Healing through Connection & Community with Family Constellations

People in today’s world have a longing to be connected. Connected to a part of something greater, to our families, to each other, and to ourselves. We long to feel love even if we don’t know it consciously or are resistant because of past traumas or experiences. But how do we connect and feel love with so much going on to distract and harden us? How do we heal our own pain of disconnection in a deep, safe and sacred way especially when we are hurting so badly? This is exactly what I set out to do about eight years ago and then again with my research about two years after that.

A tragedy occurred in my very early childhood when I was 18 months old that changed my family’s course forever. My five-week-old brother, Jeffrey, died of Sudden Infant Death jeffSyndrome (SIDS). I only remember glimpses of that time, but I knew something very dear to me was gone.

Yes, it was tragic, but even more tragic was never talking about or honoring him – the disconnection of a dear, brief family member who I would come to find out had more of an impact than I could imagine. He wasn’t ever spoken about and I had no idea how much this impacted my ability to connect to others or myself until I found Family and Systemic Constellations (FSC) through The Constellation Approach.

With the aid of this modality, I was able to heal the disconnection, heal my ability to be in relationship with my family and myself, and begin to heal the trauma energy throughout my life and lineage.

These experiences with FSC not only helped to heal but also charged me with the responsibility that everyone should know of this modality. As I researched, I noticed there wasn’t much literature specifically about the clients’ points of view and so the birth of my dissertation research, “The Clients Experiences of Family Constellations in Psychological Healing,” occurred.

The themes that were throughout the research included increased awareness of connection with Self, relationships with others, and the world – the collective conscious through the following: (1) experiences of healing; (2) somatic experiences; (3) experience of emotion; (4) experiences of connection; (5) changes in perception and understanding; and (6) impact on relationships and self.

Connection with Self

solar-plexus-chakra-2016Many people reported feeling a connection with the Self that they had never felt before, which to them was fueled by personal honesty and the courage to acknowledge existing emotional and behavior patterns within their families and themselves. “I’ve had the opportunity to look at patterns within me that I have used in my life,” bringing “me to a whole new level of integrity to follow my heart and soul….”

They were able to see the patterns in their lives and their families as something tangible, living and observable, which helped in healing them.

Looking with Love to Connect

Bert Hellinger states that love plays a large role in bonding and connecting; that when looking at others, one must “look with love.”  Reports of acknowledgment and acceptance to see and connect to what couldn’t be seen before were found over and over.

“I started to see his [father] wounds and his family story and how some of the events in his life had helped create some of the family story. And that was just so healing for me…. I was able to take him into my heart much more… and for me, that was the most profound thing about Family Constellations.”

Everyone has a Right to Belong

Connection is also about that feeling of belonging. Family Constellations not only give us the opportunity to connect to Self and our families but those out in the world. It is a way to create intimate bonds and lifelong friendships that they may not have been able to create anywhere else.

The acceptance and support of the group allowed for a look at resistances and at the place where one might feel like closing up or shrinking, but instead using every moment as an opportunity to open one’s heart and explore one’s soul. Thus allowing the participant to begin to accept and connect to his or her wholeness physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

The sense of belonging and the right to create our own fate are needed to build acceptance, safety, intimacy and connection in the group. This aided in the participants’ healing by increasing their courage and commitment to do personal psychological work.

The Collective Consciousness

Family Constellations also allow us to connect to the collective figurines-religionconsciousness and there is what seems to be a welcoming. One participant spoke about  how the welcoming in gave him the courage “to feel so comfortable in the circle of people that I could go places and talk about things I didn’t talk about to anyone else.” She was able to take her own responsibility for the situation and see how she contributed to it. She then said, “I no longer felt like the victim.”

This feeling of connection and community, witnessing and feeling the collective consciousness of the constellations group, motivated many participants to make a commitment to support others in their lives in their emotional healing whether family, friends, or clients.

Bringing Healing out into the World

For some participants, there was a sense of responsibility to bring Family Constellations out into the world after their own healing experiences: “If I ever get to be a facilitator and use it to help somebody in their life, that … would be my life’s purpose and I would feel like I was complete.”

Another example of connection and community was the willingness on the part of the group members to participate in my study. Even though feeling vulnerable, many participants were willing to share their experiences in the light that others may benefit or gain insight from their experiences.

“If it happened in my life and my dad’s life, my family’s life and can help to heal other people, then it’s important to put it out there – so it’s bigger than just my own story….”

Therefore, participating in Family Constellations had the potential to cultivate a deeper presence and awareness of other people with family members in order to be in service to them by being witnesses to their processes. Through this process, participants reported being able to see and feel a sense of community with ancestors, families of origin, current families, and as one participant explained, “… a greater human family, an earth family.”

