We all know by now that stress isn’t good for us, but why is it one of the greatest problems we modern humans have?

I am sure many of us ask ourselves this question, day after day, and the answer can seem difficult to find. Even though today we have all kinds of solutions, from wellness programs to drugs to diets to apps that help us regulate everything from sleep to steps, it certainly does not seem that many of us have solved the problem.

Despite having gained an incredible level of wellbeing in many industrialized societies throughout the planet thanks to our increasingly sophisticated technologies, many people are suffering greatly, even though their basic physical needs of food and shelter are met.

To the contrary, in some areas, it seems we are doing even worse than before.

Anxiety, depression, insomnia, auto-immune disorders, chronic problems of all kinds are common experiences among many of us. We have enough food, our living conditions are quite comfortable, but yet we are feeling “stressed out” more often than not.

Is this simply a problem with how we are scheduling commitments, eating, exercising, and sleeping? How much money we have? Is it just because we are not wired correctly in our brains, and we need some drugs to fix us? Or is something deeper going on?

I believe there are always deeper forces at work inside of us as individuals and in our various human groups that we live within. They are not always immediately obvious, and it takes some time, energy, and dedication to be able to tune into these deeper, unconscious realities. But just because the easier route is to not look so deeply (and insurance plans won’t pay for it!), does not mean that these deeper forces are not at work within us, subtly conditioning many aspects of our lives.

Rather than focusing only on our symptoms we experience as individuals, we need to ask some of the deeper questions, such as:

  • what is it that is driving us to have these demanding lifestyles to begin with?
  • what is behind all the rush, rush, rush and push, push, push of our modern societies? Why does it seem we never have enough time, money, or safety?
  • And why is it so hard to pull away from that, and give ourselves permission to rest and nurture ourselves, and enjoy the simpler things in life, like connecting with others?

Like many others in my field, I have been aware for a long time about how repeated environmental stress in childhood can be hugely traumatic, and set us up for a host of mental, emotional, relationship, educational, career, financial and even physical problems later in life.

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – and cPTSD – complexPTSD, attributable to ongoing stress in adverse childhood experiences – are now almost household terms, and their symptoms (often anxiety, depression, and many others that today are commonly experienced by large swathes of the population in our increasingly industrialized societies) are recognized by many health practitioners and thus can be addressed with a variety of treatments.

What many people fail to recognize, however, is how our very culture tends to encourage the conditions that creates the stress we are trying so hard to manage. This negative conditioning begins within the family even when highly traumatic situations are absent. Why is this the case?

Of course these are complex realities and I do not want to affirm that there is only one easy answer to the problem. I do feel it is important to recognize, though, that much of our “stress” is caused by the values that we tend to uphold without being completely aware of how damaging they can be to ourselves and to others.

Stress, Portrait of a Killer by National Geographic (click on the title to watch) points out how, instead, the social hierarchies that we blindly participate in are generally driven by the conviction that dominating behaviors are preferable, even though they produce conditions which clearly benefit only some of the members, and deeply and negatively affect all the others.

This kind of social organization causes stressful conditions that produce a host of physical, mental/emotional and societal problems that damage everyone within the system, even though those who enjoy positions of dominance also do experience a form of pleasure when they exert their power.

This wonderful documentary addresses the larger societal aspects, by showing research done with a troop of baboons and within the civil service in the UK.

But this same dynamic is often present within every kind of social agreement between two or more individuals that we are involved in: the couple relationship, the family, business organizations large and small, and any kind of grouping of human beings who come together for a common purpose.

Historically speaking, we have been hooked on this drug of dominance – also known as the drive for power and control, or in Antonio Mercurio’s words, “phallic power” – for millennia, so it is so familiar to us that we can hardly imagine any different way of life.

As the documentary also shows, sometimes odd things happen, Life somehow intervenes … and new social models are born. I am not going to ruin the story for you, because I really highly recommend watching this documentary, as it can offer some powerful insights and energies to those of us who are actively working to change this behavioral model, in our individual lives and in our interactions with others.

What I will share, is that what this documentary and the research it shows us seems to underline, is that indeed we do, today, have a choice, about how we are going to live. Even though it can seem that we don’t, we can feel caught up in systems and ways of living and acting that are inevitable and difficult to change, in reality, today we have many tools available to us, to help us break out of these old, destructive models.

We don’t have to just wait around and pray for some kind of miracle that will take out the bullies.

It’s not easy, because our whole society still tends to either worship or feel threatened by those who have a domineering, authoritarian attitude, and assume that these “Alpha” personalities are the ones who should be leading us.

