Unraveling Family Secrets
Bert Hellinger interviewed on Family
Humberto del Pozo in Santiago de Chile,
(translated from Spanish)
is the family psyche?
We observe when we
work with the family that they are
driven by a common
principle or force, and I call that a family consciousness. We can
that a circumscribed number of people are subject to unconscious drives
to behave in a certain way. For instance, if in a family one member has
been excluded or forgotten, for example a child that dyed early, and is
no longer counted among the siblings, then later on in that family, in
the next generation only, another member takes up the same fate of that
child. This person then wants to die, with nobody knowing why.
And we do a family
constellation. That means that in a
group, a person
collects himself and selects
representatives for the members of his family –including one
and places them in a space in
relationship to one another, following only his own intuition. And
as soon as those people have taken up their places they feel like the
they represent without knowing them. So by means of the Family
we get a real picture of what is going on in the family.
does the therapy then work for the unconscious
in this example, the person selects a
person for his father,
mother, his/her siblings and one for himself. Then he sets them up in a
space, and they are all looking in one direction. That is very strange,
so when we see that we know immediately somebody has been forgotten or
excluded. Then they suddenly remember, “Oh Yes! ... there was
who was handicapped and died after three months...”
a representative for the dead sister and I place her in front of the
And they all feel relieved for she can now be included, and another
who has became ill, for instance, of diabetes, has now a greater chance
to deal with that illness in a positive way.
have seen you require very little information from
the client before
asking him to set up his Family Constellation. Is that enough? How come?
Yes, for the
perception is helped most by asking only
for the most essential
information, and for that to be done just prior to the constellation,
1. Who belongs to the family?
2. Are there any stillborn members of the family, or any who
have died early? Has there been any special fate
in the family, for example
someone with a disability?
3. Was one of the parents or grandparents engaged, or
before, or in a significant prior relationship?
questioning usually hinders openness to the
information which emerges. This is true both for the therapist as well
as the representatives. This is also the reason why the therapist
any prior conversations with the client or extensive questionnaires. In
addition, it is best if the client remains silent during the
and that the representatives refrain from asking the client any
is it that somebody is selected to represent an
The force that
operates to select somebody to represent
the person excluded,
that is the family
consciousness and it is unconscious. You see it by it’s
family consciousness follows certain laws.
One of them is that every member of a family has an equal right to
belong. Now if one member is excluded or forgotten he doesn’t
more. So the family consciousness has a tendency to completeness of the
family. This is one of the laws. And we can actually see by
which member of the family is subjected to them and who
family members are affected and may be entangled in the fates of other
it the family who choose that person or the person
to be a representative of the
nor. It is the family soul or the family
picks that person. And there is no one guilty of actually
somebody. It's a force that requires that somebody does it and the
one - as a rule- takes it upon himself.
If it is a child,
it’s often the youngest one that
takes it upon himself.
The one that can resist the forces least. But I don't want to
that a generalization. I have observed it often, but often it is the
born, too, quite often it is, but it is always one in a weaker
who does that.
are those included in the family consciousness?
number of persons belong to the family
1. the children, including stillborn children and those who have died
2. the parents and their siblings,
3. the grandparents,
4. sometimes one of the great-grandparents and, at times, ancestors
even further back, and, very strangely, people who are
not relatives belong to the family consciousness too:
5. everybody - and this is most important - who made room to the
of the above members, belongs to the family consciousness. This
in particular, former partners of parents or grandparents, as well as
those whose misfortune or death brought the family an advantage or
6. victims of violence and murder by any members of the family.
you share with us some of your experiences with
experiences I had recently with persons who
a loss in favor of somebody within the family. For instance, a former
of the father, from which he has separated. The new wife has an
because the other one suffered a loss, so the latter belongs to the
And she will be represented always.
