Working with Family Maps © Martyn Carruthers

Your relationship dynamics may be outside of your awareness, yet control your life.
Our relationship counseling can offer insights into your emotions and habits
– and solutions for your problems.

Systemic insights are simple yet profound, hidden yet obvious, and always revealing. You may never understand your own family as well as you understand other families.

After Family Constellations

A family constellation represents the subjective experience of family members. It can also be called a ritual map or family panorama, but differs from a genogram, which maps relationships and medical history.

Family constellations were first described by Alfred Adler. Applications of family constellations were developed and incorporated into family therapy by Virginia Satir (see New Peoplemaking), and were popularized by Bert Hellinger.

In the demonstrations I witnessed, people trained by Satir or Hellinger briefly explored people’s family compositions and histories, and then asked those people to spatially represent their families. Family constellations can be made with actors, or using chairs, papers or other objects (during private sessions).

The resulting layouts of people or objects are sometimes called family constellations. These layouts were then modified or changed, following the feelings, guesses or intuitions of the leader.

The emotions described by the representatives were often claimed to ‘belong to the real family members‘ – the absent family of the central person, living, missing or dead.

My research into Hawaiian spirituality indicates that many rituals utilized non-local action. The rituals of ho’oponopono, ho’omanamana and awaiku assume that health reflects relationships, and that information can pass between relatives. (When action at a distance becomes healing at a distance, it does seem miraculous.)

 

Constellations in Practice

WARNING: You can feel good and relax if you
successfully imagine that you have solved a problem!

We find that good feelings often support short-term changes, followed by relapses. and that lasting change requires appropriate changes in a person’s maturity and behavior. Good feelings may decrease people’s motivation to accept their responsibilities and improve their skills.

When we help people heal relationships, we respect each person’s values, and we honor each person’s wisdom. We don’t try to make people do anything. We find that people make intelligent choices when they know what is possible; when they know the potential consequences and when they are not entangled in limiting beliefs.

My talks with trainers, students and clients of family constellation workshops indicate that the benefits of imaginary change-work often vanish within a few weeks, although some practitioners told me that any long-term follow-up is intrusive and should be avoided. See Systemic Health and Systemic Magic.

For helping professionals: Be honest – only promise what you can deliver.
Let your experience speak to you as well as to your clients about what to expect.
Discuss the potential consequences of every technique before using it,
offer many choices, and promise your clients your attention!

 

Trauma, Tragedy and Health

Common examples of emotional trauma and relationship issues include:

  1. Adopted children
  2. Early or premature deaths
  3. Ostracized family members
  4. War, holocaust and terrorism survivors
  5. Children of separated or divorced parents
  6. Abortions, miscarriages and stillborn children
  7. Descendents of aboriginals, minorities or slaves

Some families manage emotional trauma and move on, but some people get stuck, unable to find a balance between giving and receiving, between honoring and forgetting, between life and death.

Family members unconsciously follow family rules. For example, if a family member is ostracized, and that missing person is not brought back into a family, the family loses part of itself. A family member may identify with unconsciously express the missing or lost qualities of that person, or marry a substitute for that person.

Cross-generational entanglements explain why some tragedies are repeated in each generation. Relatively simple but tragically toxic examples of cross-generational suffering are covert emotional incest and suicide. See Mother-Son Entanglements, Father-Daughter Bonds and Suicide.

Children can become entangled in the drama of missing, hurt or grieving relatives, and can identify with or bond to those relatives. As these adult children act out their entanglements, they create the seeds of similar confusion for the next generation.

Failure to manage family entanglements can have unpleasant consequences, such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety … and suicide. Contact us to manage cross-generational entanglements.

Risks, Responsibility, Consequences and Effectiveness

There are risks for people who participate as actors in family constellations. The consequences of observation flow both ways. People who play roles in another person’s family systems may identify with those often-toxic roles.

Many family systems require one or more members to be unhealthy (the unhealthy person may hold the  family together). A family member who identifies with an unhealthy person may experience psychosomatic symptoms. This seems to be common (based on discussions with participants of our coaching and workshops).

Another hazard of family constellation work is the risk of installing beliefs. If a constellations trainer is accepted as an authority, a concise diagnosis that seems to simplify a complex problem may have the rapid placebo effect called instant healing. Well … temporarily anyway … until the family system reasserts its power.

Short-term results are a curse to many alternative therapies – except that some family constellation trainers suggest that practitioners avoid follow-up with their students or clients! Follow-up, they told me, can be terribly intrusive and damage the newly adjusted family systems. Is this wisdom – or an impressive way to justify avoiding learning about responsibility, consequences and effectiveness?

Information offered by actors in family constellations is second-hand … filtered through the actor’s experiences and beliefs. I have seen too many constellations in which the actors propounded beliefs from religions, cults and philosophies as inspired truths.

I have also seen immature people become enmeshed in dysfunctional family constellations. They may react and abreact to what they discover, and distort their own relationships. The consequences of role playing and identifying with unhealthy people can be very unpleasant.

Family constellations provide a way to change inner representations of relationships. However, changing representations is unlikely to change other people’s representations, nor motivate other people to ignore any past hurt or forget injustices. Unless followed by appropriate action and interaction, the apparent benefits family constellation workshops seem to disappear within three months.

Our Systemic Relationship Counseling

Some questions that expose systemic stress are:

  • How is power delegated?
  • How do leaders gain power?
  • Who really makes decisions?
  • How are those decisions communicated?

We help parents or leaders to restore order, and change the human resources of a family, team or organization. This emotional intelligence can help people answer some important questions:

  • How can we increase happiness?
  • How can we increase effectiveness?
  • Which person best fits our organization?
  • How can core competencies be duplicated or improved?

Following systemic diagnosis, we coach people to define their goals and plans to reach them – including relationship goals. Verbal and nonverbal objections and entanglements are explored until each goal is congruently desired (no verbal or nonverbal objections) and limiting beliefs are resolved.

Our systemic coaching is about your life, rather than in theories or intuitions. We explore who supports you, who blocks you, and how proposed changes
may affect your relationships. Contact us for more.

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