“Wherever the constellation work is taken, it will arrive in a place where people are dealing with the effects of collective trauma. And in each place, the local population tries to come to terms with what has happened and has to find a place for the victims and the perpetrators of the past. These will be given a place either openly in the light or they will be hidden in the shadow zones.” (Daan Van Kampenhout, excerpted with permission from Ancestral Blueprints: Revealing Invisible Truths in America’s Soul).
Embedded in the shadows of U.S. history lies an essential key to healing inherited collective traumas: the United States was formed out of disconnection from family. Through immigration from home countries, genocide of First Nations people and enslavement of African ancestors – disconnection from family runs through the American landscape.
This is a complicated history.
In combination with this context of disconnection from family, the favored American trauma identification is with the rescuer or victim role, never the perpetrator. Deeply rooted affiliation with the rescuer role has a profound effect in that it prevents unfreezing of perpetrator/victim trauma bonds. It is out of this group conscience that recent national political leaders have emerged, reminding us that what gets excluded becomes represented. Our blind love’s human challenge to acknowledge and claim the perpetrator role in lived American history has caught up with us as a collective.
This lived history needs no fixing or changing, as if that were even possible. Nor is it necessary to protect ourselves from or try to prevent the history that has already happened. These kinds of impulses are some of the markers of unhealed trauma.
Blindness to whiteness and identification with skin color as a surrogate source of belonging are also entwined with these histories. “Dismantling structures that were created out of dehumanizing ‘other’ requires expanding capacity for acknowledging the way in which we are in relationship with all that is without clinging to notions of goodness, innocence, judgement, and exclusion.” (Source: http://www.internalizedcolonizer.com )
There are many ways in which these historical contexts influence the development of the constellation work in the U.S. and North America. One of them is a lingering vulnerability of “longing to belong” for all who live on this soil. The feeling of belonging can be seductive. It’s important to see how this vulnerability influences the formation of our groups, including constellation workshops, training programs, NASC, conferences, and regional affiliations. “Our systems are enriched when we remember our human tendency to confuse “belonging” and “joining”. While the feeling of belonging is a wonderful thing, the essence of constellations reveals that our deepest belonging is rooted in family and ancestry. True belonging is beyond feeling. This belonging is infinite and irreplaceable. Joining and entrepreneurship is what we do in other aspects of life, including the work systems we create.”
So the degree to which the practice of constellations in the States has permission to flourish is informed in part by embodied recognition that constellation workshops and trainings are not the source of belonging. In this respect, all roads point to the ways in which prioritizing one’s family life promotes good foundation for the constellation work to grow well.
Our shared fate includes simple truths as we remember that our human family is nature itself: we are all descendants, each a daughter or son, granddaughter or grandson, each of us has ancestors. Some of us are parents, some are not, but we are all stewards of the web, making all of us future ancestors. In this spirit of shared humanity, all are invited to participate in the Ancestral Healing Summit, a free online event hosted by The Shift Network, from February 17-21, 2020. Presenters from our constellation field include Francesca Mason Boring, Mark Wolynn and me. This global gathering offers a synthesis of spirituality and shamanism, science and psychology, and ancient wisdom.
RSVP at no charge here:
Collective historical movements cannot, nor are meant to be, processed by the individual. These histories take place in the context of groups, and they require groups to unleash healing movements of truth and reconciliation. Reflections offered in this post are focused on the United States, my home country, which includes 573 federally recognized Indian Nations
While there may be shared collective movements in North American countries, each one in the continent also has its own history. The commonalities and differences are all important explorations. It's worth noting that while Canada, the United States, and Mexico combined compromise 80% of the land mass, North America is made up of 23 countries and 9 territories. (source: https://sciencetrends.com/heres-many-countries-north-america/)
Here’s to all of us being strengthened by the human experience and North American landscape as individuals and as a collective.
Lisa Iversen, MSW, LCSW, has been a facilitator of Systemic and Family Constellations for 21 years and psychotherapist for 27 years. Her work integrates ancestral prayers, shamanically infused indigenous wisdom, and western-based, systemic knowledge, weaving teaching into all aspects of her work.
Her book, Ancestral Blueprints: Revealing Invisible Truths in America’s Soul (2009), reflects on the relationship between ancestry, psychotherapy, colonialism, slavery, and democracy. A frequent conference presenter, her Tedx Talk (2015) promotes consciousness of inherited American individual-collective trauma and grief. Lisa’s programs include Family Matters, Whiteness Is Not an Ancestor, and BOB + BART, co-developed with organizational psychologist Kate Regan.
She is stewarding a collection of essays on whiteness, women, and lineage. Raised in a Midwestern farm family, she lives with her husband & daughter in the Pacific Northwest where she directs the Center for Ancestral Blueprints. http://www.ancestralblueprints.com.
Testicular Fortitude has become a buzzword in the mental health field. I resonate with the phrase as I think it speaks to some real gender archetypes. Stereotypically, women are described as maternal and men are referred to as virile providers. In 2019, in a society where women proudly evoke the feminist cloak of equality and even sometimes superiority, I can hear the women of this generation humming the tune of the song. "Anything you can do I can do better" from the 1946 Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. The consequence of this feminine power resurgence is that men are losing their footing in the family unit. In this paradigm the woman is over-functioning and the men are under-functioning. As a result, men are falling between the extremes of toxic masculinity and emasculation. This choice or lack of societal support for male consciousness really adds to the breakdown of the family unit, which I see in my clinical practice.BE 2.7K
Last week in my office, I saw a couple who were new parents for the fourth time. The mom complained that the father did not help with changing the baby’s diapers, playtime, and homework with the older children. He simply came home from his job, sat on the couch and asked, “When’s dinner?” Humorously, this scenario sounds like an episode of Archie Bunker's, All in the Family sitcom. This is a great example of traditional roles playing out where men feel that once they have fulfilled the role of provider, they are absolved of household and familial duties. The problem in this example is that both partners in the couple cited above are working. And the wife is the primary breadwinner.