This is one of the laws to which I have seen no exception, she will
be represented by a child of the second wife. One of the daughters, for
instance, of the second wife will suddenly feel like the first wife.
becomes angry with her father and nobody knows why. That is again a
of the family consciousness. This is the family consciousness.
do you work in a Family Constellations with such
constellations shows the state of the family,
where the problem
is. In the case I have just mentioned as an example, I would bring into
the family system a representative for the first wife. And then, the
her former husband, will look at her and will tell her: “I am
sorry I hurt
you. I honor you as my first wife”. And the second wife will
“You are the first, I am the second one. And please be kind
husband and please be kind to my children”. And
who represented the former wife no longer needs to do so and she can
the woman who she represents ... that is the former wife in the
“I am my father and mother’s daughter”.
And she can
tell her father: “You
are my Dad, I am only your daughter. I have nothing to do
former wife”. In such cases the daughter also becomes the
mother because her father sees her as his former wife. She can now tell
her mother. “You are my mother, I am your daughter, please be
I have observed
that in situations like this children
excema, which is a skin desease . It is very strange. I discovered it
chance. If there is a reconciliation between the two wives, the
excema heals or is alleviated. It shows that actually many illnesses
are due to the family consciousness. So if you do this work you can
many people so they can live in a better way.
your therapeutic methods also applicable with
people who are
Yes, specially in
cases where the problem or illness is
caused by systemic
implications, or when it is at least a contributing cause.
are the symptoms that best respond to a systemic
We can see that
certain very threatening
illnesses, for example
cancer, also have systemic causes. The
systemic context shows in the dynamics of: "I will follow you"; that
means, a persons wants to follow another member of the family who is
or dead, by falling ill or seeking death himself too. Or a child who
someone in his family having the tendency to follow another person in
way, and tries to hold him, saying:
"It’s better that I go instead of you." So all this adds up
to atone and compensate a fate, seeking in turn a similar fate. Knowing
these fundamental dynamics, it is possible to devoid them of their
and alleviate much suffering and pain.
Other symptoms are related to the interrupted movement towards one
of the parents. Thus, for example, heart pains or headaches are
expressing a retained love, and back aches develop many times when a
refuses to bow profoundly in respect for his father or mother.
have said there are dynamics conducive to
of accidents or misfortune. Will you please tell us about the dynamics
in such cases?
suicides or suicide attempts, or
accidents are some
of the things we often see in
psychotherapy that are motivated by love -the love of a small
Small children love according to a magical belief system. For the small
child, love means: "Wherever you lead, I will follow. Whatever you do,
I’ll do," or "I love you so much that I want to be with you
is: "I’ll follow you in your illness" and "I’ll
in your death."
Whenever someone loves in this way, he or she naturally is vulnerable
becoming seriously ill.
But how must the person feel who's loved in this
must he or she feel upon seeing that his or her illness or death is
a child to become ill? How must they feel? Bad,
constellations, we invariably observe that the
ill, and those who have suffered a difficult fate wish the survivors
One death or misfortune is sufficient. The dead are well
toward the living. It's not only the child who loves, but also those
suffered or died. In order for the systemic healing to
child must recognize her deceased relative’s love and honor
not clear what you mean when you say, "recognize
his love and
honor his fate."
When a child dies,
the other members of the family tend
to become afraid
-in part because they also, perhaps unconsciously, feel the kind of
that makes them want to follow the child. In order to contain
fear, they deaden their feelings. They effectively
child out of their hearts and souls. They may talk about the
but they've cut off their feelings. Then, even though the
dead, he or she is still having a deadening effect on the family
a deadening of feeling. For love to succeed, the child must
a place in the family, just as if he or she were
surviving members of the family must live their feelings for the child
and their grief. They might put up a picture of the child, or
a tree in the child's memory. But the most important thing is
the survivors take the deceased with them into life, and allow their
for the child to live.
A lot of people act
as if the dead were gone. But
where can they
go? Obviously, they're physically absent, but
in their continuing effects on the living. When they have their
place in the family, deceased persons have a friendly effect.
they cause anxiety. When they get their proper place, they support the
living in living instead of supporting them in the illusion that they
To be infected with
the virus or contract AIDS is not a
not directly. Of course people who contract AIDS are mostly
and homosexuality is a family dynamics. If I go back to the previous
if there was a child who dyed early and the child was a girl, and later
on in the family there are only boys, then one of the boys has to
a girl. Now, this leads to homosexuality; if a man has to represent a
in a family. But when there is AIDS, the main issue is that they face
destiny and fate. By what I have seen they usually have no illusions,
is easy to work with them.