So you see, these experiences as well as the ones you all have had with family constellations have validated this work. It was important when doing my research to show others the validity of this modality without forgetting about the personal, human essence of the experience because it is those things that will touch the heart of and inspire others to take the journey. It is those things that will truly bring constellations out into the world the way it is meant. And it is those things that will truly make the world a better place.


Be Your Own Light

woman moon meditationMy main understanding of mindfulness has definitely grown. In the beginning, I thought it was all about the meditation and trying to quiet my mind. I was getting frustrated because, well, that was nearly impossible and my restlessness turned out to be a nice defense mechanism. Then I thought it was about dismissing feelings along with thoughts because that is the only way you could accomplish this mindfulness stuff, right? No, it is not the way. The way, to me, is acknowledging what is there without judgment and with curiosity, exploration, courage, and dare I say… excitement.

Iluminoust is allowing one to be quiet and listen to the wisdom that is within and the wisdom that is in everyone and everything.  We are all connected – people, animals, and nature. Mindfulness is a way to connect to the bigger picture. It is also a way to take responsibility for one’s actions, and oneself and for the role he or she has in the world.

Mindfulness also means having the ability to physically and physiologically change one’s health and well-being. It is amazing how powerful the mind is and how open to change it is as well. Albeit it does take some practice. It reminds one of getting better at a sport. The more one practices, the easier the skill becomes. The challenge is letting it be what it is, just noticing and not forcing or feeling the pressure to do something.

The other aspect is anyone can do it. It is not tied to a religion or dogma.  It does not take a lot of time to get a lot out of a sitting. There are no rules to follow except to honor one’s existence, breathe and be aware with all senses, and acknowledge the present moment and if there are thoughts let them float away. Simple really; however, simple is often the most difficult.


In graduate school I took a Mindfulness class. Academically, this was one of the most important classes I could have taken. I learned how mindfulness literally affects the brain for the better. This class opened a new world for me, a world I am very excited to learn more about. It is a world to open to my clients.

Having the opportunity to study Buddhist Psychology on my own was a gift. I have been drawn to Buddhism for quite some time. I could not figure out how to apply it to the therapy room without offending those who are religious and could not figure out how to explain Buddhism to those who did not know. This class gave me the opportunity to explore and realize that Buddhism is a way to live and to explain the challenges of existing.

heart-openingI think the best way to explain my insights is take some of the entries from my journal. The first time I wrote, my realization was that I was holding on. “I felt as if I was holding on. To what? Well, to what feels safe, less powerful. The letting go power is enormous. Who will I be after I let go and immerse myself? Immerse myself in the nothingness? What will I learn? Do I want to learn it? If it wasn’t for me to learn, why would it be there for me to explore?”

I often have these conversations with myself – repeatedly. It is like resisting my own power, denying a large part of myself. The conversation continues with, “Just see what happens, feel what happens. Observe what happens with no judgment, no rationalization, no figuring or guessing. Let the feeling pass through you, experiencing it full. Allow yourself to know, to feel, to see – when alone and with others.” I realized I have the gift of compassion and the ability to “feel” a person, his or her energy.

heart openingIt is important to embrace who I am and what I have to offer and listen with my heart as well as my ears. “Love yourself where you are now. Embrace change, unknown, new journeys and paths, and what you feel. Then you can be present for yourself and others.” All that written, let the struggle begin…

I found that restlessness is my best defensive move. I have been told I am extremely resistant, although I am better now. One of my insights came with the banging of the Zen walking sticks. “I wasn’t going to let those walking sticks get me this time – my guard was up for that. I was aware they were coming. No one and nothing was going to scare me like before. I kept myself distracted so I couldn’t go anywhere or be scared yet I was restless.” This restlessness was about doing, fixing and avoiding… wishing I was somewhere else but not sure where. Where else does this happen in my life? Everywhere.

Gratitude-is-the-hearts-memory-a-French-proverb1“Let go or be dragged” is a quote I found in this process. Being dragged is exhausting but I smile along the way. It is here I received insight on my smile. “The smile is just be being caught. The smile is me hiding. The smile is sadness, shame, and guilt. The smile is nerves, anxiety, not knowing what else to do. The smile is also genuine and me asking for help. The smile is welcoming and joy and most importantly… gratitude.”

The last key insight I received is that I have new information that I must share, give, and keep learning more. There is much joy in knowing this… to bask in the light; to open the small space in my heart a little more so more than just I can fit. To welcome, receive, and feel support from others is next – to be open to the flow, the flow of love and support. To feel I am not alone and to embrace it.