And in this example, for the sake of argument, if this wife and mother were to demand his involvement she would be labeled a nag or accused of emasculating her husband. On the other hand, we come to the topic of testicular fortitude. This is the male idea of taking control and action towards a problem and having the emotional and physical aptitude and willingness to do so. It is about being an intrinsic leader for self and others. Culturally and archetypally speaking this kind of take-charge attitude has been named masculine. This doesn't mean women aren't leaders. This means that gender has played a role in social meaning and expression.
I find in couples therapy, when the husband doesn't have the testicular fortitude to be a leader in the family, issues arise. I hear most women in heterosexual relationships want the guy to take charge. However, by taking charge they don't mean via toxic masculinity where they become rigid dictators but by supporting their spouse in making the flow of the home environment smoother. This could mean taking action on the foresight of female intuition as the emotional barometer of the relationship or could indicate getting a second job for extra funds, spearheading family projects, and/or helping with domestic duties that are typically viewed as woman’s work.
From an epigenetic standpoint, utilizing some of Bert Hellinger’s theories, the male spouse could have experienced a lack of a healthy male role model in his formative years. He could also have not bonded with his mother by her being emotionally unavailable or because of an early death. There could be repressed rage from the lack of attachment. Loose or non-existent attachments are referred to as interrupted reaching out in systemic constellation work. The male figure could also be in denial about how he is showing up in the relationship and failing to ‘acknowledge what is’ and internally infantilizing the ideal family unit. To assist men in individual therapy, one could resource problematic character traits like narcissism, selfishness, stubbornness, lack of emotional generosity to self and others, self-sabotage, anger management, lack of a support system or of de-compression coping skills. A family constellation could identify root causes and start moving the energy toward harmony.
As I listen to pop music and rap I hear a message of the male “beating his ethereal chest” and speaking of his sexual prowess. It's like a modern day mating call. However, the aspects of the chase are around diminished and objectified womanhood and motherhood. So we can't blame the music in my opinion because art mimics life. There are some collective ideas about how men and woman are working out these social derivatives. Like the song !@#% for Free by Drake: the modern day answer to this struggle for men, feeling under-valued, has been to just become over-sexualized. The main question is what supports men and women to better understand each other in modern day society?
In my practice, I guide clients in a dialogue of where changes need to occur in the relationship. The top five issues for couples are money, sex, communication, occupation, and children - in the marriage and blended. I empower the couple to choose the most highly charged topic and delve in deeper. At home, a couple can learn to have these types of discussions as well. From a family systems perspective, a best practice is to identify if the couple is in a genetic loop of inherited or learned behaviors from their parents and if their patterns are a true representation of the marriage/relationship they desire.
Melody Allen MA, PMA, LPC-S
About the author
Melody Allen, MA, PMA, LPC-S, was co-director of the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference. She is a licensed professional counselor in Sugarland, Texas. Her theoretical style blends systems theory, depth psychology, positive psychology, Barbara Brennan Healing Science, mind-body consciousness and Family and Systemic Constellations. Her Ph.D. research is focused on the correlation between epigenetics and family therapy. Melody works with families and individuals seeking life change in her private practice and supervises LPC-interns who are seeking a career in mental health. Learn more here.
By Melody Allen, MA, PMA, LPC-S
My healing journey started from my own outpouring of grief and misunderstanding about being a single woman older than 30.
When I talked with friends and family about this matter, I met responses ranging from “Have you prayed?” to “How are you sabotaging yourself?” and “Look who you’re picking!” I later realized that these unsupported comments arose from people’s inability to handle the anxiety of not having an answer for me. I decided to stop complaining and accept singledom as my present state. There was nothing I could do about it until the time came for “IT” to change.
Just bringing up the topic of being single used to give me a visceral reaction, rooted in the shame and blame that society puts on unmarried, childless young women. In alignment with our 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference theme “Bridging the Divide: Healing the Personal and Collective Soul,” I have seen so many divides when it come to finding love and lasting partnership.
Coming home: a trip to my ancestors' homeland and to gratitude for the risks that they took
By Betsy Hostetler, Ph.D.
I’m startled to see that I have only a few minutes to change planes. I’m on my way to study Family and Systemic Constellations in Germany, and it’s not clear that I’ll make the connection.
I take a deep breath and imagine it working out fine.
Surprised by my own reaction, I remember a time when anxiety would have driven me to make back-up plans even though no sound data existed. I think of constellation sessions I’ve done, and I understand where this new sense of calm is coming from.
Even though I don’t know what will happen next, I come home to my breath and to myself. I change planes easily, without trouble, either external or internal.
Looking back and seeking signs: How Family Constellations show another way of knowing
"The experience was like a waking dream. Family Constellations are like a waking dream, too. They honor the difference between noticing and knowing, the space between. All I know is that when I searched for my ancestors, I found them.."
By Betsy Hostetler, Ph.D.
“Let’s keep looking. Maybe we’ll see a sign.”
That was my only hope, because we had no map and no directions. Lou Ann, my best buddy in high school, had accompanied me to Sugarcreek, Ohio, to look for the place where my great-grandparents had lived their lives and died. We found only a worn and deserted town.
“I see a sign,” I told her. “It’s the sign to the highway.”
We’d come a long way to get here, and we were both reluctant to leave. As we drove out of town and up the hill, Lou Ann asked, “Would you like to pull over, look back and at least take a picture?”
Welcome to our blog, which explores what people are doing with Family and Systemic Constellations here, there and everywhere throughout North America.