With regards to the dynamics of homosexuality, first, I want to say
a couple of general things about the systemic view.
Everyone is an
integral part of the relationship systems
in which he
or she lives, and everyone has an equal value in the functioning of
systems -everyone in the family system is essential to the system.
Differences in a
social system add to its durability and
The conscience that seeks to exclude
individuals from the group because they are different operates on a
different level than does the systemic conscience that seeks
the system as a whole by guarding the right of every member to belong
the system. It has very serious consequences for the younger
of a family system when someone is excluded from the system because he
or she is different. I've seen many cases in which younger
suffered terribly because they had to identify with an older relative
was excluded from the family because of his being homosexual.
commitment to the intrinsic dignity and
value of all
persons makes ¡t possible to view differences openly.
Having said that, there's an inescapable fact that homosexual couples
face: Their love can’t lead to their having children
insistence on heterosexuality has consequences that can't be ignored as
if they didn't exist. In any partnership without children,
can separate with less guilt -they only hurt one another. But
parents separate, that has enormous consequences for their children,
they must be very careful or their children will be harmed by what they
do. This added guilt makes it more difficult for parents to
but, paradoxically, it also supports their partnership.
children -including homosexual couples- don’t have the
consequences to hold them together during crises.
like other childless couples
interested in long-term,
loving partnerships, especially need to make clear and conscious
about the purpose and goals of their partnership. Some goals
more conducive to long-term stability in relationships than are
Wanting to avoid loneliness or the feeling of emptiness, for example,
a goal that supports a long-term partnership of equals.
Everyone has his or
her own path in life -part of it we
part of it just comes with life and isn't really chosen.
part that's hard to deal with. The homosexuals with whom I've
-even those who maintain that they chose their sexual orientation
have been caught in systemic dynamics, experiencing in their lives the
consequences of what others in their system did or suffered.
been inducted into the service of the system, and as children, they
defend themselves from the systemic pressures to which they were
So that's the second thing they have to deal with, that they're
something for the family.
rarely worked with someone who wanted to "get
over" being homosexual.
When I work with homosexual persons, homosexuality isn't the primary
I merely try to bring to light any entanglements that might be limiting
the fullness of life, but I have no intention of trying to change
are the patterns you have observed in
relationship to homosexuality?
observed three patterns of systemic
entanglements in conjunction
with homosexuality, but I don't know whether they're actually its
was pressured to represent a person of
the opposite sex
in the system, because a child of the same gender wasn't
For example, a boy had to represent one of his deceased older sisters,
because none of the other surviving children was female. Or
boy had to represent his father's first fiancée, who had
unjustly. This is the most painful and difficult of the three
A child was
pressured to represent someone who had been
the family system -or who had been vilified by the system
that person was of the same gender. Homosexuals living in
have the position of being "outsiders." For example, a boy was
identified with his mother's first fiancé, who contracted
and withdrew from the engagement. Although the
acted honorably, he was scorned and despised by the boy’s
The boy’s feelings of being scorned were very similar to what
have felt -as if they were his own feelings.
remained caught in the sphere of influence
of the gender-opposite
parent, and was not able to
complete the psychological movement of taking the
is the dynamics you have seen in working with
When there is
addiction, for example alcoholism, we have
family constellations. In such a family the wife despises her husband.
And she does not want that the children honor the husband or go with
and with his family, she says: “I am good, he is not
And then the
children take revenge on the mother, they prove to her that they are
good and that she is wrong. So they take revenge. As a result it has
clear that during addiction, it actually can only be taken care off by
men, not by women. So the therapists for drug addicts should be men.
women who honor men, they can help, only if they are not trying to help
“the poor addict” or so, for then they treat them
and the drug addict has to become a man. And he becomes a man
he honors his father.
