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Using the Living Inquiries With Family Constellations to Work With Trauma

By Olaug Rønningsdalen.  

Suppressed traumatic events, unsettled wrongs, broken relationships, etc. found in all families, leave behind traces that are relived by those who follow. The energy of previous generations’ unprocessed trauma is stored in the family system and can affect our lives in many challenging ways. Strong traumatic events that occurred in my mother’s family manifested themselves as a dark, threatening shadow over my life that I could not, for a long time, put into words. Those events had just fused into my experience of being. Only when I was familiar with Family Constellations did I begin to gain an understanding of the dynamics behind the fear, the bodily pain, the whole weight of all the undigested feelings that flooded my mind from birth. The family system could not start to rest until the hidden trauma had found a channel to come up through into the daylight and be seen and felt.

Family Constellation is a type of therapy that’s based on the idea that problems sift down through generations to cause stress in the here and now. Even if you don’t know the traumas of your parents and earlier ancestors, you can learn them through the morphogenic field of energy that surrounds your family. Family Constellations allow us to break these patterns so that we can live healthier, happier, more fulfilled lives. In a moment of insight, a new life course can be set in motion.

The emotional energy that oppressed emotions leave behind, finds a way to be expressed regardless of whether it originates from previous generations or our own lives. The work of Family Constellations revealed how I was woven into the family pattern, and where there were open wounds that I felt I had been dragged into – unconscious feelings which had occurred in others, but which were experienced as mine. Transgenerational trauma is something we are born with, and is most often amplified in growing up with those who have experienced trauma or who were themselves influenced by it. The traces, in the form of fear, guilt, shame, anger etc. and bodily symptoms, make an imprint in our nervous system.

Living Inquiries, with its unique tools to explore what is located in the depths of the mind and body, allows us to loosen this thumbprint of deep-seated, tangled trauma, regardless of whether they originate from our ancestors’ or our own lives. My journey of exploring layer by layer has gone across generations. It has followed an inner, unconscious knowledge that has brought up different themes in an intuitive order. Some topics have intermittently been given rest, to reappear later. Now, looking back, it is possible to see how the pieces have slowly fallen into place, making it possible to let go of it all.

To read more about Olaug Rønningsdalen, click here.

Life Is For Me

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

Life is for me (not against me).

There was a moment a few months ago that this realization began to dawn on me, and it feels like everything in my being is now shifting to make space for this truth.

I had been running in an unconscious fog much of my life, with a sense of being chased by some kind of darkness that I couldn’t understand. It truly felt (if I’d ever really stopped to think about it) that life was against me, that it was creating roadblocks and terrifying situations that caused me to struggle to try to change things. Nothing was going as I thought it should, and I felt like a victim of intense unseen forces.

Through many years of struggling to make sense of “the story of my life,” which wasn’t unfolding at all as I had hoped and planned, I fought these unseen forces, trying to pull the scenes back in line with my original dream. To no avail. The more I fought, the more I failed. Eventually I just gave up. And that giving up seems to have laid the groundwork for this new understanding.

In the past few years of working with the Living Inquiries I’ve been gradually learning to relax into allowing things to be as they are. What a huge change from the earlier battle to bring things in line with my personal desires! I’d been taught as a child that I could create my own destiny – could accomplish anything I set myself out to do. Sounds noble, right? But, in fact, all this trying and doing led me into the fog of confusion.

Now it feels more like “something else” is in charge, a force bigger than this little me. And I don’t have to resist and fight everything along the way. It feels safe to let go, to stop fighting, and to relax into life as it flows through me.

I simply need to Rest, Inquire and Enjoy Life (as Scott Kiloby has often advised). Rest out of the mind as often as possible, even for very short periods, inquire with curiosity and tenderness into anything that seems to argue with what life brings, and enjoy what’s already here.

It sounds easy, though it’s not always so. Waves of emotion still come through me when something feels blocked. I don’t always remember to take time to rest, to really relax into “what is.” And I still find myself fighting with reality sometimes, afraid that relaxing into life is too easy a way out of the suffering.

But there’s a growing sense that Life is for me; is here to help me, not to harm me. And that’s amazing!

