5 Signals to recognize ‘Double Exposure’ and how to solve this

In Healthcare it is all about the relationship between the patient and the caregiver. Warm and human relationships are healing for all parties.

But what happens if relationships are disturbed? And what can you do to solve these?

In this blog an explanation of a disturbance in case of ‘double exposure’, what it is, how it can be traced and resolved.

The red flag
Rob, healthcare professional in elderly care, came along with the following:

He does his job with great pleasure. He has heart for ‘his’ clients but 1 person has the effect on him like a red flag on a bull. He can’t get along with the older man.

Rob tells me that he feels increasingly uncomfortable with this situation. ‘This man always has something to grumble about’. He makes me feel small. Whatever I do, it never seems good enough,’ Rob adds despondently.

As you would expect, the ‘love’ was mutual. Rob was increasingly reluctant to visit the older man to look after him. The older man, in turn, also reacts surreptitiously and dismissively to his arrival and even asks about his colleague – whether he can just send her in……

Table ( Systemic) Constellation:
Rob and I set up a constellation with the wooden dummies I sometimes work with. Rob positions the wooden dummies for himself and one for the old man.

When he positions the dummy for the older man, Rob immediately shows a physical reaction. In short: he ‘shrinks’ on the spot, gets a different look in his eyes, almost begging for approval. He doesn’t speak the words out loud but we both feel the question in the air: Am I doing it right?

K: Who does this man remind you of?
R: My father.


What is this ‘Double exposure’?
A ‘double exposure’ means that we unconsciously exchange the person with whom we are currently dealing with, with another person from our past who we still have a claim on.

It is superimposed as two images resulting as one blur image. Both persons are not perceived as independent, completely different persons. We do not see the person we are dealing with now, the way he or she really is.

In other words: We interact with the new but react to the old. We no longer respond as adults, but as the small child we were in the past.

Indications are:
– You do not behave in a way that fits your age / position
– You react unusually violently to the other
– You feel ‘treated as a child’ by that person
– He or she reminds you of …..
– The relationship gets an inappropriate emotional charge/undertone

The solution:
Realizing that you are mixing up the person in question with someone else is a first step towards the solution. Sometimes this is enough. If not, a simple but effective intervention is the next step:

Take the two mixed up people and set each of them apart. (In the example of Rob we put the two dummies on two different spots on the table. ) Define exactly who is who. Separate the emotions and  feelings. Make sure you associate the right emotions and feelings with the correct person.

Check your reactions and adjust where needed. Try and repeat. Practice until you feel  you have enough clarity to see the two persons for who and what they, individually, truly are. 


For Rob:
In Rob’s case, he had exchanged the older man with his father. Something the man did triggered an old pain in Rob. A huge eye opener for him as it never occurred to him that a part of his youth could play such a big role in his current work: Although Rob has a good relationship with his father, he realizes that he still is looking for approval.

The above described intervention allowed him to see his father as his father and the client as a client.

He now sees the older man again ‘as he is’ and knows that from now on, while interacting with the man,  he is able to and will leave out the ‘reaction to his father’.

He will have a look into the need for approval, the ‘father part’ later, but for today  the question has been solved. Rob receives tips in case he still has the tendency to fall into the old patterns.

Some time later I talk to Rob again.
It’s a lot better. Occasionally he had to use the tips to get out of his pattern again but in general it is going well and the relationship with the older man has improved a lot.

Rob feels good about it: ‘ The air between us is clear now. I am able to see the man as he is and I can react and interact with him accordingly.’  Just like with his other clients.

And the client in turn? He sees and feels the change and today, as we speak, he accepts Rob’s help almost gratefully and without grumbling.

The Curling Mum

Since I learned about this word in the Netherlands word I use and play with it during coaching and training with my various clients. It’s a word for mums who swipe away every obstacle for their children. Of course they do that out of love. That’s not the issue here.

But, my question is, are they really helping their children by doing that? Most of the time the answer is, no.

What kind of person do you think that particular child will become? I am sure I don’t have to tell you what the answer to this question is. I am sure because the answers I get are always the same.

– Everyone knows you should not take away every problem for the other person.
– Everyone knows we all can, even must make mistakes to learn.
– Everyone knows we even have the right to make them.
– Everyone knows letting people do things themselves is much more empowering than taking away the opportunity.