There is a very simple image to go in this direction: for instance,
I set up his father –in a Constellation- and behind him I
and behind him the great grandfather. And then the addict leans against
his father and that is a masculine strength for him and it helps.
But on the other
hand, many addicts are suicidal, and
this is another
dynamic, one you find in families directed by the family consciousness:
A child wants to follow a dead person, for instance the mother or the
father... he develops illness, is prone to accidents or to suicidal
A child sees that his father wants to follow his own father, and he
says: “I will do it in you place Dad”, and he
anorexic... “I rather
disappear”... he wants to prevent his father from dying.
This is magical
thinking and completely unconscious.
Only in the family
constellation it comes to light, then it can be exposed and you can
a solution within the family.
many times do you have to repeat a Constellation?
No repetitions. It
is done once. The Constellation shows
it and then
a healing movement can start operating. But it is not so easy because
for instance, a child wants to die instead of his father, he feels
and great, but if he follows the solution ... he feels small and feels
guilty in a very special way ... so it needs a special development
the soul for a child to take these steps. So it is not that you can
about a healing or a solution in the way you repair a watch. We have to
support the soul and find in the family resources for the client.
laws govern the behavior of those who belong to
the family soul?
As I said before,
the family members behave as if they
all share a common
soul, or a common conscience, and as if they are all subject to a
higher authority. It even appears that this authority follows certain
phenomenon we see here is, that the
members of a family
are bound together by this greater soul, or common family soul. This is
true even to the extent that a child, whose mother or father dies
feels a longing to follow them into death. Even parents or grandparents
occasionally want to follow their child or grandchild into death, and
can observe this dynamic between partners as well. If one dies, often
other one loses the desire to live.
phenomenon we notice, is that there is an
urge to balance
gains and losses across
generations. That means that someone who has profited at someone
expense will pay for it with an equivalent loss to compensate. If those
who benefited were also the perpetrators, their descendants are often
ones who end up paying. The family soul uses them in place of their
frequently without anybody being aware of it. And if somebody
guilty in a former generation, but he did not face his guilt then
from a later generation will take up the atonement for that
So for instance he will kill himself. We'll see that with the
murderers for instance. And many descendants two or three
later have a tendency to be suicidal, they want to redress that.
words, the family soul favors those who
over those who came later. This represents a third movement, or natural
order of the family soul. Someone who is born later is prepared to die
for someone who came earlier in the system, sacrificing his own life in
an attempt to prevent the death of another family member. Or, the later
family member may be atoning for the unresolved guilt of someone who
earlier. A daughter may represent her father’s former wife,
towards him more like a partner than like his child. In such a case,
becomes her mother’s rival. If the father’s former
had been wronged,
the daughter may take over the feelings of that woman towards the two
fourth order of the family soul attends to the
the family and demands that every family member have the right to
Later family members represent earlier members who have been excluded
forgotten, thereby honoring their right to belong, and restoring them
the family by making a place for them. Whenever one member is excluded
or forgotten, then this kind of conscience or soul picks somebody from
a later generation to regress the former person. And this
then acts out the life of the former one.
This is only a
brief summary of some of the movements of
soul and its underlying orders. My books
“Love’s Hidden Symmetry” and
What Is” deals with the
topic more extensively.
kind of solutions can be found for a client?
the phenomenological approach here?
phenomenological field of vision ranges from a
narrow point of view
to a spacious awareness, it extends from what is close at hand to
vistas. This means, instead of looking only at the client, the
also looks at the entire family; and instead of looking only at the
and his family, he looks beyond them, to a larger field of phenomena
to the larger soul containing all of it. An individual and his family
bound together by a larger field and affected by the forces of a
common soul, which appears to guide and direct them. Furthermore, it
clear that a problem may only be understood fully, and solutions may
emerge, in the context of a larger view.
