Does Xmas pull you into a vortex of unspoken family tensions?

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Does Xmas pull you into a vortex of unspoken family tensions?

My love – hate relationship to Christmas.

I have a distinctly love-hate relationship with Christmas which centres around my family. I love the idea of meeting up with my extended family over the season. and dread it at the same. I am the kind of person who finds it very difficult to allow unspoken tensions to fester. This is especially true in a relationship that matters to me. I much prefer to have a difficult conversation than to avoid it. As a friend, a life partner, leader, teacher, and mother this has always been how I am.

But there is one area of my life where the eddies of unspoken, hidden thoughts, feelings and memory creating suck holes pulling me into patterns of behaviour that cause distress and disrupt my sense of who I am. As a sister to four siblings, the flow of love between us is twisted and tangled up in unspoken tensions, bitterness, loss, and betrayal. Two of my sisters will not speak to each other. One of these same sisters will not speak to our only brother and I find myself, as the oldest sibling, trying to ‘fix’ relationships in ways that only makes things worse. Finding myself drawn into a role as surrogate parent. This intensifies during the pre-Christmas period when even the planning of a gathering in the family WhatsApp group drives me to despair.

This ‘rescuing’ pattern of behaviour is deeply rooted in childhood. I know that I need to understand and come to some peace with it because it can have a real impact on my patterns of relating beyond family.
“Coaches, just like every other human being, will often repeat,
in life and in work, the very same dynamics that they are blind to in their origins.”

John Whittington, Systemic Coaching and Constellations, 2012. Through training and supervision, I have come to believe that my strength as a ‘helping professional’, comes from my striving to find an outlet for that flow of love that it has not been possible to find within my family. Coaches who become too drawn into the issues presented by their clients, who becomes drained and burned out have not learned how to manage the boundaries between giving and receiving. They give too much to the detriment of themselves and their clients. Without awareness of my tendency to be pulled into the role of surrogate parent, I could infantilise my clients, make them feel helpless, attached to me and weaker as a result of our interactions.

Orders of Love and Leadership


Exchange is the third order of love in coaching constellations, an organisational and team coaching approach that has grown out of the work of Bert Hellinger.

As a coach or a leader, our ways of being in our family system can transfer into our professional roles in unhelpful ways.

A coach trained in this approach is able to surface the hidden dynamics within patterns of relating. As a leader if you, or any leader you know, has an insatiable desire for what they see as ‘due regard’ this may stem from a childhood relationship with parents who never gave enough; he/she will set goals for the team but no matter what they do or give, its just never enough.

Feelings of resentment build up. The leader never gets what they are looking for, the team members can never do enough. A sense of being owed something persists throughout the leader’s life and creeps into their relationships both personal and professional.

Such leaders will never feel satisfied with what they receive from their co-workers, followers, collaborators. Nothing is ever enough.

Another manifestation of this sense of never getting enough is over giving, making yourself too available, the leader becomes too used and therefore exhausted and burned out.

The 4 principles of healthy exchange within systems:

  1. In all interactions there need to be a balance of exchange; give too much and people can feel oppressed and back off and become distant or alienated from you, or dependent and over attached. Leaving you isolated in the first case or burned out in the second.
  2. Acknowledging what is and giving expression to it is a part of healthy functioning in organisational systems; ignoring, failing to give recognition, taking others for granted and not giving adequate place makes people feel undervalued and leads to resentment.
  3. Giving and receiving honest and balanced feedback is a feature of health in a system; where the flow of communication is only in one direction, is overly negative or missing altogether dysfunction will grow.
  4. All imbalances within a system of relationships, often invisible, below the level of consciousness, will seek to balance themselves out through our behaviour.

If this approach to coaching is of interest to you please get in touch.

Have a very restful Christmas break and enjoy your time with family and friends.


Systemic Coaching and Constellations, An introduction to the principles, practices, and application, J Whittington, Kegan Page, 2012
The Basic orders of Love, Bert and Sophie Hellinger.
Wounded Healer Concept: