How illustrations and play can improve communication and empathy

"..drawing out my modes & emotions was a very helpful way to start the sharing process & open up to my therapist."

We are pleased to share this guest post from VALRI (Valérie Gerard), creator of MMMMbuddies

Coming from a family of fixers, growing up, I didn’t really learn to fully express my feelings. It’s not that I wasn’t allowed to, it’s just that fixers like to problem-solve ASAP to get the uncomfortable feelings out of the way. A very useful skill in emergency situations that need fixing, but not such a great way to handle emotions.

Emotions cannot be fixed, they are what they are and they need to be validated and listened to instead of being bottled up or pushed aside.

I had a lot of bad days in my time at school because I was bullied. Instead of sharing how I felt and allowing my Vulnerable Child mode to feel sad or lonely, I took over the fixing mentality and pushed myself harder everyday to just “make new friends, turn the other cheek, make the best out of being alone, accept the bullying for what it is …”

"I activated both my Detached Protector mode as well as my Compliant Surrender to avoid sadness and pain."

As an adult, I still struggle to break those schemas. One of my biggest challenges is to share my emotions and allow others to empathise and be there for me.

I found out during Schema Therapy that drawing out my modes and emotions was a very helpful way to start the sharing process and open up to my therapist.

Sometimes when I couldn’t talk out of fear or shame, I just showed her my drawings. This gave my therapist an entry-point and made it possible for me to share in a safe way.

And so I drew about 120 different characters to express every possible feeling I was having and turned the first 40 characters into a set of cards.

I called my characters the MMMMBuddies. Which stands for Mind, Mode, Mood, Mental buddies.

The buddies are a great tool to use with both children and adults. Apart from myself, I also used my 8 and 10 year old nieces as guinea pigs.

We used the cards to talk about family dynamics, sibling quarrels, bullying situations, tantrums at home, etc.

Sharing cards with each other, visualising the different emotions of everybody involved, was very helpful to encourage the children to empathise with each other.

We talked about what could be helpful or how a similar situation could take a completely different spin depending on which modes would be involved.

We visualised all of this with the cards and because of the fun and playful aspect, it didn’t feel like an adult-child intervention. Instead it was a bonding moment for all of us.

I think one of the most important ingredients for a good conversation with or without the cards is mutual respect and genuine interest in each others stories. It’s not about correcting or pointing fingers but about listening and trying to understand different points of views and the beauty of our differences.

And so if you feel like connecting on a different level but you don’t quite know how to kickstart the conversation. Maybe you should try my Buddies! You can find out more on or on my blog on instagram @mmmmbuddies

VALRI (Valérie Gerard)


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