To read more about Sumitra Judith Burton, click here.

The Reality of Embodiment: Coming Fully into Form

By Fiona Robertson.

During the nineteenth century, phantasmagoria – or theatrical horror shows – became a popular attraction throughout Britain, Europe and the United States. The creators used lighting, projectors, smoke, sound effects and electric shocks to conjure all manner of apparitions and frighten audiences. Sequences of terrifying images played on screens and theatres were often decorated accordingly. There were even rumours of patrons being drugged.

As I was inquiring last week, the word phantasmagoria appeared. I realised – to a greater extent than I had done previously – the exact nature of the phantasmagoria going on in my mind. I’m sure it’s the same for many of us. We play and replay scenes from the past. Imaginings of future catastrophe or suffering take hold. These images can be vivid to the point of occupying most or all of our awareness, in spite of what we are doing in physical reality. They seem all the more real when accompanied with thoughts and feelings, of course.

The capacity to fantasize and imagine is a wonderful aspect of the human psyche, in my view. The mind’s creativity brings us such wonders, including art, drama, music and literature. And yet this same capacity appears to torment us too, at times. Is it possible to turn off the projector and smoke machines, to leave the apparitions behind and simply exit the theatre?

My hunch is that the phantasmagoria takes hold partly because we have not been able – thus far – to face what is actually here. When we have been traumatized – particularly as children – it is natural to dissociate, retreating from the painful reality of the body into the supposed haven of the mind. At least, here in the mind, we can imagine what could or should be. We can imagine what we want and haven’t got. We can fantasize about what might have been or what might yet be. In our imagining, we retain a sense of control in circumstances in which we are otherwise powerless.

Even though the phantasmagoria is frightening, it often feels less painful or terrifying than actually facing the truth of our experience. Facing the truth means letting go of the possibility of something other, even if that possibility exists only in fantasy. Facing the truth means coming into the feelings and sensations we have tried so hard to not feel. Facing the truth means admitting to ourselves exactly how bad it was.

Coming out of dissociation and denial in this way is not easy, yet it feels like a relief. It is certainly a relief to the body, which has inevitably been holding the truth of our experience even as we have been unconscious to it. It is natural that the mind – with good intentions to protect us from the reality of painful truths – is sometimes reluctant for us to face whatever is here. It whispers or shouts warnings. It attempts to distract us. And yet, at some point, despite the warnings and distractions, we become willing to clamber onto the stage and look at the mechanisms that lie behind the phantasmagoria. We become aware that we are sitting in the theatre, projectors whirring, smoke machine billowing.

The more we look, we more we come to realise what lies behind the horror show. As we feel unfelt feelings, the projectors begin to power down, at least a little. As we admit how it was  for us, we are able to make contact with our bodies in a deeper way. As I continued my inquiry last week, having acknowledged just how low my self-esteem had been throughout my life, I began to see how mesmerized by the phantasmagoria we tend to be. Once fully and deeply acknowledged, the reality of our past no longer needs to hold sway in the same way. We are left in now – this body, this moment, this chair, these sounds.

What happens when we start inhabiting actual, physical space rather than the phantasmagoria? It seems our focus shifts into the reality of the body and we begin making direct contact with the world around us in a subtly different way. There’s a deliciousness to embodiment which goes overlooked when we are hooked by the phantasmagoria. For me, subtle levels of dissociation have continued to lift and I’ve been able to enjoy the pleasures of the senses more deeply. There is a joy to coming more fully into form – both our own form as well as the solidity of form around us. We are no longer held hostage by the theatrical spectacle going on in our heads, yet neither are we dismissive of it.  As we become ever more incarnated, the separation between mind and body lessens and we inevitably feel more inclusively whole. Our relationship with ourselves, our bodies and the physical stuff of life begins to transform. It seems there is no end to this journey of embodiment.


Innocence Revealed

By Lisa Meuser.

“Just feel your feelings!” We get told this repeatedly, but if it was that simple then this world would be a different place. For many of us, dare I say most of us, there have been times when it literally hasn’t been safe for us to feel our sadness, or anger, and/or our fear. We didn’t have an adult who would support us while we felt these things so we didn’t learn that these emotions were an innocent part of being human. Then on top of that, due to our circumstances, we often weren’t safe to be with, or express these emotions.

