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LOVES OWN TRUTHS

Bonding and Balancing in

Close Relationships

by Bert Heliinger

Translated from the German by


Maureen Oberli-Turncr and Hunter Beaumont

Zeig, Tucker & Theiscn, Inc.


Phoenix, Arizona

Library o f C o n g r e s s C a t a l o g i n g - i n - P u b l i c a t i o n D a t a
Hellinger, B e r t .
L o v e ' s O w n T r u t h s : b o n d i n g and balancing in close relationships / by B e r t
H e l l i n g e r ; translated from the G e r m a n by M a u r e e n O b e r l i - T u r n e r and H u n t e r
Beaumont.
p.

cm.

Includes i n d e x .
I S B N 1 - 8 9 1 9 4 4 - 4 8 - 7 (alk. paper)
1. F a m i l y Psychotherapy. 2. Family Psychological aspects. 3. C o n d u c t of life.
I. T i t l e .
RC488.5. H434

2001

616.89'156dc21

2001023755

C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 1 by Z e i g , T u c k e r & T h e i s e n , I n c .
All rights reserved. N o part o f this b o o k may b e r e p r o d u c e d b y any process
w h a t s o e v e r w i t h o u t the written permission o f the copyright o w n e r .

Published by

ZEIG, T U C K E R & THEISEN, INC.


3 6 1 4 N o r t h 2 4 t h Street
Phoenix, AZ 8 5 0 1 6
M a n u f a c t u r e d i n the U n i t e d States o f A m e r i c a
1 0

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents
Preface

xvii

Acknowledgments

xx

Insight Through Restraint


Excerpts f r o m a Lecture on
Alternative Approaches to Healing
Story: Helping revelations

Scientific and p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l paths of discovery

T h e procedure

Restraint

Courage

Story: Resonance

Philosophical p h e n o m e n o l o g y and c o n s c i e n c e

Psychotherapeutic phenomenology

T h e soul

Religious phenomenology

Story: Turning back

Entanglements and Their Resolution


F r o m an A d v a n c e d Training Course for Helping Professionals
T H E FIRST D A Y
T h e opening round

11

A d o p t i o n is risky

11

Rules of involvement

12

Story: More or less

13

T h e d o u b l e displacement

13

T h e first w o m a n

15

Happiness needs courage

16

A s o n ' s u n c o n s c i o u s i d e n t i f i c a t i o n w i t h his m o t h e r ' s


favorite brother

16

Contents

VI

T h e difference b e t w e e n following s o m e o n e ' s e x a m p l e and


b e i n g identified with a person

26

T h e principle o f m i n i m a l i s m

27

Individuation detracts from the intensity of a relationship

27

L o v e follows p r e d e t e r m i n e d laws

28

R u l e s o f priority

29

T h e priority o f the f i r s t close relationship

30

T h e hierarchy i n the family

30

T h e exclusive status o f the intimate sphere

31

Priorities in divorce

31

T h e objection

33

H i e r a r c h y i n organizations

33

T h e decision n o t t o have children

35

" T o b e o r n o t to b e "

36

T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f such a decision for the couple's relationship

36

A t loggerheads

37

C h i l d r e n w h o get bad grades

38

Transferred g r i e f

38

A d a u g h t e r r e p r e s e n t s h e r father's d e c e a s e d sister

39

C o m p e n s a t i o n through suffering

43

C o m p e n s a t i o n on a h i g h e r level

44

C o m p e n s a t i o n through a c k n o w l e d g m e n t and respect

45

A c c e p t i n g o n e ' s life e v e n a t t h e c o s t o f m a n y o t h e r s

45

Story: They're here

48

A c k n o w l e d g e d personal guilt as a source of strength

56

Saving face for o n e ' s father

57

It is easier to suffer than to accept the solution

58

T h e h u m b l e solution hurts

58

A child's interrupted m o v e m e n t toward his m o t h e r or father

59

S h o u l d e r pains

62

A flea in his ear

62

T h e m o t h e r t h r e a t e n e d t o kill h e r s e l f a n d h e r c h i l d r e n

63

T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f m u r d e r and threats o f m u r d e r w i t h i n
the family
P e o p l e w h o have forfeited their right t o b e l o n g must leave

71
72

Contents

Q u e s t i o n s that help and questions that d o n ' t

73

T h e therapist's responsibility w h e n w o r k i n g w i t h family


constellations
O b s e r v i n g process rather than c o n t e n t

74
75

B e c o m i n g entangled in o t h e r people's confusion and o t h e r


people's feelings in a family constellation
T h e m o t h e r ' s threat o f suicide

76
77

Story: The end

78

A matter of life and death

80

T h e grave

81

T w o great-uncles were excluded, and an uncle


was despised
T h e m e m b e r s o f the family system

81
88

U n i t e d in a c o m m o n fate: survivors and the deceased and


victims and perpetrators

89

A wife threatened to c o m m i t suicide

90

T h e d a u g h t e r represents her father's f o r m e r fiancee

91

T h e best place for children

96

U n c o n s c i o u s identification with a parent's f o r m e r partner

97

P r e o c c u p a t i o n with G o d

99

W h o should have custody o f the child o f a n addicted m o t h e r ?

100

W h a t leads to addiction?

101

A d d i c t i o n as a means of a t o n e m e n t

104

I n t u i t i o n is dependent on love

105

A d d i c t i o n as attempted suicide

105

T h e healing m o v e m e n t toward the m o t h e r

105

W h a t should be c o n s i d e r e d w h e n a child's i n t e r r u p t e d
m o v e m e n t t o w a r d its m o t h e r o r f a t h e r i s r e s u m e d
and completed
T h e parents

106
106

R e p r e s e n t a t i v e s o f the parents

107

T h e deep b o w

108

T h e m o v e m e n t toward the parents must reach b e y o n d t h e m

109

Conten

Vlll

ts

T H E SECOND D A Y

Adopting the role of victim as a means of revenge

110

T h e reassurance

111

T h e compensation

111

A surprising r e c o v e r y

111

A m i c a b l e feelings

112

Identifying a double shift

112

Resolving a double shift

113

T h e w r o n g k i n d o f forgiveness

119

T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s for the child

120

A handicapped brother and an unacknowledged


half brother, both of whom died as children

121

Story: Fullness

130

A hopeless struggle

132

T a k i n g o n s o m e o n e else's sadness makes o n e w e a k

132

P s y c h o l o g i c a l h y g i e n e in constellations

132

T h e stress o f b e i n g happy

133

D i v o r c e and guilt

134

C h i l d r e n frequently atone for irresponsible separations

134

C o m p u l s i v e c o m p e n s a t i o n through a t o n e m e n t

135

Feelings of guilt as a denial of reality

136

T h e b o n d created b y the c o n s u m m a t i o n o f love

136

W i t h i n the m o t h e r ' s sphere o f influence

137

Different ways o f giving and taking i n the family

138

B e l o v e d burden

140

The father was illegitimate, the father's father was


excluded from the family

141

W h e n a child takes on the role of a parent

147

A t o n e m e n t for the death o f a w o m a n i n childbirth

147

Story: The illusion

150

F a t h e r and son

154

U n k n o w n grandfather

154

Honoring one's mother

155

D i s p l a c e d enthusiasm

155

Contents

ix

T h e d a u g h t e r is identified with h e r father's f o r m e r fiancee 156


O b j e c t i v e and subjective presumptuousness

161

L o n g i n g for o n e ' s father

162

Priority o f the husband o r wife i n the family

163

T h e w o m a n follows the man, and the m a n is in the


service o f w o m a n h o o d

164

Hopeless love

165

W h a t w r o n g must I have d o n e to y o u to m a k e me feel so


angry w i t h you?

166

A n g e r as a defense against pain

167

C o n t r o l l e d anger

167

Different kinds o f anger

167

C a u t i o n and courage

169

A s o n r e p r e s e n t s his m o t h e r ' s f o r m e r

fiance

170

T h e systemic sense o f balance

172

Different kinds o f c o n s c i e n c e

173

Story: Innocence

174

C o n s c i e n c e and c o m p e n s a t i o n

175

C o n s t r u c t i v e and destructive equilibrium

175

T h e limits o f c o m p e n s a t i o n

176

B a l a n c e t h r o u g h gratitude and humility

177

Lasting clarity

177

L e a v i n g the past in p e a c e

178

All that remains of fire is ashes

179

N o m o r e b a c k pains

180

Inequality in a couple's relationship and the law of


compensation

180

J e a l o u s y and c o m p e n s a t i o n

185

I n n o c e n c e and guilt

186

Unfaithfulness and faithfulness

186

A s s u m e d feelings o f r e v e n g e

188

Reflections on innocence

188

Gifts for o n e ' s m o t h e r

188

Crises are m o s t easily resolved after they peak

189

The other image

189

Contents

T H E THIRD D A Y
T h e round

193

A s s u m e d symptoms

194

T h e appropriate measure

196

Exonerated

197

T h e h i g h price

197

T h e base feeling, and h o w t o c h a n g e i t

198

Peace through love

200

S e c r e t happiness

200

A different k i n d o f k n o w l e d g e

201

G i v i n g w i t h o u t taking

202

N e w perspectives

202

Futile fantasies a b o u t relationships

202

G i v i n g and taking in a partnership

203

L e t t i n g pressure flow away

204

T h e question o f religion

205

Sadness a b o u t aunts w h o died in a c o n c e n t r a t i o n camp

205

R e s p e c t i n g the parents o f handicapped children

206

P r e s u m p t i o n and its c o n s e q u e n c e s

206

Halfway there

208

Y e s and n o t o having a child o f o n e ' s o w n

209

Y e s and n o t o s m o k i n g

210

R e l i e f for headaches

210

H o n o r i n g o n e ' s father and b e h i n d him, G o d

211

R e f u s a l t o accept a t o n e m e n t

212

T h e youngest daughter's identification with her m o t h e r

212

Inheritances w i t h and w i t h o u t a price

217

I n the grip o f fate

219

A short r o u n d

229

Standing firmly o n b o t h feet

230

W a n t i n g to escape from e m o t i o n a l fullness

230

Fullness and completeness

230

Story: Reunion

231

L i k i n g and respecting

231

Equals a m o n g equals

232

R e c o n c i l i a t i o n t h r o u g h clarity

233

Contents

XI

R e m a i n i n g attentive

233

Self-restraint, w i t h attentiveness and e n e r g y

234

T h e limits o f i n n o c e n c e

234

T h e r e l i e f o f living i n t h e present

235

P a y i n g a t t e n t i o n t o t h e i n n e r process

235

H e l p i n g v i c t i m s o f incest

236

H o w t o help perpetrators o f incest

241

Story: The stillness

242

A b o u t moral indignation

242

Story: Tlxe adulteress

243

W h a t r e d u c e s w o m e n t o size after t h e y a s s u m e t h e
role of G o d

245

Story: Mercy does not last forever

245

W o m e n and m e n

254

T h e break with G o d
Story:

254
Greater

faith

255

T h e f a t h e r ' s p a r e n t s w e r e killed i n a c o n c e n t r a t i o n c a m p ;
the m o t h e r ' s parents survived by hiding
Life's g r a c e

256
262

R e g a i n i n g and a c c e p t i n g a father w h o died w h e n


h i s s o n w a s still y o u n g

263

Appropriate separation

268

T h e blessing c o n c e a l e d i n things that w e n t w r o n g

272

T h e n e x t step

273

Closeness and restriction

273

M o t h e r and c h i l d

274

D o i n g t h e right t h i n g for o n e ' s aging parents

274

T h e c o u r a g e t o d o w h a t i s appropriate

274

Perspectives

275

Story: The way of the world

276

H o n o r i n g w h a t has b e e n

276

Contents

xn

Laws of Belonging
From a Workshop for Family Therapists
T h e s o l u t i o n as a religious act

279

A woman who cannot have children of her own


adopted a child
T h e price

280
286

T h e hierarchy o f belonging

287

Objections

287

A child's right to his or h e r parents

289

T h e focus i s o n t h e v i c t i m , t h e child, and n o t o n the


perpetrators

289

T h e n e x t step

291

T h e s o l u t i o n t h r o u g h dissolution

292

S h o c k and dread

293

P i t y and forgetting

294

S e e i n g and hearing

295

I d e n t i c a l guilt has i d e n t i c a l c o n s e q u e n c e s

296

O b j e c t i o n s impede the solution

296

I n s i g h t and a c t i o n

296

Inherited children

298

A father agreed to the adoption of his illegitimate


daughter by her mother's second husband
Story: Heaven and earth

299
306

Systemic Conditions of Illness and Health


From a Seminar for People with Serious Illnesses,
and Their Doctors and Therapists, Held During an
International Conference on Medicine and Religion
INTRODUCTORY

LECTURE:

BELIEFS T H A T C O N T R I B U T E T O ILLNESS
AND

DISENCHANTMENT

THAT

HEALS

T h e fellowship o f fate

311

F a m i l y loyalty and its c o n s e q u e n c e s

311

Contents

Xlll

T h e l o n g i n g for balance

312

Illness follows the desires o f the heart

312

" B e t t e r m e than y o u "

313

Enlightened love

316

" I will g o instead o f y o u "

317

" E v e n i f y o u g o , I will stay"

317

" I will f o l l o w y o u "

318

"I will go on living for a little w h i l e "

318

Beliefs that cause illness

319

L o v e that heals

320

Story: Faith and love

320

Illness as a t o n e m e n t

321

C o m p e n s a t i o n t h r o u g h a t o n e m e n t is misfortune d o u b l e d

321

H e a l i n g ways o f c o m p e n s a t i o n

322

R e c o n c i l i a t i o n i s b e t t e r than a t o n e m e n t

323

Illness as an attempt to atone for s o m e o n e else

323

Illness as a result of refusing to h o n o r o n e ' s parents

324

T o h o n o r o n e ' s parents i s t o h o n o r the earth

324

Story: Absence and presence

324
T H E SEMINAR

" I will f o l l o w y o u "

327

A m o t h e r follows h e r h a n d i c a p p e d child into death

337

D y i n g is preferable to bowing to one's father

349

L a t e r c o n s e q u e n c e s o f p o l i o m y e l i t i s a n d a difficult
p r e g n a n c y and birth
Identification with a m e m b e r of the opposite sex

357
366

Identification w i t h a person of the opposite sex in h o m o s e x u a l


l o v e and psychosis

370

D e c i d i n g i n favor o f the father o v e r the m o t h e r ' s l o v e r

371

K n o w l e d g e must e n g e n d e r action

372

"Better me than you"

372

F a m i l y constellations w o r k through the i n n e r picture

383

Contents

XIV

" T h e right t h i n g "

383

F a m i l y constellations using s y m b o l s

384

O n e b r o t h e r died soon after birth, and the o t h e r


c o m m i t t e d suicide

385

Suicide out o f motives o f love

392

B l a m i n g s o m e o n e else as a defense against pain

392

Refusal to answer a question

392

P r o c e d u r e in family constellations
W h e n a m o t h e r has c o m m i t t e d suicide

393

W h e n does t h e c l i e n t e n t e r t h e group?

393

H o w c l o s e m a y dead p e o p l e stand t o living persons?

394

H e r o i n - a d d i c t e d daughter: the m a l e element is missing


in the family

394

C h i l d r e n f o l l o w t h e i r father j u s t as their m o t h e r follows


her husband

401

N o consideration for m e n

406

T h e p r i o r i t y o f t h e present o v e r t h e past

411

F o r m e r partners are r e p r e s e n t e d later o n b y c h i l d r e n

411

I l l e g i t i m a t e c h i l d r e n b o r n i n a marriage

412

A b o r t i o n i s n o n e o f t h e c h i l d r e n ' s business

413

W h a t happens w h e n t h e r e i s n o s o l u t i o n ?

414

A s o n h a s a serious a c c i d e n t : " I will g o i n s t e a d o f y o u ,


Daddy dear"

415

A n a n o r e c t i c girl: "I'll g o i n s t e a d o f y o u , D a d d y d e a r "

420

B o u t s o f overeating with subsequent vomiting

425

I n h a r m o n y w i t h a h i g h e r p r o v i d e n c e and grace

426

Story: Knowledge and wisdom

427

Answers to Questions from a Friend


T h e systemic d i m e n s i o n o f p r o b l e m s and destinies

433

T e a c h e r s a n d influences

435

F a m i l y constellations

438

Contents

xv

Seeing

440

Reservations about "seeing"

440

T h e hypnotherapy o f Milton Erickson

441

Stories

441

Personal experience

442

Insights

443

Love

443

B a l a n c e and c o m p e n s a t i o n

444

T h e equal right t o b e l o n g

445

C a u s e s o f illness a n d h e a l i n g i n families

446

Important procedures

446

T a k i n g t h e lead

447

G o i n g t o t h e limits

447

T r u s t i n g reality, e v e n w h e n i t i s s h o c k i n g

448

S t o p p i n g clients f r o m describing p r o b l e m s

450

G o i n g with the energy

451

W o r k i n g with a minimum

451

Interruptions in the w o r k

452

G u a r d i n g against curiosity

452

N o v e r i f i c a t i o n o f success

453

T h e present m o m e n t counts

454

Index

457

Preface
T h i s b o o k is about the natural laws constraining love in h u m a n relationships. T h e blind, i n n o c e n t love of children is m o r e instructive and often
leads us astray. L o v e succeeds only w h e n we understand these natural laws
and align ourselves with t h e m . W h e n love c o m e s to understand and follow
these laws, it b e c o m e s the fulfillment of our longing. T h i s k n o w i n g love
has a healing and gratifying effect on us, and on those around us.
T h i s b o o k consists o f verbatim transcripts o f three therapeutic workshops,
parts o f w h i c h have b e e n condensed.
The

first

workshop,

on

entanglements

and their resolution,

was

an advanced

training course for helping professionals; it is reproduced here virtually in


its entirety.
T h i s w o r k s h o p introduces the reader to the t e c h n i q u e of setting up family constellations, illustrates h o w people sometimes b e c o m e entangled in the
fates o f other m e m b e r s o f their family, and describes the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f
such entanglements.
It d o c u m e n t s h o w the fate of an excluded family m e m b e r can be u n k n o w i n g l y taken over and c o n t i n u e d by a later m e m b e r of the family. T h i s
u n k n o w i n g repetition of another's fate is what is m e a n t by entanglement.
T h i s w o r k s h o p also documents some possibilities for the resolution of
entanglements. It shows h o w , w h e n the excluded m e m b e r is accorded due
h o n o r and respect, the wholeness of the family system is restored and love
obviates the necessity for the repetition of his or her fate by a later m e m b e r
of the family. T h i s is what is meant by the resolution.
R e a d e r s will find here evidence for the natural laws of love operating in
h u m a n relationship systems. Entanglements arise w h e n we love i n n o c e n t l y
and are blindly obedient to these laws. T h e n it can happen that i n n o c e n t
" c h i l d r e n " must atone for the guilt of "adults." R e s o l u t i o n is possible w h e n
our love b e c o m e s " k n o w i n g , " w h e n we align ourselves w i t h the natural
laws o f love w i t h wisdom. T h e n our n e e d for loyalty and the equality o f
all family m e m b e r s brings healing and fulfillment.
The second workshop was for family therapists. A selection from this w o r k shop demonstrates w h e r e abandoned and adopted children b e l o n g , what