And yet we cannot help ourselves to (over)help others. I bet there are not only curling mothers, but also curling fathers, curling managers, curling employees, curling bosses, curling friends, curling neighbors, curling colleagues, etc. who swipe away every little obstacle for others.

Again, helping in itself, is a fine quality. But here I wonder again: do you really help by doing so? And are you helping yourself?

I see many people suffering from this. They are always worrying about others. Afraid of what could happen. Afraid the other will not learn. Always busy, even stressed to save others, or the project. I see people burn out because of this. Not being able to let go. Not being able to deal with not knowing if all will be ok.

Here it is: By overhelping you don’t only harm the other but also yourself by doing so.

Think about this: What is ‘helping’?

Is helping taking away the opportunity for others to learn and grow


Is helping more like supporting as people execute on their own.

I am sure you know what the answer is. I am also sure you know what to do to prevent yourself or others not to ’overhelp’ other people.

What advice would you give when you see someone ‘over’helping?

Please leave your answer in the comments below. You never know who you help with doing so 😉

Work hard, Play hard

Do you remember my friend?
My friend with the 50 euro note attached to his coffee machine in his cafe? ( see previous blog) He had pursued his big dream: a cafe in the main square in his neighborhood. Two years later I spoke to Simon again. I saw his empty terrace. A single person at the bar. What happened? Simon doesn’t know. As from the moment he started the cafe he had worked hard to make it a success.

He had worked day and night. The first summer had been fantastic. The terrace had been packed all day and people loved to pay him a visit, for a coffee, a drink and to chat a bit.  In the months following that summer, things continued the same way. His turnover was far above expectations.

Since then things have changed and everything has gone down. The terrace remains practically empty. Even the regulars just come sporadically.  The turnover is dropping radically and if this continues Simon will soon be forced to stop his activities. Poof, a dream gone!

Simon sighs deep when he shares his story.
Although he would love to turn the tides, he can’t. He tried everything. Coupons. Discounts. Extended opening hours. Reduced opening hours. Another menu. Different music. Hosting weddings and other festivities. Even karaoke, something he does not even like.

Simon states he would like to investigate what he could do to improve his situation.  
He is acquainted with (systemic) organisation constellations and tells me he would like to use this methodology. That is possible of course and I invite him for the next constellation gathering in which he can portray and examine his situation and test some solutions.

Here is a short version of the constellation:
That evening we come together in a group of 10 people.
First, from this group First Simon chooses the representatives for his company, the clients and himself.

One by one he places the persons in the room where we are. When all three persons are placed he joins me. This way, Simon has the opportunity to look at his situation from a distance. I invite him to walk around a bit, to have a look from all angles. What does he see?

What Simon notices:
‘The client’ stands somewhat disappointed on the sideline and takes a step backwards. ‘Himself’ looks exhausted, his eyes strictly focussed on the ‘cafe’.  ’The cafe‘ staggers and feels very uncomfortable with the staring of ‘Simon’. ‘The client’ states that she doesn’t know what to think of ‘Simon’. In the early days you were available for a chat, these days the only thing I see is you in a hurry. You don’t see me. I don’t feel seen and appreciated. You don’t have time for me, she continues.

For Simon it’s hard to see and hear this but he acknowledges that this is the situation.
Since he opened the doors of the cafe, the only thing he had done was slogging. He acknowledges that he became more and more exhausted. Out of fear the success would slip away he worked harder and harder to keep the success up. That this is counterproductive, well, that’s something you don’t have to tell Simon today.

Simon understands that through his actions he turned his back on his clients, literally.  The numbers controlled his mind.

The key to his success:
When we continue with the constellation we add a representative for ‘the key of success’. This seemed to be ‘having time off’. Real time off. To sleep. To loaf around. To play, as the corresponding representative told us. To take good care of himself. With the result Simon relaxes. Allowing his fun and creativity, sociability to come back. 

The test:
The introduction of ‘time off’ has the result that ‘Simon’ is capable to turn around and to have attention for his clients again. Attention for that part of the company that he likes the most and what he does best. The representative for the company blooms, happy to be able to breathe again. ‘The client’ takes a step forward, happy Simon is back.  

