Learning from the Systemic Field

Embracing the journey through self-harm

The role of the facilitator when dealing with issues of self-harm and addiction is delicate.  

We set up a constellation to learn where we, as facilitators, could create a healing space for teenagers with suicidal ideations. How could a family constellation help? What would we need to bring into consideration? 

In Family Constellations, we look for the patterns in the family system that would bring about belief systems and behaviors. What is the entanglement of a suicidal teenager in the system that we as facilitators need to become aware of? The constellation was set up as general learning with no focus on a particular family.  

What I learned took me by surprise.  

As a parent, the appearance of suicidal ideation in a child is scary. I asked myself how I would cope with that. The emotional helplessness would be overwhelming in the exposure to hurt and pain that my child expresses in self-harm.

As a facilitator, I needed to step aside from being a parent. What is the more extensive consideration in this phenomenon of suicidal ideation in teenagers?  

We set up the teenager, their parents, and their current worldview of treatment with prescribed medication. The teenager stood alone and rejected the medication treatment vehemently. This phenomenon took me to my first surprise. The parents, however, were immediately drawn to the medication. This phenomenon, for me, was unexpected.  

Firstly, it was clear that the parents could not support their children as they had the difficulties and struggles they were dealing with. In a way, it showed that the child required parental attention.  

Parents that are entangled in the addiction of one form or another cannot give the required attention to their children. Their attention is fixed on their addiction.  

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.

I want to change the above description of addiction to include all forms of addiction. Some habits appear to be harmless but have a similar effect on how brain chemistry functions.  

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive pleasure /attention-seeking, continued use despite any consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.

Any behavior which takes a focus away from a balanced life can become an addiction that destroys a family. Addiction is self-destructive on many levels. We saw in this constellation that, on a deep subconscious level, the child does not want to break free from the family pattern. They were seeking solutions elsewhere in the form of therapy. The child wanted to feel heard and acknowledged, but that would also give the parents a voice and acknowledgment other than the chemical balancing system. The most significant relief for the child was when the parents acknowledged the child and the child’s needs as being different from theirs.

Where should treatment for the suicidal teenager be focused?

It has long been my view, and this constellation supported it, that parents who struggle with addiction or otherwise should become the parents they seek to be, when the parent is brought into the field of wholeness, the child benefits.

Once we had addressed the parents’ need to enter a healing journey, the child felt relieved. Then the child could be encouraged into its healing journey with all treatments that would offer support, including prescribed medication. As facilitators, we learned that we needed to embrace the parents’ journey of difficulties faced and challenges overcome. Family Constellations support the parent’s journey with and through their addictions to embrace their wholeness. 

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