Anne Bernard Becker
I fell in love with family constellations at a two-day workshop in 2005. After all these years, Family Constellation Work still awes me with its ability to move a group into the deeper dimensions of life. It seems that while many of us want to find shortcuts to God, we need to ground ourselves at some point in the family lineage from which we have sprung. Unblocking the flow of love within the family system frees us to access the divine. This is counter-intuitive for most Americans, since most of us are descended from immigrants who learned to "tough it out" in a land not their own. Their coping skills involved never looking back at the generations they had left behind. Thus the rootlessness of American culture.Most of our life struggles originate way beyond the emotional hurts and traumas of our own childhood. All that lies unacknowledged in our family history, both the pain and the love, deeply affects who we are and the choices we make. Psychologists recognize this, but to go way back in the family line may feel like opening up too big a can of worms. Maybe our family legacies are just too amorphous, too full of secrets, to be tackled through the usual psychotherapeutic approaches. I've often reflected on how the lineage we are born into creates the very ground we walk upon, yet such ground can never be truly discernable to us, precisely because we've never known anything else. The stories that do come down through our families are often not the real truth. It is convenient for the generations to separate the family into good guys and bad guys, and feel victimized.Until family constellation work was developed (in the 1990's in Germany,) we had never been able to stand back and see the ground we walk on for what it is. But I have been amazed that if we can get a picture of the unique, intimate universe into which we were born, facing honestly and directly the events that have shaped the generations, and offer acknowledgement, gratitude and love, then the family patterns which have limited us can fall away.When I am facilitating this work, I feel Spirit as strongly as in the most powerful church service. The room is filled with palpable energy. The participants bond in an extraordinary way. There is emotional catharsis, and a sense of awe and mystery in the face of something none of us quite understand. I believe there is profound healing too, though I cannot prove this.In fact, because I have one foot solidly in the materialistic western world of empirical science that I grew up in, I have not always known how to justify my passion for family constellation work. Often when trying to explain it to others, I project all my own doubts onto them. It's always been okay, despite the spiritual impoverishment of our culture, to believe in God, even if we never really expect to experience him/her. But the idea that our ancestors are active and present to us feels bizarre (even though Catholicism, my own tradition, mouths a belief in the "community of saints.") Furthermore, the idea that we can make changes in our lives, and radically lighten our children's emotional baggage, by setting up representatives for our ancestors around a room, and letting them feel their way into the energy carried by the family, outside of time and place, presents itself to some as new age nonsense. The idea of energy fields, though it's slowly creeping into the mainstream, still is suspect. While a family constellation is an insurance company's dream, since it often effects radical change in one or two sessions, its therapeutic value cannot be quantified. So it has been hard for me to talk about why this work moves me so deeply, why I have traveled to Louisville, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, Montreal, Asheville and Hartford these last few years just to do this work with others who love it as much as I do. No, I don't talk about it much. But I need to.In my sixties I've come to see a common thread running through all the group experiences I seek out. I look for groups that tap into what's real and vibrant, hidden so often beneath the surface of daily interactions. I have given lots of names to this "pearl of great price:" Spirit, a higher energy field, a deeper level of consciousness. In visiting many mainstream churches through the years, I've often been profoundly saddened because the people in the pews are numb and don't even notice what they are missing. It seems the more I have tasted real spiritual community, the hungrier I become for it. Family constellation work feeds this hunger even as it satisfies it.I have been through many years of psychotherapy, and I believe in it. But it is constellation work that has taken me to newer levels of freedom, that has transformed not only my psyche but my very soul. It is constellation work that has freed me from resentment and victimhood, has opened my heart in gratitude to my parents, and has moved me to honor at a deep level who I am and where I come from. It has allowed me powerful opportunities to experience the tragedy and beauty of the human spirit, to know our essential oneness spoken of in Buddhism and Christianity and all world religions. In addition to my personal experience, and those of my clients, there are myriad stories of profound physical and mental healing associated with this modality. It can work in ways that feel miraculous. But more often it creates subtle but profound shifts in consciousness that allow a person's life to unfold in a more expansive way.
When a group sets up a family constellation, the movements of the representatives reveal interruptions in the “flow of love” across generations. Such blocks are often caused by individuals being excluded from the family’s consciousness as a protection against shame or grief. Children in later generations sacrifice their own well-being and freedom to act in unconscious loyalty to these forgotten ones. They replicate their trauma and try to atone for their crimes. This leads to great suffering unless the original trauma is recognized and both victims and perpetrators are really seen.
Constellation work is grounded in the practice of mindfulness. It communicates at the same deep level of consciousness as art, myth and sacrament. Yet in its ability to cut through resentments, and wake-up what has been “stuck”, it is simple and practical. It was developed by Bert Hellinger in Germany in the 1990’s, and has become widely practiced not only in Europe, but in Asia, Latin America, and throughout the world. It has theoretical roots in Family Systems and Gestalt therapies, but it works explicitly with an intuitive “knowing field,” the palpable energetic resonance field unique to each family system across the generations.
People often wonder, "Why a full-day workshop if I just want to explore the impact of my own family history on my life?" At Family Constellation workshops healing is communal and interconnected for all the participants. The field of healing possibility grows throughout the day, and everyone is part of the process whether they are witnessing and supporting with their attention, being a representative, or doing their own work. A full day workshop allows energy to continue to flow naturally and will sometimes allow a theme to emerge during the day, where numerous people will work on a similar issue- relationships, children, health problems, etc. .