Systemic relationship constellations

By making the existing “system” apparent, the cohesion within a specific system becomes visible.
Roos van Empel - Smeets
Roos van Empel - Smeets

What does systemic relationship constellation mean?

Systemic means ‘system of origin’. By making the ‘system’ visible (through a visual constellation), the connections within a particular system become visible. Relational constellations, also known as systemic constellations and systemic family constellations, are a method of uncovering and realigning hidden connections and patterns in the family, business, or other types of closely held groups.

This method is a very effective way and solution-oriented process to make complex problems visible. This allows insight to be charted at a deeper level about the underlying dynamics within relationships.

Problems are often recurring themes in a person's life. Examples of possible problems are; physical or mental blockages, restlessness, fears, depression, inability to attach to people, or illness.

Everyone is entitled to his or her position within the system. A systemic constellation provides insight into where someone stands within the system at this moment. Sometimes the place taken does not seem to be the right one. Every system functions according to certain principles of order. Because of (traumatic) circumstances, think of events in the family line like loss, illness, war, or divorce, people can get out of place systemically. These types of events can create systemic patterns that have passed on from generation to generation. This can cause a variety of problems, both physical and mental.

Systemic Relationship Constellations

Systemic constellation is about finding your place in the system and taking your responsibility.

How does systemic constellation work?

The basis of a constellation is to map the relationship system visually. By doing this, awareness arises. The goal of a systemic constellation is to make hidden obstacles within the system visible. Depending on the theme or a specific question, various techniques can be chosen, which in principle all offer the same outcome and insight.

In the case of a large constellation, one can work with physical representatives. These representatives represent the relationship system and take someone or something in the constellation as a stand-in.

Other techniques are just as effective, such as;

  • Table setup; with (lego) dolls (or other physical objects)
  • Floor setup; with paper floor anchors
  • Online constellation; digital online visualization (with a genogram, for example)

People can make systemic constellations under expert/coach guidance, but they can also come quite a way themselves with reference books, podcasts, or online tools. Later in this article, there is a list of interesting reference work about systemic constellations.

What type of relationships can be mapped in a constellation?

We belong to our parents’ family system from birth onwards, which we call our biological system of origin. Within that system, everyone has their own position. As we grow older, we become part of other systems. Think about going to school, getting friends or working within an organization. All of these systems affect us as human beings.

Examples of systems are:

  • Group of friends
  • Family
  • Business organization (teams, for example)
  • Relationship (loved one, for example)
  • School (classmates, for example)
  • Soccer team

When can a systemic constellation help me?

Systemic work can help you when you are stuck in patterns. Often these patterns return as a theme in your life. So you keep running into the same things.

Some examples are:

  • Why do I find it so difficult to take my own place in certain situations?
  • Why is the relationship between me and my father/mother/child/sister/brother/friend so complicated?
  • Experiencing struggles in the workplace or hassles with your supervisor.
  • Taking on too many responsibilities.
Systemic constellations quickly show someone (without talking a lot about it) what the invisible cause is behind particular behavior. A constellation can help someone see hidden (often persistent) patterns in the bigger picture. This method can give tremendous insights rapidly and straightforwardly.

What is the history of this method?

The German Bert Hellinger (1925-2019) is the founder of the method ‘family constellations’. Bert Hellinger studied philosophy, theology, and pedagogy. He was a priest, school principal, and missionary in South Africa. The traditions and rituals of ancestor worship fascinated him greatly and contributed significantly to the development of the family constellations method.

The three distinctive aspects of the system, according to Bert Hellinger:

  • Commitment, our need to belong.
  • Order, the natural order, and our own place within it.
  • Balance, between give and take.

Bert Hellinger continued to build on this and combined insights from several predecessors:

Jacob Moreno (1889-1974) – Romanian-American psychiatrist and psychosociologist, Milton Hyland Erickson (1901-1980) – American psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Virginia Satir (1916-1988) – American psychologist and family therapist, Iván Böszörményi-Nagy (1920-2007) – Hungarian-American psychiatrist and psychotherapist and Steve de Shazer & Insoo Kim Berg (1934-2007) – Korean-American psychotherapist.

Pioneers in this field in the Netherlands included Otteline Lamet, Lies Geertsen, Wibe Veenbaas, and Jan Jacob Stam. This method of systemic working is now well known worldwide. The technique is also increasingly being used very successfully as an essential component in organizations.

The Origins app

Origins have developed a derivative of this method that allows people to gain insight into relationships and how these relationships relate to themselves in a fun and accessible way, either by themselves or with their coach or psychologist’s guidance. The Origins app offers the possibility to map multiple relationship systems. Creating a constellation in the Origins app provides insight and awareness and encourages thinking through the questions in the app after making the constellation.

When people take the time, unique insights can become visible. An advantage of this module is that the setup can be made alone. Creating a constellation with the Origins app can help with questions that have been relevant for a longer time.

Literature on systemic constellations

Books
  • Love’s Hidden Symmetry – Bert Hellinger
  • The Fountain, Find your Place – Els van Steijn (tip!)
  • Systemic Coaching – Jan Jacob Stam & Bibi Schreuder
  • Unlocking systemic wisdom – Siets Bakker
Video & Podcasts
  • Hellinger Family Constellation Introduction with Emily Waymire, 2002
    Click here for the link.
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