Weaving Trauma into Beauty

Artist: Igshaan Adams

A textile artist born during forced segregation in South Africa, Igshaan Adams’ enmeshed designs may be interpreted to represent familial relationships and generational trauma amidst socio-political discrimination. His art pays tribute to “gaps,” or invisible spaces in his work. Using beads, shells, glass, rope, wire, and “found objects,” his weavings pulse with meaning. One three-dimensional installation has lead pipes piercing both the weaving and the surrounding air. Is the weaving a sheltering tent…or a flimsy cover-up for truth?

Adams’ recent exhibition is entitled “Desire Lines” which he intends as a metaphor for weaving an individual’s life roadways into a merging collective with others’ paths. Underlying Adams’ work is a poignant probe: “How would you treat someone differently if you knew everything about them? Or nothing?”

We do not know very much about other people. Perhaps we cannot grasp the meaning of another’s life because they never share their innermost angst with anyone. Is it because they deem their experiences as unacceptable? Perhaps they do not want to hear imagined criticism from others: “Really? You did what?”

What if we knew the ACE’s score of everybody? ACE’s stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, a 10-question survey about traumatic challenges that a child may experience before age 18. The questions do not mince words: Did you…lack protection as a child (including not having enough food to eat); …lose a parent through divorce, abandonment or death; …live with anyone who was depressed, mentally ill, or attempted suicide? Did anyone in the family have a problem with drinking/drugs; did anyone go to jail or prison? Did your parents… ever hit, beat, or threaten each other; …ever swear at you or put you down; …ever hit, beat, or physically hurt you? Did you feel that no one in your family loved you? Did you experience unwanted sexual contact?

Perhaps you will take the survey: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

Rob­ert Anda, M.D., from CDC, in partnership with Vincent Felitti, M.D., from Kaiser Permanente (California), conducted the Adverse Childhood Experiences study which linked childhood trauma with increased health/social problems across adulthood. The amount of personal suffering found in the initial population of 17,000 adults taking the survey surprised the co-authors, as participants were mostly middle and upper-middle class with college educations. They lived in California with good jobs and health care benefits.

Yet, 87% of the participants reported 1+ traumatizing childhood experiences. The research uncovered tragic numbers of child abuse. As one’s ACE score increases, the risk of disease, social and emotional problems can escalate. For example, ACE scores of 4+ link to a likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increasing 390%; depression increasing 460%; or attempted suicide increasing 1,220%.

Poet Maya Angelou weaves trauma into beauty through words:  “…prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you….”

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

70. What did you endure as a child?

71. In what ways do you share your invisible stories?     

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.


  1. Fascinating. I am so fortunate to have had a wonderful childhood and family. I scored zero on the quiz. Thank you for this good information.


  2. Yes, some of us are the lucky ones in life to have love, acceptance, and safety as the daily threads in our childhoods. It’s painful to acknowledge that family trauma exists for too many of the world’s children.


  3. This made me feel even more grateful for my happy childhood! Although my father died when I was 16, the foundation of his love was well set. We were not poor, but money was tight, and frugal parents provided everything we needed, including fun, security, opportunities. My empathy is heightened that so many people didn’t have that and dealt with so many sad situations.


  4. Yesterday I was with a blind piano tuner, who had been a student of mine at the school for the Blind. He was so positive and happy with all his words. I remember him being a happy energetic child 4 decades ago. Yesterday I was thinking he must have had wonderful parents. What a beautiful rainbow he exhibited to me. I hope I can always be a Rainbow to others.


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