March 29, 2017

Restoring Family: Healing for Everyone

This week, we conclude our series with Elizabeth Clemants who shares how the healing circles bring about restoration and healing for all members of the family who have been impacted by abuse. This is a powerful exploration of both what is required to make this possible and a pathway for getting there.

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Hidden Water’s core processes – Healing Circles and Family Systems Circles – are founded on the premise that Child Sexual Abuse is an issue that belongs to the entire family, it is not the burden of just one or two individuals. 

Healing Circles invite self-reflection and support from others who have similar experiences around CSA. In this space participants explore their growth edge around healing – i.e. where do they see the impact of CSA currently playing out in their lives and what has the impact been for others? Though this work alone can have a powerful impact on participants, many of whom find the healing circles helpful and therapeutic, the Healing Circle was designed to prepare participants for a Family Systems Circle. 

The Family Systems Circle is a meeting with family and close friends to discuss the impact of CSA on the family and what needs to be done to heal. This journey from impact to healing must involve accountability – members of the family system must acknowledge the harm they have caused for true healing to occur. The meeting is facilitated by two Hidden Water Circle Keepers who hold the space for the family. The two pre-requisites for participation in the Family Systems Circle are 1) participation in a healing circle and 2) a willingness to travel the path towards healing the family system – which is determined during a one-on-one preparatory conversation with the Circle Keepers.


Hidden Water Circle Keepers understand that not everyone will be equally prepared to do what it takes to heal the family after 12 weeks of a Healing Circle. This is okay. The Family Systems Circle can hold different levels of openness and preparedness in the participants. 

One way this happens is by the Keepers “stacking the deck”, they ensure that the open and prepared participants outnumber the more reluctant participants. If a family has enough people inside of it who are healthy and able to face the abuse head on, then the family can heal. But this is a numbers game; those who can have the appropriate responses need to outweigh those that cannot, both in terms of numbers and credibility within the family system. 

When we have a critical mass of healthy individuals, and enough of the key family members who are willing to sit with us, we form a Family Systems Circle to support a conversation about what needs to be said to bring about healing, and balance. 

The Keepers build a foundation of safety as we go, and ask everyone speak from the place of how the events have impacted them, not what they think others should have done. There is a subtle but important distinction that we make between defensive anger (speaking to the impact someone else has had on you) and offensive anger (speaking about what someone else has done wrong). As we initially build the container, and use a structure for taking turns speaking, which slows the conversation down, each person falls into rhythm with speaking from impact rather than accusation. 

When the safety in the room permits, we move into deeper levels of conversation about the harm that was caused. The possibility for true healing comes when each person speaks to how they have been harmed, and their pain is acknowledged – and felt – by others. 

What develops is wisdom and insight into how the family members have all been impacted in small and large ways by each other’s reactions to the abuse. As this comes to light, the family system begins to form a collective perspective, a common vernacular, and a powerful new way of relating to one another. 

Shifts and repair come spontaneously, genuine apologies make amends as we go and the family moves toward taking responsibility for itself. Victims turn into heroes, and everyone starts to see how they have harmed others in different ways. 

We don’t see past CSA as a problem to be solved, as much as an understanding that needs to be developed, an awareness that calls for heightened vigilance and repair and a healing process that will grow over time. The Family Systems Circle is an opportunity to move from having the abuse weigh on the family for generations to come, to letting the members of the family identify with it less. 

When the abuse can be one of the many experiences someone had with their family, as opposed as the defining experience, we have accomplished something great.      

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Elizabeth is a social worker at heart. She has always been interested in the intersection of social work and the law. To that end, she attend Columbia University School of Social Work where she graduated with an MSW and a Minor in Law. She immediately went to work in the field of conflict resolution and has been practicing ADR since 1997. She has founded three programs in conflict resolution, of which Hidden Water is one, where she serves a Board President. She also founded and runs Small Business Arbitration Center with the aim of offering truly affordable, binding conflict resolution services to small businesses and their clients. Elizabeth is also the principal trainer at Planning Change, whose mission it is educate and empower individuals to affect meaningful change in the conflicts around them. In addition to the programs, Elizabeth works as a mediator, a coach, a shaman and speaks regularly at events and conferences. 

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