While crawling along the 405 southbound heading to Santa Monica, which actually is a misrepresentation of the speed I was going as I can swear a turtle passed me with a snail on its back yelling “wheeeee”! I was listening to sport’s talk radio and the dialogue between a caller and the host. They were discussing a recent story of a professional athlete who was charged with physically abusing his stepchild. The radio host added, and I’m paraphrasing, “It seems like almost every time I hear about a parent physically abusing a child, it mentions that it’s their stepchild”. They made no conclusions and went on to other topics. Though physical abuse is not exclusive to a dad or mom and their stepchild, it is sometimes an unfortunate dynamic. And the statement the radio host made stuck with me, as in the five years as Family Constellation Facilitator; my wife, Leah and I have often heard the similar “parent abusing the stepchild” story.
So what is a Family Constellation Facilitator? They’re someone who is trained to look at an issue of an individual through the lens of their client’s systemic family for events, patterns and traumas that can be the root of the current issue. Once uncovered and reframed is left free from their unconscious ties and loyalties. Part of the Family Constellation training, which is the work developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist, is learning about the Orders Of Love. In the training there are certain governing principles that must be respected for the love within a family to flow in a healthy manner. When those principles are not understood, followed and respected, there can be negative consequences, such as abuse. Some of the principles are:
Everyone has an equal right to belong to his/her family system. No one can be forgotten. (Even crazy Aunt Martha, that we are all forbidden to talk about, has her place and needs to be remembered and acknowledged.)
Parents give and children receive. (You are the parent. Your child is your child – not your best friend, caretaker, or partner.)
Everyone’s fate is his/her own. (You would be surprised how many children, almost always unconsciously, try to take on or share in the fate of a parent or a grandparent. Example: Dad commits a crime and gets away with it. I will do something illegal and pay for my crime and his.)
Order must be respected. This means acknowledging who came before you. This gets tricky because when you marry into an already established family, you come second.
Usually, when you fall in love and marry, the man comes first for the woman and the woman comes first for the man. I look at you and you look at me first. From that look and from that love, a child is made. That child comes second. The love that made the child needs to always be in first position for a healthy parental relationship and for the well being of the child. If the parents stop looking at each other first and put too much attention on the child, then the parent’s relationship suffers and so does the child, feeling burdened, too big and too powerful. This is how a Momma’s Boy or a Daddy’s Girl is created. It may seem good to everyone at the time, but as the years go by, ask the adult partners of a Momma’s Boy or Daddy’s Girl what it’s like being in relationship. (We can get into this more deeply in another blog).
So what happens in relationship when a man (we’ll use man since that is what the radio host was talking about, but the same holds true for a woman) comes into relationship with a partner, who already has young children? He now comes second. The children were there before him and his new wife must look at them before him. The man coming into this new family must respect what has come before him and agree that he is second. He must also speak with respect of the spouse’s previous partner, regardless of the circumstance, because they were there before him, and the family he is coming into would not exist without him. You do not have to agree with the previous partners actions, but just respect him for being there first. Remember that the children are genetically half their father and half their mother, so a statement against a parent is felt as an indictment against the child. And just as important, the parent in the existing family in return must acknowledge the sacrifices and gifts the new man or woman coming in is making by agreeing to be second and caring for someone else’s children. If these acknowledgments are made then there is the opportunity for a balanced, healthy and successful new family. When these are not agreed upon or acknowledged, the new family member, stepparent, often feels excluded, betrayed, and resentful. A man or woman in this type of relationship may lash out verbally or physically at their perceived mistreatment.
There is an unconscious dynamic being played in the radio host’s statement about “the stepchildren”. A professional athlete is used to coming first. He is used to the limelight. However, when he marries into an existing family, he is not first. Without understanding the deeper dynamic of order, he becomes frustrated, angry and, often, verbally or physically abusive toward the ones getting the attention. If he were to be made first by the new wife, then the children would feel abandoned or lash out in some form. I am by no means condoning or excusing physical abuse. My intention is to provide an understanding of an unconscious root of abuse and offer a possible solution. The safest way to avoid all the drama is to adhere to the who-was-here-first order and respect that. Knowledge, awareness, and order are power.