XV111

happens w h e n parents give a child up for adoption frivolously, or w h e n a


child is adopted by strangers acting in their o w n self-interest.
The third workshop was for seriously ill people and their doctors and therapists. It t o o k place at a large conference on religion and m e d i c i n e . T h e
constellations from this workshop shed light on systemic dynamics associated with illness, serious accidents, and suicide in the fellowship of fate
a m o n g m e m b e r s of the family. It shows h o w resources for healing can be
mobilized, h o w irreversible fate can be faced and accepted, and h o w such
destinies can sometimes be changed for the better.
T h i s b o o k fulfills several purposes.
First, the verbatim transcriptions of three therapeutic workshops enable
the reader to participate in the step-by-step search for resolution to p r o b lems. Hopefully, this participation by p r o x y may also help the reader to
find ways of o v e r c o m i n g personal crises and of obtaining healing in the
case of systemic and psychologically caused illness.
S e c o n d , the b o o k contains demonstrations and explanations o f important
therapeutic procedures, mainly in the c o n t e x t of family constellations, and
also in c o n n e c t i o n with the resumption and c o m p l e t i o n of a previously i n terrupted m o v e m e n t by a y o u n g child toward the m o t h e r or father.
T h i r d , readers interested in understanding the inner posture that underlies
this w o r k may e x p e r i e n c e h o w liberating and healing insights are the result
of a specific focused approach to k n o w i n g , w h i c h I have called p h e n o m e nological psychotherapy. T h i s posture is described in detail.
T h e names of the participants and places have b e e n changed and their
identities concealed. T h e text is a c c o m p a n i e d by diagrams of all the stages
of the family constellations. T h e therapeutic procedures and recurring patterns are described and explained in intermediary chapters, and stories relevant to the therapeutic process are interspersed.
T h e interview at the end of the b o o k ("Answers to Q u e s t i o n s from a
F r i e n d " ) is included in the hope that it will e n h a n c e the understanding of
my w o r k . It includes information about the different stages of my therapeutic d e v e l o p m e n t and helps to explain the insights and intentions b e h i n d
important procedures.
Love's Own Truths has b e c o m e a fundamental statement of my approach,
w h i c h goes far b e y o n d conventional psychotherapy and w h i c h has proved
to be of practical help to many different people in their daily lives.
I h o p e that y o u enjoy reading this material, and that y o u gain helpful

Preface

xix

insights i n t o " L o v e ' s O w n T r u t h s . " I w i s h , t o o , that y o u w i l l c o m e t o trust


y o u r o w n p e r c e p t i o n o f y o u r a l i g n m e n t w i t h t h e s e natural laws o f l o v e
w i t h u n d e r s t a n d i n g s o that y o u m a y fulfill y o u r heart's desire.
Bert

Hellinger

Acknowledgments
T h i s b o o k has taken a l o n g and arduous j o u r n e y from its i n c e p t i o n to its
p u b l i c a t i o n in English. I should like to t h a n k my m a n y friends for t h e i r
help and advice. D r . G u n t h a r d W e b e r and D r . N o r b e r t L i n z a c c o m p a n i e d
m e t h r o u g h all t h e stages o f w r i t i n g this b o o k and w e r e n o t c o n t e n t until
I had arranged and p r e s e n t e d t h e abundant data in a clear form.
I am grateful to Professor M i c h a e l A n g e r m a i e r and H e i n r i c h B r e u e r for
t h e i r help in c o l l e c t i n g t h e data. T h e y also organized t h e first course
d e s c r i b e d i n this b o o k and r e c o r d e d i t o n v i d e o . T h e s e c o n d course was
r e c o r d e d b y F r i e d r i c h F e h l i n g e r , and t h e third b y V e r e n a N i t s c h k e .
T h e final editing o f the G e r m a n edition was carried o u t b y D r . N o r b e r t
L i n z . H e also c o n d u c t e d t h e i n t e r v i e w " A n s w e r s t o Q u e s t i o n s f r o m a
F r i e n d , " w h i c h appears a t t h e e n d o f t h e b o o k . M y sincere thanks g o t o all
these helpers.
T h e E n g l i s h translation was t h e w o r k o f M a u r e e n O b e r l i - T u r n e r , a difficult task b e c a u s e t h e r e w e r e n o English equivalents for m a n y o f t h e c o n cepts d e s c r i b e d i n t h e G e r m a n text. M a u r e e n O b e r l i - T u r n e r nevertheless
m a n a g e d to p r o d u c e a clear, readable E n g l i s h text, and I t h a n k h e r w a r m l y
for h e r valuable w o r k .
Suzi T u c k e r , m y editor a t Z e i g , T u c k e r & T h e i s e n , painstakingly w o r k e d
h e r w a y t h r o u g h the manuscript, m a k i n g countless suggestions for i m p r o v e m e n t and c o r r e c t i o n . H e r clear eye and deft editorial h a n d b r o u g h t
n e w life to a dangerously m o r i b u n d p r o j e c t .
H u n t e r B e a u m o n t has b e e n closely i n v o l v e d w i t h t h e transition o f m y
w o r k i n t o E n g l i s h from t h e b e g i n n i n g . O u r discussions have b r o u g h t clarity, differentiation, and greater precision to my writing, and have p r o v e d a
valuable i m p e t u s for t h e further d e v e l o p m e n t o f m y w o r k . H e has also
g i v e n g e n e r o u s l y of his o w n insights and formulations. In a sense, he has
c o l l a b o r a t e d w i t h m e i n presenting m y w o r k i n E n g l i s h . H e has c o m p l e t e l y
r e w o r k e d this manuscript, and it has g a i n e d m u c h from his efforts.

INSIGHT
THROUGH
RESTRAINT

Excerpts from a Lecture on


Alternative Approaches to Healing

I ' l l start by telling y o u a story.

Helping
A

revelations

young man seeking further knowledge sets out on

side.

He

bounds.

is

driven

by

the joy

of exploration,

Far beyond his usual territory,

he

his

bicycle into

and his

finds

the country-

enthusiasm

knows

no

a new path. Here there are no

more signs to guide him,

and he must rely on what his eye can see and what

his stride can

Now what was

measure.

only

an

intuition

becomes

His path ends at a wide river and he gets off his bicycle.
ceeding

will

safety

require

leaving

of solid ground,

than

he

tates,

is

then

This is his

first

He

answers

imagines

himself to

imagines

"What?"

He

other answers,

to

be

calling

"He

This

second revelation.

his

you

The
on,

know

little
is

"Hey,

yelling

help

you

very

your fender's

the

stronger
He

hesi-

another whose fender


rattling!"

other
The

at all!"

asking for advice,

"How do you manage to help


and

they

leave feeling

better even

of their affairs?"
"When someone loses courage and doesn't want to go

seldom

lack

ter and waits for a helpful word,

of knowledge
where

but

rather wanting safety

necessity

leaves

no

choice.
finds

when
And

his cen-

as a ship with sails raised waits to catch the

When someone comes seeking help,

tor himself must go,

The

rattling!"

rattling."

so he goes in circles. A teacher resists appearance and illusion. He

are

is

little that could

"Your fender's

My fender's

courage is called for and seeking freedom

wind.

quitting

that

he could scarcely communi-

rider following

louder,

he asks an old teacher,

to

teacher answers,

the problem

bicycle

didn't need my

A short time later,


come

a
out,

hear you.

He realizes,

though

riverbank,

be overpowered and swept along.

that little he knows,

imagines

"I can't

others? Many

the

of a force

himself that he understands

and even

He

is

on

hands

revelation.

he admits

be helpful to others,
rattling.

has
the

retreats.

Riding home,

is

he

himself in

and allowing himself to

and

cate.

everything

putting

experience.

He sees that pro-

the teacher is waiting where the visi-

and if an answer comes,

it comes for both

of them, for both

listeners."
And then

the

teacher adds,

"Waiting at the center is

light."

Scientific and phenomenological paths of discovery


There are two inner movements that lead to insight. One reaches out,
wanting to understand and to control the as yet unknown. This is scientific
inquiry. We know how profoundly it has transformed and enriched our
lives and enhanced our well-being.
The second movement happens when we pause in our efforts to grasp
the unknown, allowing our attention to rest, not on the particulars, which
we can define, but on the greater whole. Here, our view is wide, open to
receive the infinite complexity around us. When we affirm this inner
movement, for example, when presented with a landscape, task, or problem, then we notice how our mind's eye is simultaneously enriched and
emptied. We can tolerate such richness only when we restrain our interest
in individual things. We pause in the movement of reaching out, pull back
a bit, until we arrive at the inner stillness that is competent to deal with the
vastness and complexity of the greater whole.
This inquiry, which first orients itself in inwardness and restraint, I call
phenomenological. It leads to different insights than the inquiry that actively reaches out. Still, the two movements complement one another. Even
in an actively reaching out, scientific inquiry, we occasionally need to shift
our attention from the narrow to the broad and from what is close at hand
to the larger context. And similarly, insights gained by phenomenological
inquiry must be tested in their specifics.

The procedure
In phenomenological inquiry, we expose ourselves to a broad spectrum of
appearances without choosing between them or preferring one to the
other. This kind of investigation demands of us not only that we empty
ourselves of previously held conceptions, but also that we let go of our
preferences in relation to all inner movements, be they feelings, intentions,
or preferences. Our attention is simultaneously directed and undirected,
both focused and devoid of focus.
The phenomenological posture draws us tight and restrains us from action. In this tension, we become utterly incapable of perception, and yet
prepared to perceive. Whoever endures the tension experiences, after a
while, that the diversity in the spectrum of appearances clusters around a
center, and suddenly recognizes connections, perhaps a system, a truth, or
the next step to take. Such insight comes to us and is experienced as a gift,
although it has, as a rule, its limits.

Restraint
T h e first c o n d i t i o n for insight e x p e r i e n c e d i n this w a y i s the a b s e n c e o f i n tention. O u r intentions force o u r personal views o n t o reality, perhaps s e e k ing to c h a n g e it a c c o r d i n g to o u r p r e c o n c e i v e d c o n c e p t s , or to influence
others o r t o c o n v i n c e t h e m . H a v i n g intentions, w e act a s i f w e w e r e superior to reality, as if reality w e r e an o b j e c t of o u r scrutiny, rather than the
reverse, that reality scrutinizes us. T h i s makes clear w h a t we restrain w h e n
w e forego intentions, e v e n g o o d intentions. A s i f w e had a c h o i c e , for e x p e r i e n c e shows that w h a t w e d o w i t h the best o f intentions often goes
amiss. I n t e n t is no substitute for insight.

Courage
T h e s e c o n d c o n d i t i o n for insight e x p e r i e n c e d i n this w a y i s the a b s e n c e o f
fear. W e w e a r blinders w h e n w e fear w h a t reality m a y b r i n g t o light.
W h e n w e fear w h a t others m a y t h i n k o r say w h e n w e report w h a t w e see,
we close ourselves to further observation. A n d a therapist w h o is afraid to
confront a client's reality, for e x a m p l e , the fact that the client does n o t
have l o n g to live, is n o t up to dealing w i t h his client's reality and is a p p r o priately mistrusted or e v e n feared by his client.

Resonance
F r e e d o m from fear and from i n t e n t i o n m a k e possible r e s o n a n c e w i t h reality
as it is, e v e n w i t h its fearful, o v e r w h e l m i n g , and terrible side. T h i s f r e e d o m
allows a therapist to be in h a r m o n y w i t h g o o d and ill fortune, guilt and
i n n o c e n c e , illness and health, life and death. A n d precisely t h r o u g h this
resonance, the therapist gains insight and strength to face difficulties, and
occasionally to b r i n g adversity i n t o h a r m o n y w i t h reality. H e r e is a n o t h e r
story:
A

disciple asked his

"Which

freedom?"

"The first freedom


with

"The

teacher,

"Tell me what freedom

asked the

is foolishness.

triumphant whinny,
second freedom

is

only

That's
to feel

remorse.

like

horse

that

throws

its

rider

the saddle girth pulled tighter.

Remorse

is

like

down with the ship after he has sailed it onto a reef,


the lifeboat with

is."

teacher.

the

helmsman

who goes

rather than seek safety in

the others.

"The third freedom is insight. Insight comes, alas, only after foolishness and
remorse.
where

It's like a shaft of wheat that bends in the wind,


it's

weak,

The disciple asked,


The

"Is

teacher said,

but it's the

"Many

that

all?"

think

they're seeking

Greater Soul that thinks and seeks

ates many deviations,

the

in

of their own soul,

Like nature,

it toler-

it allows in turn a little freedom,

helping them like a river helps a swimmer cross to


to

truth

them.

but replaces with ease those who dare to violate its truth.

But to those who allow it to think in them,


renders

and because it bends

endures."

the current,

and allows himself to

the other shore if he sur-

be swept along."

Philosophical phenomenology and conscience


P h i l o s o p h i c a l p h e n o m e n o l o g y i s c o n c e r n e d w i t h k n o w i n g t h e essential i n
t h e fullness o f t h e p h e n o m e n a l w o r l d . I m a y k n o w t h e essential b y c o m p l e t e l y and fully o p e n i n g m y b e i n g a n d e x p o s i n g i t t o t h e a b u n d a n c e o f t h e
p h e n o m e n a l w o r l d . T h e n , w h a t i s essential e v e n t u a l l y flashes o u t o f t h e
u n k n o w n l i k e a l i g h t n i n g b o l t , and it illuminates far b e y o n d w h a t I c o u l d
h a v e l o g i c a l l y d e d u c e d f r o m k n o w n premises a n d c o n c e p t s . N e v e r t h e l e s s ,
s u c h insights are n e v e r c o m p l e t e . T h e y r e m a i n s w a t h e d i n t h e u n k n o w n ,
j u s t as every Is by N o t - I s .
I g a i n e d insight i n t o t h e essential aspects o f c o n s c i e n c e t h r o u g h p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l i n q u i r y . F o r e x a m p l e , I h a d t h e insight that a family s y s t e m
has a sense o f b a l a n c e , w h i c h helps m e t o feel w h e t h e r o r n o t I a m i n h a r m o n y w i t h it, a n d i f w h a t I d o e n d a n g e r s m y m e m b e r s h i p . T h u s , i n this
c o n t e x t , " g o o d c o n s c i e n c e " o n l y m e a n s that I still r e m a i n a m e m b e r o f m y
g r o u p , a n d " b a d c o n s c i e n c e " o n l y m e a n s that m y m e m b e r s h i p i s e n d a n g e r e d . I f w e l o o k p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l l y , w e see that c o n s c i e n c e has little t o
do w i t h universal laws and truths, b u t rather is relative a n d c h a n g e s f r o m
group to group.
In a similar w a y , I c a m e to understand that c o n s c i e n c e reacts in a v e r y
different w a y w h e n i t has t o d o , n o t w i t h b e l o n g i n g , b u t w i t h a b a l a n c e o f
g i v i n g a n d t a k i n g , and differently y e t again w h e n it guards t h e roles a n d
f u n c t i o n s that shape m y life t o g e t h e r w i t h o t h e r s .
B u t e v e n m o r e i m p o r t a n t i s t h e difference b e t w e e n t h e c o n s c i e n c e w e
feel a n d t h e c o n s c i e n c e that w o r k s i n o u r lives e v e n t h o u g h w e are u n a w a r e o f it. T h i s c o n s c i e n c e reveals i t s e l f i n t h e fact that w h e n w e o b e y t h e
c o n s c i e n c e w e feel, w e i n j u r e t h e c o n s c i e n c e w e d o n o t feel, a n d a l t h o u g h
w e feel guilt-free, t h e unfelt c o n s c i e n c e sets c o n s e q u e n c e s u p o n o u r a c -

tions. T h e tension b e t w e e n these t w o forms o f c o n s c i e n c e i s the basis o f


every tragedy, especially in families. It is b e h i n d painful entanglements,
w h i c h s o m e t i m e s lead to illness, accidents, and suicide. T h i s tension is also
the force b e h i n d m a n y painful failures of relationship, w h e n partnerships
end in a c r i m o n y in spite of deep love.

Psychotherapeuticphenomenology
T h e s e insights w e r e not achieved through philosophical p e r c e p t i o n and the
application o f p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l epistemology alone. T h e y required ano t h e r approach, w h i c h I call understanding through participation. T h i s path
to insight is possible in family constellations w h e n they are held with a
p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l attitude.
In a family constellation, a client chooses participants in the group at
random to represent important family m e m b e r s , for example, for m o t h e r ,
father, and siblings. T h e client then places the representatives in spatial relationship to o n e another. T h r o u g h the constellation, hidden and surprising
family dynamics suddenly may c o m e to light. T h i s means that the process
of setting up a family constellation brings clients into c o n t a c t w i t h information that was previously hidden. F o r example, a colleague recently told
about a constellation in w h i c h a representative's reaction clearly suggested
that the client was identified with her father's early lover. T h e client asked
her father and o t h e r relatives, but no o n e r e m e m b e r e d a lover. Several
weeks later, the client's father received a letter from Russia. A w o m a n
there w h o , during the war, had b e e n the love of his life, had searched for
his address for years, and finally with the n e w openness b e t w e e n R u s s i a
and E u r o p e , had succeeded in finding him.
B u t that is only o n e side of the story, the client's side. T h e o t h e r side is
that, as s o o n as they are placed in a constellation, representatives feel as the
persons they represent felt. S o m e t i m e s , they even feel their physical s y m p toms. S o m e representatives have even k n o w n the person's n a m e . S u c h
things happen, even w h e n the representatives k n o w n o t h i n g about the p e r sons they represent except their relationship to the client. T h e s e e x p e r i ences in family constellations suggest that clients and their family m e m b e r s
are c o n n e c t e d to o n e another within a field of information that affects
them by virtue of their presence in the field. A n d w h a t is even m o r e extraordinary, strangers w h o are placed as representatives in this field can also
be c o n n e c t e d to the family's reality.
T h i s is also true for therapists. T h e proviso is that therapists, representa-

tives, and clients be prepared to e x p o s e themselves to this k n o w i n g field


w i t h o u t i n t e n t i o n , w i t h o u t fear, and w i t h o u t t h e n e e d t o interpret t h e i r
e x p e r i e n c e s i n terms o f previous theories and beliefs, and t o c o n s e n t t o
w h a t e v e r e m e r g e s j u s t as it is. T h i s is t h e p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l posture applied
t o p s y c h o t h e r a p y . H e r e , t o o , insight i s w o n t h r o u g h restraint, t h r o u g h r e straining i n t e n t i o n and fear, and t h r o u g h c o n s e n t i n g to reality as it is.
W i t h o u t this p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l posture, that is, w i t h o u t c o n s e n t i n g t o
w h a t e v e r e m e r g e s , w i t h o u t exaggeration, c o s m e t i c m i n i m a l i z a t i o n , o r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , family constellations r e m a i n superficial and can easily lead to false
c o n c l u s i o n s . A t best, t h e y have little p o w e r .

T h e soul
E v e n m o r e astonishing than the understanding that c o m e s t h r o u g h p a r t i c i p a t i o n in t h e k n o w i n g field, or w h a t I prefer to call t h e soul that extends
b e y o n d and guides t h e individual, is the observation that this field actively
seeks and finds resolutions. T h e s e resolutions g o far b e y o n d w h a t w e c o u l d
a c h i e v e w i t h analytic t h o u g h t , and t h e y have effects far b e y o n d w h a t w e
c o u l d a c h i e v e w i t h w e l l - p l a n n e d a c t i o n . T h i s b e c o m e s clear i n t h o s e c o n stellations in w h i c h t h e therapist practices u t m o s t restraint

F o r example,

w h e n a therapist places t h e essential persons in the constellation, and t h e n ,


w i t h o u t giving t h e m any instructions, entrusts t h e m to an irresistible f o r c e ,
w h i c h m o v e s t h e m a s i f from outside, and w h i c h leads t o insights and e x p e r i e n c e s that o t h e r w i s e w o u l d have b e e n impossible.
F o r e x a m p l e , at t h e e n d of a r e c e n t constellation in Switzerland, a m a n
told that he was J e w i s h . I added seven representatives for v i c t i m s of t h e
H o l o c a u s t t o the constellation, w i t h seven representatives for their m u r d e r ers standing b e h i n d t h e m . F o r t h e n e x t quarter o f a n h o u r , i n c o m p l e t e sil e n c e , a n u n b e l i e v a b l e process d e v e l o p e d b e t w e e n t h e v i c t i m s and t h e m u r derers that m a d e clear that dying is a process that seeks c o m p l e t i o n l o n g
after physical death. D y i n g is c o m p l e t e w h e n victims and perpetrators j o i n
i n death and k n o w themselves t o b e equally vulnerable t o forces b e y o n d
t h e i r c o n t r o l , and w h e n , in the end, t h e y e x p e r i e n c e themselves at rest in
t h e care o f those forces.