Being open to learn something in most every moment has been another gift I have received from this class. It has given me the courage to be honest with myself more so than I ever have. It has also had me realize that there is beauty in the suffering; a learning and a knowing that can develop if I just acknowledge what is. Once it is acknowledged, I can accept it and then agree that it is there and make decisions around it. My awareness is the flame that starts the bonfire of questions for personal growth. What is the most healthy and beneficial for all involved? What am I not willing to look at? What do I need? Now that I have this information, where can it take me? What shall I do with it? It is exciting because through all of this I know I will get to know myself increasingly. I am truly limitless in what I would like to discover and explore and the more I do that, the more I can help to heal my clients.

zen river and rocks

Clients’ Experiences of Family Constellations

Michaelene R Ruhl Poster2

The following is from my presentation at the US Systemic Constellation Conference in October 2013 on Family Constellations and Clients’ Experiences in Psychological Healing.

Hello Everyone, my name is Dr. Michaelene Ruhl.

My presentation, like my dissertation, is about validating family constellations through honoring people’s experiences. This poster was a requirement for my doctoral program and is the linear representation of my dissertation but how I am going to share it with you today is through the actual words of the 15 people I interviewed. So settle back into your chairs, close your eyes if you’d like and maybe remember your own experiences as a client as I take a minute to presence the 15 participants of my study. . .  And here are their words.

To experience family constellations through the Constellation Approach was to experience a psychological and emotional healing. It was a coming out of the darkness of psychological and emotional wounds and into the light of authenticity, empowerment, understanding, and new perceptions. The impact on relationships and myself were life changing and could seem, at times, magical and miraculous. Family constellations left me in awe of the process and how it got to the significant parts quickly and illuminated the unconscious in a safe and sacred way.

Notwithstanding the awe and feelings of safety and sacredness I had, there were at times hesitation and reluctance. It was common for me to feel nervous and resistant. The unknown created skepticism and trepidation in the work that lay ahead. However, determination and a desire to heal were the greatest motivation; after all, resistance only meant change was coming. And this was only the beginning, before I would get up to do my own.

I remember as I walked to the chair, I counted my steps slowly with my head down, trying to breathe, and my heart pounding so hard I felt it in my head. I knew there would be no more hiding after this. My constellation was about losing a loved one, someone very dear to me. As the constellation progressed, I felt my body begin to release the pain and loss. The energy would flow through my body in waves, easing tension in my solar plexus and stomach, my throat and head. Being able to feel the energy or the physical touch of a representative was so healing, it was as if my actual family member was standing right there in front of me. It was a beautiful way to connect at the soul level and begin my healing process.

While this was difficult to explain, this experience and cathartic release opened my heart to a deeper understanding, giving me a new perspective on my life and its circumstances and would continue to keep giving even days after my constellation.

During other constellations emotions that had been buried deep within were released. There was anger, contempt, resentfulness, sadness, grief, loss, and also joy, peace, bliss, and love just to name a few. At times, the strength and depth of these feelings were overwhelming and painful but mostly I felt more alive than I had felt in years and this would grow with each experience.

For example, there were times I would cry throughout the entire constellation and it felt as though the tears were coming from so long ago and from an endless supply. My heart would ache and I would connect with these emotions at the deepest level. Being connected at this level would be the doorway into my soul, opening to insight and understanding of my family relationships, soul contracts, and myself. I thought. . .This was the grace. This was the bliss I had longed for in my life.

Many similar feelings and healings happened when I was a representative as well. There were bodily expressions of emotions felt, which gave me a better understanding of who I was representing’s physical and emotional state.

These energetic physical sensations aided me as a representative by providing clues as to when and where to move as well as when to stop. There would be an awareness of being pushed or pulled to look at another representative or space on the floor where I would feel the need to be. There would be a tingling in my legs, a flash of warmth through my body, or a tension in my hands. When it was time to stop, the sensation would cease. This energy would inform and guide me, and being able to feel and trust that made the process of being a representative that much easier and I learned that trusting my intuition and remaining open, without judgment or expectation was key.

The strength and depth of the emotions I felt as a representative were just as stunning. Feeling the amazing power of love was something not easily forgotten and is held in my heart to this day. I have also felt rage, defiance, hatred, and incredible joy. To feel these emotions was very challenging but also very healing. It was truly a gift because some emotions I felt as a representative I hadn’t felt yet in my life due to fear or not having a similar circumstance or experience. I learned that emotions could not harm; in fact, it may be clues to pay attention to so I could find out what was going on in my life at that moment.