I have often heard people say admiringly of someone, “oh, he/she/they is/are such a Type A!” , as though that is the very best way to be. Only when we look more closely can we realize that this model tends to often have very negative repercussions, not only for the person themselves, but for those around them.

As the great psychoanalyst Alice Miller pointed out, the deeper, and most uncomfortable, truth is that these patterns of dominance and submission begin within the family, and they have been passed down for generations. We are often unconsciously locked into old patterns that reproduce a wide variety of problems.  And on a most basic level, when these patterns prevail, we are not free to express the life within us in the ways our souls want to grow.

This is a form of “stress” that can generate all kinds of imbalances. In our attempts to compensate for the inner conflict we feel between wanting to please our parents/family/societal systems and the deeper yearnings within our souls for authentic expression, we can find ourselves bouncing around from one “cure” to the next, never really getting to the root of things, and never really finding any true relief.

But what is the solution?

We live in a strange, but fascinating time. On one hand, our understanding of these deeper societal issues that affect individual mental, physical and spiritual health has grown exponentially over the last couple centuries, and we have developed incredible new tools to help us evolve and grow, both individually and collectively.

And yet, despite having reached a level of success as a species that no longer justifies the need for this kind of destructive, dominant behavior, we have become addicted to it.

Now we have the science to show what happens in the brain, and thus prove that indeed, the dopamine pleasure centers are activated when hominids impose their will over others in an aggressive and purely self-serving way.

And we all know what addiction is about: we do something repeatedly to experience a form of biochemical relief, or pleasure, even though it can cause terrible damage to us on every level, and to others as well.

And we also now know that when we have become addicted to something, the only way to truly break free of it – if we are lucky enough to realize in time the damage it is causing us – is to stop taking the drug, eating the sugar, going to the casino, falling in love with unavailable people – engaging in whatever it is that gives us that momentary high, which is a distraction from some kind of deeper discomfort or pain.

Many addiction recovery models today include the understanding that addiction flourishes when there is a lack of healthy nurturing and connection within the family system, and thus abstinence must be combined with cultivating healthy “connections” with others, in one form or another. Otherwise, at some point the need to get the “high” and alleviate the pain of the isolation we feel will override even the strongest of wills, and we will be back in the kind of slavery an addiction produces, in no time. It might be uncomfortable and damaging, and we may not be free, but it is what we know, so we tend to gravitate back to the familiar pain, rather than the unfamiliar one that having to rebuild new inner resources brings with it.

But what about breaking free of the societal addiction of dominance? Many of us are not on the “Alpha” end of it. We are, instead, the victims of those who are getting dopamine highs off of dominating us.

That, too, however, is a form of addiction – because once again, it is what we know. It is an energetic “atmosphere”, a relational reality that is what has been familiar to us since early in life and is thus very difficult to break out of and truly modify.

Neuroscience has allowed us to see how all these various emotional patterns create biochemical set points within us, neural pathways that are hard to modify, especially when they were established early in life, or have been reinforced regularly for a long time.

But it can be done. We can choose to quit drinking or smoking or even dominating others in our lives, and we can choose to stop harming ourselves by being a victim, once we understand that even as victims we are playing into this round-and-round of dominance-submission, that causes pain and suffering for everyone.

As you will see in the documentary, the suggestion offered to those who feel trapped in situations of submission/victimhood in the work environment is to find some area of your life where you feel you have “control”.

For example, they suggest that if you are in a job situation where you do not feel you are valued and treated fairly, the suggestion is to go out and do something where you do feel valued in your free time.

But to me, this seems like another bandaid, or even another form of dominance, because we end up trying to use external solutions to try to solve problems that lie much deeper, and that affect us not only in an external way, but deep within us, on yes a physical and behavioral level, but also on a more deeply emotional and spiritual one, as well.

If we have been stuck in patterns of dominance, or even of being a victim of dominating behavior, the truth is that we are lacking in a felt sense of what a loving, supportive atmosphere is like. We do not have the neural experience of it, which is a body experience. And if we have not experienced that, how can we possibly recreate that in our lives, in our interactions with others?

Since the problem originates in our most important, early relationships, where our experience of hierarchy begins to take shape, we must go deeper, and understand where it is that we ourselves are unwittingly continuing to further the systems that are causing us so much pain.

There are many tools to do this available to us today, and as this wonderful documentary shows, sometimes even very strange things happen to help evolution along. The bullies are somehow taken down a notch, and those who were formerly victimized, come together in a new way. Those are rare and wonderful moments where a new set of values, based on collective wellbeing and nurturing, can become the predominant ones.