Religious p h e n o m e n o l o g y
H e r e t h e levels o f p h i l o s o p h i c and p s y c h o t h e r a p e u t i c p h e n o m e n o l o g y are
r e p l a c e d b y a m o r e e n c o m p a s s i n g o n e i n w h i c h w e e x p e r i e n c e ourselves

t o b e a t the m e r c y o f a greater w h o l e . W e r e c o g n i z e this greater w h o l e a s


b e i n g ultimate and f i n a l . W e c o u l d call this level religious o r spiritual, b u t
e v e n h e r e , I r e m a i n in the p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l posture, w i t h o u t i n t e n t i o n ,
w i t h o u t fear, w i t h o u t preferences, pure i n the p r e s e n c e o f w h a t e v e r c o m e s .
I will describe w h a t this means for religious insight and religious fulfillment
in a final story. It is called:

Turning

back

A man is born into his country, into his culture, into his family. Even as a
child,

stories enchant him about the one who was

he deeply longs

to

become like his ideal.

until he is fully identified with his ideal,


like

their prophet and lord,

and

He enters a long period of training


until he thinks and speaks and acts

him.
But one last thing, he thinks,

is missing. And so he sets out on a long jour-

ney into the most secluded loneliness where he hopes to cross the
On his way,

he passes old gardens,

long abandoned.

final

barrier.

Wild roses still bloom un-

seen, and the fruit that tall trees bear each year falls unnoticed to the earth. No
one is there to gather it.
He

walks

on.

He reaches the edge of the desert.


Soon

he

desert,

the same.
in

is surrounded by an

unknown

he could choose any direction

his

emptiness.

He realizes

he might wish

eye

that would have led him

he has stopped trusting his senses,


bubbling out of the earth.
it

this

He sees that the great loneliness of this place has emptied all illusions

mind's

onto

any particular path.

And so he wanders on just where chance takes him,

soak

that in

the emptiness remains

up

again,

until one day,

long after

he is surprised to see water in front of him,

He watches it flow a little way until the desert sands

but as far as

the

water reaches,

the

desert

blooms

like

paradise.
Still deep in wonder,
near.
prophet
cut

he looks around and sees afar two strangers drawing

They too have done what he had done.

Each of them

had followed his

and lord until he had become almost identical with him.

They too set

as he had done into the desert wastes, hoping to cross the final barrier. And

they

too at last had reached that spring.

Then the three of them bend down together to drink


each feels his goal to be within his reach.
become Gautama,
become

Mohammed,

the

Buddha."
the

"I have

the same water,

Then they reveal their names,


become Jesus,

the

Christ."

and

"I have
"I have

Prophet."

At last the night descends upon them, and they see the heavens Jill with
shining stars, as silent and as utterly remote as ever. They are struck dumb,
and one of them senses for a moment how his lord must have felt as he came
to know the impotence, the futility, and the submission and he senses too
how he must have felt as he understood the inescapability of his guilt.
He knows he has gone too far. So he waits for dawn, and he turns homeward, and eventually escapes the desert. Once again he passes the abandoned
gardens until at last he stops before that garden he knows to be his own. An
old man is standing by the gate, as if awaiting him. He says, If someone has
found his way home from as far away as you have done, he loves the moist and
fertile earth. He knows that all that grows will die and in dying nourishes what
lives."
a

The wanderer replies, "Now I follow the laws of the earth." Then he begins
to husband his garden with care.

ENTANGLEMENTS
AND
THEIR

RESOLUTION

From an Advanced Training Course


for Helping Professionals

THE FIRST DAY

T h e opening round
HELLINGER: W e l c o m e t o t h e w o r k s h o p . I'd like t o b e g i n b y asking e a c h
o f y o u i n turn t o i n t r o d u c e y o u r s e l f b y telling m e and t h e g r o u p :

your name

y o u r profession

y o u r family situation

and s o m e t h i n g about the p r o b l e m y o u w a n t to w o r k on during this


workshop.
We w i l l start l o o k i n g for solutions to p r o b l e m s as s o o n as t h e y present
themselves, and w e will witness t h e effects o f e a c h step o n t h e persons
c o n c e r n e d . I f y o u have any questions a b o u t t h e p r o c e d u r e , t h e results,
o r t h e basic principles o f the w o r k , I will d o m y best t o a n s w e r t h e m .

A d o p t i o n is risky
CARL: My n a m e is Carl. I live w i t h my wife and o u r y o u n g a d o p t e d son.
W e h a v e t w o children o f o u r o w n , 2 6 and 3 2 years old, w h o n o l o n g e r
live a t h o m e . W e also have three foster daughters w h o are n o w i n their
late 2 0 s o r early 3 0 s . O u r adopted son i s t h e son o f o n e o f o u r foster
daughters. I ' m a pastoral c o u n s e l o r , and I w o r k w i t h h a n d i c a p p e d c h i l dren and their families. Last y e a r y o u m a d e m e aware that m y w o r k , u p
until t h e n , had n o t b e e n particularly effective b e c a u s e I had t e n d e d to see
the y o u n g p e o p l e primarily e i t h e r i n terms o f their handicaps o r a s i s o lated individuals. I n o w realize that it is virtually impossible to help a
child unless the family i s aware o f the p r o b l e m and y o u w o r k w i t h t h e
family as well.
HELLINGER: M a y b e y o u should annul the adoption. H a v e y o u c o n s i d e r e d
that?
CARL: A n n u l t h e adoption?
HELLINGER: M a y b e that's w h a t y o u n e e d to do.
CARL: I c a n ' t i m a g i n e d o i n g that.
HELLINGER: Y o u have no right to claim the child as y o u r o w n . A d o p t i o n
is a dangerous business. I ' v e often seen that p e o p l e w h o adopt a c h i l d
w i t h o u t a really pressing reason pay dearly for it, either by losing a c h i l d

11

o f their o w n o r b y losing t h e partner. It's a s i f t h e y sacrifice t h e m a s


compensation.
W h o w a n t e d t h e adoption?
C A R L : M y wife and I b o t h did.
HELLINGER: W h y isn't t h e child w i t h his m o t h e r ?
C A R L : H i s m o t h e r c a m e t o u s w i t h h e r 4 - m o n t h - o l d c h i l d and left h i m i n
o u r care b e c a u s e she w a n t e d t o live w i t h s o m e friends.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s peculiar. It w o u l d have b e e n a service to take on t h e
child as a foster son, b u t I ' m n o t sure w h o s e needs are m e t by t h e
a d o p t i o n . T h e child's needs w o u l d have b e e n m e t w i t h a g o o d foster
h o m e , so m a y b e t h e a d o p t i o n is carrying things t o o far.
C A R L : I find that difficult to understand at the m o m e n t , particularly since
t h e child can c o n t i n u e his relationship w i t h his m o t h e r j u s t as it was
before the adoption.
HELLINGER: His relationship w i t h his m o t h e r c a n ' t be the same as it was
b e f o r e y o u adopted h i m b e c a u s e y o u ' v e relieved his m o t h e r o f h e r r e sponsibilities, and his father t o o . W h a t a b o u t h i m , b y t h e w a y ?
C A R L : H i s father is T u r k i s h and is n o w living w i t h his s e c o n d wife, w h o
is also T u r k i s h . He has o t h e r children w i t h h e r and has b r o k e n o f f t h e
relationship w i t h this child.
HELLINGER: W h y c a n ' t t h e child g o t o his father? A r e y o u afraid h e will
b e c o m e a M u s l i m ? H e should!
C A R L : He can as far as I am c o n c e r n e d .
HELLINGER: T h a t definitely needs t o b e cleared up, w h y h e c a n ' t g o t o his
father. A g o o d place for a b o y is w i t h his father.
C A R L : I must t h i n k a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: D o y o u k n o w w h a t happens w h e n y o u " t h i n k a b o u t i t " ? It's
like t h e priest w h o said w h e n he had finished his spiritual exercises:
" D a m n it, after these exercises, it always takes me six w e e k s to get b a c k
i n t o t h e rut."*

Rules of involvement
B R I G I T T E : My n a m e is B r i g i t t e . I am a psychologist in private p r a c t i c e . I
h a v e four daughters f r o m my first marriage. I d i v o r c e d my first husband,

* This intervention may seem abrupt, but I was reacting to nonverbal cues that hinted at Carl's
ambivalence, and his reaction later confirmed my intuition (see page 62). This is a good
example of how knowledge of the conditions love requires helps to orient a therapist trying
to understand the complexity of a client's communication.

12

w h o later died. I m a r r i e d again, a n d I h a v e t w o stepdaughters f r o m this


m a r r i a g e e v e n t h o u g h I k e e p my h u s b a n d at a distance b e c a u s e I feel he
drains m y e n e r g y . I ' m h e r e t o learn w i t h o u t e x e r t i n g m y s e l f u n d u l y .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e t w o aims are m u t u a l l y e x c l u s i v e . W h a t d o y o u really
want?
B R I G I T T E : I d o n ' t feel I c o u l d b e a r to g e t t o o d e e p l y i n v o l v e d at t h e
moment.
H E L L I N G E R : It's d a n g e r o u s for a n y o n e to t a k e part in a w o r k s h o p l i k e this
w h o i s n o t ready t o face u p t o t h e risk o f p e r s o n a l i n v o l v e m e n t . I t also
i n h i b i t s i n t i m a c y for t h e o t h e r s i n t h e g r o u p . S o I m u s t w a r n y o u , it's
n o t possible t o t a k e part i n t h e w o r k w e d o h e r e m e r e l y a s a n o b s e r v e r .
B R I G I T T E : T h a t ' s n o t w h a t I m e a n t . B u t it's a v e r y b i g g r o u p , a n d s o m e
o f m y students are a m o n g t h e participants. T h a t ' s w h y I w o u l d l i k e t o
k e e p a r a t h e r l o w profile. B u t I ' m p r e p a r e d t o d o w h a t ' s r e q u i r e d i n
o r d e r t o participate.
HELLINGER: I ' v e t o l d y o u t h e c o n d i t i o n s for b e i n g h e r e , a n d y o u h a v e
u n d e r s t o o d t h e m . B u t I w o u l d still l i k e to tell y o u a story.

More or less
A professor of psychology

in America

dollar bill and a hundred dollar bill,


will see two men sitting there.
hundred

dollars."

The

ideas!," but he took

sent for one


and said:

Give one of them

student

thought

the money,

to

went into

of his

students, gave

"In

however,
a few

the other:

was

minutes,

"Another

the waiting room,

of his

dollar,

crazy

and gave one of


What he didn't

that the professor had already secretly told one of the men:
someone

"In a few minutes,

luck would have it,


pected

a
You

the dollar and the other the

himself,

the men sitting there the dollar bill and the other the hundred.
know,

him

"Go into the waiting room.

will come

and give you

the student gave the dollar bill to

and the

hundred

dollars,"

and

someone will come and give you one dollar." As

hundred

dollar bill

to

the

the man

man

who

who had exhad

expected a

hundred.
HELLINGER with a grin: S t r a n g e . N o w I ' m w o n d e r i n g w h y I t o l d that story.

T h e double displacement
CLAUDIA: My n a m e is C l a u d i a . I ' m a p s y c h o l o g i s t , a n d I w o r k as a p s y c h o t h e r a p i s t a n d as an e x p e r t witness on family affairs in legal cases. I also

13

give courses for p e o p l e w h o s e driving licenses have b e e n r e v o k e d and


w h o have b e e n o r d e r e d b y t h e courts t o u n d e r g o c o u n s e l i n g i n o r d e r t o
get t h e m b a c k . I ' m d i v o r c e d , and I ' m rather embarrassed a b o u t this b e cause I was m a r r i e d for o n l y six m o n t h s . I d o n ' t really c o n s i d e r m y s e l f
t o have b e e n e i t h e r m a r r i e d o r d i v o r c e d .
HELLINGER: Y o u w e r e married, y o u c a n ' t escape that fact. H a v e y o u any
children?
CLAUDIA: N o , n o children.
HELLINGER: W h y did y o u get divorced?
CLAUDIA: B e c a u s e i t was dreadful. W e hadn't k n o w n e a c h o t h e r v e r y
l o n g , and we d e c i d e d comparatively q u i c k l y to get married, and t h e n I
felt it was terrible.
HELLINGER: Y o u felt i t was terrible? W h a t a b o u t y o u r husband?
CLAUDIA: I did my best to m a k e it terrible for h i m t o o .
HELLINGER: A n d w h i c h angry w o m a n from y o u r family system w e r e y o u
imitating?
CLAUDIA: M y m o t h e r , definitely.
HELLINGER: L e t ' s l o o k for s o m e o n e else. T h e question is: W h i c h w o m a n
i n y o u r family o f origin was justifiably angry w i t h a m a n ? W h e n s o m e t h i n g like y o u have described happens, the dynamics of a d o u b l e disp l a c e m e n t are often a t t h e b o t t o m o f it. D o y o u k n o w w h a t that is?
CLAUDIA: N o .
HELLINGER: I'll give y o u an e x a m p l e . D u r i n g a c o u r s e g i v e n by J i r i n a
P r e k o p in w h i c h she was demonstrating " h o l d i n g therapy," a w o m a n felt
a n irrational hatred o f h e r husband. J i r i n a instructed the c o u p l e t o h o l d
e a c h o t h e r closely. S u d d e n l y t h e w o m a n ' s face c h a n g e d and she b e c a m e
furious w i t h h e r husband.
I said t o J i r i n a : " L o o k h o w h e r face has c h a n g e d . Y o u can tell w i t h
w h o m she i s identified from h e r e x p r e s s i o n . " S h e had suddenly t a k e n o n
t h e appearance o f a n 8 0 - y e a r - o l d w o m a n (she h e r s e l f was o n l y 3 5 ) . T h e n
I said t o t h e w o m a n : " P a y a t t e n t i o n t o t h e expression o n y o u r face! W h o
had a face like t h a t ? " S h e replied: " M y g r a n d m o t h e r . " " W h a t h a p p e n e d
to y o u r g r a n d m o t h e r ? " I asked. " S h e ran a restaurant, and my grandfather
used to drag h e r a r o u n d by h e r hair in front of all the patrons. A n d she
put up w i t h i t . "
C a n y o u i m a g i n e h o w t h e g r a n d m o t h e r really felt? S h e was furious
w i t h h e r husband b u t she didn't express it, and n o w h e r granddaughter
had t a k e n o v e r h e r repressed anger. T h a t was a d i s p l a c e m e n t o f t h e s u b j e c t , from t h e g r a n d m o t h e r t o the granddaughter. B u t instead o f m a k i n g
h e r grandfather the target o f h e r anger, she t o o k i t o u t o n h e r husband.

14

This was a displacement of the object, from the grandfather to the husband. It was a less dangerous outlet for this woman because her husband
loved her enough to tolerate it. That's what's known as a double displacement. But neither she nor her husband was aware of what was really
going on.
Did anything like that happen in your family?
CLAUDIA: I don't know.
HELLINGER: If something similar did happen, you would owe your husband a lot.
CLAUDIA: Hmm.
HELLINGER: Exactly.
Claudia
laughs.
HELLINGER: Did that strike home?
CLAUDIA: N o t really. But I was just thinking that I'm glad my husband's
okay.
HELLINGER: That's what happens when you feel guilty. B u t we'll have to
find out if what I have said is true when we work in more detail. At the
moment, it's just a hunch.

Thefirstwoman

GERTRUDE: My name is Gertrude. I am a doctor in general practice. I ' m


single, and I have a son who is nearly 19.
HELLINGER: What about his father?
GERTRUDE: My son hasn't seen him for about five years.
HELLINGER: What is his father's situation?
GERTRUDE: He's married and they have three children. About five years
ago, he had a daughter by another woman. But that's their problem. I
haven't spoken to him for five years.
HELLINGER: Was he married when you got to know him?
GERTRUDE: He's been married three times. He was married when we
became close, I think it was for the second time. T h e y were at the point
of getting divorced. Actually, we had been together at school, but then
we went our separate ways. He went to live in in another city, and he
got married there. T h e second time he married as a favor, to make it
possible for the woman to get out of Hungary. T h e n he divorced her
and married for the third time.
HELLINGER: Y o u cannot marry someone as a favor without its having
consequences. Did you have an intimate relationship with him before he
married for the first time?

15

GERTRUDE:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : T h e n y o u are his first w o m a n . Y o u h a v e p r i o r i t y o v e r all t h e


o t h e r s . I s n ' t that a g o o d f e e l i n g ?
G E R T R U D E : Y e s , b u t it's difficult.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t ' s so difficult a b o u t it?
G E R T R U D E : I d o n ' t care a b o u t it. N o t any m o r e .
H E L L I N G E R : B e i n g t h e first d o e s n ' t d e p e n d o n feelings.
GERTRUDE:

Oh?

H E L L I N G E R : It's a fact that exists i n d e p e n d e n t l y o f feelings.

Happiness needs courage


HELLINGER:

I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g a b o u t happiness.

Often,

happiness

s e e m s d a n g e r o u s b e c a u s e i t tends t o m a k e p e o p l e l o n e l y . T h e s a m e i s
t r u e o f s o l u t i o n s t o p r o b l e m s . S o l u t i o n s are o f t e n e x p e r i e n c e d a s d a n g e r ous b e c a u s e t h e y m a y m a k e p e o p l e l o n e l y , w h e r e a s p r o b l e m s a n d u n h a p piness s e e m t o attract c o m p a n y . P r o b l e m s a n d u n h a p p i n e s s o f t e n a t t a c h
t h e m s e l v e s t o feelings o f i n n o c e n c e and loyalty, w h e r e a s s o l u t i o n s a n d
h a p p i n e s s are o f t e n associated w i t h feelings o f betrayal a n d guilt. N o t that
s u c h feelings o f guilt are r e a s o n a b l e , b u t t h e y are e x p e r i e n c e d a s b e t r a y a l
a n d guilt all t h e s a m e . T h a t ' s w h y t h e transition f r o m t h e p r o b l e m t o t h e
s o l u t i o n i s s o difficult. B u t i f w h a t I ' v e said t o y o u j u s t n o w i s t r u e , a n d
if y o u accept it as such, you'll have to change y o u r w h o l e orientation.

A SON'S U N C O N S C I O U S I D E N T I F I C A T I O N W I T H HIS
MOTHER'S

FAVORITE B R O T H E R

H A R R Y : I a m t r y i n g t o g e t used t o this c o n c e n t r a t i o n o n family r e l a t i o n ships. M y n a m e i s H a r r y . I a m a m a n a g e m e n t c o n s u l t a n t , a n d I ' m also


w o r k i n g o n a dissertation o n t h e p h i l o s o p h y o f r e l i g i o n . I l i v e a l o n e . I
h a v e t w o daughters f r o m my first m a r r i a g e . I did m a r r y a s e c o n d t i m e ,
b u t I ' v e b e e n separated f r o m m y s e c o n d w i f e for t h e past s e v e n years.
W e ' r e still m a r r i e d a n d m y w i f e and I m e e t o n c e a y e a r . M y daughters
are 3 0 a n d 2 7 years o l d .
H E L L I N G E R : A n d what do y o u want to achieve here?
H A R R Y : I ' d l i k e t o gain s o m e insight i n t o h o w i n v o l v e d I s h o u l d g e t in
h u m a n relationships o f a n y k i n d . I h a v e b e c o m e v e r y m u c h o f a l o n e r ,
a n d I h a v e t h e feeling that I am m i s s i n g s o m e t h i n g b e c a u s e of it. I h a v e
a great surplus o f l o v e a n d I d o n ' t k n o w w h a t t o d o w i t h it.

