by May Bleeker, 6 March 2009
This is one of a few self esteem exercises on this website that aims to increase self awareness. Getting to know yourself better is good for building self esteem.
Sheet of A4 paper or larger
Coloured markers, pencils or crayons.
Your journal or a place to write your insights and observations
If you wish to use any of the self esteem activites with a group (and you should contact me to do this) - please read the important note below.
I am happy to provide guidance on how to use this self awareness activity in a group setting. Please contact me for more information if you require it.
I've included some examples of my own Living Tree drawings. Click on the thumbnails to see the full sized images.
You will be drawing a tree. Your own kind of tree. Leave enough space for the branches and the roots too.
Don't write words, letters or numbers on your drawing. Only draw pictures, squiggles or shapes. You can use as much colour as you like. The reason for avoiding words, letters and numbers is to help you use your 'right brain' while you do this exercise.
Your tree can look any way you would like it to look, but should include the following:
Draw one root for each parent, grandparent and caretaker in your life. If your aunt looked after you while growing up, draw a root for her. Roots nourish a tree. The people you represent with roots are the people who supported you while growing up, or are still supporting you in some way. It doesn't matter what you feel about these people, just draw a root for each one.
You should include your biological parents and grandparents as well as the people who have this role in real life, like step mothers and fathers. If you are adopted or being looked after, also draw roots for those who are caring for you or who cared for you as you were growing up. If there are lots, choose the ones that are most important to you. Someone can be important even in their absence. If someone was absent from your life, but is important to you, draw a root for this person.
Each root should have a small picture representing the person it belongs to.
Just a small, simple picture, squiggle or shape that will help you remember which person that root represents. When you think of that person, what comes to mind? Do they bake? Draw a cupcake. Do they play music? Draw their instrument. Do they sing? Draw a musical note. My father used to be a motor mechanic by trade. In my example I have represented him with a drawing of a spanner. My mother is an ace table tennis player. See if you can spot her on my picture.
These pictures only need to have meaning for you. If someone else, looking at the picture, can't figure out what they mean, that's fine. That's exactly the way you want it. You are not drawing it for anyone else. Only you need to be able to recognize what those pictures mean when you look at it later.
Draw one branch for each family member. Usually you would draw a branch for each of your brothers or sisters. But you can also include a boyfriend or girlfriend that is important to you, a friend, or another family member that means a lot in your life. Anyone you regard as your 'inner circle' should have a branch. Don't include your parents, grandparents or caregivers here, as they are the 'roots' of the tree. Don't include too many friends - just the most important people in your family life.
Alongside each branch - draw a little picture to represent the person it belongs to.
Draw a flower for each thing in your life that makes you feel good about yourself. Draw a little picture inside each flower of the thing that makes you feel good.
Draw a leaf for each significant event in your life. A significant event is anything that happened that changed you or your life in some way. Draw a little picture inside each leaf of the important event.
Draw a fruit for each of your achievements no matter how big or small. Inside each fruit draw a little picture to represent your achievement. Sometimes the fruits (achievements) are the same as the flowers (things that make you feel good about yourself). That's fine! Draw them twice! Or combine them! You can never have too many good things going on.
To interpret your Living Tree, look at your tree as a whole. Remember, this drawing is done in your 'language' of symbols and pictures. Only you really know what they mean, but some interpretation guidelines might help you gain some self awareness from your drawings.
Because this self esteem exercise focuses on life events, the content is of a personal nature. When working in a group, protecting each person's privacy is important.
The structure of the exercise gives participants a measure of anonymity because, by leaving out words, only they know what their drawings mean. But sometimes doing this activity can remind people of events that were painful or difficult or that brought great joy. Emotions can come to the surface quite unexpectedly, depending on the circumstances.
For this reason people should not be forced to share or explain their drawing unless they want to do this freely and voluntarily. It should be made clear before you start, that sharing is NOT required and that the exercise is for each person alone, unless someone volunteers to discuss the results afterwards. No pressure of any kind should be applied in this regard.
Usually this is a gentle self awareness exercise, but if any circumstances exist where you feel the participant might have an emotional reaction - be sure to be supportive of each person and allow them to discontinue the drawing if this is what they wish.