If there is beauty in the person
There is harmony in the home
If there is harmony in the home
There is order in the nation
If there is order in the nation
There is peace on earth.
What is involved in family health? Genetics, healthy lifestyle, open respectful communication, parents who are strong and confident in their roles and provide clear boundaries. All of these might be good goals for most of us, so where do things go wrong?
Many parents are very aware of healthy lifestyle options and setting a good role model of communication and behaviour, but may experience difficulty in feeling confident in their roles and unsure about what healthy boundaries are and how to set them up. You may be well educated and well informed and have done personal development for yourself, in order to make sure you are as good a person you can be, but still find unhealthy patterns from your own or your partners’ family of origin, coming into your own young family, in spite of your best efforts to avoid this. Or it could be that you have a child who appears to be isolated, timid, anxious, or aggressive, even though you are providing the very best environment and role modeling that you can. The truth is that we are each born into our family energy and that we are highly sensitive to it and carry it with us, whether we are aware of it or not. Our children are likewise born into their own family energy and pick up instinctively or unconsciously on their parents’ feelings, underlying depression, sadness, anger or any other emotion, from a very early age. In this way, children carry energy for others, which has the effect of weighing them down and not allowing them to be totally free.
According to Bert Hellinger the originator of Family Constellations, children have an incredibly strong love for their parents and family members. This love is so strong that the child will if it can, sacrifice itself by trying to share or carry Mum’s sadness, Dad’s depression or any other emotion. This then becomes “baggage” for the child and can restrict their growth as free innocent children. In this way many of us as adults now will have “carried” our parents symbolically and felt the need to “hold things together” for the family in some way.
If this happened to you, you will probably be an over responsible or serious person who missed out on your childhood to some extent. You are likely to continue to look after and carry others in your life, including your partner. Alternatively, you may find it impossible to commit to a family of your own, perhaps because you are still entangled in the early dynamics of your original family group. Others may see this as irresponsibility or immaturity. The truth is you are probably carrying so much for others from your family of origin, that you are not free to commit to a relationship or family of your own.
Case study. (Names have been changed)
Tom came to a Family Constellations workshop with some concern for his daughter Sarah who was ten years old and was showing signs of anxiety and hyperactivity. Tom was in a very loving relationship with his wife and three children of which Sarah was the oldest. The other two children appeared to be doing well. Tom was well educated and had done quite a lot of personal development himself so far. In asking for a few facts about his family of origin, he said that he had very little contact with his parents and that he does not have a good relationship with them.
He was asked to select representatives from the group for himself, his mother, father and daughter and place them in the room in relationship to each other from his own “feeling” perspective, not using his rational mind as much as possible. He placed the representative of himself and his daughter quite close and a long way from the representatives of his parents. The representatives soon started to get some body sensations and feelings as the family field developed in the room in the next few minutes. The representative of the father turned away from the parents and the representative for the daughter started to shake. The representative for Tom felt a tightening of his jaw and chest. When he was asked to turn to look at his parents, his anxiety increased and the shaking of the child decreased a little. The representative of his parents looked distant and cool. The facilitator gave Tom and his parents a few healing sentences to say to each other that released the tense emotional state of Toms representative quite considerably. The representative for his mother had softened and Toms representative and was able to move closer to her and hold her hands while looking into her face. The representative of his father continued to look aloof.
On asking for further information of his fathers’ life we found that he had lost both of his parents in the war when he was nine years old. Two representatives were selected for them and placed behind the father. The representative for the father turned, but found it hard to look at them and felt a strong upsurge of anger. Having expressed this several times he now felt sad. After a brief interchange of further healing sentences he eventually looked at them both and fell into their arms embracing them for a few minutes.
When he turned round to see his son Tom, now with the representatives for his parents behind him, he looked much softer and was able to say to Tom, “I see you now. I‘m sorry I have not been here for you.” The representative for Tom is relieved and moves forward to embrace his father. A few moments later Tom is standing with his mother and father and turns to look at the representative for his daughter. She is smiling and looking calm and moves towards her father and grandparents. At this point Tom is asked to take his place in the constellation instead of his representative. He holds the representative of his daughter’s hand and looks at the representatives of his parents for a while and is visibly moved. The constellation ends here.
Tom contacted me the next day after the workshop to say that his daughter appeared to be much calmer and much more cooperative. Two weeks later he let me know that he had resumed contact with his parents and his daughter is continuing to do well.
This case study is very typical of Family Constellations bringing out the dynamics of a family and also providing a suitable solution. It was possible to see in this case that each person in this group was caught up in family tensions and that once these were released and a few simple interventions were put into place that love could start to flow more easily and each member of the group felt more comfortable.
The daughter here appeared to be a very sensitive indicator of the stress levels experienced in the family energy. The difficulty between the grandfather and the loss of his parents had caused a rift between him and his son and the grand-daughter was feeling the turbulent energy of her father’s situation.
Family Constellations demonstrates repeatedly that although this is a brief therapeutic intervention for the client, it also often has an impact on the other people in the group or family and especially the children, because families are connected by more than mere genetics. According to Constellation philosophy we are born into our family energy network, and are often effected by existing tensions and stresses, such as, unresolved guilt, shame, anger, sadness, injustice or secrets and exclusions in the family.