16

H E L L I N G E R : W e ' l l set u p y o u r family o f o r i g i n . H a v e y o u e v e r set u p a


family c o n s t e l l a t i o n , a n d d o y o u k n o w h o w i t i s d o n e ?
H A R R Y : N o t a c c o r d i n g t o a n y particular s c h e m e , b u t I ' v e t h o u g h t o u t a
sort o f f r a m e w o r k .
HELLINGER: W h e n people think out a framework like y o u have, it o n l y
serves as a defense, and so does m o s t of w h a t t h e y tell a therapist a b o u t
t h e i r p r o b l e m s . I t o n l y starts t o b e serious w h e n t h e y actually set u p t h e i r
c o n s t e l l a t i o n . O k a y , w h o c o u l d r e p r e s e n t y o u r father?
H A R R Y : R o b e r t could, because . . .
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u d o n ' t h a v e t o e x p l a i n y o u r reasons for c h o o s i n g s o m e o n e . H o w m a n y siblings h a v e y o u ?
H A R R Y : T w o , a n d o n e h a l f sister. B u t I didn't g r o w u p w i t h m y h a l f
sister.
HELLINGER: W h o s e c h i l d was she?
H A R R Y : M y father's.
HELLINGER: W a s he married before?
H A R R Y : N o , afterward. H e m a r r i e d again after t h e d i v o r c e , a n d t h e n m y
h a l f sister was b o r n . M y m o t h e r did n o t m a r r y again.
HELLINGER: W h o i s y o u r p a r e n t s ' first child?
H A R R Y : I am.
HELLINGER: W a s e i t h e r o f y o u r parents p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d o r
i n v o l v e d in a c l o s e relationship?
H A R R Y : N o . B u t m y m o t h e r w o u l d have preferred another man, w h o
t h e n b e c a m e m y godfather.
HELLINGER: W e ' l l n e e d h i m . I s t h e r e a n y o n e else i m p o r t a n t ?
H A R R Y : My mother's brother is extremely important.
HELLINGER: W h a t h a p p e n e d w i t h h i m ?
H A R R Y : M y m o t h e r really w a n t e d t o live w i t h h i m , a n d she t r i e d t o
m o d e l m e after h i m .
HELLINGER: I s h e a m i n i s t e r o r s o m e t h i n g o f that sort?
H A R R Y : N o . H e was a f a m o u s a c t o r .
HELLINGER: Y o u r m o t h e r w a n t e d t o live w i t h h i m ?
H A R R Y : Y e s . S h e really p r e f e r r e d h i m t o m y father.
HELLINGER: W e ' l l g o i n t o that later o n . First o f all, w e ' l l set u p a f a m i l y
c o n s t e l l a t i o n w i t h y o u r father, y o u r m o t h e r , y o u r siblings, y o u r father's
s e c o n d w i f e , y o u r h a l f sister, and t h e m a n w h o m y o u r m o t h e r w o u l d
have preferred. C h o o s e s o m e o n e f r o m t h e g r o u p t o r e p r e s e n t e a c h p e r son: m e n for m e n o r b o y s , w o m e n for w o m e n o r girls. T h e n p l a c e t h e m
i n relationship t o e a c h o t h e r a c c o r d i n g t o w h a t feels r i g h t t o y o u a t t h e
m o m e n t . P u t y o u r m o t h e r a t t h e c o r r e c t distance f r o m y o u r father, f o r

17

e x a m p l e , a n d turn h e r t o face t h e w a y y o u feel i s r i g h t . D o i t w i t h o u t


talking, f r o m y o u r c e n t e r and i n c o n t a c t w i t h y o u r feelings a t t h e m o ment, otherwise it won't work.
Harry

sets

up

the

constellation

of his family

of origin.

HELLINGER: N o w walk around the constellation and m a k e any corrections


that m a y b e necessary. T h e n sit d o w n w h e r e y o u h a v e a g o o d v i e w o f
the constellation.

In the following graphics, males are represented by squares, and females by circles, for example:

The

symbols for

the persons

who

are setting

the constellation is being set up are shaded,


end are printed in hold type.
sons

Where not otherwise noted,


the persons
For

they

are

unknown

constellation

or for whom

The notches show the directions in which the per-

represent.

representatives

in constellations

Tliose

resolutions for the client,

who also answer in

often

experience

that they feel to

reactions guide

the roles of

the work,

the hidden family

dynamics.
their

It is

ability

and when

important not to

to facilitate

strong physical

be connected

we assume that the reactions do

reactions

beyond

the subsequent questions are addressed to the repthe constellations,

representing.

reasons,

emotional reactions

18

the

are facing.

resentatives of the persons in

they

up

and their identifications in the leg-

resolution.

they

to

and

the persons

lead

to good

reflect to some degree

make assumptions

about

the

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
3
2W
4
MPP

Father
Mother
First child, a son (= H a r r y )
Second child, a daughter
Third child, a son
Father's second wife
Fourth child, daughter of the husband's second marriage
Mother's preferred partner

H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e father feeling?
F A T H E R : I feel v e r y isolated h e r e . My p r e v i o u s family is far a w a y , a n d
t h e r e is s o m e t h i n g b e h i n d me that I c a n ' t see.
HELLINGER: H o w i s t h e m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : I h a v e c o n t a c t w i t h m y f o r m e r h u s b a n d . B e f o r e that I felt p a r a lyzed, t u r n e d i n o n myself.
HELLINGER: H o w are y o u feeling n o w ?
M O T H E R : I feel helpless. I n c a p a b l e o f a c t i o n .
HELLINGER: A n d w h a t d o y o u feel a b o u t t h e o t h e r m a n , H a r r y ' s g o d father?
M O T H E R : H e i s standing b e h i n d m e , b u t h e ' s also b r e a t h i n g d o w n m y
n e c k . I h a v e m i x e d feelings a b o u t h i m .
M O T H E R ' S P R E F E R R E D P A R T N E R : I also h a v e m i x e d feelings. I am a t t r a c t e d to h e r a n d I l i k e h e r , a n d I h a v e a relationship w i t h h e r . B u t I

19

d o n ' t feel it's g o o d w i t h i n this f r a m e w o r k . I feel rigid a n d i n c a p a b l e o f


moving.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o t h e o t h e r s feel?
F I R S T CHILD: W h e n I was p u t h e r e , I h a d t h e feeling that s o m e o n e w a s
g o i n g t o grab m e , strangely e n o u g h , b y m y calves. T h e r e w a s a f e e l i n g
o f w a r m t h . I t also feels a s i f a d o g m i g h t b e g o i n g t o b i t e m e . It's a w a r m
feeling, b u t d a n g e r o u s a s w e l l . T h e r e ' s a c e r t a i n w a r m t h g o i n g o u t f r o m
m e t o w a r d m y father, b u t i t d o e s n ' t s e e m t o r e a c h h i m . I h a v e virtually
n o c o n t a c t w i t h m y siblings b e h i n d m e . M y father's s e c o n d w i f e a n d m y
h a l f sister d o n ' t s e e m i m p o r t a n t .
S E C O N D CHILD: I felt f i n e w h e n m y m o t h e r w a s standing n e x t t o m e a s
t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n was b e i n g set up. N o w I d o n ' t feel s o g o o d .
T H I R D CHILD: I c a n see m y parents, b u t I c a n ' t m a k e u p m y m i n d w h a t
to do.

I feel d r a w n t o w a r d m y father, b u t I c a n ' t l e a v e m y p r e s e n t

position.
S E C O N D WIFE: I a m w o n d e r i n g w h y m y h u s b a n d d o e s n ' t t u r n r o u n d a n d
face m e .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e h a l f sister feeling?
F O U R T H CHILD: At first I felt e x c l u d e d , a n d I e x p e r i e n c e d my father as
threatening. I've b e e n feeling better since my m o t h e r c a m e and stood b e h i n d m e . B u t m y father i s standing i n m y w a y .
F I R S T CHILD: S i n c e I ' v e b e e n standing h e r e , t h e front part o f m y b o d y has
g r o w n q u i t e w a r m , a s i f m y batteries h a d b e e n r e c h a r g e d , a n d I feel I ' d
l i k e t o grab a t s o m e t h i n g .
H E L L I N G E R t o Harry: N o w add y o u r m o t h e r ' s b r o t h e r t o t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n .

20

Diagram 2
MB

Mother's brother

H E L L I N G E R : W h a t has changed?
F I R S T C H I L D : I am drawn to the left, t o w a r d m y m o t h e r ' s b r o t h e r , and I
a m w o n d e r i n g w h a t he's d o i n g there. W h a t does h e w a n t ?
H E L L I N G E R : D o y o u feel b e t t e r o r w o r s e ?
F I R S T C H I L D : T h e energy I had b e f o r e is draining o f f t o w a r d the left. I feel
torn. It's n o t g o o d . T h e r e ' s still s o m e e n e r g y g o i n g t o w a r d m y father.
E v e r y t h i n g b e h i n d m e seems t o b e highly charged, and s o m e e n e r g y i s
g o i n g o f f t o w a r d the left.
M O T H E R ' S B R O T H E R : I d o n ' t really k n o w w h a t I a m supposed t o b e
doing h e r e .
. M O T H E R : I feel enclosed.
HELLINGER:

And

M O T H E R : Yes.

how!

She laughs.

H E L L I N G E R to Harry: W a s h e married, the actor?


H A R R Y : N O . A n d he's b e e n dead for s o m e t i m e .
Hellinger

rearranges

the

constellation.

21

Diagram 3

HELLINGER: W h a t has changed for the second wife?


SECOND WIFE: I like seeing them all standing there. I have the feeling it
right like this.
F I R S T CHILD: Suddenly, everything seems clear. T h i s is a g o o d place to be
FATHER: I can n o w turn toward my present family m o r e comfortably.
Hellinger changes

the constellation

again.

He asks

the

mother's

preferred partner to leave the constellation because he no longer


seems to be important.

22

Diagram 4

H E L L I N G E R : H o w is that f o r t h e father?
F A T H E R : I feel fine l i k e this. I c a n l o o k at my first w i f e . My m a r r i a g e w i t h
h e r was a n unsuccessful a t t e m p t . M y n e w relationship feels r i g h t t o m e ,
and i t feels g o o d t o h a v e m y c h i l d r e n s o c l o s e .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o t h e o t h e r s feel?
T H I R D CHILD: I w o u l d l i k e t o h a v e m o r e c o n t a c t w i t h m y m o t h e r .
SECOND CHILD: H e r e i n t h e c i r c l e it's o k a y .
F I R S T CHILD: I feel fine. S u d d e n l y m y h a l f sister a n d h e r m o t h e r s e e m t o
belong. I don't m i n d my mother's going away.
M O T H E R : I w o u l d l i k e t o b e able t o see m y c h i l d r e n .
M O T H E R ' S B R O T H E R : I feel fine h e r e . I ' d l i k e t o d o s o m e t h i n g , s o m e t h i n g
spontaneous.
H E L L I N G E R to Harry: W h a t d o y o u t h i n k a b o u t this c o n s t e l l a t i o n ?
H A R R Y : W e l l , I c a n ' t r e c o g n i z e t h e actual situation i n it at all. B u t that's
probably n o t the point. It could have b e e n a g o o d solution if e v e r y o n e
had a g r e e d to it. B u t it n e v e r happened, so it s e e m s Utopian to m e .
H E L L I N G E R : C o m m e n t a r i e s l i k e this often serve o n l y t o t h r o w d o u b t o n
t h e s o l u t i o n . A l l I w a n t e d t o k n o w was h o w y o u feel w h e n y o u l o o k a t
the c o n s t e l l a t i o n .
HARRY:

I a m n o t v e r y enthusiastic a b o u t it. B u t I c a n ' t h e l p feeling:

" W h a t a p i t y it w a s n ' t l i k e t h a t . " P e r h a p s I really s h o u l d n ' t say a n y t h i n g


at all.

23

Hellinger turns
facing
so

the mother and her brother around so

the family,

and places

the

mother on

that she is standing closer to

the

that they are

left of her brother

her children.

Diagram 5

H E L L I N G E R to the people in the constellation: Is that b e t t e r o r w o r s e ?


F I R S T CHILD:

Warmer.

S E C O N D CHILD.- W o r s e .
MOTHER:

It's b e t t e r for m e .

MOTHER'S

BROTHER:

For

me

too.

H E L L I N G E R to the group: W e l l , this w o m a n certainly t o o k h e r h u s b a n d f o r


a ride. S h e n e v e r really w a n t e d h i m . T h a t ' s w h y she o u g h t t o t u r n
a r o u n d a n d face t h e o t h e r w a y . S h e has forfeited h e r c h a n c e o f f a c i n g i n
his d i r e c t i o n .
Hellinger
places

24

turns
the

the

mother

mother
behind

her

and

her

brother.

brother

around

again

and

Diagram 6

HELLINGER to the people in the constellation: H o w ' s that?


M O T H E R : It feels right like this.
HELLINGER: Exactly.
to the group: N o w y o u can see with w h o m Harry is identified. N o w his
m o t h e r is standing in exactly the same relationship to her b r o t h e r as she
was standing to her oldest son in the first constellation. Harry is identified
with her brother.
FIRST

CHILD: I feel a shudder running up and d o w n m y spine, and the

words " P o o r M o t h e r ! " came into m y mind.


HELLINGER to the group: T h e r e is a drama b e i n g acted out in this family
that neither the husband n o r the children can influence. W e d o n ' t k n o w
w h y it's happening, but there's nothing we can do about it either. T h e
only solution for Harry is to stand n e x t to his father.
HELLINGER to Harry: W o u l d y o u like to go and stand in y o u r place?
HARRY: Yes.
Harry stands

in his place in

the family constellation.

HELLINGER to the group: H e r e we see that love follows set laws to w h i c h


relationships must c o n f o r m if they are to succeed. A n y deviation causes
disorder and problems that can only be o v e r c o m e by c o m p l i a n c e , and
not, for example, by love alone.

25

to Harry: T h i s constellation offers an i m a g e of resolution to what's g o i n g on


i n y o u r family. N o w I will tell y o u w h a t t o d o w i t h this i m a g e . T h e
i m a g e o f y o u r family y o u ' v e b e e n carrying a r o u n d i n y o u r m i n d u p until
n o w was a n i m a g e that caused disorder and pain. W e have rearranged i t
and s h o w n y o u a g o o d solution for all c o n c e r n e d . N o w y o u have the
c h a n c e t o superimpose the n e w i m a g e o n t o the o l d o n e . I f y o u m a n a g e
to do this, y o u will be a c h a n g e d person, w i t h o u t a n y o n e else having to
c h a n g e . Y o u will b e different b e c a u s e y o u will b e carrying a n i m a g e o f
y o u r family in y o u r m i n d and heart that will enable y o u to relate to the
m e m b e r s o f y o u r family quite differently. I n the position that y o u w e r e
in at t h e start, identified w i t h s o m e o n e y o u r m o t h e r l o v e d m o r e than
y o u r father, n o w o m a n c o u l d ever h o l d y o u , and y o u c o u l d n e v e r h o l d
a w o m a n . D o y o u understand? B o t h y o u r parents l o v e d p e o p l e t h e y
c o u l d n ' t have, and y o u r child's soul wants t o b e like t h e m b o t h . I n y o u r
family, l o v e m e a n t unfulfilled loving. O k a y , that's all.

T h e difference b e t w e e n following s o m e o n e ' s e x a m p l e a n d


being identified with a p e r s o n
IDA: H o w did Harry's identification with his uncle c o m e about in his
system?
HELLINGER: M y guess i s that subconsciously his m o t h e r l o o k e d for s o m e o n e to represent h e r favorite b r o t h e r in h e r family. H a r r y c o u l d i n t u i tively feel h o w h e n e e d e d t o b e s o that his m o t h e r w o u l d l o v e h i m .
T h a t ' s w h y h e t o o k o n the role o f this b r o t h e r w i t h o u t b e i n g aware o f
i t and w i t h o u t his m o t h e r o r a n y o n e else b e i n g aware o f it.
H A R R Y : B u t surely m y m o t h e r ' s m o d e l i n g m e o n h e r favorite b r o t h e r and
my taking my u n c l e as a role m o d e l are t w o different things. W o u l d y o u
c o n s i d e r t h e m t o b e t w o different kinds o f identification?
HELLINGER: N o . W h a t y o u describe i s m o r e o r less c o n s c i o u s . Identificat i o n is d e e p e r and m o r e subtle. A role m o d e l is s o m e o n e separate f r o m
m e w h o m I have before m e i n m y m i n d ' s eye, and w h o m I can f o l l o w
or n o t as I please. I am free to c h o o s e . B u t w h e n I am identified w i t h
s o m e o n e , I am n o t free, and often I d o n ' t e v e n k n o w that I am i d e n t i fied w i t h that person. I feel estranged from m y s e l f w h e n I am identifying
w i t h s o m e o n e . T h a t d o e s n ' t happen w h e n I f o l l o w and e m u l a t e a role
model.
H A R R Y : T h a t ' s i t exactly. S o y o u use the w o r d " i d e n t i f i c a t i o n " a s a n o b j e c t i v e description o f a process that n o o n e started consciously?

26

HELLINGER: Y e s . A n d n o o n e i s guilty. Y o u r m o t h e r didn't c o n s c i o u s l y


c h o o s e y o u for t h e identification. T h e r e ' s n o b l a m e attached t o her.
T h e s e are d y n a m i c s that e m e r g e from a situation w i t h o u t a n y o n e w a n t i n g
t h e m and w i t h o u t a n y o n e , and least o f all t h e child, b e i n g able t o d o
anything a b o u t t h e m . N e v e r t h e l e s s , w e have t o live w i t h t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s for ourselves and others.
H A R R Y : T h e n e v e r y b o d y i n v o l v e d is a v i c t i m ?
HELLINGER: Y e s . E v e r y o n e is caught up in an e n t a n g l e m e n t , e a c h in a different w a y . T h a t ' s w h y the question o f guilt o r culpability does n o t arise
in this c o n t e x t .

T h e principle o f minimalism
DAGMAR: T h e n w e d o n ' t n e e d t o set u p the constellation o f t h e m o t h e r ' s
side of t h e family to find out w h a t w e n t w r o n g t h e r e as well?
HELLINGER: W h a t w o u l d that a c c o m p l i s h ? Harry d o e s n ' t n e e d that. T h e
solution i s quite clear t o h i m n o w . W e c a n ' t possibly r e c o n s t r u c t all t h e
o t h e r dynamics i n the family. I f w e try t o d o that, t h e n w e e n t e r t h e
realm o f fantasy. T h a t ' s w h y b i g family constellations s o often e n d u p
b e i n g so confusing and rarely lead to a solution. H a r r y has all he needs
t o enable h i m t o act. Y o u must n e v e r d o m o r e than t h e p e r s o n c o n cerned needs for a solution. I d o n ' t seek solutions for p e o p l e w h o are n o t
immediately involved.
I act on the principle of m i n i m a l i s m , that is, I limit m y s e l f to t h e r e s o lution for the person I ' m w o r k i n g w i t h a t present, and that's t h e e n d o f
it. T h e n I go on to the n e x t person, so I d o n ' t dwell on w h a t has h a p r e n e d . It's only b e c a u s e this is a training seminar for therapists that I ' m
talking t o y o u a b o u t i t n o w . O t h e r w i s e , w e w o u l d n ' t talk a b o u t w h a t has
taken place. It's also i m p o r t a n t n o t to ask questions a b o u t t h e success of
the w o r k , or anything like that. T h a t j u s t saps energy.

Individuation detracts f r o m the intensity of a relationship


- W h a t a b o u t t h e children i n this confused system? W h a t n e g a t i v e i n f l u e n c e has it had on t h e m ? Surely they must have g a i n e d s o m e t h i n g
positive from t h e constellation as well?
- H E L L I N G E R : O f course, h o w e v e r t r o u b l e d a family system m a y b e , the fact

remains that t h e children w e r e b o r n i n t o it. It gives t h e m t h e c h a n c e to love. b u t it also influences their d e v e l o p m e n t . T h e first so

27

t o o k o n s o m e t h i n g that shaped his d e v e l o p m e n t . N e v e r t h e l e s s , h e n o w


has the c h a n c e to m o v e t h r o u g h its negative aspects.
D e v e l o p m e n t i n families o f origin and i n present relationships tends
t o w a r d individuation. T h i s means that w e b e c o m e less and less b o u n d b y
o u r relationships. Individuation leads to d e t a c h m e n t on a l o w e r level and,
paradoxically, to a t t a c h m e n t on a h i g h e r level. In this b r o a d e r c o n t e x t ,
we are b o t h close and d e t a c h e d at the same t i m e .
T h i s can b e c o m p a r e d t o s o m e o n e w h o leaves a village i n w h i c h
e v e r y t h i n g is c r o w d e d and c o n f i n e d and climbs up o n t o a m o u n t a i n ,
h i g h e r and higher, the v i e w b e c o m i n g w i d e r all the t i m e . T h e h i g h e r the
p e r s o n climbs, t h e l o n e l i e r the person b e c o m e s , b u t he or she is also
aware o f e n t e r i n g a b r o a d e r c o n t e x t . T h u s , loss o f closeness brings u s i n t o
t o u c h w i t h s o m e t h i n g greater, and the price we pay is loneliness. T h a t ' s
w h y m a n y p e o p l e find it so difficult to take the step away f r o m a close
relationship and develop i n the d i r e c t i o n o f n e w and b r o a d e r p e r s p e c tives. B u t every close b o n d strives t o develop i n the d i r e c t i o n o f s o m e t h i n g greater and broader, and this is also o n e of the reasons that the
relationship b e t w e e n a m a n and a w o m a n loses s o m e t h i n g of its intensity
w h e n it has r e a c h e d its peak (the peak is the birth of the first child) and
develops i n the d i r e c t i o n o f s o m e t h i n g greater and broader. A n d w h e r e a s
this adds a n e w , d e e p e r d i m e n s i o n to the relationship, it detracts it
must detract from its intensity.
S o m e p e o p l e b e l i e v e that w h e n t h e y enter i n t o a relationship, t h e y
will stay close forever, b u t relationship is also part of the process of d y ing. E v e r y crisis in a relationship is e x p e r i e n c e d like dying and is a part
o f dying. A n d w h e r e a s s o m e o f the intensity i s lost, the relationship a c quires a n e w quality and grows d e e p e r on a n e w level. It is different than
it was b e f o r e , m o r e relaxed and broader.
IDA: T h e n it's n o t l o v e that gets lost?
HELLINGER: N o . L o v e m a y g r o w deeper, m u c h deeper. B u t i t has a
different quality.