If I hope to assist
the client’s soul, I must look
at his soul as being
guided by the family soul. But if I only look at the client and his
I may recognize what may have lead to entanglements, but the solution
not present itself, until a connection has been made to those forces
dimensions of soul which lie beyond the individual and his family.
dimensions are beyond our influence. We can merely remain open and
When we focus on the essential during a constellation, this greater
soul may provide insights into a potentially healing image, a healing
and a possible next step. The therapist merely makes himself
to be touched by this larger soul, by refraining from any direction on
his part, and remaining deeply humble towards all that he fears, even
itself. Then suddenly, a picture, a word, or a sentence may emerge,
him to the next step. But it will always be a step into the dark and
unknown. Only in the end will it be clear whether this was the right
or if it actually helped. By taking a phenomenological stance we come
contact with these dimensions of soul, and this is more easily
by non-doing than by doing.
therapist’s own focused presence assists the
client in adopting
a phenomenological attitude himself, and to receiving the insights and
strength it offers. Often the client cannot bear what is being revealed
and closes down against it. The therapist consents even to that. The
does not allow himself to become entangled in the destiny of the client
and his family. This may seem cold-hearted. But our experience has
that insight gained in any other way, remains incomplete and tentative,
for the client as well as for the therapist.
you give us examples regarding those whose
misfortune or death
brought the family an
advantage or gain?
with the descendants of those who had
wealth, what was remarkable were the particularly difficult fates of
grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which could not be explained by
events in the family alone. After representatives had been added for
people who had suffered through the acquisition of this wealth, it
apparent that their sacrifice continued to have an effect in the family
over several generations.
The same is the
case were for instance there are
laborers who died during
the construction of the railroad or in oil production, whose
to the prosperity of their employers was not acknowledged and honored.
if someone is murdered in a family?
I will give you an
example. It was in a supervision
group. A therapist
set up a client. The father had killed his wife, the daughters were
and are now in the care of the wife’s sister. And the two
very upset. I set up the man, and the woman, the sister and the two
The woman was immediately frightened. She turned to her sister for
The man turned away. He wanted to leave. He had actually killed himself
after he had killed his wife. So I had to make them face the real
So I brought the wife and let her lie on the floor in order to show she
is not alive, she is now dead, so she can’t just go to her
anymore. So I
reestablished the reality in this point. Then I brought the man back,
let him look at his wife. And he looked at her and he could not move.
I made him breathe deeply and suddenly it broke out of him. A very,
deep pain. A tremendous pain. And then he fell down on his knees and
at his wife and he just cried. Then, only then could he
at his wife. And then I let him lie at the side of his wife, because
was the reality.
He was also dead. And then the two, they moved together with very,
very deep love. That’s the strange thing, that after that
united in deep love. And from this I conclude, and I has similar
in other constellations, even more traumatic, that at the end if both
themselves as dead, then the dead ... they move together. A
movement that those dead just move together, mingle with one another,
to peace with very, very deep love.
Now this movement
is for me only possible, if the
perpetrators and the
victims, whoever, are at the service of a false raging beyond them, far
beyond them. And only if all of them look at this greater
then the antagonism between them can cease and they become very humble
in the soul of this greater force and what unites all of them I call
a greater soul and I don't have a better name for that, but it goes
the fields, because a field is fixed. The soul is something that
it directs a course of history and of personal life. And in this soul
participate. And instead of looking at the individual as
soul, he participates in a soul.
This soul has
several levels. And in the foreground
there is a level
of very harsh laws. And beneath it there is something quite different.
For instance I can set up a family, two people, and I don’t
and suddenly, they are driven by a force and they face the real issue,
and this force directs them towards a solution, which goes beyond the
which operate in the foreground. If we can reach that soul,
the healing force.
But perhaps just
one more thing about the constellation
with the man
who killed her wife and then committed suicide. The two daughters were
very upset. And the one was full of hatred. It was
she becomes a murderer with this hatred. This one went to her
wanted to go to her father. And the other one was very upset
different way. She wanted to become a victim. And I let them lie beside
their parents. Then they were united with them, then they could stand
no longer with hatred, no longer with despair, and they could turn away
from the dead, leave them alone and look at life. That would
be a solution in there.
is the case when a member of the family has
became a perpetrator?
