How do you feel when you’re blamed for something you didn’t do?
Often when we think of collective trauma, we consider the victims, most often with our love and compassion.
But how do we compassionately embrace the perpetrator’s reality? Thinking of ourselves as the perpetrator in a collective trauma brings up a lot of feelings. We feel guilt, shame and anger. Often, we feel rejected from the group of people we see as the victims who deserve compassion.
A White European Facilitating Constellations To Address Racial Trauma
I am a white European. Earlier this year, when I facilitated a course about collective trauma with black Bermudians, I gained a firsthand experience of the implicit blame towards me because of my ancestry.
As we opened the field for people to share their painful experiences related to race, story after story poured into our space. “White people” were the perpetrators throughout the stories.
This was difficult for me. What I felt was the implicit blame of my ancestors’ role in the abuse of people of color around the world. I hadn’t hurt anyone in the room personally, but the classroom was filled with tension and impatience. In other words, the room was filled with consequences of the wrongdoing and pain inflicted by white people in the past.
At the Inner Arts Institute, we focus on a mixture of methods to help a person release trauma from his or her body. One major concept behind our work is the transgenerational transmission of trauma.
Studies on epigenetics confirm that our ancestors, grandparents, and parents pass down wonderful traits like our gifts and talents, strength, and our body type. What our family also passes down is unfinished trauma.
But how do unfinished trauma transmissions work? How do we inherit our gifts and long-passed traumatic experiences from family members we may have never even met?
1. Through our DNA
As seen here in a PBS video
about the children of Holocaust survivors
Epigenetics, as written beautifully
within the Atlantic Monthly, Oct 2018
Getting in touch with these three areas help us to become aware of the root of many of our personal issues. Although talking to a supportive person is helpful, talking keeps us in our higher brain functions and does not allow us to access our unconscious or transgenerational issues.
To connect with these issues, we need to stay in tune with our bodies and become highly attuned to our breathing patterns and physical states. When we are triggered, our mind and our logic is of little help. Our nervous system goes into fight, flight, or freeze.
These instinctive states are so deeply ingrained in our bodies and move faster than conscious thought. Fight, flight, or freeze overrides any logic or thought in the moment.
What can I do to get in touch with my family’s unfinished trauma?
In short, we can learn to increase our internal capacity to stay centered and calm.
We can practice this by trying to:
Engage in family constellation process work to loosen stuck energy in our bodies
Slow everything down.
Learn to recognize triggers within ourselves.
Learn how to integrate our emotions
At Inner Arts Institute, we continuously seek to share these valuable tools so people can discover how to release trauma and find peace in their lives. If you feel called to learn more about processing unconscious generational trauma, we have several events over the next few months.
At the Inner Arts Institute, we spent 2018 “planting flowers” like the character in this cartoon. Our work expanded with an intensity that felt dizzying at times. What a joy!
In this New Year, I am so grateful for the incredible clients and collaborators who helped us plant seeds of peace and healing in our communities. I want to take a moment to acknowledge those who co-created with us. We can hardly wait to see what blossoms in 2019!
Connecting Family Constellation Work to Cultural Trauma
One of the brightest “flowers” we have been cultivating is deep training in how to help people integrate cultural trauma. First, I completed Part II of Thomas Huebl’s training inCollective Trauma Integration last spring. This profound journey brought personal growth, new friendships, and new tools for Family Constellation work; namely, a greater ability to hold space for the shadows of large-scale traumas such as war, famine, slavery, terrorism, and natural disasters…. and explore how these shadows reside in our culture and in each one of us.
Secondly, Thomas Huebl was also the keynote speaker at the 2018 North American Systemic Constellation conference, where Collective Trauma Integration is starting to be recognized as a natural evolution of Systemic Constellation work.
I had the privilege to introduce him to fellow North American “constellators” there,and also to lead a Collective Trauma Constellationworkshop. Other members of the Inner Arts Institute team stepped into leadership roles at the conference, too. Comma Williams and I co-facilitated a Medicine Wheel Constellation, drawing upon the shamanic training that has influenced both of us deeply as practitioners. And Kimberly Clementi-Eadon introduced her work on Constellations with Adolescents.
It was a great joy to share our work in the North American Constellation Community which has provided so much inspiration over the years. We hope that we planted seeds that will flower in the work of Constellation practitioners far and wide!
