Svagito gives us, in an interview, his insights into the Family Constellation process
An Interview with Svagito Liebermeister, Part 1
These are the questions in the first part of this interview:
- Svagito, how did you first become involved in Family Constellation Work?
- Can you briefly explain Family Constellation Work for those of us unfamiliar with this form of therapy?
- Do you think Family Constellation is particularly helpful in facing a specific kind of problem? And, if so, which one?
- Can you give us another example of how family members can be healed through this work?
- Do concepts such as expressing ‘honour’ and ‘respect’ towards family members during the process create any problem?
- How do you see the way this work connects to a more primal type of therapy, with which people are more familiar?
- How is this work related to meditation? What is different when this work is used in the context of Osho and his teachings?
- Would one Family Constellation session be enough?
- Why do you think this work has been so successful for people?
I first started to use these new methods in 1995 in my therapy groups and counseling trainings and was quickly impressed by what participants got from this way of understanding the family system and so I started to run purely Family Constellation groups. I had heard about this work long before but had not been interested until I participated in a group myself. I remember always having had the feeling I wanted to get away from my own family; I was never really interested in my ancestors. Later, I noticed a kind of denial in myself and arrogance in relation to them. I started to pay more attention to what Osho actually means when he talks about loving myself. Loving myself includes loving my parents and their parents—all those people who were here before me, who made my coming to this life possible. For me this work was very much connected to saying a basic ‘Yes’ to life, to my parents and to myself. You receive your parents’ energy—what we’ve been calling taking the parents. When you do this with deep respect and gratitude, without trying to go beyond, you find yourself beyond the entanglements and burdens placed upon you by your own family.
Family Constellation is a process in which we recreate the structure of a person’s family. You can do this work in an individual session or in a group. It is easier in a group, as you can use other group participants to play out your family members. In an individual session it works slightly differently: the therapist has to use devices such as cushions or shoes to stand in for family members and then has the client experience the different positions himself.
In a group, the participant chooses other group members to represent important members of his family—either of his family of origin or of his present family—including himself. Those family members whose personal lives were unusually difficult in some way—for example, those who died young, had a disability, or were separated from the family—are the especially important ones.
The participant takes each member and places him or her in a spot in the room, and has them stand there in relation to each other according to how he feels in the moment. What we’ve found is that even without knowing any details about the person they are standing in for, that family member’s energy is being represented quite accurately and the relations within the family system have suddenly become visible to us.
The family representatives are then asked to move to different places in relation to each other, following their own impulses. In this way entanglements are revealed and the healing movements complete what has been left incomplete in the system.
The understanding behind this way of working is that in a family system each member has the same right to belong and needs to be acknowledged. If this has not happened in the past to certain family members, then frequently the present family members carry the burden of this imbalance. For example, if your mother’s father died when your mother was still a child, it might have been too painful for her to fully face the loss of her parent. In this event, you, as your mother’s child, might come to represent this forgotten parent for her, quite unconsciously. So one would say the system tries to complete itself, even when this is not ‘fair’ to the newcomer and creates a life burden for him or her. In this way children become entangled with the people of their past family without realizing it.
The new insight contributed by Family Constellation is the way it shows how many of our problems have systemic causes and cannot be understood only in an individual context. We have to include the family, our ancestors, our culture—the collective dimension. Bert Hellinger, who is the originator of this work, deals a lot with terminally ill people and has shown the systemic entanglements that lead to certain diseases.
To some extent we all are entangled. Family Constellation is specifically helpful when those facts about one’s family which cause entanglements become known to us—an unusual death or the disease of a family member, for example.
A common example might be a man who is married for the second time after having abandoned his former wife in an unresolved and perhaps unjust way. If he now has children in his new marriage, it is likely that one of his daughters will represent his former partner and behave towards him like an angry and betrayed lover rather than as a child. When this becomes evident in a constellation, we can see if our client is ready to acknowledge his former wife and accept his guilt and responsibilities. This will greatly relieve his daughter, who then can behave towards him like a child towards her father.
As you can see it is usually the children or the newcomers who bear the consequences of what was not properly dealt with in the past. Out of their unconscious love—what we sometimes call blind love—and out of their wish to belong to the family system, they take on a destiny which is not theirs, and then they suffer the consequences. Obviously they cannot relieve someone else of their guilt or suffering, so the suffering is simply multiplied and passed on to another generation. In Family Constellation we bring all this to light and ask everyone to accept the consequences of their actions.
