How nesting dolls are a vital part of my mental therapy

by Morgan Antoinette

It may seem that Russian nesting dolls – also known as Matryoshka dolls – are intended for just decorative purposes. Indeed, they can serve as a fine decoration piece in your room. There is a plentitude of themes in which nesting dolls can be painted, which is why they can have substantial decorative value.

This article isn’t about the decorative features of nesting dolls, however. Maybe, many people haven’t thought about it – me included at some point – but Russian nesting dolls can serve a therapeutic goal as well.

How? Let me explain how I view Russian nesting dolls from the point of view of therapy.

What are nesting dolls and what is their meaning?

I feel that I should shed some light on what Russian nesting dolls are before moving on to our core topic.

As the name suggests, nesting dolls are the set of several dolls that can be placed (“nested”) one inside another. The size of the dolls in the set differs: the outermost doll is the largest, while the innermost doll is the smallest.
Russian nesting dolls due to their design are often seen as a metaphor. For example, in Russian culture, they are associated with family and fertility. Nesting dolls traditionally represent the mother carrying a child within her. And via the several dolls nested within each other, nesting dolls represent a chain of mothers carrying their legacy in the womb.

Nesting dolls are also used to represent concepts and relationships between broader and narrower phenomena. And this particular feature is the thing that interests us most of all today.

How can nesting dolls help with my therapy?

Some therapists employ nesting dolls for a much more meaningful purpose than mere decoration. Namely, they use nesting dolls metaphorically to help them design interventions at multiple levels and also help the patients understand the therapy process better.

I myself have been using the following 5-piece “blueprint” to treat my issues. Now, I’m going to describe each of the stages and explain how each of them helped me overcome my problems.

Doll 1

The smallest (innermost) doll represents the most intrinsic factors. Within the framework of mental therapy, the inner layer includes the changes a person can make to overcome their mental condition.

Some cognitive theories imply that irrational, negative thoughts cause mental conditions. Whether or not this is scientifically correct, I based my decisions on the intrinsic level on this concept.

Negative thoughts have been particularly fettering me. I struggled to keep the negative thoughts at bay so that they don’t drag me into their boundless abyss. At this level, my first step was to realize that negative thoughts are a big issue for me and that I need to deal with them.

Easier said than done. But I think that understanding the issues within me was the necessary basis of my progress at higher levels. Without this, the other levels would be ineffective.

Doll 2

The second doll symbolizes the external actions one can take to overcome their mental illness.

For me, physical exercise and meditation have been tremendously helpful. They allowed me to focus on my therapy better, first of all. Additionally, seeing how I improved in the gym strongly motivated me throughout the journey and planted hope that I could overcome my problems.

Among the external actions you could take could be anything: painting, playing the guitar, writing music, journaling. It just has to be an activity that you can enjoy and which can motivate you to progress over time. A hobby, if you will.

Doll 3

The third doll symbolizes your social support system.

The social support system includes family and friends who are capable of supporting you via encouragement and empathic listening. I myself think that this was the most crucial level of my therapy.

Let me explain how.

People close to you are going to have their own point of view on things, meaning that their opinions can allow you to view your issue from a completely new angle unavailable to you otherwise.

This was true for me: speaking with people close to me allowed me to discover new and unexpected ways of dealing with my intrinsic issues.

Besides, it is so relieving to share your concerns and thoughts with others – to blow off steam, so to say – especially if they care.

The combination of the two – other’s perspectives and the relief – has provided me with a powerful boost in achieving progress. If not for the people close to me, I don’t think that I would be where I am now.

Doll 4

The fourth doll represents the professional support systems that can greatly complement the treatment plan of a mental condition.

The fourth layer incorporates medications, as well as professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists.

Not everyone needs medications to overcome their mental condition. I myself was lucky enough not to need them. This would just complicate the treatment further and would cost additional money.

However, if the actions taken in the previous three layers prove themselves inefficient, the tools of the fourth layer can become a powerful catalyst in the process of the treatment.

Doll 5

The fifth doll – which is the outermost and largest doll – symbolizes broader concepts that give meaning to one’s life, like spirituality, religion, or morality.

At this level, I thought over all of my religious and moral views in order to set my ideals. The ideals that I cherish and that I wish to follow no matter what because they make me who I am. Each and everyone’s ideals can become an additional source of motivation, as it was and still is for me.

All the levels are interconnected. I am sure I wouldn’t be able to make intrinsic changes in me if not for the support of my friends and relatives and the motivation provided by my ideals and progress in my hobbies. Conversely, my ideals would make no difference if I wasn’t ready to make the necessary changes at an intimate level.

This approach has helped me organize myself and reach the improvements I sought for. And I am confident that if you project your own self onto these 5 stages, you will be able to deal with your issues.

5 thoughts on “How nesting dolls are a vital part of my mental therapy”

  1. During a time of deep grief, a new friend gifted me a set of nesting dolls. I had a set that held sentimental value. Most everything in my home was tossed (or taken) by a contractor during a botched remediation.
    My belongings and most importantly my health and my sons’ health were taken due to water damage and unknown mold in our basement garage. Mold spores circulated through both HVAC systems. These mycotoxins made all of us ill. Our 14-year-old beloved Lab died from it.
    People who were complete strangers donated things to help us get back on our feet.
    The Russian nesting dolls were a surprise, wrapped with kitchen items in a large plastic bin.
    I opened each doll and placed them side by side on a table in my now empty living room. The largest doll could not stand upright. The bottom was warped a bit.
    Sounds trivial but this bugged me. I left the dolls out anyway and went about my day cleaning and organizing what I did have in my kitchen.
    Later that evening, relaxing on my cheap, too small for the room sofa I bought online, it occurred to me that much of my suffering was coming from my view of things.
    Like the imperfect nesting doll, I could still stand.
    I’m still recovering from trauma and ongoing health issues; much worse, watching my sons’ health struggles. But, now my nesting dolls remind me that it is OK not to be OK.
    I still struggle. But the nesting dolls remind me to let it go.
    I’m different now. But, it’s OK.

  2. Morgan, I love this concept. I am trying to write about being a suicide survivor, while struggling with depression. I was writing about the things that helped me in my struggle and they are all listed above!
    Thank you for this great article!

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