Collective Trauma as a Source of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
An unexpected highlight of 2018 came when I was invited to present a talk on Collective Trauma Integration at a large conference on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in Bermuda. Research has shown that ACEs play a huge role in physical and mental health struggles in adulthood. This understandings has inspired new efforts to recognize and address trauma occurring childhood.
In Bermuda, racial issues stemming from colonialism and slavery have brought tremendous pain that continues to impact new generations of Bermudians. My role was to share insight about how children can inherit Collective, or Cultural Traumas that impacted their families… and to offer a model for healing such an enormous wound. The intensity between white and black people filled the space in our conversations. Continue reading Planting Flowers for 2019→
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…
Thomas Huebl, who has done significant healing work around Holocaust trauma in Europe and Israel, recently sent out an invitation to mental health professionals, scientists and other professionals to explore what can be done to understand and heal collective trauma.
Last month, 150 practitioners answered that call and made the journey from all over the planet (39 countries) to his Pocket Projecttraining in Israel. They brought their knowledge, skills and resources, as well as the traumas that have impacted (and are still impacting) their countries. I was one of them. I’m now back home, and before daily routines claim all of my attention again I want to share a little of the amazing journey that I was immersed in. I feel a new level of peace within, and my understanding has been upgraded a few notches.
What is collective trauma, and why is it critical that we learn to address it?
In The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains trauma in simple language. He says that our ability to “stay present” gets hijacked by survival-related emotions and sensations when an incident overwhelms us in ways that we cannot cope with. When the event is more than we can process, we dissociate or go numb. Then, the traumatic charge lands in our physical body, where it can be reawakened by something like a smell, a sound or an image that is associated with the traumatic event, sending us back with a flashback to the traumatic experience.
What happens when trauma gets internalized on a larger scale? Collective trauma, sometimes called cultural trauma, occurs as a result of large-scale events like war, genocide, colonialism or terror attacks. The violence and shock is so overwhelming that the entire culture goes numb, disassociates, or finds other ways to create distance from the truth of it. People may survive and move on with their lives, but the actual feelings associated with the event stay frozen, unintegrated, in the cultural body.
This frozen emotion forms an underlying energy around the culture. Unconsciously, its members then see reality through a lens that is fogged up by this unresolved past. And everyone who is born into the culture thereafter simply assumes that this fogged-up picture is reality.
Most Family Constellation facilitators have experienced that moment when a Family Constellation suddenly shifts into a Cultural Constellation. The cultural trauma that impacted the client’s family at some point in history becomes so dominant in the field that it cannot be ignored. It demands to be seen, felt and integrated.
How can this be accomplished?
Who can “host,” or open to such intensity, when the emotion is so overwhelming?
Constellation Work & Collective Trauma – The Boston Marathon Bombing
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:
I recently travelled to Washington DC to support my Lakota friends as they marched to protest fracking and the building of a pipeline on their tribal land.
Several years ago, in my study of indigenous ways of healing, I had the fortune to be invited by a Lakota elder to attend their sun dance in South Dakota. Watching the enormous offering of strength, the willingness to shoulder pain, and the incredible generosity of spirit that week really impacted my life.
I had stayed in touch with my Lakota friend after spending the week with his people. Standing by their side for this day of protest felt like a small way of giving back to them. In spite of the snowy coldness of that day, I found my heart being warmed by the ways in which people treated each other at the rally that followed the march.
I am not talking about what was spoken, but rather the attitude underlying the interactions. In tribal societies, the rhythms and stages of life are honored and respected for what they each offer. I felt the beauty of each generation’s contributions to the event.
Honoring All Generations
The enthusiasm and passion of youth was honored, as well as the thoughtful leadership of the tribal councils, culminating in a reading of the tribal declaration. We heard angry voices as well as hopeful ones.
Elders proudly affirmed the youth, who ran the rally. Young ones fondly acknowledged their elders as they focused on keeping our earth cared for so that she, in turn, will care for the next generations. Broad smiles welcomed one of the grandmothers who had traveled all night to bring her warmth and blessings to her people, and the respect for her spread palpably throughout the crowd. She poured her heart into supporting the next generation, passing on the torch with love.
And then, right in front of the White House, all became still when a prayer song called on the Creator to protect our earth, and to bless our people and our planet.
Having been immersed in constellation work for many years, I recognized the right order of things in relationships, and I appreciated that blessings were offered as well as received with such ease. Continue reading Of Blessings and Farewells→
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.