I heard this from a number of people at the Celebrate Life Festival, a dynamic annual European consciousness event that was held for the first time in the U.S. this summer.
Racial division, white supremacy, and white privilege were words that we invited into our midst. They dropped into a sea of discomfort that quietly built, even though many of us could not identify with these words…
Our bodies are wise, and they are also deeply connected to our soul as well as the field that we move in and through. When we receive sudden or unwelcome messages from our bodies in the form of illnesses or accidents, we usually react with shock and annoyance. Most of us just want to get rid of painful symptoms as quickly as possible.
But these events tend to come with teachings and purpose. Constellations are a great tool to understand the learning that might be brought through physical symptoms.
Here is a recent example of listening to physical symptoms in Constellation Work.
One of the senior students in our Constellation Learning Circle, Chloe, suffered a fall on the ice in January and ended up with a concussion that left her quite incapacitated for some time. She had been a busy practitioner with a full private practice, and had to take a break from seeing people after her fall. She simply could not handle any stimulation.
Chloe had been on her own journey of personal growth and change through the constellation work and had been amazed at all the positive changes in her life. As a result of so much change, however, she felt unsure of her identity now. She seemed to be reconsidering much of what she liked (or did not like), even down to the simplest things, like foods she had once dismissed but now found appealing.
In the midst of this unfolding process of re-discovery, Chloe had the accident.
When she still could not fully re-engage in her life three months later, she became nervous and asked if we could do a constellation about this concussion.
I don’t like to disturb movements that are in process, so I felt cautious about setting up a constellation in this case, but I also attuned to Chloe’s anxiety and wanted to be helpful. We talked about what might be the right framework and checked in to see if we had permission to explore.
As I listened deeper, the field opened to a yes, and informed me, as it so often does, about how the constellation needed to be set up. I chose to keep it blind.
In blind constellations, the representatives are not informed about whom they are representing. They receive a piece of paper with the name of their representation, which they then put it in their pockets. They do not get to see what is on the paper. This removes from the constellation dynamic the possibility of interference from mental interpretations, allowing the representatives to completely immerse themselves into the felt sense of the relationships we are exploring.
So I wrote four papers and handed them out to representatives, whom Chloe then placed into our circle:
Children of divorce often feel torn between their parents. Unconsciously, they look for ways to be loyal to both. But sometimes, these unconscious expressions of loyalty come at a high price.
Susan, 28 years old, was in the final stages of her second advanced degree program when she came looking for help. In her first program, she could not finish her dissertation and abandoned her studies, feeling like a failure.
Now, she found found herself nearing the end of her second graduate degree, once again seemingly unable to complete it.
In frustration, she talks about self-sabotage. She wants to understand why this happens and how she can change it. She has explored the issue in traditional psychotherapy, but has not been able to change her behavior. Now she has heard of family constellation work and has decided to give it a try.
As we discovered in her family constellation, Susan’s question was a perfect example of a child’s loyalty to both parents, enacted completely unconsciously, and at the high cost of hindering the success of the now-grown child.
Susan’s father worked as a bricklayer all his life. Susan describes him lovingly as warm and funny, and it is obvious that she loves her father. Her motheris well educated, with two degrees, and was Susan’s main caregiver after the couple divorced when Susan was four years old. Neither parent ever remarried.
While Susan had much more contact with her mother, whom she loves, she never forgot her father either.
“Just Like You!”
We proceed to set up a constellation with three representatives standing in for Susan, her mother and her father; then we wait to see how they position themselves. As we often see in divorces, the child representative stands between the parents, attempting to find a way to belong to this now-broken system.
Susan’s representative then proudly turns to the mother and says with great feeling, “Dear Mom, I am just like you! I, too, worked through two degree programs!”
Then she turns to her father and happily says, “Dear Dad! I am just like you too! I don’t have any degrees!”
While the daughter feels good being loyal to both parents, there is both love and un-ease in the representatives for her parents.
It is difficult to describe the feeling-tone within a family constellation, wherein complete strangers (the representatives) are expressing emotions that don’t belong to them, but to the family members they are representing.Working with these representatives in the constellation, healing and balance can be restored so that it reverberates into the living family system. This is where family constellation work impacts differently than traditional talk therapy.
At this point in the constellation, I invite the representatives to speak the words that the child, Susan, needs to hear from her parents.
Healing Words and a Felt-Sense of Acceptance
Using healing sentences, each parent gives Susan permission and blessings to love the other parent. Additionally, Susan’s father gives her his heartfelt permission to be as smart as her mother . . . and collect her degree.
The father’s love and blessings move both Susan and her representative to tears. A healing movement begins as Susan takes in her father’s love. It is this kinesthetic experience of receiving what she has missed, this “corrective experience” felt in her body, that becomes the seed for possible change.
Susan left with these blessings in her heart; and proceeded to finish her degree.
Introductory comments: What we find in each Family Constellation is unique and belongs to only one family system. That said, our family may be playing out its own version of a pattern we observe in another’s family system. I offer these case studies to give you a small taste of the issues that can arise in this work.
