Family Circles

Family Circles
Family or “Tribal” Circles were hatched with a need in my own family for relational healing.  

They are a playful, non-confrontational means to release pressurized hostilities and begin to relinquish hurtful dynamics, while fostering empathy and mutual understanding.  

When invested participants (including myself) invite Transforming Power/Peace Presence into the mix … wonderful, sometimes surprising things tend to happen!

Alternatives to Violence Project Facilitators returning from prison with significantly more interpersonal-skills than the average human, can sometimes find it difficult to reintegrate into their families and communities.  These exercises and others might possibly help… Be in touch!


Generic Family Circle

Sample Agenda

(Some Favorite Possibilities)


Intro (10):  Gratitude for doing process – value to me (similarities in my situation).  YOU’RE IN CHARGE! No one in the circle is the whole problem or has the whole solution.  We all bring treasure, we all have blind spots.  In this process we explore our perceptions & feelings to uncover both!  Disclaimer…  Overview of Hopes… Some basic concepts (occluded smarts/patterned responses due to trauma energy – “pain body,” sexuality, etc.)—I blab all through as I remember useful things/relevant personal tales/have intuitions… Cooperative Agreements  – Notice feelings…

The agenda follows a format in the style of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)… with exercises that affirm, followed by communication exercises, cooperation exercises and culminating in a conflict resolution exercise:   THE PEACE KIT, based on a Native American “pass the talking stick” process.  The basis of AVP is a philosophical or spiritual underpinning of “Transforming Power” (or “Peace Presence” in Peace Work) …something we all define for ourselves, available to, through &/or as us, that has the power to transform a moment, dynamic or a life!

Transforming Power/Peace Presence Grounding/Breathing – OR volunteer meditation (5 min):

Purpose: To relax & invite a sense of Transforming Peace

1) Settle into a comfortable position – in your chair or on the floor.

2) As you breathe deep and slow, close your eyes or soften your focus. Move your attention within.

3) Relax your body and slow your thoughts. Feel a sense of peace.

4) In your mind’s eye invite a sense of what Transforming Power means to you:  maybe a feeling, some visual representation, like light or a religious figure…  a sense of comfort, etc..  In the silence, allow it to unfold.


6)  If you like, invite the part of you that loves connection forward to embrace/be embraced by Transforming Power as you understand it.

7) Gently come back to the room, open your eyes, stretch, and return to the present moment, feeling open, deeply connected, and refreshed (if you do).

Gathering (5 min): “Something I value about our relationship and how it’s changed me for the better is…”

Reminiscences (2 min): ________  shares “A time things felt wonderful with _____…”  (I contribute as well, on my partner or other family members)

Seeds of Equality (15 min.): In relation to the other (& I apply it to my “partner” or other family member)

[Note:  These are family-tailored Seeds of Equality questions]

Have you ever…

…Felt undervalued…?

…Felt judged or shamed for your behavior…?

…Yearned to be understood…?

…Felt your feelings or needs don’t matter…?

…Offered something of yourself in love and felt it

was rejected?

…Wanted to reach out in some way and been afraid?

…Felt afraid to ask for what you thought you needed?

…Felt so angry you wanted to give up?

…Felt there was no hope for a better connection?



In relation to the other…

have you ever… (go back a ways if need be!)

…felt cherished?

…had a fuss made over something you said or did?

…known you were deeply cared about?

…felt appreciated?

…opened you heart to offer love and had it received?

…been amazed at how well you were understood?

…taken a risk and been pleased with the outcome?

…been glad you asked for what you wanted?

…been grateful because s/he “has your back”?

…known the relationship is worth some effort?

CAN YOU THINK OF ANY MORE?          Debrief…/Sedona

Reminiscences (2):  ____other __ shares “A time things felt wonderful with _______…”

Encouraging Words (20):

1)  Hand out index cards & pencils all around

2)  Invite us to write the most affirming, encouraging, inspiring thing we could hear from the other that would support us moving toward the relationship we want… (I do it in relation to my partner or family member)

3)  Invite us to read & tell the statement to ourselves…

Give us a moment to take it in… Debrief

4)  Pair people and have us pick who’s “1,” (going first), & who’s “2”

5)  Invite “1” to talk two minutes on a time or times in their lives when they felt they were encouraged that very way they wanted… (a loving teacher… supportive friend, etc.) or discuss if we never felt we had that precise kind of encouragement

6)  After two minutes, swap & Invite “2” to do the same – Debrief

7)  Invite each to stand behind the other and read the other’s statement in turn – Debrief/w/energy moving practice as needed                                                                                                 (appx. 40 min.)