Very often, simply revealing the dynamics and releasing unresolved emotions is a bit like releasing the tension in a wound-up spring, both for you as the client and also for the other people involved in real life and especially for children. From this case it is easy to see that children are highly sensitive to the energy in family dynamics and may feel the tension, but may not have the language to express it. From this case study and also the philosophy of Family Constellations and its innovator Bert Hellinger, love and health can flow freely through a family, once intense emotions have been resolved and each person is allowed to take full responsibility for themselves.
What are they? Generally speaking, this is each person taking up their role in the family according to their responsibility and the order of who came first or later. This means that the children in the family are not given the choice of making major family decisions, but may make some smaller choices within their own realm of interest or experience. Parents are responsible for providing the environment, home, education and protection and have the experience and knowledge to make the bigger decisions, because children do not have sufficient knowledge. Parents give and children take. Parents do a lot for their children, this is as it should be. This may sound a little old fashioned? Possibly, but imagine this situation.
A child is allowed to take part in all of the decisions in a family from a young age. This although possibly liberating from our perspective, especially if we were bought up in an over controlling environment ourselves, can be quite scary for a child at a deeper level. On one level in being treated as an equal to you they will like their feeling of importance in the family and may fight to retain this, but on another, the child knows that it doesn’t really have the experience and knowledge for this task. He or she is born helpless into the world and finding that they have nearly as much decision making power as their parents, even though they have little knowledge or experience, can result in the child feeling that they are in charge of a racing bull without the skills or knowledge to control it. They may come to view their parents are weak or not having the capacity or resources to provide a strong healthy environment for them. From this situation the child may feel that he or she is equal to the parents from a young age and bigger or stronger than their parents, quite soon after that. In a sense your children are equal, but in terms of experience and responsibility and who came first or later, they are not.
Of course children should be given some choices and freedom from a young age, but also be clear about what is not in their sphere of choices as well. This is a clear boundary that they may try to infiltrate and push aside from time to time, but your strength as a parent will be in being able to be clear, fair and compassionate as well as being firm. You have a much larger responsibility involving the organisation of the family as a whole, finance, work, domestic duties, planning for the present and future and providing a safe and nurturing environment for the family as a whole. Of course as they grow up, you may increase their areas of responsibility and choice and allow them to learn from their experiences and mistakes. This is vital, with you as a support in the background as they mature to adulthood.
What is really healthy for children?
The biggest gift you can give to your children after unconditional love is to come to some resolve or peace with your own roots, so that you can be free of any baggage that you carry for your family, so that your children will not feel that they have to carry you in some way. You may have little to do with your family, or feel that they don’t understand you, perhaps because you are so much more educated or knowledgable than they are, or live a very different sort of life to them. If this is the case you are not yet at peace with your roots.
Another gift if you are still living with the other parent of your children is to regularly make time for each other as parents, where children are not included. This may be called “our time” or “adults time”. This very clearly puts children in their rightful place in the family and helps them to avoid entanglements in the relationship or with either one of the parents. The child may lose a little in terms of a feeling of importance or bigness in the family, but on deeper level be set free to be an innocent, free child, doing whatever is appropriate for their stage of development. In addition all children will like the idea that they are a product of the love between their parents, whether you are still together or not. This is a very helpful and supportive feeling for the child.
Try this exercise
Picture Mum and Dad if you can. Notice the feelings that come up in you, or notice if it is hard to picture or feel them. Notice how large or small they feel to you. If you can do this exercise and feel both parents as a strong, warm influence on you and also bigger than you, then you are in a very strong place to provide the same sort of strength for your own children, particularly if you can also provide some good clear boundaries as well.
If this is not the case, it is likely that you have cut them off or feel superior to them in some way. It could also be the case, that you feel rejected or mistreated in some way as well. This is not a healthy dynamic for you or your family. Bert Hellinger says that we should not be too surprised that when we reject our parents that our children also reject us at some stage too. “What goes around comes around”.
The process of Family Constellations is a wonderful gentle and safe process of uncovering the dynamics of families in order to heal and beak unhealthy patterns and help the client find a suitable solution for themselves.
What if your parent was mentally ill, abusive, neglectful, irresponsible or any other difficult state?
According to Bert Hellinger Family constellations works at a soul level, encouraging each member of the family, through representatives to take full responsibility for themselves, leaving the you free to do the same. It is a process of helping you to accept “what is” and move on from that point and free yourself.
Remember you are not responsible for Everything
It should also be acknowledged that some children do have quite strong fates of their own, that has nothing to do with you personally. For some situations, all you can do is support them in accepting their situation, as best they can, which might be a disability of some sort. Again feeling strong within yourself will help you in this.
What’s different about Family Constellations?
You do not have to take the whole family with you to a workshop or private session. Only you need to attend. The rest of your family may never know what you are doing for yourself, if you prefer. Constellation work tends to ripple through the family group and down to the children via the energy connecting all family members. All of us want to have great relationships with our children and also for them to be free and strong. This starts with you being free and strong as a parent.