Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


“A little brother can do only so much.”
By Don Paglia

Patrick (Pat) and Ellen sit side-by-side, conflict and pain written on their faces, stemming from their 30-year son, Paul, who had stopped speaking with his father. Ellen, especially, wants her husband and son to get back together but is feeling helpless and has been unsuccessful at this point in bringing this about. Pat and Ellen are out of sorts over the way each is handling the problem. To add to the situation, Sarah, Paul’s wife and mother of their two small children, has recently been in an auto accident and is home recovering. This young family remains cutoff during a time when they need more support.

Pat speaks about how he is committed to waiting out his son until he is ready to talk with him. Pat believes that since he has done nothing to provoke this temperamental son of theirs, who has often done this sort of thing from time to time since he was a child, that it is time to take a stand and not support their son’s old pattern of distancing from his father whenever he gets upset. This son of theirs has over the years been a major source of difficulty for an otherwise happy married couple, and now as a married man himself with children of his own he is still a source of conflict for these parents who sit across from me in my office.

Pat tells Ellen that he is sticking with his decision to wait it out and he is even okay with Ellen going out to the West coast to visit Paul and his family.
“I’m really okay for all of you (meaning the family) to peg me as the bad guy. I don’t even have any ill feelings toward Paul,” Pat states.
Then he adds, “And if he were to walk through the door right now and want to hug me I would hug him. I love my son, but don’t know what else I can do.”
Ellen complains that no one is making Pat out as the ‘bad guy’. She tells Pat she is “simply very frustrated … and this is tearing the family apart.”

After some discussion of how systemic issues can work their way down through the generations, I propose we try something. When they agree, I begin by placing small figurines on the table between us. Pat is expecting me to set up the figurines for him and Ellen and their children, and is surprised when, instead, I place a figurine for Pat’s mother, one for his father, one for Pat’s older brother, one for Pat, and also one his younger sister instead.
We sit and look at them for a while.
At first Pat seems unimpressed by this. Because I know the family history I next place an additional figurine on the table for the brother who came a year or two before Pat and between Pat and his older brother and who died at birth.

(For more)
The knowing field: International Constellations Journal, Issue 20, June 2012

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