own personal balloons waited for them.
When ready, each student had the opportunity to talk about their word. Some students seemed hesitant but, without prompting, Jane volunteered to go first. Her word was slut.
At first, Jane seemed to be defending her word. That surprised me and I started to think, “This word is hurtful, but it has almost become a piece of her.” My own word, ‘freckle face,’ had become part of my identity. Even though the label hurt, it was how I described myself and I felt the need to protect it. This pattern played out with almost every girl that shared.
After Jane discussed how she felt hearing the word ‘slut’ and she expressed the shame it created and continues to create, she paused and then she took a deep breath. She stated she is not a slut, and that she has the choice to let go of the emotion this word has created.
We gave Jane a bat and asked her to break open her balloon. She swung. What happened next is hard to put into words. The balloons had been filled with glitter without the girls knowing. Pink dust filled the air, sparkling in the light. There were some gasps and ahh’s; and the girls asked, “When did you even have time to do that?”
The coolest part of the activity was that the discussion allowed the girls to let down their defenses. They became more vulnerable hearing or saying that word. Sharing the negative self-talk out loud changed the mood. The activity allowed our students to recognize the actual emotion surrounding their negative mind.
It was a really beautiful thing to watch, and each staff and student seemed to have a different experience. When I took a step back and looked at the interaction between staff and students it was apparent to see that regardless of each individual’s word or experience there seemed to be a mutual understanding and connection. I knew I wanted to challenge the words that create negative beliefs and painful self-doubts; however the girls never cease to amaze me by taking it beyond what I imagine.
Devotionals at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center
At Sunrise Residential Treatment Center we call these activities devotionals. A devotional is an opportunity for each student to create their own meaning and experience on their journey.
Every Sunday, the community is given the opportunity to learn from each other and grow together. Each week a devotional is planned by a different staff or student. The topics can vary based on what the community may need, at times it can be challenging and sometimes it may be uplifting and inspirational. Sometimes staff share talents or meaningful parts of themselves. Other times students will share things they’ve learned that have been beneficial in regards to their own journey.
What is the Purpose of Devotionals?
Devotionals have created some of my favorite memories since working at Sunrise. It is a genuine way to connect with the girls we work with every day. Staff are able to appear a little more human; because after work, who knows where we go? Because devotionals are focused around values, no matter the individuals experiences in life, we all usually find a way to relate and understand. This is so important residentially, and when the girls find ways to relate values that can be applied in the real world, I believe it is one way for them to find new hope. they learn to discover their own values and create real, healthy relationships. Devotional may be only once a week, however, the conversation continues to be about what was talked about on Sunday.