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Phenomenological perception in relationship themes

What is Phenomenological perception?

Systemic Work involves working with a variety of information, information which you perceive. Phenomenological perception is regarding that what you perceive as ‘being true’, without judgment, without interpretation, purely as information. There is a lot to perceive, in which you are relying on your sentience and intuition. You perceive information by what you see and hear from the other person, by how the system behind 'speaks', or by how you experience the relationship you currently have. And by your physical reactions. In doing so, you therefore always have to investigate and let go of your own (rational) meaning, but you do have to register important intuitive observations.

Principles of Systemic Work

There are several starting points in Systemic Work. The first premise is that everyone in every family system experiences trauma to a greater or lesser extent. And that this is (partly) passed on in the generations. Birth is, for example, already a trauma in itself. Secondly, there is no child with perfect parents where all needs are 100% met. So we cannot escape greater or lesser traumatic experiences of lacking or shortage. As a result, our brains form beliefs about ourselves, the other person, the world and about life. In response to this feeling of shortage, we shape our personality and our life strategy. The specific experience of the trauma is not the most important in this, but the pattern that arises as a result. What are the limiting beliefs that repeat themselves? We call these conditionings.

Family patterns passed down through generations

Strong conditionings can be passed down through generations in family systems. The German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger (known for the principle of family constellations) already spoke of unconscious loyalty, whereby a certain mechanism keeps repeating itself in a family. There have been scientific animal studies that have shown that neurobiological conditionings in physiological traits are passed down up to three generations. Additionally, research has been done about people who survived the holocaust and their children. It has been scientifically proven that the children had the same traumatic symptoms as their parents, even though they had not experienced the war. One conclusion is, for example, that a person is three times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder if one of their parents suffered from this disorder. The systemic approach assumes that energies or dynamics from one's own family of origin are included as a kind of DNA. This influences not only our behaviour but also recurring patterns of situations in relationship themes.

Conditioning in relationships

Another starting point is that in a love relationship we find something that reminds us of the past. Consciously or unconsciously, we are looking for a partner who fits our trauma from the past. For example, how in a love relationship we look for someone who seems to answer our unfulfilled desire. That creates infatuation, the pink cloud and the butterflies in the stomach. Looking to finally be complete and to get out of our conditioning. We often do not realize that the individual pain in ourselves refers to the unfulfilled desire of the other. In this, we demand something from the other that the other is essentially impossible to provide. Disappointment, friction, anger and withdrawal are irrevocable results. These forms of behaviour hook into each other and a vicious circle arises that you can't seem to get out of, resulting in alienation or conflict.

Practical case: Relationship question from a client

What possibilities does Systemic Working present here?

Below I describe an experience in which I illustrate how phenomenological perception awakens clients to how conditioning repeats itself in a (love) relationship. And what healing path eventually showed itself, to be able to deal with it with more freedom.

“I come from a nice family without experiencing any trauma,” says a young man who comes to me with a relationship-related question. I answer: “Then you will have a much harder time in therapy than a person whose trauma is demonstrable. It may be hidden from you or it may have been passed on through your parents.” When I observe him, my first impression is that he is a little shaken, but that he pushes himself through it. Also, his energy is very focused on me and little on himself.

In the first session, I explore with this young man his strategy in life, which in short comes down to: “being there for others”. Then we look phenomenologically at what happened to him and what he no longer wants in his life. His love relationship has come to an abrupt end in such a way that it was not even possible to say goodbye. It makes him feel sad, powerless and dismayed.

When I investigate with him whether he similarly had these feelings before in his life, we don't find any answers yet.

Connected in loss to his deceased sister

Then, I decided to make a constellation with chairs, about his place in relation to his parents in the first 10 years of his life. First looking from a distance and then feeling in the chair, he learns what this place in the family does for him. Qualities, dynamics, loyalties and improper tasks; a lot comes along. We still have no clue as to how this could be related to what happened to him recently in his love relationship.

Finally, I ask him about the dynamics in the children's row with his sister. By looking from the angle of the child's place in the system of origin, I hear that there is a disturbance in the children's row. When I ask him if he knows about his mother's miscarriage, he falls silent. "Yes, that's right," he says: "I would have had another sister. I believe it happened very abruptly, with an ambulance to the hospital and there wasn't even time to say goodbye”. I feel my emotion rising in my heart and let a long silence fall. Touched, I say: “Doesn't this sound exactly like what you just experienced in your break-up?”. I put a candle in the place where his deceased sister energetically stands and put on music. He cries his tears. In mourning, he is connected with the loss of his sister.

He takes it upon himself to talk to his parents, to ask for the name of his deceased sister and to give her a place in a ritual. In this way, he is able to stand in his actual place in the children’s row, more in connection with himself. He 'cleans' himself of what has happened in the past.

Do you want to experience phenomenological perception with systemic child places, or learn more about Systemic Work in relational topics? View our Proven Methods page or take a look at our Soul Retreats.

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