L o v e follows p r e d e t e r m i n e d laws
HELLINGER: M a n y p r o b l e m s arise because p e o p l e t h i n k t h e y can i g n o r e
the p r e d e t e r m i n e d laws o f couples and family relationships i f t h e y l o v e
selflessly e n o u g h . H o w e v e r , these laws are n o t i n f l u e n c e d b y l o v e . I f
w e are h o n e s t , w e k n o w that there are m a n y p r o b l e m s i n relationships
that l o v e alone c a n n o t solve. To t h i n k that it can is an illusion. It is o n l y

28

w h e n w e m e e t the p r e c o n d i t i o n s l o v e requires that w e

can find a

solution.
H A R R Y : T h a t sounds terribly hard. I realize that this is w h a t I have b e e n
trying to do, in all sorts of ways. A n d I failed. It's a terrible insight.
H E L L I N G E R : L o v e develops w i t h i n a c o n t e x t and is s u b j e c t t o the c o n d i tions o f that c o n t e x t . T h e laws o f l o v e p r e c e d e l o v e , and l o v e can o n l y
d e v e l o p w i t h i n their limits.
H A R R Y : I ' v e really b e e n o n the w r o n g track.
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s . B u t n o w y o u have the c h a n c e t o get b a c k o n t h e right
track and put things in order. S o m e t i m e s p e o p l e m a n a g e to c h a n g e things
for the b e t t e r v e r y q u i c k l y o n c e t h e y start acting a c c o r d i n g t o n e w i n sights. B u t self-recriminations and guilt trips are substitutes for a c t i o n .
T h e y p r e v e n t us from acting and leave us w e a k .

Rules of priority
D A G M A R : Y O U set up Harry's system in a hierarchical order. W h a t k i n d o f
o r d e r was it?
H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e is a hierarchy that follows the c h r o n o l o g i c a l o r d e r in
w h i c h t h e m e m b e r s o f a family o r e x t e n d e d family e n t e r e d t h e system.
T h i s is t h e h i e r a r c h y a c c o r d i n g to origin. T h a t ' s w h y , in Harry's system,
I gave t h e first wife priority o v e r t h e s e c o n d and t h e oldest son priority
o v e r his y o u n g e r siblings. W h e n y o u set up a family c o n s t e l l a t i o n a c c o r d i n g t o this hierarchy, t h e persons l o w e r d o w n i n t h e h i e r a r c h y stand t o
t h e left o f persons h i g h e r up.
E v e r y t h i n g that exists is structured by t i m e . T h o s e w h o c a m e first in
t h e family have priority o v e r those w h o c a m e later. T h e first child has
priority o v e r the s e c o n d , for e x a m p l e , and t h e relationship b e t w e e n a
h u s b a n d and wife as a c o u p l e has priority o v e r their relationship to their
c h i l d r e n as parents. T h i s applies w i t h i n a family system.
B u t b e t w e e n t h e systems, the opposite rule applies. T h e n e w system
has priority o v e r t h e old. T h e present family, for instance, has priority
o v e r t h e family o f origin. W h e n this priority i s n o t respected, things g o
w r o n g . F o r Harry's m o t h e r , for e x a m p l e , h e r family o f origin t o o k p r i ority o v e r h e r present system. T h a t ' s w h y i t w e n t w r o n g .
D A G M A R : Y o u said that, o n the o n e hand, t h e past has priority o v e r t h e
present, and, on t h e o t h e r hand, the present has priority o v e r t h e past. I
d o n ' t t h i n k I quite understand.
H E L L I N G E R : W i t h i n a single system, those w h o c a m e first h a v e priority

29

o v e r those w h o c a m e later. B u t b e t w e e n t w o systems, the n e w system


has priority o v e r the old.

T h e priority of the first close relationship


FRANK: Surely there must also be a hierarchy based on the quality of the
systems, for example, b e t w e e n systems that are healthy and systems that
lead to illness.
HELLINGER: N o , w e can't m a k e this sort o f distinction. T h e first close
relationship, regardless o f its quality, c o m e s before the second. T h e b o n d
that exists b e t w e e n the partners of a second relationship is w e a k e r than
that w h i c h exists b e t w e e n those o f the first. T h u s , the strength o f the
b o n d decreases with every successive relationship. E v e n t h o u g h the l o v e
in a s e c o n d relationship may be greater, the b o n d is nevertheless weaker.
T h e depth and strength o f the b o n d can b e seen from the intensity o f the
guilt that is e x p e r i e n c e d w h e n it is dissolved. S o m e o n e w h o leaves a s e c o n d relationship feels less guilty than w h e n leaving the first. Nevertheless,
as a rule, a later relationship takes p r e c e d e n c e over a previous o n e , and
this is definitely the case if a child is b o r n of the later relationship.
H A R R Y : I feel very refreshed and full of energy. It reminds me of the
words: " T h e truth shall m a k e y o u free."

T h e hierarchy in the family


M o s t tragedies in a family are caused by the violation of the principles of
priority by s o m e o n e in a subordinate position, that is, by s o m e o n e taking
u p o n h i m s e l f or herself, either consciously or unconsciously, s o m e t h i n g
that is properly the business of s o m e o n e higher up in the hierarchy.
F o r example, children often try to atone for their parents' actions or
to bear the c o n s e q u e n c e s of their guilt. Actually, this is presumptuous on
the part of the child, but children are unaware of their presumptiousness
because they are acting out o f love. T h e i r c o n s c i e n c e does n o t warn
t h e m . T h a t ' s w h y the great tragic heroes are all blind. T h e y think they're
doing s o m e t h i n g great and n o b l e , but this c o n v i c t i o n doesn't p r o t e c t
t h e m from downfall. T o maintain that w e acted i n g o o d c o n s c i e n c e and
w i t h the best o f intentions does n o t change the results o f our presumption and its consequences.
W h e n children assume inappropriate positions in families, they b e c o m e
estranged from themselves and their centers. O b v i o u s l y , children c a n n o t

30

stop themselves from acting presumptuously b e c a u s e t h e y are driven by


l o v e and the best o f i n t e n t i o n s . I t i s o n l y w h e n t h e y b e c o m e adults and
gain an understanding of the real situation that t h e y can prevail o v e r t h e i r
p r e s u m p t i o n and take up their appropriate positions in the family. T h i s
is the o n l y place w h e r e a child can be in c o n t a c t w i t h his or h e r c e n t e r .
T h a t ' s w h y it's o f primary i m p o r t a n c e i n family therapy t o find o u t
w h e t h e r a m e m b e r o f the family has taken s o m e t h i n g u p o n h i m s e l f o r
h e r s e l f that i s

properly

the business

of s o m e o n e

higher

up

in

the

hierarchy. T h i s is the first thing that has to be put right.

T h e exclusive status o f the i n t i m a t e sphere


A c o m m o n e x a m p l e of presumptiousness is w h e n children are told t h e
details of their parents' i n t i m a t e life. It hurts a child to have k n o w l e d g e
o f t h e parents' i n t i m a t e relationship. I t i s n o n e o f t h e child's business. It's
n o t the business o f a n y o n e e x c e p t the c o u p l e themselves. W h e n p e o p l e
tell s o m e o n e else about aspects o f their i n t i m a t e relationship, t h e y b r e a k
trust and it has grave c o n s e q u e n c e s for l o v e . It breaks t h e relationship.
T h e i n t i m a t e sphere i s t h e exclusive property o f the p e o p l e w h o h a v e
entered i n t o t h e relationship and m u s t always r e m a i n p r o t e c t e d and h i d den from outsiders. It breaks the trust w h e n a m a n tells his s e c o n d w i f e
the details of his i n t i m a t e relations w i t h his first wife, and his n e w wife
loses trust in h i m , t o o . E v e r y t h i n g to do w i t h t h e c o u p l e ' s i n t i m a t e r e a l m
must r e m a i n a carefully guarded secret b e t w e e n t h e m . W h e n parents tell
their children secrets, t h e y put t h e children in a terrible p o s i t i o n . As a
rule, children m u s t n o t e v e n be told w h e n their parents h a v e a b o r t e d a
child. T h i s t o o b e l o n g s t o t h e i n t i m a t e relationship b e t w e e n h u s b a n d and
wife. E v e n i n therapy, m e n and w o m e n m a y o n l y talk t o t h e i r therapist
a b o u t these things if t h e y can do so in such a w a y that t h e i r partners
remain p r o t e c t e d . O t h e r w i s e , the relationship will suffer.

Priorities in divorce
PARTICIPANT: W h a t happens w h e n the parents separate and t h e c h i l d r e n
ask why?
HELINGER: It's generally best to tell t h e m that it's n o n e of their business.
But they also n e e d to k n o w that t h e separation w i l l n o t sever t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n t h e parents and t h e children. " W e are separating, b u t
your father is still y o u r father, and y o u r m o t h e r is still y o u r m o t h e r . "

31

Frequently, the children are taken away from o n e parent and given into
the custody of the other. In fact, h o w e v e r , they always remain the c h i l dren of b o t h of their parents, and b o t h parents retain their full rights and
their full responsibility for t h e m even after the divorce. It's easier for the
children w h e n they k n o w that the only thing that is severed is the c o u p le's relationship. F u r t h e r m o r e , the children should n o t be asked w i t h
w h i c h parent they want to live. T h a t puts t h e m in the position of having
to c h o o s e b e t w e e n their parents, in favor of o n e and against the other.
T h a t ' s a terrible thing to do to children, and they should n e v e r be asked
to do this. It's the parents' responsibility to decide b e t w e e n themselves
w h e r e the children are to go and then to tell the children what they have
decided. E v e n if the children protest, they are inwardly free and feel
relieved that they did n o t have to choose b e t w e e n their parents.
PARTICIPANT: Surely m a n y parents try to justify themselves to their c h i l dren by telling t h e m what w e n t w r o n g b e t w e e n t h e m as a couple?
HELLINGER: Y e s , but here we w o r k on the assumption that m a n y separations happen w i t h no guilt involved. In fact, separations are usually i n evitable. If y o u l o o k for guilt, either in yourself or in y o u r partner, y o u
are refusing to face up to the inevitable. Y o u are behaving as if the pain
o f separation could have b e e n avoided i f only y o u o r y o u r partner had
b e e n different. T h a t ' s t o o easy. T h e pain has to be faced. Separations r e sult from entanglements. E a c h of the partners is entangled in a different
way. T h a t ' s w h y , as a therapist, I never l o o k for a guilty party. W h e n
people separate, I try to help t h e m realize that their couple relationship
is n o w over, h o w e v e r well meant it was at the beginning, and that they
must face up to the pain that the realization of this fact entails. If they
face up to their pain, they can part on friendly terms and sort out the
important details together. Afterward, each of t h e m is free to face his or
her future. T h i s way of w o r k i n g brings r e l i e f to all c o n c e r n e d .
PARTICIPANT: I t o o k part in a study on the consequences of divorce for
the children, and I w o u l d be interested to hear w h a t y o u have to say
about this. W h e n a couple tells their children they are getting divorced,
the children's first impulse always seems to be that they must have d o n e
s o m e t h i n g w r o n g to m a k e their parents w a n t to get divorced.
HELLINGER: W h e n something goes w r o n g b e t w e e n the parents, children
l o o k for the guilt in themselves. It's easier for t h e m to feel guilty t h e m selves than to see their parents' entanglements clearly. It's a great r e l i e f
to t h e m w h e n their parents say: ' W e have decided to separate from each
o t h e r as a couple, but we will still be y o u r parents, and y o u will still be
our b e l o v e d children."

32

PARTICIPANT: I can accept that. B u t children often question this because


they see h o w upset their parents are. W h a t does o n e do then?
HELLINGER: I've already told y o u that. Parents get upset and resort to
b l a m i n g o n e another w h e n they don't face up to the pain of the separation and to their shared responsibility. G e t t i n g the children i n v o l v e d in
that avoidance makes it worse for the children. B u t there's another i m portant aspect to consider. W h e n parents divorce, their children are safest
w i t h the parent w h o most respects his or her partner in t h e m . Strangely,
this is usually the husband. T h e husband is m o r e likely to respect his wife
in his children than the o t h e r way around. I d o n ' t k n o w w h y this is so,
b u t it is s o m e t h i n g that I've often observed. W h e n y o u counsel a m a n
and a w o m a n w h o want to get divorced, y o u can tell t h e m that the best
thing for their children is if b o t h partners c o n t i n u e the l o v e they o r i g i nally had for each other in their love for their children, regardless of
what happened afterward. M o s t couples start out w i t h intense love and
happiness, and it's a help for their children w h e n parents r e m e m b e r that
happiness and see the children as the expression of that happiness, even
after a divorce.

T h e objection
G E R T R U D E : I ' m very interested in these rules of priority. I immediately
had the feeling w h i c h I can't reconstruct or explain that the father
of my son m i g h t have married me after all if I had k n o w n about those
rules and followed t h e m . T h e y affected me strongly and I felt g o o d about
it. B u t I destroyed the g o o d feeling at o n c e .
HELLINGER: O n c e upon a time there was a m a n w h o was hungry. T h e n
he c a m e across a table laden with g o o d , tasty food. B u t instead of sitting
d o w n and tucking in, he said: "I don't believe it. It's t o o g o o d to be
true" and stayed hungry.

Hierarchy in organizations
Organizations have a hierarchy of groups according to function and
achievement. F o r example, the hospital administration has priority o v e r
the o t h e r departments because it safeguards the basic conditions that e n a ble the others to carry out their functions. T h e doctors follow, e v e n
though they are m o r e important in terms of the hospital's purpose and
objectives, j u s t as the wife is m o r e important than the husband in terms

33

of the family's goals. The doctors as a group come second in the hierarchy, followed by the nurses and the auxiliary staff. They all form a hierarchy of groups based on function.
In addition to the hierarchy involving the various groups of an organization that is based on function, there is also a hierarchy within each
group based on seniority. For example, a doctor who joined the group
of doctors earlier generally has a higher position in the hierarchy than
doctors who come later. This hierarchy has nothing to do with function
and is based solely on the length of time a member has been part of the
group.
Many other subtle hierarchies structure the life and interactions within
an organization. For example, there may be hierarchies of skill or talent,
of charisma or self-assertion, of men and women. Many difficulties within an organization arise when these various hierarchies conflict with one
another. For example, when an organization hires a new head from outside, the newcomer is on the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of seniority but has the highest rank in terms of function. In order to be successful, the newcomer either must change the organization completely,
or lead the group in a way that appropriately honors the hierarchy of
seniority. This can be done without difficulty if the new leader regards
his or her function as a service to the organization as a whole. Leading
from this low position is extremely effective, provided that the leader
knows how it is done. Managers who lead from the lowest position soon
have everyone on their side because they respect the other hierarchies.
They assume the head position in the group, and yet lead as if they were
on the lowest rung of the hierarchical ladder.
In some cases, there is also a hierarchy of origin between departments
within an organization. If a new department is added to a hospital, for
example, it is lower in the hierarchical system than the existing departments, except in cases where the new department is sufficiently important
to make the other departments dependent on it.
P A R T I C I P A N T : I S it possible for the head o f an organization to dismiss
someone who came to the system earlier although the head himself or
herself is lower in the hierarchy of origin?
H E L L I N G E R : That's a commonsense situation. I f a new head o f an organization fires someone unjustly, the group feels insecure and quickly loses
its cohesion, but if someone has done something that violates the interests
of the organization as a whole, firing that person actually creates trust and
a sense of safety. Similarly, the new boss can demote someone who is incompetent or who fails to live up to his or her responsibilities. However,

34

it is i m p o r t a n t that the person c o n c e r n e d still retain his or h e r p o s i t i o n


i n t h e h i e r a r c h y o f origin. T h e h i e r a c h y o f origin and t h e h i e r a r c h y o f
f u n c t i o n are separate.
An organization will fall apart if a subordinate g r o u p takes s o m e t h i n g
u p o n i t s e l f that is properly the business of a superordinate group, for
e x a m p l e , w h e n doctors in a hospital try to c o n t r o l its administration i n stead o f c o o p e r a t i n g w i t h it. T h e same thing applies w h e n a subordinate
m e m b e r of a group tries to do s o m e t h i n g that is appropriate o n l y for
s o m e o n e h i g h e r up in the g r o u p . It is natural for t h e r e to be a certain
a m o u n t o f c o m p e t i t i o n a m o n g t h e m e m b e r s o f a g r o u p for t h e leading
positions, and this is healthy for t h e organization if t h e aspirations are
based on c o m p e t e n c e and p e r f o r m a n c e in the interest of t h e g r o u p as a
w h o l e , and the hierarchy o f origin i s respected a t t h e same t i m e . T h i s can
be c o m p a r e d to fights b e t w e e n stags for the hinds. Interestingly e n o u g h ,
the hinds r e m a i n w h e n o n e stag has ousted t h e other, and t h e same p h e n o m e n o n can be o b s e r v e d in organizations. W h e n t h e leading stag is
ousted by its successor, t h e hinds stay o n . I d o n ' t w a n t to go i n t o this in
detail, b u t a n y o n e w h o observes w h a t goes o n w i t h i n a n o r g a n i z a t i o n
will k n o w w h a t I m e a n .

T h e decision not to have children


SOPHIE: My n a m e is S o p h i e , and I am 3 7 . I ' m a psychologist, and I started
m y o w n p r a c t i c e six m o n t h s ago. I ' v e b e e n married for 1 0 years.
HELLINGER: H a v e y o u any children?
SOPHIE: N o . I was j u s t c o m i n g to that. It is an issue that is b e c o m i n g u r gent b e c a u s e w e are n o w a t a n age w h e n w e must d e c i d e o n e w a y o r t h e
other.
HELLINGER: Y o u have already decided.
SOPHIE: Already decided? N o t to have children, y o u m e a n ?
HELL1NGER:

Yes.

SOPHIE: H m m . W h y d o y o u say that?

HELLINGER: O n e can see it.


SOPHIE: I ' v e b e e n w o n d e r i n g a b o u t that for s o m e t i m e .
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u have m a d e y o u r decision, and n o w y o u m u s t stick t o it,
a n d that's that. O t h e r w i s e , y o u w o n ' t b e able t o m o v e forward.

35

" T o be o r not to b e "


HELLINGER

to the group:

I'd like to say something in general about

decisions o f this kind.


A n y o n e w h o makes a decision in favor of s o m e t h i n g usually has to
forgo s o m e t h i n g else. W h a t we decide in favor of leads to action and b e c o m e s reality, and that w h i c h we forgo remains inactive and unrealized.
T h u s everything that is real and existent, everything that has b e e n
translated into action, is surrounded by that w h i c h remains inactive and
unrealized, and it is inconceivable w i t h o u t it. B u t that w h i c h is n o t active
and n o t realized also has an effect. It is n o t nonexistent; it is only u n realized. If I disdain or demean the part of my existence that remains
unrealized, it takes s o m e t h i n g away from my reality.
W h e n , for example, a w o m a n decides against having children in favor
of a career and c o m b i n e s this decision with demeaning and belittling the
w h o l e institution of husband, children, and family, the part of her e x i s t e n c e that has remained unrealized, she takes something away from h e r
chosen path. T h a t w h i c h she has chosen b e c o m e s less because of her d e valuing what she has foregone. Conversely, if she respects and values that
w h i c h remains unrealized as something great and valid in spite of the fact
that she has decided in favor of a career, it adds to her chosen path, and
it will be greater because of it.
to Sophie: C a n y o u follow this?
SOPHIE:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : T h i s is something y o u can use in y o u r present situation, i f


y o u like.
(See also

the story

"Absence and presence," page 324.)

