The Act of Bowing; Reconciliation or Retraumatization?

Having worked with trauma, specifically, with abused women and children for over 30 years, I experience bowing in Constellations as having the potential to be one of the most powerful healing movements and one of the most damaging inappropriate movements.

The capacity to stand, or to learn how to separate fields is something that is deeply impaired in people who have suffered extreme parental abuse; particularly, incest. Often such adults adopt the survival behavior of a bowed position in life; being small, powerless and “humble” before the abusive parent or partner with no ability to stand up for themselves. In the perpetual victim state, they remain in abusive relationships, suffer recurring rapes and teach their children, usually the female children abject powerlessness while the young boys learn that violence against women is what it looks like to be a man. Their family systems are saturated with these teachings which are validated by religious teachings and cultural messages. It is hard to find a different model.

Unfortunately, bowing in Constellations can be misconstrued by the client (and facilitator) in such a way that toxic patterns are repeated and supported. Most abused women know very well how to assume any position ordered, bowing or otherwise, to help or please the abusive parent, partner, etc or to ease the stressed system. It is not surprising that clients with this teaching and history are quick to bow validating their life of humble powerlessness and re-learning the rewards of remaining in righteous victimhood. If the facilitator or the parent representative needs them to bow, down they go. Whether a gentle suggestion or a harsh demand, it is understood that the facilitator knows the right and good thing to do. Being willing to do anything for her parents (facilitator) she is eager and relieved to move into the bow; thus, maintaining her very good girl stance. The family system also finds relief and looks stronger maintaining its order and abusive process. If she began the Constellation feeling mad or confused at her currently poor adult relationship, she now feels peaceful and is rewarded for “not acting like a victim (ie not being angry)” or being stuck in her story. She “understands” now and is no longer hurt or angry. She has returned to her place as the child - the very good humble child and the very soft gentle woman with whom the parent/facilitator is well pleased; all “negative” emotions well stuffed. A very touching Constellation has occurred. In my opinion, for this client, the Bow is very detrimental.

However, for the woman who has found the ancestors who empower her anger, encourage her to tell her story even as it disrupts family “peace”, the Bow can be one of the most healing movements I have ever witnesses. This is the woman who can say NO to bowing if it is not right for her; even at the risk of being judged as “not there yet” or “trying to be too big”. If she cannot say NO, her YES is meaningless. A Bow of acceptance of one’s past and all that came before, a place to acknowledge one’s own field and completion as one prepares to turn, is truly a healing space. This is the woman who says YES to all that is, including her role as the one who says NO to ongoing abusive patterns. She is the one who can hold the “guilt” of disrupting the system and maybe even displeasing the facilitator. She is the one who can look at her father and allow him to hold his guilt. She can bow to him in his true state as her perpetrator and her father; not talking herself out of one or the other truth with her love holding tenderness and rage. Her children can witness her bow and learn to bow to her from their own place of adult power; in their own time and space.

As I see it, bowing can only be completed from a place of adulthood and strength. For me, this is the health and beauty of the Bow. If we are facilitating this kind of bow, the facilitator can only find her/his place as witness, not director.

Author: Carolyn Zahner, MSW, LISW
Copyright © 2011 Carolyn Zahner