The ties that bind us, build us, and break us
Whether or not you are actively aware of it, your family plays the biggest role in shaping who you are as an individual. Our childhood experiences and family dynamics influence how we think, feel, act, relate with others, and how we approach life in general.
So that nasty nail-biting habit you can’t seem to shake might just be your way of subconsciously coping with parental trauma you may have experienced. Your struggles with your image and self-esteem are probably because of that one thing that one random relative might have said to you years back.
Unfortunately, the link between these interactions and our personalities or habits is not always easy to pick out. Furthermore, there is no interaction too small or family member too distant to be considered inconsequential.
The good news is that sometimes, all you have to do is to get a different perspective and the puzzle pieces will finally come together and make sense. This is more or less what family constellation therapy helps you achieve.
So what exactly is a family constellation?
Traditional approach vs. modern psychiatric principles; The best of both worlds
In order to understand what a family constellation is, let’s take a quick glance at the origins and history of the concept.
Family constellation therapy was developed and popularized by German psychotherapist, Bert Hellinger in the 1950s. After a missionary trip to South Africa during the fifties, he observed how the Zulu communities’ approach to family and ancestral ties positively impacted their lives and relationships.
While most in the western world took a more “bury deep down and move on” approach to dealing with family trauma, the communities that Hellinger worked with highly prioritized healing family and ancestral scars.
The result of it was a happier society with stronger bonds.
Hellinger spent the next few decades of his career combining modern psychiatric principles with this traditional Zulu perspective to come up with an unconventional yet exciting new concept. And thus, family constellation therapy was born.
The typical family constellation therapy session
Family constellation therapy is, more often than not, done in a group setting either as a workshop or in recurrent sessions. With these setups, there are 3 main players:
- The facilitator/group leader that guides the sessions and helps the client achieve their therapy goals.
- The seeker. This is the client with a specific problem they suspect may be linked to repressed family trauma.
- Group participants who bear no familial relationship to the seeker. Their role in the sessions is to stand in for the seeker’s family member for some perspective.
Once the group is assembled and the seekers issue is identified, the facilitator will assign different members of the group different representative positions based on the seekers family.
The seeker then takes a moment to observe and get a feel of whether the group members seem to fit and accurately represent the essence of the family member they are representing. If the facilitator misses the mark, they can easily rearrange the participant until the seeker feels that they represent their family fairly well
The match isn’t always about whether or not the particular group member looks like the family member they are representing. Sometimes it is about their demeanor, personality, or something random like an accessory that you as the seeker feels reminds you of a certain family member.
Perfect matching and the power of perspective in a safe space
Once the group members are playing roles that you as the seeker feel best represent your family, you can enjoy a clear perspective of how these members make you feel. It is at this point that you or the facilitator may ask the role-playing members questions to be answered in character.
What makes family constellation therapy so awesome is the fact that you get to learn so much about the kind of impact your family has on your life in a safe space. That way, you don’t have your own subconscious walls standing in the way of healing and progress.
Is family constellation therapy for you?
Family therapy has a lot to offer everyone as we all have family trauma in one way or another. It is particularly useful for individuals whose family dynamics have had a huge negative impact on their lives.
This could manifest as maladaptive and self-harming habits, a trend of failing relationships, and psychological disturbances including depression, anxiety, phobias, and obsessions. You would be surprised just how much you can learn about yourself and your past.