When Simon sees this, he feels emotional.  He realizes that hard work is good, but there also has to be a equal part of play time  That  it is good to have a balance between work and relaxation.  The harder he works, the harder he should play.   

And this, allowed him to have some free time, to have time to disconnect from his cafe, that he had forgotten.

At the end of the constellation Simon switches places with his representative and experiences the impact of that insight. He notices it gives a boost of energy.  He feels happy and that moment he commits to allowing himself to have some time to relax from time to time. To be able to do that it became obvious that he should outsource the accounting.

In addition he made some resolutions to keep his head fresh, his body healthy and his level of energy up.

  • Eat good and healthy food  
  • Exercise
  • Time out regularly  and do nothing  
  • Stay social
  • Enjoy the small things in life
  • Do something you truly enjoy doing

Simon can use all the help he can get. What tip could you add to this list?

NB. A constellation is a complex process to explain. To understand how it works it is best to experience one. People who’ve just experienced a constellation ask no questions about how it works. They are too occupied with a new sense of spaciousness and resolution around the issue or question they had previously struggled with.   

Would you like to experience the phenomena of constellations?
st of June 2019 I will conduct a special event on this tool in Luxembourg.

There are limited tickets available.
Please book your ticket via this link.

If lobsters would have doctors

They always hurt. At least a little.

The question is whether the ‘change’ itself hurts, or whether the pain actually makes you change. An interesting question that can be answered in several ways.

How do you deal with it?
Isn’t it so that we always try to avoid pain? As well as the change that is connected to it as a consequence? But if you decide to, bravely, go through it, what would be the best way to do ?

By coincidence I came across a short film which touched upon this question. In the short film, Rabbijn Twerski mentions that he had read an article about how lobsters grow. He did not find the topic itself to be very interesting but there was something about the story which caught his attention. And mine too.

I will tell you what it was:
He read that lobsters are very soft animals. They live in a hard shell which is so hard that it cannot expand. But also lobsters grow. You might think that this would be impossible because of the hard shell but the lobster found a solution to this:

When a lobster grows, its shell becomes very tight. The pressure increases and this very soft animal is starting to feel uncomfortable. He searches for shelter under a rock so that it cannot be attacked. Then it lets go of its old shell and produces a new one.

The lobster continues to grow and eventually this shell will become too tight as well. He returns to the rock, releases the shell, and rebuilds the next one. And so the process goes on.

The objective of the story is:
The lobster is motivated to grow because it does not feel at ease anymore. The discomfort it experiences, makes it take the steps necessary for growth and change.

If lobsters would have doctors
A smile appeared on my face when the Rabbi expressed his idea that if lobsters would have doctors, they would never grow. He thinks that the doctor would give the lobster medication so that it would feel fine again and would not feel the need to let go of its shell. It would remain the same way forever.

I had not seen it that way before but I think that the Rabbi is right. Isn’t it exactly the same with us humans? If you do not feel the discomfort (anymore), the urge to change disappears.

What you can take from this:
Times of setbacks are times of growth. Pain or other feeling of unease make you take the steps that are needed to feel good again. In the meanwhile, it is fine to look for protection and help. It is even recommended to do so. A safe environment gives you the opportunity to let go of the ‘old’, and to make place for the ‘new’.

Enabling you to go on afterwards.

– Karen van Hout

Why, what, when and how to delegate -tips

Do you remember Susan? The main character of a previous blog? She was extremely busy. Probably overburdened as well. But after she learned how to leave her team’s tasks and responsibilities up to them, she saved more time and space for her own tasks. As a manager she started to feel more at ease and the relationship between her and the team increased every day. Her department flourished. Susan was happy, but again she faced the issue of time, which she still lacked.

Reasons not to delegate
Until now, the word ‘delegate’ was not a part of her dictionary. She was convinced that it was not done to pass some of her tasks on to the team members. They were already caught up in work, remember? In addition, she also thought that it would cost her too much time to explain what needed to be done. That it would be more effective to do it herself. Also, what if the result of the delegated task would not meet her standards?


Reasons to delegate
The prospect of having more time was the decisive factor. She knew which qualities were present within her team and she wanted to make use of these qualities. An additional advantage was that she could simultaneously encourage and motivate her employees to grow. As individuals but also the team as a whole.


