By Sarah Peyton
“I don’t even know what you are talking about when you say the words “self-warmth,” said Michelle.
“Oh,” I said. “Would you like to know?”
This question – or any question like it which determines what our clients are willing to want for themselves – can be of great importance in the initial interview for Family and Systemic Constellations. And even if a client like Michelle, says yes to my question, she still has not committed to actually giving herself the gift of self-warmth.
So, to make it explicit, after her “Yes,” I asked “Do you want to feel warmth toward yourself?”
This is a question for everyone who struggles with self-kindness and self-care. It is actually possible for people to have the sense that it would be a betrayal of integrity to turn toward the self with warmth.
“I’m not sure,” she answered. “I’m not really worth it.”
During this Family Constellations session, we put in a representative for Michelle. “Do you like her?” I asked her.
“Not really,” she said.
“Does she have to earn kindness?” I asked her.
“Of course!” she said, surprised.
“And do other people have to earn kindness?” I asked her.
“No. That would be silly.”
So here we are, as facilitators of Family and Systemic Constellations, wondering how to set up this constellation session with Michelle. Do we actually have the client’s buy-in to move forward with exploration? Is the client caught up in a loyalty to past generations who were unable to turn toward themselves with warmth? Is the issue a question of the flow of love, and if so, what has happened with the mothers in this client’s line? And, knowing that emotionally traumatic events in a client’s lifetime will impact self-love, is the issue caught up in difficult experiences of this life – does it have little or nothing to do with past generations?
Finally, what about vows and debts that prevent a sense of worth? How does it serve this client’s nervous system and the system of their family for this client to treat himself or herself with disdain?
There are so many possible threads. Some facilitators use muscle testing, some use body sensations, some put out “test” representatives, and some make a best guess based on where the client’s body is most responsive in the interview.
In the constellation session with Michelle, I wondered about her neurobiology and what it could tell us. What would happen if we represented her care circuit (the hard-wired capacity for warmth that all humans have). Where would it be focused? What was Michelle’s care circuit doing instead of taking care of her?
Michelle chose a representative for her care circuit. It was hyper-vigilant and protective but refused to come close to the representative for Michelle. It was acting more like a fear circuit than like a care circuit.
“Was your childhood dangerous?” I asked her.
“Not particularly,” she answered.
(There are many ways in which a client is a reliable and trustworthy narrator, but an answer of “no” about whether a childhood was dangerous can run at about 50 percent reliability.)
I have done Family and Systemic Constellations for six years at a women’s prison south of Portland, Ore., and it can take three to four years of exposure to constellation work and some really good, deep representations before a person who was thrown off a balcony at the age of 12 by a raging parent can begin to realize that their childhood might have been a little traumatic.
So we stayed with the neurobiology and put in a representative for Michelle’s fear circuit. With the true protector present, the care circuit because less stressed and turned toward the representative for Michelle.
“My mother was always so scared,” said Michelle. “She never relaxed.”
As emotions and situations are named or represented during constellation session, we often see the client’s body calm, and the client starts to see his or her life in a new light.
“How are you feeling about the representative for you?” I asked her.
“I like her,” Michelle said. “She’s trying so hard to take care of her mother.”
This opening lets the constellation move, and lets us see and release the trans-generational contracts that kept the family system suspended in a post-traumatic state where care was suspended and immobile in the frozen field of fear.
The representation of our nervous system states, circuits and brain parts opens a new world of exploration in constellation work, merging beautifully with trans-generational work and creating new possibilities for engagement, self-understanding and clearing the blocks to compassion and warmth.
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