With regards to
perpetrators and victims, the murderers
feel great very
often, very strong, when faced with their victims... And then in their
families the weakest one takes upon the atonement. In the
when they are faced with the victims, the victims become very, very
and the murderers very, very small. And so there
is a kind of balance achieved at that level. And then the
are no longer involved, if that can happen.
That is a kind of healing ritual.
We have seen that
what causes disturbances is that the
living take upon
themselves something that only the dead among themselves can achieve.
the healing movement would be that the living look at the dead, let
do this movement, look at them once more, then turn away and look to
future. That would be the healing movement that goes on another level.
So the interference in the realm of the dead causes for the living a
constellations involving the descendants of
murderers, for example
the perpetrators during the Nazi Regime, it was clear that the
and great-grandchildren wanted to lie next to the victims, which
a danger of strong suicidal tendencies. The solution was similar for
groups. The victims must be looked at and acknowledged by all members
the family, who need to bow to them and grieve for them.
Afterwards, those who originally benefited, as well as the
need to lie with the victims, and the other family members need to let
them go to that realm. Only then will the descendants be relieved. And
then those living could perhaps look at one another in a different way.
happens when people are involved in civil wars
or the like?
observation I made in family constellations,
that may have
a bearing on harsh historical events, is that when we allow the dead
and the dead murderers to face each other - and in family
we can set up a setting where that is possible -then it doesn't need
intervention from outside. There will be a movement where
together and all that was considered by the living as unjust or which
atonement does not apply to the dead. They meet on a level
they are really one.
We saw this
dynamics in constellations set up in our
in Spain, Brazil, the one we just finished in Chile, and in Argentina
relationship to the so called “mothers of Plaza de
In Santiago you
saw the constellation set up for the daughter of a labor union leader
“disappeared”. I asked her to choose a
his father and
five men to represent all other victims, a representative for the chief
of the perpetrators and five men to represent all the perpetrators.
without us saying a word, we saw how much pain there is among the dead
victims, and the movement –which lasted for 20 minutes or so-
reached towards their perpetrators, faced them and latter came to lie
mingled with the perpetrators, all dead in peace. The last movement was
notable for the chief of the perpetrators, once lying on the floor,
and placed himself with his feet touching those of the leader of the
and there he remained still in peace.
collective entanglements involving heavy guilt
the Constellation’s work may become a deeply moving and a
way of reconciliation.
what other areas can your systemic method be
There is a tendency
at present that we extend the field
away from psychotherapy
and include many other areas, because it seems in them what I call
of love -which lead to entanglements- can be applied in ways which lead
to solutions. As an example I mention the work in prisons.
We were in London last year and we worked in three prisons; it was
very astonishing how the work was positively received by the prisoners.
In Germany there is now research being done on how to apply this work
prisons. My suggestion was that we work first with murderers and their
victims, because that seems to be the extreme case and it shows the
best. I think if we can gather from them ways of solving
issues then it can be extended more easily to other fields.
Another field is schools for instance. Teachers can do that, apply
that without being psychotherapists. Or in social work it can be easily
applied. And to find solutions for relationship difficulties in
too, as we did in the workshop here in Santiago on September
we try to get away from the restrictions of psychotherapy and apply in
a wider field. And I think that's quite in harmony with what you
want to achieve.
have seen that a 3rd International Conference on
will be held in Germany in
May 2001. What is
the main focus going to be?
focus will be perspectives for solutions
in ethnic conflicts.
Conflicts in families and communities caused by differences in
culture and shared history; their consequences in the unconscious of
individual, of the family and of the nation; the trans-generational
of these consequences; attempts for solutions which may promote the
between psychotherapy and political decisions: These subjects will be
investigated in lectures and in workshops.
projects will be presented
which have proved to be successful.
del Pozo: Thank you dear professor for the
such a moving and enriching
Those where good questions... I was
forced to tell a
lot of secrets. My pleasure.