But as the documentary also points out, unlike baboons, we have an incredible creative ability to think of new ways of being and bringing them into reality, for ourselves and others to experience and enjoy. That is our great gift – and difficult responsibility – as human beings.

It is rare that someone who gets high on dominance questions their role, even though this addiction, too, generally has its roots in intergenerational neglect and abuse (Hitler is an eloquent example of this: he was brutally beaten by his Jewish father in childhood… and we all know what he then did on an incredibly grand scale, to satisfy an unconscious and insatiable need for revenge).

It can happen, when dominating and abusing self and others stops feeling so great, or when the person in question has some other kind of major health or relationship crisis, and their consciousness begins to shift.

On the other hand, those who are being scapegoated or abused must also change the way they have been trying to solve their problems.

Rather than try to change or even “help the abusers to become better people – it’s amazing how the more gentle, sensitive members of a family or a business or any kind of organization are the ones who are most abused, and also the ones most desirous of helping their abusers! – we need to ask ourselves what we need to do to shift our ways of thinking and acting.

We need to take ownership of our health and wellbeing and realize that even though today we may not know what it is to feel loved and to thrive, we can move in that direction.

Our sensitivity does not need to be a detriment: it can become a super-power, a lighthouse for ourselves and others.

To do any of this we need to first believe that our discomfort is worthy of our attention, and that our lives have value. That our ability to love ourselves and make choices that best meet our own needs is what we must decide to cultivate.

We often need help doing this, because if we grew up in families where our parents were themselves not free of their intergenerational traumas, where we were subjected to family patterns of dominance/submission or entanglements, were victims of attitudes or actions that were harmful to us, we may have ingrained beliefs about our worth or our right to challenge the status quo, and demand dignity and respect.

It can be very difficult – if not impossible – to change these things by ourselves.

I would also add that it is not enough to just change these things on an intellectual level. We need to be able to have an emotional experience that is different from what we are used to, which is felt within the body.


We need to be able to FEEL what respect feels like, to be able to discern when we are receiving it from others, and be able to offer it to others ourselves. We need to be able to know what love “feels like” to be able to begin to choose to move towards it, rather than remain stuck in definitions of love that are either only halfway satisfying, or are abusive, draining, based on power and control dynamics, and thus, ultimately damaging for everyone.


I would even argue that those who are stuck in an addiction of dominance over others would even choose the wonderful feeling of “right place” and balance – of inner, spiritual Beauty, as Antonio Mercurio called it – over the high of dominance, if they could only feel it.


This is why I have really fallen in love with the Family Constellations method, developed by the German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger. It offers an opportunity to not only “see” what is going on in a deeper level in the circumstances in our lives that may be causing us pain, but to actually FEEL what the solution can be.


This somatic/body experience of real solutions is truly incredible, and hard to describe in words. You simply sense that you have found your right place. As one recent participant in one of my workshops stated “After the Constellations experience …  I started to … feel more comfortable, like you do when you find the right place to put something while you’re organizing your home.


Sensing this “right place” is the solution to the distorted and dysfunctional power dynamic, because it brings us out of the addictive cycle of desperately looking for some kind of temporary relief for our discomfort. It is a sensation of being rooted in your deepest inner self, connected to Life, knowing you belong.

You don’t have to fight for it, nor do you have to try to take someone else’s place.

You can stand strong in who you are: the unique human you were created to be, in profound and authentic interaction with others.


And the really beautiful thing is that when one person starts to feel where the “right place” is within a family system or a group of any kind, the whole group organism undergoes a subtle shift. Therefore, this is a method that assures that our personal work also has a positive effect on others, but in a subtle, organic way. The ripples we set forth by shifting our own attitudes and energies and experiences touch others in mysterious ways, and I have seen some really incredible shifts occur, not only in myself and my families and life, but in others’.


I could write forever and ever on this, but I will close for now, and just invite you to come to one of my in person Family Constellations Workshops or to one of the online ones, which I plan to start up soon. You can also do an individual session with me, where we can apply the Constellations method by using either figurines, or drawings.


Whether you experience it individually or in a group, it is truly a beautiful approach, that can energize not only your own healing and growth, but can bring you the wonderful feeling of knowing you are contributing to the greater good, by doing something really great for yourself, your family and all of humanity.


We DO have a choice today, to cultivate a more loving, mutually supportive reality, where we can all thrive. The first choice starts with ourselves, by activating our willingness to …. Learn from the baboons …. And, as Antonio Mercurio used to say, remember that


Today is a new day, and I can choose to create Love and Beauty, for myself and others.