As a witness, the energy from the constellation would travel to the outside circle and I could feel it physically and emotionally. If the issue touched me personally, it could bring many emotions to the forefront as my own journey was revealed to me. Even if it was not personal, the wave of energy carried the emotion of the constellation and so if I were open and willing, I would feel it as well and be touched. Sometimes I wanted to go to sleep so I could avoid an issue similar to mine I just wasn’t ready to see. Sometimes I would feel physically ill and sometimes I would cry as part of my own process would be triggered or I would tear up with gratitude not only for the constellation process but for the courage and bravery of those doing their constellations.

There was also a feeling of obligation to hold the space in order to keep those in the constellation safe. To send love and support energetically and to be mindful of breathing in order to keep the energy moving. This was physically exhausting although it did get easier with time and experience.

This feeling of obligation originated through creating a bond with the other group members and the desire to support each other. Through their support, I was able to open up and connect spiritually and soulfully with my process and this gave me the opportunity to go deeper into healing than I had ever thought possible. This bond also formed a safe and sacred place to allow my courage and determination to flourish.

Through this courage I was able to surrender and to connect to the energy of “the knowing field” allowing my relationships to my ancestors and my family members’ souls to grow. This connection also allowed me to connect to something greater and to deeply connect with my higher Self. Never before had I felt such peace.

There was a new sense of belonging on many levels and the realization that the connection felt in the room could be brought outside with my actual family members. My constellation experiences gave me the courage to take action, begin to reconnect family members, and pave the way for the tough conversations to be had instead of avoiding them.

I began to have a growing awareness of my family patterns, connect to them, and begin to heal. For example, there is a pattern of sexual abuse that ran throughout the generations in my family and through this work I began to see the soul contracts between members more clearly; it all came together to heal this part of my family consciousness. It all played a role in my evolution and I realized there were no victims. A feeling of empowerment and more control of my self and my healing had begun.

At times, the energetic connection to my ancestors brought feelings of love, strength and support from both my father and mother’s lineage. I came to realize they were there all along and the feeling of aloneness began to dissipate. This realization gave me comfort, gave me the motivation and courage to keep moving forward.

All of this changed my reactions to people and situations for the better. I was better able to acknowledge and accept what was, what happened, and what had been as shown through the constellation process. I now have more acceptance of myself, all parts of myself – the good and the bad, the shadows and the light and a reclaiming of it all to become my most authentic self. In having this, it is easier to acknowledge and accept my family members as well.

The experience of seeing some family members’ shame, anger, disappointment, longing, and even love that was unknown before doing constellations was invaluable. There was a releasing of judgment and even of some of my triggered responses. There was clarity with my internal, unconscious picture or with thoughts of what my family relationships were and a deeper understanding of where those thoughts originated. And now, I am better equipped to form healthier relationships.

My relationship with my significant other has grown and we have a foundation to build upon. There is better communication and more mindfulness toward each other’s reactions. There is more awareness of the family patterns we both bring to the relationship. This foundation helps us to establish a better understanding, which initiates more patience and compassion for one another as well as a willingness to talk things out as opposed to walking away or avoiding an issue. Family Constellations has given a depth of truth and honesty in our relationship that was not present previously.

The lines of communication and honesty have also been opened between myself and my mother, father, and siblings. There is a level of ease and comfort. Blame has seemed to disappear and more often than before, my family members are taking responsibility for their parts in the conflict or disconnection. There have been apologies for things said many years ago and appreciation expressed. There is more connection and more compassion. There was finally a feeling of being acknowledged and accepted. I have a deep respect and gratitude for all of them and an excitement about getting to know them through this lens. Never in a million years, would I have had the expectation for that to have happened.

Through all of these experiences, I began to see my ability to take family constellations out into the world to help others heal their own psychological and emotional wounds. This was my calling and I had a desire to be in service to not only my family but also others so that healing could continue in the broader sense of others’ families and eventually for the bigger picture of the world. Because of this I began to bring constellations to my clients. I was excited to learn that the personal change in me transferred to the therapy room and in doing so, I was able to support my clients with true compassion into going deeper into their healings.

My clients have stated they believed it would have taken years to get to the depth of healing they experienced while doing a constellation. Some stated they might have never seen or known what was there for them consciously without this modality. Still others have stated that they preferred the directness of family constellations and the honesty that comes with it. They have seen profound changes in them selves, family members, and family dynamics.

So you see, these experiences as well as the ones you all have had with family constellations have validated this work. It was important when doing my research to show others the validity of this modality without forgetting about the personal, human essence of the experience because I believe it is those things that will touch the heart of and inspire others to take the journey. It is those things that will truly bring constellations out into the world the way it is meant. And it is those things that will truly make the world a better place. Thank You.


