By Liz Sleeper
Strangely, I am going to start by setting out what family constellations are not:
Family constellations are nothing to do with star signs. Constellations are about placement in relation to another and family constellations are literally about where we are placed in the family. in day to day life we often see things like the youngest in a family is more likely to be carefree or the oldest sibling is more likely to be very responsible. Likewise through a family constellation we can start to see other patterns that may repeat themselves throughout a family.
Also, constellations are not psychotherapy. They come out of the psychotherapy tradition, but constellations are definitely very different. We work with the whole family system, we work in an embodied fashion and although we very much recognise grief, loss, abuse and trauma we do not allow for blame and fingerpointing. We just go with “what is”.
So what are family constellations?
Essentially it is a way to bring a group of people together to co-create or map out an individual’s picture or experience of their family. Once the picture is set up, the issue holder is supported in looking at this picture and then the workshop tries to adjust it and move it around until a newer and more helpful image arises.
In our day and age we assume that we are all individuals, and that all the choices we make and actions we take are done so by ourselves and ourselves alone. Rarely are we able to acknowledge the hidden forces at work in our actions.
Family constellations enable us to see some of the wider forces at play in our decisions, from our loyalties to our parents to our connections with missing family members to our identifications with wider forces still, such as our nationally or religion.
This is all stuff that we think we know about ourselves, and our families - and indeed we do know it. But there is something about standing in a constellation and seeing it, hits you in a different and deeper way. This recognition helps you take everything much more seriously and also hold day to day “problems” more lightly. Having taken things on in this way, participants leave feeling much more grounded and respectful of where they came from.
The other thing that happens in a constellation workshop is that we use embodied information. The body is an amazing thing and holds all sorts of emotional information and secrets. When a representative stands in a constellation, by trusting what is happening in their body they pick up all sorts of information about the person and the family that they are representing. Sometimes a representative will, say, only want to look out of the window - which would suggest the attention of the person they are representing is elsewhere and not with their family. Other times a representative will report feeling really angry, or guilty, or ashamed. In the workshop we use this information to enable an issue holder to get a very different picture of their family. For example a man might say “my father was never there for me, he was only ever angry and bad tempered”. When you set up the constellation you see that his father desperately wanted to be more available for his son, but simply couldn’t because he had gone to war and seen the deaths and destruction of so many of his brothers in arms.
Who comes to a workshop?
Often people come when they have an issue in their life which feels completely stuck. There could be a family member who is particularly difficult or a very difficult relationship. Or perhaps someone is seeking something they just cannot find - a committed relationship, a steady job, and for no logical reason, it just isn’t happening. These are some of the things that constellations can help with.
I had a workshop participant recently, who stood and looked at her mother's line of family. It looked bleak. Many women over generations had had a very very hard time, poverty, powerlessness and abuse. It was so troubling and heavy that it was extremely difficult for the issue holder to look at. However she did. And as a consequence she told me she had surprised herself. She now stands up for herself in a way that she wouldn’t have done before. And she does so without thinking about it, or struggling.
One of the most wonderful things about participating in a workshop is you often get as much “healing” from coming as a representative or even just holding in the outside circle as you do from doing your own piece of work. Indeed many facilitators take the view that the healing is the same so they don’t distinguish between issue holder or representative place prior to a workshop.
There are people who return regularly to workshops, once the acute issues are over. Regular participation can help towards transforming life from one of surviving with fewer problems to a life of thriving.
Third Monday of every month 6.15pm - 9.15pm
@ Cornerstone Community Centre, Hove
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