Often undertaken in a group setting, the Family Constellation approach can also provide useful insights and understanding in individual therapy.
Traumatic events in the family can have a significant impact on the capacity of surviving family members to live fulfilling lives. These events can include, for example, the early death of a parent or sibling, suicide of a partner or other family member, the impact of war and others. The events become impossible to talk about, and later family members may even be unaware that they have occurred. There can also be other events which, while not overtly traumatic, become family secrets or difficult to acknowledge, and exert an ongoing influence on the lives of family members. These can include unacknowledged children, divorce and separation, lack of acceptance of family members because of alcoholism or mental health issues etc.
Entangled with unhappiness from the past, family members often continue patterns of anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, chronic illness and unfulfilled relationships. It can be very difficult to step fully into our lives when we know that other members of our family are struggling or in pain.
There is an underlying order which supports natural systems to operate effectively. Examples might include the changing of the seasons or the diverse social systems adopted by different animal species. Hellinger recognised that such an order operates at an unconscious level in human families, which he calls the `Orders of Love.’ Disturbance of this order, whether by the impact of traumatic events or through choices made by people in the system, can have a lasting effect on system members, often over two or more generations.
It is possible to look at our own families through the lens of these `Orders of Love’ to see how the family response to traumatic events and/or family secrets has contributed to our own difficulties and issues. This also provides the opportunity to acknowledge responsibility where it belongs, and grieve or look compassionately at those who have suffered harm, which can in turn lead to a sense of our own place in the family.
For more information on Family Constellations therapy, see www.hellinger.co.uk.