A family constellation session in progress
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When I first arrive to facilitate a Family Constellation workshop, I watch with interest as people enter the room. Are they shy? Assertive? Friendly? Unsure? I am always struck by one common thread—how different we are from one another. It is the variety that has my attention, and for a brief moment it worries me. Will we understand each other? Will we come together in a good way? Will we all feel comfortable?

Then I look again, and I see how each person is nested in the context from which he or she comes. I see the mothers and the fathers, the countries, the fabric of cultures and beliefs and experience. And, as importantly, I feel my own family behind me, I feel the support and interest of everyone who has brought me to this very moment, the one in which I get to meet these people, to do this meaningful work.

Most systems—family, organisations, communities, nations, religions—are deeply settled into years and years of patterning. We are born into these systems and answerable to their edicts. It follows that we later have great difficulty discovering our own internal sense of freedom, let alone feeling assured enough to embrace it.

Most systems—family, organisations, communities, nations, religions—are deeply settled into years and years of patterning

We stay loyal to the dynamics that immediately surround us. It’s a loyalty beneath the surface, subconscious and insidious. Our family loyalty may compel us in the opposite direction from what we want: Can we be happy when our father was not? Live fully when a sickly brother could not? Have love when our mother lost hers? Be successful when our country of origin is impoverished? Have children when others were given away? When such events occur when we are very young, or take place before our birth and are carried in the psyches of our parents, it is our ingrained sense that we must account for them.

On one level, our ‘instinct’ guides us to stay with the past, to not abandon those left behind. This is the message received. It’s not handed down in a deliberate way but it is felt as a compass hidden in a secret pocket. Deep into adulthood, this compass may provide instinctual information that we adhere to out of awareness. How can we tell? From the evidence. When something makes us happy, for example, we quickly sabotage the situation such that we cannot sustain it. Or, we find that we become involved with different individuals, but the same old dynamics always come up. Or, we have great ideas, all of which lose traction right at the threshold of success. Our own fruition seems too much to bear.

We stay loyal to the dynamics that immediately surround us. It’s a loyalty beneath the surface, subconscious and insidious

My curiosity with each person who comes to work is this: to what is his or her compass attuned? In what larger context does their way of navigating make sense? We know it doesn’t work well for moving forward, so where does it work? How does the person’s issue connect to the larger backdrop of the root system? And what direction is the subliminal compass still providing?

I use a Family Constellation to reveal a living map of the family’s history. In a workshop setting, we invite participants to represent family members or forces in the family in order to provide a ‘picture’ of what the client feels and what he or she is secretly connected to. Unlike a drama, the representatives are encouraged to explore the spacial relationships, to experience the tensions or freedoms of various positions, rather than to interpret or analyse information. In individual work, I will ask the client to imagine these components and to report what he or she sees. In either case, the image quickly shifts from something known to something new. Once this refreshed image takes a shape, and really engages the client, he or she will be able to explore the once-hidden dynamics safely and begin to envision new ways to express loyalty and love.

This was first published in the April 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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