There are many strategies we learned to counter this lack of safety, to give us the appearance of safety; to be self reliant, to submit, to rebel, to try to disappear… Being angry, or sad, or afraid were often either demonized, we’d get in trouble for being this way, or opened us up to more attack. So we did everything possible to avoid certain emotions and/or to fear them. If we were bullied as children, for example, it was safer to pretend we weren’t afraid- the hope being that if we were “strong” then we’d not be preyed upon or be vulnerable to attack. This strategy may have actually saved our lives! Pretending we were strong kept us safe on some level, at least in certain ways, for a little while. Pretending to not be afraid was innocent. But over time this led to us shutting down on what is actually a healthy emotion- we unintentionally developed an unhealthy relationship with something that is healthy- and led us to repress fear because of our fear of fear.

This is how it looked in my house: My dad was often gone during the week so my mom was the main caregiver. For various reasons my mom was often in a state of overwhelm, which meant that in order to handle her own feelings, she turned away from mine as well as subtly or overtly shamed me for having them. I wasn’t allowed to be angry, and I got negative feedback for crying. Not only would I not be comforted if I showed emotion, showing emotion would get me in trouble. So I learned very quickly that no one was there to support me emotionally, and that emotions were not acceptable. One way to deal wit this was to pretend I wasn’t upset, or to hide when I was upset. After all, I didn’t want to be a bother to my mom, plus I knew my emotions wouldn’t get acknowledged anyway. AND I might get in more trouble for having them. It was best to just stuff them. I grew up not know how to feel my feelings, because I had no one to support me when I had them, and because it wasn’t safe for me to feel them. My best option was to stuff/ repress them.

So yeah, it’s not as simple as “JUST feel your feelings!”  There are so many reasons they haven’t seemed safe over the years. It’s no wonder many of us have repressed emotions. And yet, this has happened innocently- we innocently repressed innocent emotions due to our circumstances, conditioning and belief systems.

The good news is that our brains and neural pathways are malleable – trauma, conditioning and belief systems can be explored and journeyed into so as to bring integration, returning us to healthy expressions and healthy ways of being.

There can be a lot of self-loathing, guilt and shame in not allowing ourselves to experience healthy emotions- emotions that all human beings experience from time to time. When we demonize, try to avoid, or fear anger, sadness and/or fear, they get repressed, and as such resisted. As we’ve all heard, what we resist, persists! They tug at us, under the surface, influencing our lives.

Almost everyone has experienced trauma in our lives in one-way or another. Just to name a few, trauma may have been experienced from having emotionally neglectful or over baring caregivers, from being bullied by people in our childhoods, or from having physically or sexually abusive people in our lives (developmental/complex trauma). For some people they’ve had trauma from a one time event (acute trauma) such as an act of violence, a natural disaster, or an accident/death.

There are many safe ways to explore trauma. As a somatic therapist, I help clients explore trauma every day by gently exploring their day-to-day challenges in ways that include their somatic system. Since trauma can be stored in our bodies energetically and/or in the fascia network, it is important that the somatic system be a part of any kind of trauma work. There are many ways to explore the somatic system. Two methods that I have a lot of experience with are: (1) John F. Barnes Myofascial Release works with the fascia web that can hold trauma (this is a hands on approach), and (2) The Living Inquiries is a hands off somatic approach which explores belief systems and their felt resonances. There are many other methods. Many libraries have books on somatic processing/ exploration and you can also do an internet search for “Somatic Therapy” or something similar. Many somatic therapists work with people using skype or zoom, or even by phone. If you’d prefer someone local make sure you ask the practitioner if they have a good understanding of how trauma and belief systems can reside in the body. (If they don’t know what you’re talking about then chances are they do more of a cognitive-based therapy.)

When our past traumas and experiences have been honored and gently explored, when our vigilance centers have released a bit, allowance is possible.

There is so much freedom that comes with allowance. We are able to open doors to compassionately love and honor ourselves as human beings- being who are literally designed to feel and experience a vast array of emotional expressions and states of being. What a relief to celebrate our humanity!