Reminiscences (2 min): _________ shares “Some things I Iove about you are…” (New reminiscences if partners… or keep going around with original statement if working with a larger group)

L &L:  What’cha Doin’? (10 min): Goofy activity involving acting out pleasing or neutral activities/memories the other names (including me where possible)


L&L: Daring Duets (10 min) Duet (and solo performer) get 5 minutes to create a performance piece and one minute to perform it

Reminiscences (2 min): __other___ shares “Some things I love about you are…”

Tell Me What I Want, What I Really, Really Want (20 min):

Brainstorm on poster paper: Our names go in a “hat.” In turn, we pull a name, and the other people describe what we believe “you” really, really want in the relationship (and beyond)… When the brainstormers have finished, the focus person can correct or add as needed.  Debrief, including focusing on some common ground, and identifying priorities…

Reminiscences (2 min): _____ shares “A time you really had my back”

Proclamations in the Pond (20 – 30 min.) – (Props: Ornate crown & big blue bowl)

Hand out index cards and invite folks to finish the statement: If I were Grand Poobah of this tribe I’d decree…”

We write our most passionately-felt need (could be priority from last exercise!)…  in our non-dominant hand…

Cards are collected & swapped…

In turn, volunteer “Poobah” dons crown… reads the statement as if it were his/her own, and comes up with brilliant ideas on how make sure the need on the card is met… When finished, others can chime in.

Similar but less playful alternative:

Priorities by Proxy (20-30 min):  Each person choses another’s top priority from the “Tell Me What I Want…” brainstorm (maybe let the “Universe Pic” by putting the names in a hat) …and expresses the priority as if it was his/her own.  Then comes up with ideas to accomplish the priority.  When that’s done, the rest of the group gets to chime in with further suggestions.

Reminiscences (2 min): __Other__ shares “A time you really had my


If you have stamina for this now, great (may not!, if not, next time!)…

Peace Kit* (30)…  A couple times around is swell…                                                                                                                              Closing: “If it happened that I’d never see your beautiful face again, I’d want you to know…”

(2-2.5 hours or so; This work can be exhausting… Honor everyone’s energy level and honor! )




Choose a meaningful object (stick, feather, etc.) to pass around.

Ideally, sit in a community circle with nothing between you.  For a grand air clearing, say you’ll hang in until everyone feels enough has been said… for now.


Facilitators choose a number of times the object will go around during this sitting and/or use a timer for keeping “air time” fair.

Be sensitive to those who are uncomfortable doing this…

(remind folks of the “right to pass”)

Protection of the “object”:


The person holding the object…


  • …gets to talk, the whole time WITHOUT INTERRUPTION !!! (maybe set a time limit/maybe not) and then passes it to the next person in the circle – knowing it’ll come back around if needed (if agreed to).   Note: Always have the Turkey go all around the circle; No back and forth.


  • …gets to be WELL listened to when talking. (Listeners, try to let go of your own viewpoint and defensiveness… and practice imagining what the talker is feeling.)


  • …is encouraged to get out their ENERGY IN MOTION (e-motion).

Feelings (not always tidy) will come up.  (Listeners, take a deep breath and listen well.  Trust that the talker will eventually run out of emotional “steam.”  Notice that peace begins to blossom from the talker’s clearer thinking.)


  • …is asked to do their best to say what they really feel – but in as kind a way as possible. Always try to stick to how certain things make YOU feel… and what YOU need for things to go better.  Try not to focus on what another person needs to feel or do.  [And P.S.  “I feel like you’re a %$#@#*&%#%!!!  is not a feeling!]


  • …is asked, on the final go-round, to share something positive about him or herself… and about each circle member (if time permits, or if not, something positive about the group).


…also say if this was helpful… and whether you’d want to do it again

Suggested Agreements:

  1.           Don’t interrupt

(unless you need to clarify or didn’t hear something)


  1.           Try to be honest about feelings and needs


  1.           Try to lead with positives

(i.e. “I really appreciate that you cook my noodles! But I do wish you wouldn’t MAKE ME EAT EVERY BITE!!!”)


  1.           When listening, avoid looking really mean and p***ed off (remember, we’re encouraging voice)


  1.           Try not to blame or attack anyone (find a nicer way to say it!)


  1.           If you discover you made a mistake, admit it (mistakes are the fertilizer the healthier relationships we’re growing!)


  1.           Be tolerant with yourself and others around these agreements


  1.           Humor’s good!


  1.           Consider appreciating YOU and everyone else in your circle …FOR DOING THIS!!!


  1. Modify this list or the directions with your brilliant ideas as needed


This tool is a composite of ideas borrowed from Native Culture,

The Prison/Quaker-based Alternatives to Violence Project

& Re-Evaluation Counseling

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