Courage – An Existential Given

Courage and Hardiness

Ever since I watched the Wizard of Oz and the cowardly lion, I have been amazed and curious about courage.  I think it is an essential key to moving forward in life. Change and growth sprout from courage, without courage we would be stagnant. “… existentialists believe that to choose the future regularly requires courage. Without courage, one may choose the past regularly, which stagnates the quest for meaning” (Maddi, 2004, p. 279).

I was surprised by the fact that not much has been written about courage as an existential given of existence. Some givens that have been listed are: willingness, freedom, existential anxiety, death, isolation, responsibility, meaning, and choice. With each one, I believe, there is courage needed in some form or another. And like the cowardly lion and these givens, courage is there inside of us without doubt. I have seen this in my clients and know it exists within me as a person and therapist. In order to understand and explain how I applied it to my experience with my client, it is important to state that I believe courage exists within each given.

Willingness is motivation, a reason to begin something. Out of our will come challenges and obstacles. At this point we have the freedom to choose what we will do differently. Maddi (2004) mentions how hardiness “emerged as a set of attitudes or beliefs about yourself in interaction with the world around you that provides the courage and motivation to do the hard work of turning stressful changes from potential disasters into opportunities instead” (p. 286).

Freedom can be scary in that it gives us the ability to make any choice or no choice. It takes courage to make sense of freedom and to take advantage of it without going too far. One must remember consequences when enacting freedom.

Death could be the most terrifying given to some. It is the end. It is to be expected. As we choose to decide how we view the inevitability of death it takes courage to learn about it and accept that we all are going to die. It then takes the courage to choose how we will live.

If we are in isolation, it takes courage to step out into the world. It takes courage to feel those feelings of isolation and aloneness. It takes courage to realize we are not the only ones with challenges. Isolation is a way to hide, a way to dwell. It can also be a chance to incubate or immerse. It is the beginning of self-awareness, a kick-start to courage.

Along with choices come responsibilities. We are responsible for our choices, our actions and to take this responsibility requires courage: the courage to admit to what we have done or not done; the courage to make amends; the courage to celebrate who we are and what we believe in; and the courage to do something different.

Making these choices will bring about anxiety especially if we are not sure of the outcome. It takes courage to make the choice into the unknown and through the fear and anxiety. “What is the answer to tolerating the anxiety of uncertainty? … existential courage (i.e., ‘the courage to be’)” (Maddi, 2004, p. 285).

Choosing to be courageous in so many ways fuels the meaning in our lives.  This fuel gives us hope, a reason to live, a reason to continue being courageous. When we run up against obstacles in life, it is courage that has us push them out of the way. Courage is what has us bust through fear. Courage is change and growth. Courage is choice.

What is a Family Constellation? (brief description)

Constellation using figurines in individual session.
Constellation using figurines in individual session.

The Constellation Approach™ is a way to reconnect with family members as a way to begin to heal the family system and yourself in a deep way. It helps reduce the pain and suffering by allowing the love, understanding, and compassion that is hidden to be found again.

The client presents an issue and the facilitator explores the family history to see if there is a recognizable pattern. The client then chooses representatives for his/her family members and sets them up in relationship to each other creating a 3-D image with which to work. With the use of movements, specific words and statements the energy field of the family begins to change allowing for healing to begin. Family members do not need to be physically present.

Constellations can be done in individual sessions or in a small group (please stay tuned for dates on Free Introductory Small Group Sessions and Donation based Workshops).

For more information or if you have any questions, please feel free to go to my website or email me.

Compassion and the Human-ness Factor…

Often, in this day and age, I believe our Human-ness factor is forgotten. To remember the Human-ness within each of us, that connection and how we all experience feelings, emotions, wisdom, energetic connections, spiritual connections, and how we all effect each other and all that has to do with the Earth and being here. Because out of compassion, many things can grow – peace, love, respect…

I have seen this forgotten-ness in most every realm I have been involved in – school, work, athletics, business, the medical field, politics… and I could go on. I believe this is a crisis to our evolution and our survival – not only as peoples, but animals and the Earth itself. It is painful on many levels to experience. Compassion, I believe, is definitely one of the cures.It is one of my dreams and soul purposes to advocate to see more compassion in the world, to realize we are all one and connected, and to see each other treat each other with love and compassion no matter color, creed, race, etc. This is in part why I have posted this blog because as the Dalai Lama has said,

So as one form of action, a beginning to or continuation of your journey of compassion, I invite you to please join me in signing the Charter for Compassion.

The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world.

“The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.” http://charterforcompassion.org/the-charter

 With much gratitude,