Pearls and Trauma

Peony and pearls

Pearls have a trauma ancestry. Their family of origin story begins in marine oyster or freshwater mussel shells. Pearl conception occurs as a natural defense against an intruder. An irritant–such as a parasite–enters the innocent “parent” oyster or mussel between the mantle (or muscle) and the shell. The protective mantle gets busy, laying a fluid on top of the irritant. This layering substance, called nacre or mother of pearl, raises a pearl to adulthood. Jewelry is a pearl’s final or retirement developmental stage.  

You may have a trauma history as well. Whether you experienced big-T trauma, or a series of little-t traumas in your life, your personality also acts as a defender like the pearl’s story. Most of us experience traumatic intrusions in our lives. Our bodily and/or mind integrity becomes threatened. It is natural to want to protect yourself. Only sometimes you place so many limits onto yourself in protector-mode that you cannot use your full potential. You can find little peace.

Pearls are diverse. They form in various shapes and sizes, not just in the familiar round shape. Pearls, like people, come in a variety of colors. Black pearls get their color from their oyster’s nacre. Natural pink and lavender pearls come from freshwater pearl mussels. Pearl farming does not kill the parent shell. Pearl farmers maintain a sustainable practice by being careful in handling the parent shells. As oysters age, they typically birth better pearls than first-generation pearls.

Pearls seem to need attention. If a pearl necklace is locked away, over time the pearls lose their sheen and become dull. While pearls are categorized as a gemstone, pearls are unique in claiming the only gem status to form within a living creature! Unique among diamonds and other gemstones, pearls require no cutting or polishing before use. Pearls are precious.

Pearls represent a fresh start. Peace in the family, post-grief peace, and retirement peace all benefit from a fresh outlook. In these blog posts, we will explore how to string pearls of peace wherever you find yourself on your life’s odyssey.

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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