Decide WHAT to delegate
First of all, she made a list of her tasks and divided these tasks into categories:

  • Which tasks do I have to perform myself?
  • Which tasks are suitable to delegate, and what would the risk of this be?
  • Which tasks could somebody else perform better?
  • Which tasks could somebody else perform just as well as I could?
  • Which tasks could someone else learn how to do?
  • Delegating which tasks would lead to more spare time?

She placed these answers into a matrix.
The green squares represent the tasks she felt comfortable about to delegate.

Decide WHO to delegate to
With the help of the following questions she approached the list she made before:

  • Who would like to perform this task?
  • Who has time and space for another task, or who would be able to create more time?
  • Who would be most suitable for this task?
  • In what will this person have to improve?
  • How could I contribute to this?


Instruction and guidance
Because it was new to Susan, she first began to delegate the smaller tasks. This allowed her to practice how to discuss the task in question. We explored how she could give instructions most effectively. How she could share her expectations of the results, the why, how, who, and when. She practiced how to let go of some of her tasks, the accompanying responsibilities and authorizations. She learned how to step in when needed.

After a while she noticed the enthusiastic feedback and positive results. This gave her the confidence to increasingly delegate more bigger tasks.


Not much is left of her initial concerns. Admittedly, sometimes the outcome could have been better but she also knows that ‘good’ is good enough. She has learned to expect fine results instead of perfection. Of course it costs time, especially when a task is being delegated to an employee who is not yet competent enough to do the job. Particularly at the beginning this requires instruction and guidance.

And maybe that would be a reason you do not think that delegating a task would be something for you. That is fine.

But Susan now strongly believes in the value and effectiveness of it. It is of mutual benefit to Susan as well as to her employees. It required some preparations but the employees now enjoy developing themselves. The collaboration has led to many improvements. The trust on both sides grows every day and Susan has more time. That was what she wanted.


Karen van Hout

‘Will they still like me?’

In this blog I would like to introduce you to Susan.
She is team leader of a team which consists out of seven people: four women and three men. Susan is extremely busy. She feels like she has a lot of weight on her shoulders and she cannot find the time to work on her management tasks.


She asked me to take a closer look at her team.
Susan says that she often thinks that her team members do not take her seriously, which places her into a difficult situations.She finds it difficult to accept this because she does the best she can. She knows how busy her team members are so she helps them by taking work out of their hands whenever possible. Susan works her tail off for them. Still, every time this approach seems to end up in conflicts. It seems as if her team crumbles down every day. ‘Exhausting’, she sighs. She doubts whether she is actually suitable for this position.


The (team)constellation
During our conversation, we literally take a closer look at her question. She places props to represent her situation. First she decides where to place her team members and then she places herself. When she positions the prop for herself in between the team, she immediately sees it. As a result of placing herself in the middle of the team she does not  take her own position. So regardless of the fact that Susan is officially the leader, she does not take the lead at all.


The system
She is quite disappointed. Susan wonders, does she have to place herself out of the team? She says that she considers herself to be a part of the team. She does not feel any better than the others. ‘We all should be equal to each other, right?’, Susan asks herself.

‘How can you answer this question  if you take a look at the broader context, Susan?’, I ask her. You are a part of a system consisting out of a leader and its seven team members. And yes, everyone is equal to each other but, and this is the most important part, everyone does have his or her own spot. Every spot, or position if you like, comes with own individual responsibilities, tasks, and privileges.

You are the leader and therefore you should fulfill the spot of the leader. Not the place of one of the other 7 members. Or as an eighth team member. Beware of the fact that if you do not fill in your own spot then sooner or later someone else will. This always lead to conflict. In this particular case, conflicts about who does what. It’s a logical course of action.


The spot of the leader
It is very clear to Susan. After trying to figure out what would be the best place for her, she picks up ‘her’ prop. Susan’s ‘what feels best’ outcome is a place not in but next to the team. From this position she thinks that she will stand close enough to the team to be a part of it and yet being able to be a good leader at the same time.

Immediately she experiences a feeling of calmness. Her body lets go of tension as she relocates her prop. Susan mentions that this place feels a lot ‘better’ and that she feels more secure. She also thinks that this move enables untangling everyone’s functions, tasks, and responsibilities. This will result in the needed clarity.


