Looking at Burnout through Systemic Work and Constellations

Burnout plays a specific role in our lives, especially when we look at it through a systemic lens and through constellations.

The Mayo Clinic describes burnout as a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

Let’s explore burnout using the 3 principles present in all systems: Order, balance of give and receive, and belonging.

If any of these are out of whack, they can cause stress and distress. They can, however, also serve as clues to patterns that need to stop and new ones that need to start to advance beyond burnout. Sometimes the origins of burnout can be in the company, or even your family of origin. A pattern has outlived its current usefulness, and something needs to change.

Let me give you an example: A CFO is suffering from burnout. He is overwhelmed and physically and mentally exhausted. He says he has to ensure that the company and its members are taken care of and he finds himself re-checking everything his team does. In the last while, he thinks about taking any other job where he doesn’t feel like he has the blood of the company on his hands’. He doesn’t understand why only he sees the danger of becoming too complacent.

Notice the words he uses that seem inflated or charged. ‘Exhaustion’,’ Making sure the company is taken care of’, ‘have the blood of the company on his hands’; ‘danger in becoming too complacent.’ We might wonder what has created a sense of urgency and a heightened desire to take care of everything.

Systemically, by taking care of everything, he has made himself too big. We call that being out of order. You might find as a result that his team is also out of order. When people carry too much, they may experience burnout. When people are micro-managed, they may feel themselves to be un-useful or unworthy and too small and may leave.

The company history revealed that there had been an accident where several team members were killed. The official finding was reckless endangerment due to inadequate equipment. The CFO who had been in the role for a year was blamed for failing to approve its acquisition. Team leaders had told him the equipment was fine and he’d taken their word for it. His two successors each lasted a year. This CFO had been in the role for a year and was feeling overwhelmed and fearful. The accident was not ever discussed. It was ‘put behind them.’

In systemic work and constellations, we know that what you exclude, creates a pattern that expands and repeats. It can suddenly show up as dysfunction or fear in the system.

This CFO’s father had left home when he was young. He’d often felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges he’d faced as the eldest of 5 siblings. He’d had to be big so they could survive.

As we talked, he could see how he’d had to be big for a long time and had always taken care of too much. Now that his siblings were grown up and successful and the company’s safety regulations had mandated the right equipment, he could see that in both situations it was time to stop holding it all and time to start sharing the responsibilities.  He could give both events a place in his heart as sources of wisdom.

Burnout is sometimes an elegant systemic clue that something in your life needs to change. It’s not the end of a road but rather a pivot point or portal to the chapter you were meant to write. When you understand that, burnout can shift you to a new direction or a fresh sense of purpose.

Putting It Into Practice: Beyond Burnout

Let’s see how we can use a constellation to explore a place where you may feel burnt out or overwhelmed and notice if you can shift just a little. Remember it may take a little time but with a willingness to look and new insights comes to a shift and you may be surprised by the results a one-degree shift can produce for you.

Get yourself some pieces of paper and a marker. We are going to use the floor to engage multiple senses and give you a heightened sense of what’s happening and show you how to shift just one degree.

Today I want you to write down the event that has pushed you into burnout or overwhelm.

  • Write down who or what belongs in this event. Each component should be on a separate piece of paper.
  • Place them on the floor in relationship to each other.
  • Now. This is a testing constellation. I want you to find the place that overwhelms you the most.
  • Then find the place that allows you to breathe easier
  • If possible, find a place that makes you feel hopeful or happy.

Now ask yourself:

  • When did this first start for you?
  • What was happening at the time?
  • What is your biggest fear? (this is the pattern that wants to stop)
  • What is your heart’s biggest desire? (this is the pattern that wants to emerge through you)
  • What one small thing might you do, think or say differently that might shift your mindset and the feelings in your body.
  • Write it down and place it beyond the other pieces of paper.
  • Now, see if you can move there and stand on that and notice what you tell yourself about that and how you feel.
  • Remember choosing this is the first step.
  • Accepting your choice is the second. That’s all you need to do for now.

Please feel free to let me know how this works for you. And of course, if you want to know more or explore this in more depth please reach out to me directly or attend one of my workshops. This year’s advanced class addresses Purpose and Clarity DNA and will be held at Disney World. Details can be found in the Workshops link above.

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