T h e consequences of such a decision for


the couple's relationship
S O P H I E : Actually, I don't think I have decided in favor o f a career, b u t in
favor of my relationship w i t h my husband. I seem to have the idea that
the relationship will be destroyed w h e n a child c o m e s o n t o the scene.
A n d w h e n y o u said that we had decided against having children, I suddenly realized that I had decided against it. B u t n o w I feel I have no
right to deny my husband a child.
H E L L I N G E R : I f y o u r husband wants a child and y o u c h o o s e n o t to have
o n e , that means that y o u r togetherness is over. Unless y o u are aware that

36

this will b e the c o n s e q u e n c e o f y o u r decision, y o u will b e m a k i n g a


grave mistake. If, on the o t h e r hand, y o u r husband decides to stay w i t h
y o u i n spite o f y o u r decision, this i s s o m e t h i n g that y o u n e e d t o a c k n o w l e d g e as a special favor.

At loggerheads
IDA: M y n a m e i s Ida, and I ' m h e r e w i t h W i l l i a m , m y husband. W e ' r e u n der great pressure in o u r business and I have a great deal of responsibility.
I w o u l d really like to w o r k in p s y c h o l o g y . I trained to be a psychologist,
but it seems the t i m e is n o t yet ripe. A n d there's s o m e t h i n g I ' d like to
ask y o u . T h e last t i m e I w o r k e d w i t h y o u I was aware that I was at
loggerheads w i t h y o u .
HELLINGER: Y o u always have b e e n a little bit.
IDA: A little bit, yes. B u t n o w I have lost s o m e t h i n g . It seems that I had
s o m e h o w integrated y o u i n t o my life, and w h e n I had a p r o b l e m , I used
to say to myself: " I ' l l write to B e r t a b o u t i t , " and start w r i t i n g y o u a
letter. I k e p t on formulating the p r o b l e m and c h a n g i n g and c o r r e c t i n g
the letter, and t h e n at s o m e p o i n t I w o u l d find the solution w i t h o u t h a v ing to b o t h e r y o u . B u t I h a v e n ' t b e e n able to do it for t w o years.
HELLINGER: T h e r e i s s o m e t h i n g unresolved here. Y o u w a n t e d s o m e t h i n g
from m e , s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h b e i n g a t loggerheads w i t h m e .
IDA: I w a n t to r e c o v e r w h a t I have lost. It was valuable to m e .
HELLINGER: W h e n s o m e t h i n g stops w o r k i n g , it's t i m e t o replace i t w i t h
s o m e t h i n g better.
IDA: O h B e r t ! T h e r e isn't anything.
HELLINGER: W e c o u l d l o o k for s o m e o n e w h o w o u l d b e o f greater help
t o y o u than m e .
IDA: It is a loss to me personally . . .
HELLINGER: I m a d e y o u an offer. Do y o u a c c e p t ?
IDA: Y e s . B u t there's s o m e t h i n g else. Y e s t e r d a y I cut my bangs.
HELLINGER: B u t n o t short e n o u g h .
Laughter in

the group.
who

Hellinger had remarked in a previous work-

shop

that women

fused,

and the longer the hair,

have hair falling

into

their eyes are con-

the greater the confusion.

H E L L I N G E R : A n y t h i n g else?
IDA: Y e s . In spite of my life b e i n g so h e c t i c , I feel g o o d .

37

Children w h o get bad grades


W A L T E R : My n a m e is W a l t e r . I w o r k at the university, and I also do a
certain a m o u n t o f psychotherapy. I a m married and have t w o children.
I didn't realize that t h e r e w o u l d be so m u c h o p p o r t u n i t y to w o r k on
personal issues h e r e . S o m e t h i n g that has w o r r i e d me for s o m e t i m e is t h e
fact that I b e c o m e so upset w h e n my children get bad grades at s c h o o l .
A t the m o m e n t , it's m y son w h o ' s the p r o b l e m .
HELLINGER: W h a t w e r e y o u like as a child? D i d y o u get g o o d grades at
school?
W A L T E R : I was very g o o d w h e n I was in e l e m e n t a r y s c h o o l , b u t w h e n I
w e n t to secondary s c h o o l , I suffered a setback f r o m w h i c h I n e v e r really
recovered.
HELLINGER: Y o u c o u l d try saying t o y o u r children: " I was j u s t like y o u ;
w h e n I w e n t to secondary s c h o o l , I suffered a setback from w h i c h I
n e v e r really r e c o v e r e d . "
W A L T E R : I'll have to think a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: Y o u must say it to t h e m , n o t j u s t t h i n k a b o u t it. J u s t say it.
to the group: W i l l he say it to t h e m ? He w o n ' t . He is avoiding the solution.
to Walter. A w o m a n o n c e told me that she was very w o r r i e d a b o u t h e r
daughter, w h o was i n l o v e w i t h M i c h a e l J a c k s o n . S h e e r e c t e d a n altar t o
h i m , and w h e n h e c o u g h e d , she c o u g h e d t o o . " W h a t shall I d o ? " the
w o m a n asked. I told her: " T e l l her, 'I was j u s t like y o u . ' " Do y o u
k n o w w h a t the d i l e m m a i s w i t h m e d i c i n e ? Y o u can s w a l l o w i t right
away, and let it w o r k . Or y o u can cut it to bits in order to e x a m i n e it,
b u t y o u m a y n e v e r get around t o swallowing it.

Transferred grief
R O B E R T : My n a m e is R o b e r t and I am a m a n a g e m e n t consultant. I h a v e
t h r e e g r o w n - u p children and I live w i t h my y o u n g e r son.
HELLINGER: A r e y o u divorced?
R O B E R T : Separated.
HELLINGER: S i n c e w h e n ?
Robert begins

to sob.

HELLINGER: K e e p y o u r eyes open! D o n ' t give in to this feeling, it m a k e s


y o u w e a k . I t d o e s n ' t d o any g o o d . L o o k a t m e ! C a n y o u see m e ? C a n
y o u see w h a t c o l o r m y eyes are?
to the group: I h a v e to try and draw his attention to s o m e t h i n g else to help
k e e p h i m f r o m getting s u c k e d i n t o this feeling.

38

t o Robert: H o w l o n g h a v e y o u b e e n separated?
R O B E R T : F o r six months.
H E L L I N G E R : W h o left t h e m a r r i a g e , y o u o r y o u r w i f e ?
ROBERT:

S h e did.

HELLINGER: A n d what happened?


R O B E R T : S h e j u s t d i d n ' t w a n t t o stay w i t h m e any m o r e .
H E L L I N G E R : C o n c e n t r a t e o n w h a t y o u are f e e l i n g a t t h e m o m e n t . H o w
o l d is t h e feeling?
R O B E R T : V e r y old, I think.
HELLINGER: H o w o l d i s t h e c h i l d w h o has this feeling?
R O B E R T : He is 3.
HELLINGER: T h a t s e e m s m o r e l i k e it. W h a t h a p p e n e d w h e n y o u w e r e 3 ?
R O B E R T : M y y o u n g e r sister died.
HELLINGER: Y o u r sister? T h a t ' s it.
the group: T h i s is a t r a n s f e r e n c e of an o l d situation a n d an o l d f e e l i n g i n t o
the p r e s e n t . Y o u c a n ' t w o r k w i t h t h e s e feelings i n t h e p r e s e n t . T h e y
have t o stay w h e r e t h e y b e l o n g , and that's w h e r e y o u m u s t w o r k w i t h
them.
t o Robert: N o w w e ' l l set u p y o u r p r e s e n t family.
ROBERT:
He

No,

not now.

sobs.

HELLINGER: I'll give y o u o n e m o r e c h a n c e .


Robert

sets

up

the

constellation

of his present family.

A DAUGHTER REPRESENTS H E R FATHER'S


DECEASED SISTER
HELLINGER: W e r e e i t h e r o f y o u p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d , y o u o r
your wife?
ROBERT:

No.

39

Diagram 1
Hb

Husband (= Robert)

Wife

1
2
3

First child, a daughter


Second child, a son
Third child, a son

H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e h u s b a n d feeling?
H U S B A N D : I feel lost e v e n t h o u g h I ' m standing i n t h e r o w .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o t h e o t h e r s feel?
W I F E : I feel a s i f I a m facing t h e w r o n g w a y . I ' m l o o k i n g a t m y o l d e r son,
a n d I ' d l i k e t o turn a r o u n d .
H E L L I N G E R : A n d h o w d o y o u actually feel?
WIFE: N o t good.
F I R S T CHILD: I ' m standing in a g o o d position, b u t I c a n o n l y see my father.
S E C O N D CHILD: I l i k e b e i n g able to see e v e r y o n e , b u t I l a c k c o n t a c t .
T H I R D CHILD: I feel strongly c o n f r o n t e d b y m y o l d e r b r o t h e r , a n d i t
d o e s n ' t feel a t all g o o d . O n t h e o t h e r h a n d , I l i k e b e i n g t u c k e d i n b e t w e e n m y parents.
H U S B A N D : I w o u l d l i k e to add that I c a n ' t see my wife b u t o n l y my
d a u g h t e r . T h e lost feeling I h a d s e e m e d t o c o m e f r o m s o m e w h e r e l o w
i n m y b o d y . I feel c l o s e t o m y y o u n g e r son.
H E L L I N G E R to Robert: W h a t h a p p e n e d to y o u r y o u n g e r sister?
R O B E R T : S h e d i e d w h e n I was 3 years old.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t of?
R O B E R T : Pneumonia.

40

HELLINGER: N o w add y o u r sister to the group.

Diagram 2
HbS+

Husband's sister who died young

HELLINGER to the group: Y o u can see from the constellation that the
daughter is identified with his y o u n g e r sister. S h e represents the deceased
sister for her father.
What has changed for the husband?
HUSBAND: T h e r e was a feeling of dread everywhere.
HELLINGER: H o w is the daughter feeling, better or worse?
FIRST CHILD: M o r e agitated.
HELLINGER: H o w does the wife feel n o w ?
WIFE: S o m e t h i n g has b e c o m e clear, something important. It has made me
reel different, better.
HELLINGER to the group: T h e sister is the most important person here. A
system b e c o m e s disturbed w h e n an important person is missing, regardless

what the reason. It is often a sibling of the father or m o t h e r w h o died youung. As s o o n as the person in question reenters the group,
comes into the system. It is only then that change is possible.
How is the dead sister feeling?
- HUSBAND SISTER+: I can't really say.
Hellinger places the dead sister next to her brother,

the husband.

41

Diagram 3

HELLINGER: H o w is the wife feeling n o w ?


W I F E : It's crazy, b u t I n o w feel I can turn t o w a r d my husband.
Hellinger

rearranges

the

constellation.

HELLINGER: H o w is that for the husband?


HUSBAND: I t felt wonderful w h e n m y sister c a m e , and w h e n m y wife
c a m e , i t was g o o d t o o . B u t perhaps they should c h a n g e places.

42

HELLINGER: T h a t ' s possible.

HUSBAND: T h a t ' s g o o d .
WIFE: It's different, better.
HELLINGER: H o w is the dead sister feeling?
HUSBAND'S SISTER+: G o o d .
HELLINGER: H o w are the children feeling?
ALL THE CHILDREN: G o o d .
HELLINGER TO THE WIFE: H o w do y o u feel w i t h y o u r children standing
opposite y o u like this?
WIFE: G o o d , yes.
HELLINGER to Robert: Go and stand in y o u r place in the constellation.
Robert goes

to

his place.

ROBERT: I d o n ' t understand.


HELLINGER: Y o u d o n ' t have to understand, y o u o n l y have to stand in
y o u r place.
Robert shakes

his

head.

HELLINGER to the group: Y o u see h o w hard the solution is for h i m ?

C o m p e n s a t i o n t h r o u g h suffering
HELLINGER: T h e question n o w is, w h a t can he do to give his sister h e r
rightful place?
It l o o k s like R o b e r t has a feeling of guilt t o w a r d his y o u n g e r sister b e -

43

cause he's alive and she's dead. He has an advantage and she has a disadvantage. T h a t ' s h o w R o b e r t ' s child-soul sees it. W h e n there's such a
difference in destinies, the o n e w h o has the advantage often refuses to a c cept his or her g o o d fortune in order to reduce the discrepancy. R o b e r t
is refusing to accept his life, and may actually be refusing to accept his
wife, in an attempt to m a k e his loss m o r e equal to his sister's. B u t this is
a blind reaction. It works like a compulsion that is impossible to resist.
He acts in the superstitious b e l i e f that his sister will be happier if he suffers, and that she will live if he dies.

C o m p e n s a t i o n o n a h i g h e r level
HELLINGER: W e can, h o w e v e r , o v e r c o m e blind compulsions t o c o m p e n sate through suffering by acknowledging that our o w n fate and the fate
of a deceased or handicapped person are not b o u n d together, and by
b o w i n g h u m b l y to b o t h our o w n fate and that of the o t h e r person as
t w o separate destinies. T h i s w o u l d be a solution on a higher level. W h a t ,
then, could R o b e r t do to b e c o m e free of his impulse to compensate for
his sister's loss through his o w n suffering? First, he w o u l d n e e d to take
his g r i e f and his feelings of guilt seriously, and then he could say s o m e
healing words to his dead sister.
to Robert: W h a t was y o u r sister's name?
R O B E R T : Adelaide.
HELLINGER: Say " D e a r Adelaide." Say it after m e : " D e a r Adelaide." Say
it!
Robert

sobs.

HELLINGER: T h a t kind of g r i e f is bad for y o u r sister.


to the group: W h e n he makes h i m s e l f suffer like this, it makes his sister's
death doubly bad for her. He seems to believe that because she is dead,
he must die as well. He is making her responsible for his suffering, as if
she w o u l d gain s o m e t h i n g from his death. B u t if we assume that his sister
loves h i m as m u c h as he loves her, think h o w she must feel if she sees
her b r o t h e r suffering like this because of her.
I'll tell y o u the solution anyway, even though R o b e r t ' s at a different
place. T h e words he w o u l d have to say to his sister are: " D e a r Adelaide,
y o u are dead. I shall go on living for a little while, and then I, t o o , shall
die." T h o s e are liberating words. T h e y hold compensation and freedom,
and also humility. T h e arrogance has gone. He is acting in solidarity with
the dead person and he is going on living.

44

S e c o n d , there is an exercise he can do to help b o t h h i m s e l f and his


dead sister: for o n e year, he can s h o w his little sister the w o r l d . He can
i m a g i n e he is leading h e r by the hand and s h o w i n g h e r t h e fine and
l o v e l y things o f this w o r l d . A m o n g o t h e r things, h e can s h o w h e r his
wife and children. In this way, he c o u l d truly c o m p e n s a t e h e r for w h a t
she has lost.
to Robert: W h e n y o u have s o m e t h i n g difficult to do, do it w i t h y o u r sister
beside y o u . T a k e strength from h e r fate t o enable y o u t o d o s o m e t h i n g
that y o u c o u l d n ' t do otherwise: to do s o m e t h i n g difficult, and to do it
well. If y o u do this, h e r early death will have a positive effect in the
present, e v e n t h o u g h she is no l o n g e r h e r e . T h e n she will live on
t h r o u g h y o u , i n a g o o d and positive way. T h i s w o u l d b e a n o t h e r m e a n s
o f c o m p e n s a t i n g for her loss.

Compensation through acknowledgment


and respect
IDA: All the t i m e I ' v e b e e n w o r k i n g on myself, t h e r e has b e e n o n e p e r s o n
I have f o r g o t t e n to h o n o r and respect, and that is my sister.
HELLINGER: W h a t h a p p e n e d t o her?
IDA: S h e is the oldest child. S h e b l o c k e d my w a y to my m o t h e r , and so far
I have o n l y seen h e r negative side. O f course, t h e r e really w e r e s o m e
negative aspects, but she also gave me a lot, and I o w e h e r a great deal.
HELLINGER: Y o u c o u l d tell h e r that openly.
IDA: I always w a n t e d to do s o m e t h i n g g o o d for her, but I n e v e r m a n a g e d
it.
HELLINGER: I t d o e s n ' t w o r k like that. T h e o n l y t h i n g o n e can and should
do in a situation like this is to give the person in question the respect
that is d u e to that person. T h i s is, first of all, an i n n e r process, and t h e n
o n e can say the relevant words, for e x a m p l e : " I k n o w w h a t y o u h a v e
d o n e for m e . I treasure it, and it gives me strength." T h i s will be m o r e
p r e c i o u s to her than anything else y o u c o u l d d o .

A C C E P T I N G ONE'S LIFE EVEN AT T H E


COST OF MANY OTHERS
CLARA: My n a m e is Clara. I ' m a teacher, and I ' m also studying p s y c h o l o gy. W h a t I w o u l d like to do in this w o r k s h o p is solve s o m e t h i n g c o n c e r n i n g m y family.

45

H E L L I N G E R : What?
C L A R A : T h e situation w i t h m y siblings. I have t w o older h a l f sisters. T h e
first o n e , Barbara, is my m o t h e r ' s child, and the s e c o n d o n e , F r a n c e s c a ,
is my father's. B u t I d o n ' t k n o w her.
H E L L I N G E R : W h o is h e r m o t h e r ?
C L A R A : M y father was still married w h e n he m e t h e r m o t h e r , and shortly
afterward, h e m e t m y m o t h e r . H e only had a short relationship w i t h
Francesca's mother.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r father was married b e f o r e ?
CLARA:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : W h a t h a p p e n e d t o his wife? W h y did h e leave her?


C L A R A : T h e w a r c a m e . H e told m e they g r e w apart.
H E L L I N G E R : W e r e there any children from this marriage?
CLARA:

NO.

H E L L I N G E R : A n d t h e n h e m e t the w o m a n ?
CLARA:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : A n d h e had a daughter w i t h her?


CLARA:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : W h y didn't h e marry her?


C L A R A : I t h i n k it was b e c a u s e he m e t m y m o t h e r shortly afterward.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s y o u r m o t h e r also married w h e n they m e t ?
CLARA:

NO.

H E L L I N G E R : B u t she had a child?


CLARA:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : W h a t h a p p e n e d to the father o f that child?


C L A R A : S h e told m e that at first he didn't w a n t to marry her, and in t h e
end, she didn't w a n t to marry h i m .
H E L L I N G E R to the group: W e must try and get a m e n t a l picture o f w h a t w e
have j u s t heard in o r d e r to understand w h a t it m e a n s in systemic terms.
Clara gained h e r life a t the cost o f m a n y p e o p l e w h o m a d e r o o m for her.
H o w m a n y ? H e r father's first wife, his first daughter and this daughter's
m o t h e r , h e r m o t h e r ' s first husband and their daughter. H o w m a n y p e o p l e
is that? F i v e . In a situation like this, a child naturally tries to c o m p e n s a t e
for h e r gain at the cost of so m a n y others by b e c o m i n g a loser herself.
Q u i t e a c o m p l i c a t e d case. T h e r e ' s p r o b a b l y n o t m u c h that can b e d o n e .
T h e c o m p u l s i o n t o c o m p e n s a t e i s t o o strong. A n y o n e w o u l d find i t hard
to a c c e p t his or h e r life if it w e r e gained at the cost of so m a n y others.
H E L L I N G E R to Clara: H a v e y o u e v e r tried to c o m m i t suicide?
CLARA:

No.

H E L L I N G E R : H a v e y o u ever t h o u g h t a b o u t it?

46

CLARA: N o .
HELLINGER: T h a n k g o o d n e s s .
Clara

is

handicapped

as

result

of an

automobile

accident.