But… will they still like me?
This is Susan’s next question. Her new spot feels less personal than she is used to. And she wants her team members to do well. We further talk about these thoughts and along the way she finds her own answers. It has come to her attention that:

  • She currently turns everything into something personal- while it is not.
  • It is unnecessary and impossible to be friends with everyone
  • By taking work out of their hands she takes away the responsibilities of her team member
  • Her team members are perfectly capable to do the job
  • And last but certainly not least: A change within the team starts with yourself


Trough time I see Susan changing. During our last conversation I noticed she walks differently and comes across as more confident. Even her voice sounds different. Susan feels good and says that because of the arrangement and accompanying conversations she had almost automatically taken the place that belongs to her.

At first Susan was not aware of it, but something about herself changed which led to a different attitude of her team members. She noticed this by the declining of conflicts within the team.

It became clear to her that it can be very alleviating to leave the team members’ tasks up to the team members and to have time for her own agenda.

She then experienced one of the biggest eye-openers: the work continued and the desired results were easily achieved.


A happy team
Susan learned that her position within the team is different from her personal relationships. Also, she realized that she can be herself while being a leader at the same time, and still be respected as such.

The team members have expressed their happiness about Susan taking the spot of the leader. The result is that everyone has the time and space to perform their own tasks and to take their own responsibilities.

I consider the best comment to be that she can now focus on her own work, while the others feel like they are more supported than ever before.

Susan’s confidence continues to grow every day.

–    Karen van Hout

From a systemic perspective: The story of Laura

Laura works in a department with six other colleagues. She is busy. Too busy actually, but deep in her heart she loves it.

She knows this. She has always been this way. One look from your side and she has already done it for you. No matter what it is. As if she has a sense for it and exactly knows what you need. Indeed, Laura is doing well.

Initially the other colleagues accept it. Sometimes Laura’s behavior is irritating but at the same time it can be useful. She takes a lot of work out of their hands. So nothing is being said about it.

Why do I feel I am not in the right place
After a while the situation becomes uneasy. Small conflicts arise. It seems as if Laura runs the department and this was not the idea. Deep down Laura knows it too, but do you remember? She cannot help it. She does not understand it either.

In the end, it is too much, she cannot handle it anymore. She does not enjoy her work as much as she used to and sometimes she even considers searching for another job. At night she is exhausted and on Sundays the following week comes across as an enormous challenge.

Why does she feel like she is not in the right place? Why does she always think that she has to do everything for everyone? Having to care for them? Having to take the tasks out of their hands? If she will switch to another job, she is afraid that she will experience the same thing so she chooses to find out more.

The systemic perspective
During a conversation it becomes clear that she comes from a broken family. Her parents divorced when she was about ten years old and as the oldest child she was considered to be responsible for her two younger brothers. Her mother shared many things with her, including the anger and concerns that went along with the divorce. Laura knew everything. Her mom needed to work hard to keep everything going but together with Laura’s help they were fine.

During a workshop a (systemic*) constellation underlines this image. A bell starts to ring in Laura’s mind. Because of the divorce and the absence of her father she ‘placed’ herself in his spot at the age of ten. With all the consequences that comes with this. She never got rid of the sense of responsibility that she felt at that time, leaving her to carry it around for 25 years.

Laura’s solution
Until now. Now she has been given the opportunity to leave the place of the parent, give it back to whom it belongs, and place herself in the spot of the child. Also, to let go of the weight she has been carrying on her shoulders for such a long time. She takes this opportunity!

She feels like she has been set free. She describes it like emptiness. Space! A space that is hers again. Relieve. The tension has disappeared and a realization of freedom arises. She has not experienced this freedom for a long time and she embraces it.

She learns to use this space for herself and to exclude everything that does not belong there. While at work, she also notices that she has improved in leaving things the way they are. She does not take responsibility for the tasks of others anymore. She enjoys it.

What happened next
Her colleagues also notice the change. They compliment her and feel like they can approach her freely, knowing that Laura does not ‘mother’ them nor the department anymore.

Laura chooses to stay and continues to enjoy working for a long time together with her colleagues.



NB: Name and (possible) situation are fictional.

– Karen van Hout
Systemic Coach/Counsellor and Trainer