no family that is without its strengths as well as its limitations .
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between family
strengths and family limitations. For example, "sticking together" in
the face of terrible odds, no matter what the cost, can be a great
strength at times, and at times it can be a great limitation.
The need to
grow up and become a separate person at times collides with family
members' needs for closeness and connection in families, and sometimes
this "collision" can result in hurt feelings, shame, or other wounds
that go underground and fester, sometimes for years.
members haven't spoken to each other in years, or when family
get-togethers turn into family nightmares when these wounds surface, it
can sometimes be very helpful to have everyone sit down in a room, in a
structured setting, with a therapist who will set the agenda and
structure the session so that it is relatively safe for people to speak
and be heard. Under these conditions, little miracles sometimes occur.
I have found
that the simple process of mapping out the family's structure on the
flip chart in my office can open up a wealth of healing; especially
when I tell everyone in the family that if, for example, there are five
of them in the room, there will be five versions of what happened as
they were all growing up, and that this is perfectly normal, and
As each family
member helps to fill in the spaces and gaps in the family structure
with his or her own, unique recollections and interpretations , the
family often begins to work as a team for the first time in years. As I
said, it can be quite a healing process. And as each family member
begins to see his or her own place in the family, and contribution to
whatever is painful, it can be even more healing.
family member have to be present for this process to work? No. I
encourage everyone to become involved, but sometimes it is not
possible, either because of travel or schedule difficulties, or because
one may not wish to participate. The family members who do participate
can begin to understand the family better, and their role in what went
on and in what continues to go on.
It is very
often the case that a after a few hours of this kind of concentrated
work, enough of what has kept everyone stuck for so long has been
"worked loose," at which point the family can "go it alone" just fine.
Indeed, after 3 or 4 hours of this kind of safe, structured work, many
families feel like they can move forward with a new perspective, a new
understanding, and a new appreciation of the family's strengths and