Overcoming our ‘Shadow’ with Family Constellations
May 29, 2016 06:58PM
● By John Dore
Carl Jung described the “shadow” as those thoughts and feelings we disavow and repress out of conscious awareness. He believed the shadow was essentially a “moral problem”, and that we all must suffer inevitable moral dilemmas in our lifetime. Although it is unwanted and ignored as our “darker side”, our shadow repeatedly returns to “haunt” us at surprising times with what we tried to keep out of conscious awareness.
Beyond the personal shadow of individuals, social groups accrue a collective shadow. The first collective shadow each child encounters is in family. Family constellations can shed light on some of the darker psychological elements we “inherit” from our family.
Family Constellations are a fairly new and unique way to heal discomfort, to resolve conflicts and to solve problems. It is one kind of systemic constellation. A constellation is recommended as an effective solution for: patterns of stress or inner conflicts, physical pain unresolved by medical treatment, conflicts in relationships, failures in achieving goals and major personal or professional problems that remain unresolved.
Constellations activate the natural healing process within us, and bring solutions into our awareness. They reveal negative images in our unconscious mind that causes us to suffer or stay stuck in a problem. We inherit and “carry” these images as unconscious blocks out of love for family members. For example, events such as abuse, secrets, crime, abandonment, addiction, neglect, abortion, adoption, handicaps and illness in prior family members have effects in later generations—all as part of the epigenetic inheritance of consciousness.
We receive little or no education about our emotional life, so ignorance of that essence of our inner being dominates our behavior. Feelings are not emotions. They are physiological states which we are not aware of at first. When they escalate to a point of awareness and we have a word, memory and a social script for them, they become the mental category of emotions. The healthy response to a feeling is to stay with it, not try to get rid of it. If we tolerate a negative feeling, it will reveal its service to us.
Feelings of sorrow, anger, anxiety, shame and guilt are often repressed into our shadow. Another way to assure mental health is to acknowledge our shadow, and seek help to transform our shadow into more energy and creativity.
When emotional ignorance increases to an extreme, given certain co-occurring factors, it often reaches a tipping point into mental illness. Similarly, when illness becomes severe enough, mixed with moral wrongdoing, we see what can be called “seeds of evil”. This is similar to a law in mathematics and philosophy known as the transformation of quantity into quality—that when a phenomenon builds to critical mass, it turns into a qualitatively different entity. So in constellation work, a facilitator would look for degrees of emotional ignorance, which may lead to mental illness, and sometimes evolve into evil itself.
In 1983, the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck published a book called People of the Lie, in which he argued that evil should be included as a category of mental illness. He described the behaviors of many families as not only ill, but apparently evil in the way they treated their children. His work also led him to believe that “evil runs in families”.
Such illness and a legacy of violations is often seen by a facilitator of the family constellations. For example, a woman complained of a burning sensation in her throat that was not remedied by medical treatment. In her family constellation, she recalled first that her mother lost her own mother before she was two years old. The client did not receive the nurturing she needed because her mother was not adequately nurtured by her own mother. The client remembered that her grandmother died of what was called the “Spanish influenza”, a condition that involves “burning up inside” until death. In constellations, we see how the soul of the client became unconsciously entangled with an ancestor, suffering for her out of a blind love for family held in the “heart of the child” in us. A month later she told me her symptom disappeared.
In another family system, the father wanted to leave the marriage, but did not. The client revealed that her brother had committed suicide at 16—as if his unconscious mind were saying, “I’ll leave for you, Dad.” These “unconscious choices” are dynamic forces, driving irrational behavior, and operating across members in the family field. The collective family conscience demands justice and balance across generations.