As you will see, some of these patterns originate in the current generation. Others originated several generations back.
Please keep in mind that constellation work functions in a rather kinesthetic, felt-sense, so the written examples will not convey the impact of a constellation; but I hope they give you a better understanding of how the work is done.
THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER RIFT
Angela presented this issue: “I was always very close to my daughter until she turned 15. Then, she began hating me.”
My first reaction was that maybe this was more of a developmental movement rather than a Family Constellation issue. But when I voiced this, Angela replied, “The same thing happened to me. I loved my mom until I turned 15, and we still barely speak.”
This clarified the generational component. And so we began.
First we put up 3 representatives: for mother, daughter and grandmother. With the representatives installed, the constellation indeed displayed a similar disconnect between mother and daughter in both generations.
I decided to add another representative: the great-grandmother. Interestingly, the same stony coldness was felt between the representatives for mother and daughter in this generation, too.
This month brought the pendulum of our collective psyche into full swing!
Intensity of emotional reactions to the presidential election flew high. As I endeavored to meet each person in my office with calm centeredness, I found myself challenged by the wild array of personal shadows being flushed out of their hiding places. It felt as though we were experiencing a collective immersion of shadow reactions to the seismic political shifts taking place: fear, grief, dismay, anger or despair flooded my office.
Having just re-centered from one version of reaction, I would then sit with someone who felt quietly hopeful and wished to celebrate the change, but did not feel safe expressing this publicly. My work was to be present with each person no matter where on the pendulum swing we started.
As the waves kept moving in and out, I found myself remembering the tiniest of creatures, the hummingbird. When I traveled to Peru last spring, I enjoyed watching these lovely beings, so wondrous in their deftness and precision. A hummingbird’s wings move faster than our eyes can perceive, yet it remains calm in its center so it can enjoy each flower and drink deeply from its nectar. The gift of this image seems like a good teaching this month.Stillness in rapid action became my mantra as I practiced staying present with each person I met. When presence holds us in each moment, it becomes more than a mantra; it becomes effortless.
Healing in Community
In the midst of this election month, our Constellation Learning Group, which meets one weekend each month, launched beautifully. Grounding into the felt-sense within our bodies evoked calm and allowed us to support each other. The teachings of the Family Constellation work expanded our horizons as we were reminded that it is the nature of the pendulum to swing; and that none of what we experience is either actually new or unique to us.
Breathwork, another powerful practice, assisted quite a few folks with releasing pent up emotion and coming back to their center. Gathering in the safety of community to learn new tools that help us understand and grow from challenges feels timely and important.
What helps you find inner stillness when the pendulum swings wildly?
This election has been a mess, and I am struck by how the issues raised by Donald Trump have shown up in my office. My private practice is overflowing with women who are re-living sexual assaults that they tried to bury long ago. So many women who were silent when the wounding occurred are now mightily struggling with anger over being violated and a hopeless feeling that the stronger will always win. Others are swimming in grief over the way incidents of assault or abuse have dominated their sex lives. Some have no pleasure, some have closed themselves to sex completely, and others have become promiscuous, acting out constantly, with no enjoyment.
The press about Donald Trump’s sexual misconduct and the betrayals of Bill Clinton, as well as Hillary’s aid’s husband, have opened a flood gate. The only good news is that trauma has to be seen and acknowledged in order to be healed. And for all the ugliness this election has raised, it also has moved many women to face what they could not bring themselves to face before. This is a courageous act that initiates the possibility for healing. The women I am privileged to support are working on re-owning their own bodies and knowing that they can again have power and feel powerful.
Both men and women have been jarred into re-examining what it means to be in healthy relationship with the opposite sex, and it affects us all. Ultimately, the focus comes even closer to home as we each struggle with how to balance our internal female and male energies – our strengths and our vulnerabilities, and our capacities for giving and receiving. Again…we learn within our family structures how to hold and value these energies.
by Humberto del Pozo, September 1999, Santiago Chile (translated from Spanish)
What is the family psyche?
Bert Hellinger: We observe when we work with the family that they are driven by a common principle or force, and I call that a family consciousness. We can observe that a circumscribed number of people are subject to unconscious drives to behave in a certain way. If in a family one member has been excluded or forgotten, for example a child that died early, and is no longer counted among the siblings, then later on, in the next generation only, another member takes up the same fate of that child.
This person then wants to die, with nobody knowing why.
And we do a family constellation. That means that in a group, a person selects representatives for the members of his family – including one for himself –and places them in relationship to one another, following only his own intuition. And as soon as those people have taken up their places, they feel like the people they represent, without knowing them. So by means of the Family Constellation, we get a real picture of what is going on in the family.
How does this therapy work for the unconscious behaviors you mentioned?
Bert Hellinger: Let’s say in this example, the person selects a person for his father, mother, his/her siblings and one for himself. Then he sets them up in a space, and they are all looking in one direction. That is very strange. So when we see that, we know immediately somebody has been forgotten or excluded.
Then they suddenly remember, “Oh Yes! There was a sister who was handicapped and died after three months…”