Partners and children in Clara's family


F
M
M1P
1
F1W
F2P

Father, mother's second partner (M2P)


Mother, father's third partner (F3P)
Mother's first partner, father of 1
Mother's child by her first partner, a daughter
Father's first wife, childless
Father's second partner, mother of 2

2
3

Father's child with his second partner, a daughter


Child of the m o t h e r a n d father, a d a u g h t e r (= C l a r a )

HELLINGER: O k a y , t h e n w e ' l l set u p y o u r f a m i l y o f o r i g i n . W h o b e l o n g s


t o it?
CLARA: M y father, m y m o t h e r , m e , m y father's f i r s t w i f e , a n d his s e c o n d
partner with w h o m he had a daughter w h o m I've never met. B u t he was
n o t m a r r i e d t o t h e m o t h e r o f this c h i l d . T h e n t h e m a n w i t h w h o m m y
m o t h e r h a d a d a u g h t e r b e f o r e s h e m a r r i e d m y father, a n d this d a u g h t e r
HELLINGER: I n w h a t o r d e r w e r e t h e siblings b o r n ?
CLARA: F i r s t c a m e m y m o t h e r ' s f i r s t c h i l d , t h e n m y father's f i r s t c h i l d , a n d
t h e n m e a s t h e y o u n g e s t . W h e n m y father's f i r s t c h i l d w a s b o r n , m y
f a t h e r w a s still m a r r i e d t o his f i r s t w i f e .
HELLINGER: W h y d i d n ' t y o u r m o t h e r m a r r y t h e f a t h e r o f h e r f i r s t c h i l d ?

47

C L A R A : H e was e n g a g e d t o s o m e o n e else w h e n h e m e t m y m o t h e r , a n d
h e r e t u r n e d t o East G e r m a n y i m m e d i a t e l y after t h e b i r t h o f t h e c h i l d .
H E L L I N G E R : IS h e m a r r i e d n o w ?
C L A R A : I t h i n k so.
H E L L I N G E R : Has he any other children?
C L A R A : I think so.
H E L L I N G E R : T h e n y o u r o l d e r sister has siblings she d o e s n ' t k n o w . It is
i m p o r t a n t for h e r t o m e e t b o t h h e r father a n d these siblings.
C L A R A : S h e doesn't want to.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r m o t h e r c o u l d arrange it for her.
C L A R A : S h e w o n ' t d o that.
H E L L I N G E R : I'll tell y o u a story.

They're

here

In one of my courses,
When his

came pregnant
ry

by

alimony.

track

He

of him

When

her son

inwardly
village,

The

because
then

a young man who

was

allied
they saw

and asked a

He

left

no

they

lead

the family

drove
the

address

One

day

name of the
there

went to

the

if

she

when

clue

knew a

mar-

have

to

to

his

to find

lost

whereabouts.
She

had

his father's father,

and

she

they

man

to

not

him.

boy's father on

telephone,

did

the young woman

France

boy's grandfather,

them.

man

and

or any

together to

his father.

in Paris and be-

arranged for him

married

hiding somewhere,

woman

minute," she said,

immediately
law a

into

herself with
would

man's family

under French

20,

had never seen

she met a Frenchman

went

completely.

trusted that he
in

him.

another woman

pay

there was

mother was a young woman,

were
a

driving

door,

and

called so-and-so.

dialed a number,

and said:

through
they

went

"Wait a
"They're

here."

H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , n o w set up y o u r c o n s t e l l a t i o n .
P A R T I C I P A N T to Clara: W h a t h a p p e n e d t o y o u r father's first w i f e ? Is s h e
still alive, a n d has she g o t a family?
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t is n o t i m p o r t a n t h e r e . W e h a v e e n o u g h i n f o r m a t i o n .
T o o m u c h m a k e s i t difficult t o feel p r o p e r l y .
to

Clara,

who

is

placing

y o u r parents d i v o r c e d ?
CLARA:

48

No.

her

representative

between

her father

and

mother:

Are

Diagram 1
F

Father, mother's second partner

M o t h e r , father's third partner

F1W

Father's first wife, childless

F2P

Father's second partner, m o t h e r of 2

M1P

M o t h e r ' s first partner, father of 1

First child, daughter of the m o t h e r and M 1 P

S e c o n d child, daughter of the father and F 2 P

T h i r d child, d a u g h t e r , only joint child of the m o t h e r a n d father


(= Clara)

HELLINGER: I ' m going to put s o m e order into the constellation.

Diagram 2

H E L L I N G E R : H o w is that for the s e c o n d child?


S E C O N D C H I L D : Better.

H E L L I N G E R : C h a n g e places w i t h y o u r m o t h e r !

50

Diagram 3

SECOND CHILD: T h a t ' s b e t t e r still.


HELLINGER: H o w is the father's s e c o n d partner feeling?
FATHER'S SECOND P A R T N E R : It's o k a y like this.
MOTHER: For me too.
HELLINGER to the mother. Y o u r husband's s e c o n d partner has to stand t h e r e ,
o t h e r w i s e y o u will have to g o .
HELLINGER to Clara's representative: H o w is the y o u n g e s t daughter feeling?
T H I R D CHILD: I was feeling a bit strange w h e n I was still standing n e x t to
m y father. M y m o t h e r was o n m y left. I n o t i c e d m y s e l f turning away
from h e r and t o w a r d my father, and t h e n I c o u l d n ' t see h e r at all. A n d
w h e n my s e c o n d sister was still standing in front of m e , I felt she was a
p r o t e c t i o n , that she w o u l d prevent p e o p l e from seeing w h a t m y i n t e n tions t o w a r d m y father w e r e . N o w there's a certain a m o u n t o f t e n s i o n
b e t w e e n m e and m y m o t h e r , b u t otherwise it's o k a y .
HELLINGER: H o w is the oldest daughter feeling?
FIRST CHILD: W h e n I was standing b e h i n d my m o t h e r , I was feeling p o w erful. I felt I had influence o v e r my m o t h e r and my sisters. B u t I also felt

51

strange, as if I didn't b e l o n g . N o w I feel that I am in my right place, and


that I ' m n o t so powerful a n y m o r e .
HELLINGER: H o w i s the father o f the oldest daughter feeling?
M O T H E R ' S FIRST PARTNER: W h e n I was still standing b e h i n d m y f o r m e r
partner, t h e r e was a feeling of w a r m t h to my right, and I was drawn t o w a r d her. W h e n y o u put m e facing her, t h e r e was a feeling o f equality
and b a l a n c e . B u t I miss s o m e t h i n g on my left.
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s w h e r e y o u r present family b e l o n g s .
HELLINGER: H o w is the father's first wife feeling?
F A T H E R ' S FIRST WIFE: I feel as if I w e r e nailed to the floor, and I k e e p on
w o n d e r i n g w h a t it's all about. I d o n ' t understand.
HELLINGER: T h e b o n d b e t w e n the husband and his s e c o n d partner and h e r
child has priority o v e r his first relationship. It has annulled t h e first r e l a tionship.
F I R S T CHILD: W h e n I was standing b e h i n d my m o t h e r I was feeling p o w erful, b u t also angry. I d o n ' t k n o w w h y . N o w I ' m still feeling strong, b u t
angry, t o o . It has s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h all these w o m e n . I feel s t r o n g e r
than any o f t h e m , but i t annoys m e that t h e r e are s o m a n y w o m e n
around.
HELLINGER: I ' m g o i n g t o try s o m e t h i n g out. I ' m g o i n g t o add y o u r father's fiancee to the constellation.
First,

Hellinger

on his right,

52

places the fiancee on the left of the husband, then


and then a little further back.

Diagram 4
M 1 P F F Mother's first partner's former fiancee
HELLINGER: H o w does the fiancee feel?
MOTHER'S FIRST PARTNER'S FORMER FIANCEE: W h e n I was on my fiance's left I felt giddy, and w h e n I was on his right, I f o u n d it difficult to
b r e a t h e . Here, further b a c k , I feel b e t t e r .
HELLINGER TO THE OLDEST DAUGHTER: Do you feel any c o n n e c t i o n to
this w o m a n ?
FIRST CHILD: At the m o m e n t , I feel I w a n t to go away, further b a c k .
HELLINGER: Go and stand n e x t to y o u r father's f o r m e r fiancee. H o w is
that?
FIRST CHILD: B e t t e r .
HELLINGER: Y o u are i d e n t i f i e d w i t h her.
FIRST CHILD: I s i m p y feel b e t t e r here.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s the effect of the i d e n t i f i c a t i o n . Y o u h a v e her feelings.
S h e was b e t r a y e d by the relationship b e t w e e n y o u r father and y o u r
m o t h e r . N o w , in this c o n s t e l l a t i o n , you are feeling her a n g e r . T h o s e are
her feelings, not y o u r s .

53

to Clara: D o e s that m a k e sense to y o u ?


CLARA:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R to the oldest daughter. N o w g o b a c k t o y o u r f o r m e r p l a c e . T h i s


w a s j u s t a n e x p e r i m e n t t o see w h e t h e r y o u are i d e n t i f i e d w i t h h e r .
to

the representative of Clara:

H o w are y o u feeling?

T H I R D C H I L D : J u s t n o w I h a d a strange feeling in m y b a c k , first q u i t e h i g h


u p , a n d t h e n a s i f I w e r e g o i n g t o b e n d o v e r b a c k w a r d a n d snap. I t h a d
s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h m y oldest sister's leaving, b u t it's n o t a s s t r o n g
since she c a m e back.
H E L L I N G E R : T r y c h a n g i n g places w i t h y o u r m o t h e r !

Diagram 5

T H I R D CHILD: I feel m u c h b e t t e r h e r e .
F A T H E R : I h a v e a n i m a g e o f a pair o f scales, a n d its axis i s h e r e , w h e r e m y
d a u g h t e r is. W h e n she was standing o n t h e o t h e r side o f h e r m o t h e r , t h e
axis was w h e r e I a m . I was actually s w a y i n g to t h e right a n d left.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : I feel v e r y strange. I am n o t i n t e r e s t e d in a n y of t h e m . I d o n ' t
feel a n y t h i n g . B u t h e r e n e x t t o m y oldest d a u g h t e r , I feel r a t h e r b e t t e r .

54

F I R S T CHILD: I feel responsible for my m o t h e r , and I don't want to b e .


HELLINGER: Y o u r m o t h e r is still strongly tied to her first partner's system,
and also as her present husband's third partner, she doesn't dare to claim
h i m fully.
to the oldest daughter. Go and stand n e x t to y o u r youngest sister.

Diagram 6

FIRST CHILD: I can't breathe here. O t h e r w i s e I feel g o o d in this position.


B u t I can't breathe.
HELLINGER to Clara: Go and stand in y o u r place in the constellation.
CLARA standing in her place: I feel strongly drawn to my oldest sister.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s understandable. After all, neither of y o u could really
rely on y o u r parents.
Clara begins to weep.
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s something I'd like to do w i t h y o u :
Go to y o u r father's first wife and b o w to her. N o t a very deep b o w , b u t
with respect.

55

N o w g o t o his s e c o n d p a r t n e r and b o w t o her.


N o w g o t o y o u r s e c o n d sister and e m b r a c e her.
Clara

embraces

her and sobs

violently for a

long

time.

N o w g o t o t h e f o r m e r f i a n c e e o f y o u r oldest sister's father a n d b o w t o


her.
A n d n o w g o t o y o u r oldest sister's father a n d b o w t o h i m t o o .
N o w g o b a c k t o y o u r place and l o o k a r o u n d y o u . L o o k a t t h e m all!
Her father puts

his

arm

round

her.

N o w go to your mother!
Clara

embraces

her

mother

and

sobs.

N o w g o b a c k t o y o u r p l a c e a n d l o o k a r o u n d y o u . L o o k a t t h e m all o n c e
more!
Is it okay n o w ?
Clara

nods.

Acknowledged personal guilt as a source of strength


H A R R Y : R o b e r t ' s c o n s t e l l a t i o n and his g r i e f o v e r his d e a d sister h a v e m a d e
m e t h i n k a b o u t t h e p r o b l e m o f guilt and its a c c e p t a n c e . I j u s t realized
that all m y life I ' v e b e e n p r o g r a m m i n g m y s e l f t o a t o n e for guilt a c c o r d ing to Christian concepts.
HELLINGER: People w h o follow Christian teachings think they have to
a t o n e for guilt. W o r s e still, t h e y e v e n t h i n k t h e y c a n .
A s s o o n a s s o m e o n e w h o has b e c o m e personally guilty admits t o a n d
a c k n o w l e d g e s guilt, t h e guilt b e c o m e s a s o u r c e o f s t r e n g t h a n d t h e guilty
f e e l i n g disappears. A s s o o n a s o n e admits t o o n e ' s guilt, o n e has n o guilty
feelings. F e e l i n g s o f guilt result w h e n s o m e o n e denies true guilt, b u t o n e
w h o faces u p t o i t b e c o m e s strong. G u i l t t h e n manifests a s s t r e n g t h . A n y o n e w h o d e n i e s guilt and tries t o a v o i d its c o n s e q u e n c e s feels guilty a n d
w e a k . G u i l t gives p e o p l e t h e s t r e n g t h t o d o g o o d i n a w a y that t h e y
w e r e u n a b l e t o b e f o r e , b u t o n l y i f t h e y a c k n o w l e d g e a n d face u p t o it.
O n t h e o t h e r hand, t a k i n g o n guilt and its c o n s e q u e n c e s v i c a r i o u s l y
f o r s o m e o n e else leaves y o u w e a k a n d i n c a p a b l e o f d o i n g g o o d . I n fact,
y o u actually m a k e things e v e n w o r s e b e c a u s e y o u r e l i e v e a g u i l t y p e r s o n
o f the guilt and t h e strength i t brings t o d o g o o d w h e n i t i s a c k n o w l e d g e d .
T h u s , t h e effects o f t a k i n g o n guilt for s o m e o n e else are harmful i n all
respects. F o r e x a m p l e , i f y o u r parents are guilty o f s o m e t h i n g i n r e l a t i o n
t o o n e a n o t h e r , y o u c a n say t o t h e m : " N o m a t t e r w h a t guilt t h e r e m a y
h a v e b e e n in y o u r r e l a t i o n s h i p , I h o n o r y o u as my parents. I a c c e p t a n d

56

h o n o r w h a t y o u have given m e , and n o w I leave y o u i n p e a c e . " T h e n


y o u are leaving t h e guilt and its c o n s e q u e n c e s w i t h y o u r parents. T h e
m o m e n t y o u d o this, i t will have a g o o d effect o n t h e m , e v e n i f y o u d o
n o t say it o u t l o u d . T h e y will have to face up to their guilt and its c o n s e quences, and y o u will be free to face up to y o u r o w n guilt. It that clear?
HARRY: Yes.
HELLINGER: A r e t h e r e any questions?
CLAUDIA: I d o n ' t quite understand yet. Y o u said that i f s o m e o n e takes o n
s o m e o n e else's guilt, h e m a k e s h i m s e l f w e a k .
HELLINGER: H e makes h i m s e l f and t h e o t h e r person w e a k .
CLAUDIA: T h e o t h e r person I can understand, b u t himself?
HELLINGER: H e m a k e s h i m s e l f w e a k a s well. T a k i n g o n guilt for s o m e o n e
else always m a k e s u s w e a k . A n y o n e w h o carries s o m e o n e else's cross b e c o m e s w e a k . B u t p e o p l e w h o carry their o w n cross and their o w n guilt
and t h e i r o w n fate are strong. T h e y carry t h e m w i t h head h e l d high, and
t h e y h a v e t h e strength to do great things.

Saving face for one's father


HELLINGER: I'll give y o u a n e x a m p l e o f trying t o take o n t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f guilt for s o m e o n e else.
A w o m a n had t h e idea that she had to save face; she was afraid of l o s ing face. S h e tried to do it superficially, t h r o u g h c h a n g i n g h e r hairstyle,
for example. S h e suspected that her father was a war criminal. T h u s he was
the o n e w h o really should have b e e n afraid o f losing face, and h e s h o u l d
have b e e n t h e o n e trying to save face. As a solution, I suggested to h e r
that she s h o u l d i m a g i n e h e r s e l f standing n e x t to h e r father as a c h i l d and
l o o k i n g up to h i m and saying: " D e a r F a t h e r , I will save face for y o u . "
T h a t was exactly w h a t she was doing. B u t she c o u l d n ' t find the c o u r a g e
to say o u t l o u d w h a t she already was doing, n o t e v e n as an e x e r c i s e . It
w o u l d have b e e n a solution, h o w e v e r , b e c a u s e t h e n h e r father w o u l d
have b e e n f o r c e d to r e c o g n i z e his guilt and fear; his guilt and fear w o u l d
have r e t u r n e d t o w h e r e they b e l o n g e d and left h e r free. B u t i t w o u l d
have b e e n a h u m b l i n g process as well. S h e w o u l d h a v e had no standing
left, e x c e p t h e r o w n . A child w i t h a fate of this k i n d rarely has t h e c o u r age and the strength to do w h a t is necessary. All o n e can do as an o u t s i d er is let things take their course, for a n y o n e trying to i n t e r v e n e w o u l d be
doing e x a c t l y t h e same thing a s t h e child. T h e y w o u l d b e taking o n
s o m e t h i n g that they c a n n o t and must n o t take o n .

57

I t i s e a s i e r t o suffer t h a n t o a c c e p t t h e s o l u t i o n
U N A : My n a m e is U n a . A y e a r and a h a l f a g o I slipped a disk a n d I h a v e
h a d a p e r p e t u a l b a c k a c h e e v e r s i n c e . In spite of b e i n g a therapist, I still
find i t h a r d n o t t o g e t t o o deeply i n v o l v e d w i t h m y c l i e n t s . I b e l i e v e that
o n e o f m y parents n e v e r l o v e d m e , and still d o e s n ' t l o v e m e . P e r h a p s that
is w h y I have had a succession of intense but short-lived relationships
o v e r t h e past fifteen years.
H E L L I N G E R : P s y c h o l o g i c a l l y , b a c k a c h e can always b e t r a c e d t o t h e s a m e
c a u s e , a n d i t can b e c u r e d q u i t e s i m p l y b y b o w i n g l o w . W h o i s i t y o u
have to b o w to?
UNA: B o w to?
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , e x a c t l y . L o o k a t t h e w a y y o u are sitting; it's t h e e x a c t
o p p o s i t e o f a b o w . Y o u m u s t b o w d o w n l o w , right t o t h e g r o u n d , p r o b a b l y t o y o u r m o t h e r . T r a n s l a t e d i n t o w o r d s , w h a t y o u m u s t say is: " I b o w
to y o u w i t h d e e p r e s p e c t . " T h a t is a d e m a n d i n g s e n t e n c e , a n d a l i b e r a t ing one.
U N A : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g i n m e that w o u l d e n a b l e m e t o b o w , b u t I d o u b t
if it would be low enough.
HELLINGER:

I f y o u b o w a t all, y o u h a v e t o b o w right d o w n t o t h e

g r o u n d . B u t it's easier for y o u t o b e a r y o u r b a c k a c h e t h a n t o b o w d o w n


l o w . Y o u find i t easier t o suffer than t o t a k e a c t i o n . S o w e n e e d n ' t feel
sorry for y o u .
U N A : I ' d l i k e to do it, b u t I am a w a r e that I still h a v e s o m e r e s e n t m e n t .
HELLINGER: It's a great m i s t a k e to t h i n k that clients w a n t to get rid of t h e i r
problems. T h e y often only want t o have t h e m confirmed. D i d y o u n o t i c e h o w y o u r attention automatically goes to y o u r o b j e c t i o n s rather than
t o i n t e r e s t and e x c i t e m e n t i n e x p e r i m e n t i n g w i t h a possible s o l u t i o n ?

T h e h u m b l e solution hurts
L E O : M y n a m e i s L e o . I ' v e b e e n a psychiatrist and p s y c h o t h e r a p i s t for t h e
past 1 6 years. I ' m v e r y h a p p y w i t h m y w o r k b u t n o t a t all h a p p y w i t h
m y family o f o r i g i n . I h a v e a g o o d r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h m y w i f e a n d h a v e
t w o c h i l d r e n ages 6 a n d 9, b u t I h a v e t h e f e e l i n g w h i c h I am sure is
j u s t i f i e d that I h a v e t w o m o r e c h i l d r e n i n t h e p e r s o n s o f m y parents.
M y father has s o m e t h i n g l i k e p r e m a t u r e d e m e n t i a .
H E L L I N G E R : P r e t t y arrogant, t h e w a y y o u are talking.
L E O : W e l l , perhaps I a m .
HELLINGER: That's obvious.

