Were your parents divorced? If so, that's quite possibly still to this day the most important event in your life. Did your mother, before you were born, have an abortion or a late-term miscarriage? If she did, that also may be one of the most important events in your life. Did your father's father kill or risk death in WWII? That also may be one of the most important events in your life.
We live in an individualistic culture and most often think that our problems are our own, or at most we attribute our problems to our "bad" parents. That's a shallow view. Family Constellation is a relatively new therapy which places our lives and our problems where they belong, in the context of the wider family.
Problems echo across generations. For example, if you are someone whose mother's mother died in childbirth, then your mother is likely to have grown up with a buried sense of deep sadness and loss. And as a tiny baby being nursed by your mother, you are quite likely to have felt that deep and buried sadness and drawn it into yourself along with the love of life which mothers give to their babies. And you too may grow up with a vague, inexplicable sense of loss and depression. Your life extends beyond you to the whole family, and your grandmother's tragic death is a real and present event in your own life.
As a another example, let's suppose that a young woman falls deeply in love for the first time, but before she can marry, war intervenes and the man she loves does not return. The grief is too terrible and she can't grieve properly for her loss. Still, life goes on, and a few years later she finds a new man and marries him, and she has a son. And as she nurses the tiny baby and feels how much she loves him, she just can't help also remembering the first great love who she lost.
And because babies are very, very sensitive, a strange thing happens: a confusion sets in, and the baby grows up thinking on some unconscious level that he is the lover who died. In the language of family constellation we say the baby is "entangled" with the dead soldier. And it can happen that as that boy grows up, he wants to die, and as a young man may become depressed or suicidal. That may sound unlikely, but in fact it is a not uncommon dynamic in suicidal feelings.
In practical application, there are two forms of Family Constellation work, workshop and individual.
In the individual session, which is the kind of constellation therapy which I do, the person exploring their family places markers of felt or paper on the floor of the room in the position where family members would be standing. Then the clients stands on the markers in turn, feeling what it is like in each position, and feeling how they markers might speak to each other or might move. (Or smaller markers can be placed on a tabletop, and the person exploring touches each one in turn.) Gradually, in small steps, the situation unwinds and soon the feelings found in each location, the things the markers say, and the positions they move to, step out of the realm of what is already known, and begin to be fresh and unexpected.
As people place the markers initially, they feel they are placing them spontaneously, with no particular rhyme or reason. Yet it soon become apparent that they have placed them in a way which reveals hidden family forces. It is as if we carry in our bodies a subtle source of information which we're not aware of, different and deeper from what we access when we speak. I do such constellations with many clients and most often they are rich and revealing about the client's issues, and not uncommonly very surprising.
In a workshop family constellation, instead of placing felt markers, the person exploring positions other workshop participants to stand as "representatives" where it feels right to have their mother, father, etc stand in the room. Then for a while the explorer sits next to the therapist and does nothing but watch. And a quite strange thing happens: in slow steps, the representatives begin to re-enact the dynamics of the family.
They may intuit events such as abortions or deaths which the explorer is aware of but has not mentioned, and they may at times intuit things that even the explorer is unaware of. Sometimes these new events can be verified later from other family members, and in other cases not. In any case, the expression is always experienced as relevant and emotionally real - neither clients nor participants feel that things are made up - and they certainly have a healing reality.
In my own experience, when I've been the client exploring my family in a workshop constellation, I've several times had representatives say things, or use guestures which they couldn't possibly have known. It is quite strange, as if we are all linked on a wider level of the mind than we realise; in the Family Constellation field this is referred to as the "knowing field". If it sounds strange, it is, yet it is also perfectly grounded and commonsense and I don't know of anyone who has been a representative who doubts that it is real.
There are many different variations on Constellations work. The work was largely developed by the German therapise Bert Hellinger. While he is a great creative genius in the field of therapy, I don't feel completely sympathetic to his approach. I'm more inspired by the work of another German therapist, Franz Ruppert. Ruppert places more emphasis on emotions and on the way that severe trauma, such as abuse, rape, tragically early death or infanticide can be transmitted across generations. He uses the term "trauma constellations" but I refer to the work I do as "emotional family constellations."
If you have any issue, either with your family that you were born in, or with your current family, or a repeating pattern with relationships, or an emotional or behaviour pattern in your own life which you don't understand, then individual constellations can be a fruitful way to explore and bring healing to it. If you would like to explore further, just give me a ring on 0845-3510604 / 0117 955 0490. I'm happy to answer questions.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
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