Thea Agnethe Eriksen grew up in Norway with her mother. She never met her dad. Over the years, this started to bother her. What was he like? Does she look like him? Do they laugh at the same jokes? She decided to find out more about him, and herself, by attending a Family Constellation session.
Text by Thea Agnethe Eriksen
“I think we can continue with you now.” The therapist looks at me with kind eyes. I walk nervously across the room and sit down in a chair in between the two therapy session leaders. “So what is your question?”
Since I was little I’ve kind of just accepted the fact that my dad was gone. This changed when I became a teenager. I was wondering about who I am, and I felt like a piece of me was missing. I felt like I wouldn’t find out who I really am, until I found out who he really am. I needed answers.
Full of questions
16-year old Thea, insecure, full of questions. Why isn’t he present? Why did he leave? Does he even think of me on my birthday? Does he even know or remember which day I was born? I’ve wondered about what kind of characteristics I have from him. It’s clear that me and my mom are alike, but only in the way we act. She has a bigger nose than me, thin brown hair and brown eyes. I have a small nose, blonde thick hair and blue eyes. What does me and my father have in common? There were a few things I already knew about him. Him and my mom where together, but when my mom decided to have me he decided he wasn’t interested. He moved to the US and started a new family. I know his name, his age, but that’s it.
All of these questions lead up to me attending Family Constellation Friday 15th november in Zandvoort, a coastal village in North Holland. Family Constellation is a type of group therapy where you discover underlying family bonds that have been affecting the person unconsciously. I didn’t know much about this type of theory, so I went in quite open minded.
“You should prepare a question” they told me beforehand. So that’s what I did. Or that’s what 16-year old Thea already had done.
“I wonder how it has affected me that my father never was present. What would he say to me?” People are nodding sympathetically. 12 people in the room and all eyes on me. It’s one thing to share your story with one psychologist, but with 12 others it’s going to be a new experience. The chairs are formed as a circle. I would guess that the average age is 45, and I feel a bit out of place.
I perceive him as a bit arrogant and careless: “Can you represent my father?”
“Now you can choose one person to represent your father, one to represent your mother and one that’s going to represent you.” You can hear a pin drop to the floor. I stand up, walk towards the other side of the circle and look at a man. I perceive him as a bit arrogant and careless. “Can you represent my father?” He gets up. I walk towards a woman with kind eyes and a warm smile. She gets up. I look around the circle, and I see the woman who had the session before me. It was in Dutch, but I got the impression that she had similar problems as me. She gets up.
“Now you have to place them in a way you feel is best.” ‘I’am facing my mother and my mother is facing me. My father is on my right, looking at me, but I can only see my mom. After this I was told to sit down, and watch the others play out the roles as me, my mother and my father.
My head feels heavy and I tighten my jaw. My body sinks into the seat. “What do you feel now?” the therapist asks ‘my father’. “I don’t want to be here, this isn’t any of my business, and I don’t see any point in all of this”. Pretty accurate, I’m thinking to myself. “I don’t like him, I don’t want to be near him”, ‘my mom’ says. Again, pretty accurate. The therapist moves around the room, asking questions to the three people standing in the middle of the circle.
“Can you repeat after me and look at your daughter: You have my permission to look into your relationship with your father.” The woman who represents me starts crying. My father is standing there a bit careless, not really present. I can feel my tears trying to push their way through.
“I feel heavy, and a lot of tension in my neck, on the right side.” I look at the woman representing me, touching her neck. “Is this even possible?” I think. The last few days I’ve been pretty anxious about coming to this therapy session, so I’ve had a lot of pain on the right side of my neck. Actually, I’ve had them since I was 16 years old.
“Look at your father, he is not a bad guy” the therapist says to the woman who represents me, and then his eyes meet mine. Tears are pressing. “You are my daughter, and you are safe with me”, ‘my father’ says to ‘me’. Tears start to roll down my cheek. “I’ve missed you” ‘I’ say to my father.
The arms of my sweater are wet and at this point I feel sad; this is not the reality. The therapist asks me to get up. “Look into her eyes” and he points at the woman who was me at the constellation. Both with tears in our eyes. “Take her place, and look around the circle.” Two of my half-sisters, and my half-brother has now joined the circle. “Look into your father’s eyes.” I look up. Kind eyes, a warm smile. I look down at the floor. “Look into your mother’s eyes.” Kind eyes, a warm smile. “You see that your father is a nice guy” the therapist says. I smile half-hearted. It’s easy to say that in this setting. He’s still not here.
I’m happy to see your tears, it’s happy tears”
“I think we’re done with this session” the therapist leaders say. People are coming over to give me a hug. It’s difficult to hold back the tears. “I’m happy to see your tears, it’s happy tears” one of the other participants says.
A lot of mixed emotions. My body is drained. If Family Constellation changed me is hard to say. Straight after the session, I felt lighter, like a burden was lifted off of my shoulders. Right now, a couple of days later, I feel confused. I don’t know what the next step is going to be or what I want. But I do believe that I’m going to look back at this and think it was a good experience for me, and that it may change me after a while. Maybe the neck pain go away. It’s at least gone for now.
What is Family Constellation?
Family Constellation was first founded by the german psychologist Bert Hellinger in the 1990’s. The therapeutic approach considers the individual as a part of a greater whole, a family system, rather than as a separate entity. A person’s behaviour and feelings have to be understood in the context of the family.
When the laws and forces in family is violated; suffering and problems arise. Family Constellation brings the hidden family dynamics to the surface. With the help of other group participants you create a constellation of your family.
The purpose of family constellations is that a person can physically experience what forces are playing in his or her system. In that way they are forced into change and improvement.