Many people misunderstand the meaning of these things. To respect your parents doesn’t mean you have to imitate them or even do what they say. Respect in this work rather means being grateful for the fact that your parents gave birth to you. It has nothing to do with what kind of personality they have or how they have behaved. It is a form of bowing down to existence itself, a gesture of reverence for the fact that it is through these people that life has come to you. It is essentially a spiritual act which goes beyond the psychological dimension. In this way, I can honour my parents and yet still disobey them and not become just like them. In fact honouring means taking what you received from your father and mother and then being creative with it in your own way.
One has to grow beyond one’s parents. Many people do what their parents ask or tell them to do, but that doesn’t mean that they respect them. Quite often they obey their parents out of fear and repress hatred for them. Actually, the people who emphatically oppose their parents are not much better. They are reacting against their parents, which means their behavior is still determined by the parents, but in a negative way. True rebellion, on the other hand, should be engaged in with deep respect and love.
In a way, primal work is a first step: If we have been very repressed, we have to bring out all our suppressed energies, all the anger, all the spiders and cobwebs hidden in our unconscious. This has a cleansing effect on both the body and the mind. Primal work helps you to move your energy, and parents are a good topic to bring that out because we have all experienced suffering in our family in one way or another. We would all like to throw responsibility onto someone else for our suffering; that’s a part of our unconsciousness. In the beginning, primal frees up our energies, but when we have done enough of it then it is time to take another step. That step is to understand the way in which we are our parents. We are not separate islands; we are part of family and ancestral groupings. Nobody ever asked us which parents we wanted and we will never be able to create a new pair for ourselves! We are deeply connected to our past, just as a tree is connected to its roots. We cannot ignore that.
Like all therapies, Family Constellation helps to clear the mind of conflicts. As Osho says, it is easier to move into meditation if your mind is relaxed than if you are burdened with conflicts. For me this work is not about trying to change or fix or improve anything, nor are we trying to heal anybody in the normal sense of the word. It is more about being connected to a feeling of ‘Yes’ towards life—life just as it is, now, here. And that is what meditation is all about. Meditation simply brings something to light and into our awareness. We trust that this insight will eventually change how we live our lives and that change will come without any struggle or push, without doing in the normal sense.
But of course this is only a method. What really counts is the understanding of the person using this method. An Osho therapist is basically a meditator. His interest is to prepare the ground for a person to move more easily into meditation. The technique of Family Constellation is very simple; anyone can learn its basic tools. But many people start using this technique without being grounded in meditation. And how one uses a technique makes a great deal of difference. An ordinary therapist might be satisfied if the client feels a certain relief for the moment, but an Osho therapist will make it clear that this is only a beginning. He will create or strengthen the client’s interest in meditation, not only in order to gain a more peaceful mind, but to find something beyond the mind itself.
Usually you do one constellation. At the most you might do a constellation for your present family (or current relationship) and one for your family of origin. Then you let whatever you saw in that experience do its work within yourself, in your meditation. Sometimes some new facts may come to light, then you can look at your experience again and you may find a deeper layer. But Family Constellation is not like other therapies where you need to meet with your therapist every week. In this work you see something and then you go on your way, trusting your own internal shifts and changes.
I think that the time was ripe for this discovery. In the world and in the way we are living, we are increasingly coming to see that we are not isolated individuals, but a part of many complex and interrelated systems. Our decisions and acts have to be understood in a context; what may be appropriate in one system may not be appropriate in another. I think people are experiencing the conflicts arising out of this growing complexity of life more than ever before. So there was a need to bring clarity and understanding about a certain systemic order that is mostly operating on a very unconscious level. The family is the first and most basic system we meet in life (and some of its operating laws can be applied to other relationship systems as well, like work groups, organizations, even ethnic groups). And of course the principles of this work are very easy for anyone to understand; you don’t need to have done a lot of work on yourself. It adds a new aspect to therapy and can help to build a bridge between therapy and meditation.
Svagito has studied a wide range of therapeutic approaches. In 1995, he began to include Family Constellation in his work, studying with its founder, Bert Hellinger, and since 2000 he leads his own training programs which he takes to Europe, Asia, Central America and other parts of the world. He is the author of Roots of Love which describes this fascinating approach to therapy. family-constellation.net