58

L E O : A c t u a l l y , I s o m e t i m e s t h i n k my family has m a d e me like this to a


great e x t e n t . My parents have quarreled for as l o n g as I h a v e k n o w n
t h e m , although the w o r d " q u a r r e l " i s t a b o o . T h e y must have b e e n fond
o f each o t h e r a t s o m e point, b u t I ' v e b e e n the m e d i a t o r b e t w e e n t h e m
e v e r since I can r e m e m b e r .
HELLINGER: Y o u are trying t o seduce m e i n t o a c c e p t i n g y o u r interpretat i o n and adopting y o u r p o i n t o f v i e w . I f y o u r interpretation w e r e c o r rect, the p r o b l e m w o u l d have b e e n solved already. T h e fact that it has
n o t b e e n solved shows that y o u r interpretation i s w r o n g . T h e further
a w a y s u c h an interpretation is from reality, the m o r e often y o u have to
repeat it. S o w h a t w o u l d y o u like t o d o n o w ? D o y o u w a n t t o find a
solution?
to the group: Do y o u see his expression? He isn't really interested in finding
a solution, so I ' m n o t g o i n g to discuss it any further n o w .
to Leo: S o l u t i o n s hurt, e v e n g o o d ones. T h e y call for humility. T h a t ' s t h e
trouble, (pause) A r e y o u angry w i t h m e ?
LEO: In my family, the standard r e a c t i o n is to take offense, b u t I k n o w
there w o u l d n ' t be any p o i n t in that. B u t w h a t I have said a b o u t my parents is i m p o r t a n t to me because it has recently b e c o m e acute. I can also
be quite s t u b b o r n w h e n I w a n t t o , and I d o n ' t i n t e n d to give up on this.
HELLINGER: O k a y . A g r e e d .

A child's i n t e r r u p t e d m o v e m e n t t o w a r d
his m o t h e r o r f a t h e r
JOHN: My n a m e is J o h n . I trained as a teacher, but I have b e e n w o r k i n g
for t h r e e years as an e n v i r o n m e n t a l e d u c a t o r and landscaping consultant
I design gardens. I w o u l d like to w o r k here on my physical s y m p toms. I have constant pain in my shoulders, I get frequent headaches, and
I also have a feeling of discomfort in my a b d o m e n .
HELLINGER: H e r e ' s a wild guess: T h e headaches are caused by l o v e that is
unable to f l o w b e c a u s e a m o v e m e n t y o u m a d e t o w a r d s o m e o n e as a
child was interrupted and stopped before it r e a c h e d its goal. Usually, it
is a m o v e m e n t t o w a r d the m o t h e r . T h a t ' s also the impression I get w h e n
I l o o k a t y o u r face. Y o u l o o k like s o m e o n e w h o was i n t e r r u p t e d w h e n
vou were making a m o v e m e n t toward someone. W e r e y o u ever in the
hospital as a child?
JOHN: T w i c e . O n c e for an operation, that was quite early in my life, and
then later w i t h m u m p s .

59

HELLINGER: That could be the explanation. When a child's movement toward someone it loves is interrupted, it causes feelings of despair and sadness, and frequently of anger, and the child comes to the conclusion: "It's
hopeless, there's nothing I can do," and gives up and becomes resigned.
T h e healing process is to go back to the situation in the past and enable the child to complete the movement. This can be done through
hypnotherapy or through holding therapy. Do you know what holding
therapy is?
J O H N : I have heard it mentioned.
HELLINGER: Holding therapy can also be done with adults, but it must be
done in such a way that you go back to your childhood and the feelings
you had as a child. The patient becomes the child "back there" and the
therapist becomes the mother "back there." They both go back to the
past situation, and the child is enabled to complete the early interrupted
movement toward his mother.
J O H N : Do you mean that the flow of my giving and moving toward my
mother was interrupted?
HELLINGER: That's my guess. Your movement toward your mother was
interrupted. When someone who has been interrupted in an early movement toward the mother tries later in life to move toward someone else,
for example, a partner, the old memory of the interruption returns, even
if it is only on a subconscious level, and the person interrupts the movement at exactly the same point at which it was interrupted as a child. Instead of carrying the movement straight through to its goal, the person
deviates from the course, and a circular movement away from and back
to the point of interruption begins. This is an exact description of neurosis. Neurosis begins at the point that a movement toward someone, usually the mother, is interrupted, and neurotic behavior is simply a repetition of this circular movement.
T h e solution to the problem is implicit in its description. But the solution causes anxiety. Carrying through the interrupted movement to its
goal is very painful. It is a painful experience because it is tied up with
a feeling of utter helplessness.
J O H N : My sister told me that my parents wanted to visit me in the hospital, but they were not allowed to see me. They were only allowed to
look at me from a distance, and they must have cried bitterly. But I can't
actually remember this happening.
HELLINGER: N o w when we look at you, we have a concrete picture. We
can see exactly how old you were and how bad you felt just by looking
at you.

60

B r i n g y o u r c h a i r a n d c o m e and sit i n front o f m e .


John

takes his chair and sits down

eases John's

head,

which

was

in front of
thrown

back,

Hellinger.

Hettinger

gently forward

and

downward.
H E L L I N G E R t o the group: T h e r e was a n i n t e r r u p t i o n o f t h e f l o w o f e n e r g y
h e r e i n his n e c k . N o w i t can f l o w again.
to John: C l o s e y o u r eyes, b r e a t h e deeply, a n d go b a c k , far b a c k i n t o y o u r
childhood.
B r e a t h e deeply. R e s i s t y o u r feelings o f w e a k n e s s a n d b e i n c o n t a c t w i t h
y o u r strength.

Carry

on

breathing deeply and powerfully.

N o w say:

"Please."
JOHN: Please.
HELLINGER: Louder.
J O H N : Please.
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , like that. A g a i n , l o u d e r still.
J O H N : Please. Please.
H E L L I N G E R : S t r e t c h y o u r arms o u t a s y o u speak. Y o u c a n h o l d o n t o m e .
"Please."*
J O H N : Please .. .
HELLINGER: Say: " M u m m y , p l e a s e . "
JOHN: M u m m y , please.
HELLINGER: "Please."
IOHN: Please.
HELLINGER: S a y it urgently.
JOHN: Please, M u m m y .
HELLINGER: L o u d e r .
IOHN: Please.
HELLINGER: W i t h all y o u r strength.
JOHN: Please. Please.
HELLINGER: A n d n o w say i t quietly: " P l e a s e , M u m m y . "
JOHN: P l e a s e , M u m m y .
John

opens his eyes.

HELLINGER: H e l l o , h o w are y o u feeling n o w ?

* No transcript can convey the emotional intensity of work like this. The entire sequence took
about 10 minutes. John's tone of voice and the pain in his weeping attested to the depth and
authenticity of his experience.

61

J O H N : Good.
HELLINGER to the group: D i d y o u see h o w bad he felt as a child? He was
desperate. It isn't possible to r e c o v e r w h a t has b e e n lost, b u t it is possible
t o learn t o c o m p l e t e a m o v e m e n t n o w that was interrupted and i n c o m plete b a c k then. In this e x e r c i s e , inhaling is a taking-in and e x h a l i n g is
a m o v e m e n t t o w a r d s o m e o n e . B o w i n g d o w n is also a m o v e m e n t t o w a r d
someone.
O k a y , that's all.

Shoulder pains
G E R T R U D E : I w a n t to talk about the pains in my shoulder. I have had t e n sion pains in my right shoulder for a l o n g t i m e n o w , and every night I
w a k e u p w i t h a feeling o f n u m b n e s s i n m y right hand. I c a n ' t get rid o f
it. I do exercises for it, but it d o e s n ' t get better.
HELLINGER: T h e n e x t t i m e y o u r shoulder hurts, i m a g i n e that y o u are
stroking y o u r husband's right c h e e k w i t h the same hand.
G E R T R U D E : I h a v e n ' t g o t a husband.
HELLINGER: S t r o k e the m a n y o u l o v e d o n c e , the father o f y o u r child.
Okay?

A flea in his e a r
C A R L : T h e w o r d s " Y o u c o u l d annul the a d o p t i o n " have sunk i n deep and
are constantly w o r k i n g in my m i n d . I have to m a k e a b i g effort to c o n centrate on w h a t ' s g o i n g on h e r e and n o t to think a b o u t those w o r d s all
the t i m e .
HELLINGER: Y o u c o u l d get rid o f t h e m easily e n o u g h . D o y o u k n o w
how?
C A R L : B y d o i n g it.
He

laughs.

I ' m h o v e r i n g b e t w e e n the opposite poles o f " y e s " and " n o . " A s far a s the
" y e s " is c o n c e r n e d , it struck a c h o r d w h e n y o u talked a b o u t letting l o v e
f l o w again in c o n n e c t i o n w i t h shoulder pains and headaches, and the
effects o f b o w i n g l o w and h o n o r i n g and respecting s o m e o n e . I t h o u g h t
a b o u t the father o f m y adopted child, and i t o c c u r r e d t o m e that the road
t o " y e s " m a y b e g i n w i t h h o n o r i n g and respecting this m a n .
HELLINGER: G o o d , very g o o d . Y o u learn quickly. T h a t ' s w h e r e i t b e g i n s .

62

My name is Thea. I'm married and I have four grown-up sons who have
all left home. I used to teach religion, and I later trained as a family
therapist. I would like to work on the following problem: I can't stop
thinking about my brother, and it's getting worse all the time. At first I
thought it wasn't so important, but I've realized that it is.
HELLINGER: What's the problem with your brother?
THEA: He committed suicide 23 years ago.
HELLINGER: H o w old was he?
THEA: He was 2 9 .
HELLINGER: H o w did he kill himself?
THEA: He hanged himself.
HELLINGER: And what's so terrible about it?
THEA: I'm aware that throughout my life, right from childhood, I've always had the feeling that I'm living at his expense. I wonder why I am
still alive when he had to die.
HELLINGER: Did he have to die?
THEA: I think he thought he did.
HELLINGER: Was there a reason for his suicide?
THEA: There was a reason, but I don't think it can be the only explanation.
HELLINGER: What was the apparent reason?
THEA: He had just received his doctor's degree, and he was already working as an assistant at the university. There was another assistant there who
told my brother he would do everything in his power to trip him up.
My brother wanted to get away from him.
HELLINGER: That can't be the reason.
THEA: NO, that's what I think. But the accepted reason was that my brother felt that the other assistant wanted to eliminate him and he eliminated
himself instead.
HELLINGER: T h e next of kin often take suicide as a personal insult and b e have as if they had the right to feel wronged when someone decides to
commit suicide. T h e first step toward a solution for you is to say to your
brother: "I respect your decision, and for me you are still my brother."
THEA: I did that about 10 years ago. But I'm still not at peace. There's still
something unresolved.
HELLINGER: Maybe you said the words, but you couldn't have done it the
way I mean, otherwise you would be at peace.
THEA: Well, I've now reached the point where I think I can say: "I accept

63

t h e fact that y o u had the right t o decide w h a t y o u w a n t e d t o d o w i t h


your life."
HELLINGER: N o , n o , n o . W h a t I said and w h a t y o u say are t w o c o m p l e t e ly different things. A c c e p t a n c e is c o n d e s c e n d i n g . If, on the o t h e r hand,
y o u say, " I respect y o u r d e c i s i o n , " i t gives y o u r b r o t h e r stature. A n d
w h a t a b o u t y o u r sons? D o any o f t h e m take after y o u r b r o t h e r ?
T H E A : Y e s , the s e c o n d o n e does.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s a sure sign that t h e matter is n o t resolved. Has he already tried t o c o m m i t suicide?
THEA: NO.
HELLINGER: Has he ever talked a b o u t it?
THEA: N o .
HELLINGER: W h a t does h e d o that w o r r i e s y o u ?
T H E A : It's n o t like that. I ' m n o t w o r r i e d a b o u t h i m . B u t h e is v e r y like m y
b r o t h e r , b o t h in appearance and in the w a y he thinks.
HELLINGER: A r e y o u p r o g r a m m i n g h i m ?
THEA: H m m , I ' m afraid so.
HELLINGER: Y o u are p r o g r a m m i n g h i m t h r o u g h y o u r observations
y o u r s o - c a l l e d observations. W h e r e is the safe place for h i m ?
T H E A : N e x t to his father.
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y .
T H E A : I ' v e w a n t e d h i m t o have a closer relationship w i t h his father for
s o m e t i m e , b u t I h a v e n ' t s u c c e e d e d up until n o w .
HELLINGER: N o w w e ' l l set u p y o u r present family system. W h o b e l o n g s
t o it?
T H E A : M y husband, m e , and o u r four sons.
HELLINGER: W e r e y o u o r y o u r husband previously m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d o r
i n v o l v e d in a close relationship?
THEA:

No.

HELLINGER: I s there a n y o n e else w h o m i g h t b e missing?


T H E A : M y m o t h e r lives w i t h us, b u t I d o n ' t k n o w w h a t part she plays.
HELLINGER: H o w l o n g has she b e e n living w i t h y o u ?
T H E A : S i n c e o u r s e c o n d son m o v e d o u t a b o u t six years ago.
HELLINGER: Is y o u r father dead?
T H E A : Y e s . H e was killed in the w a r w h e n I was nearly 4 years old.
HELLINGER: O b v i o u s l y y o u have t o l o o k after y o u r m o t h e r .
T H E A : Y e s . That's not the problem.
HELLINGER: Y o u r father was killed w h e n y o u w e r e . . . ?
T H E A : I was n o t quite 4 . I saw h i m for the last t i m e w h e n I was 3.
HELLINGER: H o w was h e killed?

64

THEA: In R u s s i a , at t h e battle of Stalingrad.


HELLINGER: T h a t sounds like t h e reason for y o u r b r o t h e r ' s suicide. He f o l l o w e d his father. H o w o l d was y o u r father w h e n h e died?
THEA: T h i r t y . M y b r o t h e r was almost 3 0 w h e n h e killed himself. I t was
just a f e w days b e f o r e his 3 0 t h birthday.
HELLINGER: T h a t is t h e reason. He w a n t e d to f o l l o w his father.
THEA: I d o n ' t understand.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s h o w it is. T h a t ' s w h a t children do. How did y o u r
m o t h e r react to y o u r father's death?
THEA: S h e t h o u g h t a b o u t c o m m i t t i n g suicide, and she told us children
a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: T h a t confirms it again. D i d she l o v e h i m ?

THEA: Y e s .
HELLINGER: I ' m n o t so sure a b o u t that.
THEA: I t h i n k she did.
HELLINGER: I ' m n o t so sure. P e o p l e w h o l o v e do n o t react w i t h t h o u g h t s
o f suicide w h e n their l o v e d ones die.
THEA: At first she was desperate, and t h e n she said: " I f we lose t h e w a r "
my father was already dead w h e n she said this " w e ' l l all j u m p i n t o
t h e river. W e ' l l finish o f f t h e w h o l e family." I d o n ' t k n o w i f h e r threats
o f suicide w e r e directly c o n n e c t e d w i t h m y father.
HELLINGER: T h e y were threats o f m u r d e r .
THEA: M u r d e r , yes.
HELLINGER: It gets m o r e and m o r e sinister. O k a y , now w e ' l l set up y o u r
family constellation.

65

Diagram 1
Hb

Husband

W
1
2
3
4

Wife (= T h e a )
First child, a son
Second child, a son
Third child, a son
Fourth child, a son

H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e h u s b a n d feeling?
H U S B A N D : N o t g o o d a t all. I c a n ' t feel any closeness b e t w e e n m y w i f e and
me,

a n d m y sons

are e v e n further away.

My contact with t h e m is

t h r o u g h m y w i f e , b u t t h e r e ' s n o sign that t h e r e w i l l really b e any c o n t a c t ,


a n d m y sons standing o p p o s i t e m e are t o o far a w a y t o talk t o .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e oldest s o n feel?
F I R S T CHILD: I feel furious. I ' m i n d i g n a n t . W h e n m y m o t h e r c a m e and
s t o o d b e t w e e n m y father and m e , i t was w o r s e still. I ' m n o t part o f this
setup, a n d I ' m angry.
HELLINGER: W i t h g o o d reason.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e s e c o n d s o n feeling?
S E C O N D CHILD: I w a n t t o m o v e further a w a y f r o m m y m o t h e r .
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t a b o u t t h e third s o n ?
T H I R D CHILD: M y first f e e l i n g was that this i s a n u n n a t u r a l setup. M y t w o
o l d e r b r o t h e r s are s o far away. M y m o t h e r i s t u r n e d a w a y f r o m m e . I feel
I c a n stand i t b e s t i f I k e e p c a l m and refuse t o b e d r a w n i n t o this u n -

66

canny feeling. And when I turned toward my younger brother, I


thought, "I've got to look after him, I've got to take him out of this
situation." I feel clear about my own role, but I'm worried about him.
I'm not worried about my oldest brother back there he's just crabby.
HELLINGER: How is the fourth son feeling?
FOURTH CHILD: I'm standing opposite my mother, but I don't feel any
contact between us. My father is far away, too. I feel rather alone. My
closest contact is to my brother here on my left. I don't feel comfortable.
HELLINGER to Thea's representative: How is the wife feeling?
WIFE: I can't look at the men. I feel as if I haven't any arms, they're hanging so heavily, and I can't look up. I can only look at the ground.
Hellinger rearranges the constellation so that the wife is facing
away from the family and the sons are standing, in order of age,
in a row facing their father.

Diagram 2

Hellinger: W h a t has changed?


HUSBAND: I d o n ' t really miss my wife. I am glad to see my sons standing
in a r o w like that.
FIRST CHILD: E v e r y t h i n g feels fine like this. I don't miss my m o t h e r .
SECOND CHILD: I feel g o o d . I w o u l d like to be in c o n t a c t w i t h my m o t h er. B u t otherwise everything's fine.

67

T H I R D CHILD: I ' m n o t w o r r i e d a b o u t m y y o u n g e s t b r o t h e r a n y m o r e .
F O U R T H CHILD: I feel m u c h b e t t e r standing l i k e this i n t h e c i r c l e . T h e r e ' s
a l o t o f s t r e n g t h h e r e for m e , and I feel safe. B u t it's a pity m y m o t h e r ' s
not here.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e w i f e feeling?
W I F E : B e t t e r . It's o k a y for m e l i k e this.
H E L L I N G E R to Then: Of c o u r s e , this is n o t a g o o d s o l u t i o n , b u t it s h o w s
the hidden dynamics.

N o w I ' m g o i n g t o add y o u r father a n d y o u r

brother.

Diagram 3
WF+
WB+

Wife's father, killed in the war


Wife's brother, committed suicide

H E L L I N G E R : H o w ' s that for t h e wife?


W I F E : I feel g o o d h e r e b e h i n d m y father a n d m y b r o t h e r .
H E L L I N G E R to the group: T h a t ' s loyalty. S h e is f o l l o w i n g h e r father and
b r o t h e r . T h a t ' s m o r e i m p o r t a n t t o h e r t h a n h e r o w n life.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e h u s b a n d feeling n o w ?
H U S B A N D : It's o k a y l i k e this.
H E L L I N G E R : A n d t h e wife's b r o t h e r ?
W I F E ' S B R O T H E R + : It's o k a y for m e t o o .
H E L L I N G E R to the group: N o w I'll try a less drastic s o l u t i o n . We h a v e to

68

face the extremes of a situation and l o o k honestly at the actual situation


before we can l o o k for a less drastic solution. B u t the less drastic solution
is very often unattainable and the e x t r e m e situation often turns out to be
inevitable.

Diagram 4

H E L L I N G E R : H O W IS the husband feeling n o w ?


H U S B A N D : It's a pity m y sons are n o longer standing in front o f m e .
H E L L I N G E R : A n d the wife?
W I F E : I ' m c o m m i t t e d to m y family o f origin. I w o u l d like to lean against
my husband, but I don't want to see what's going on.
H E L L I N G E R to Thea: N o w w e need y o u r m o t h e r as well.
Hellinger adds the wife's mother to the constellation and places her
facing

away from

the family.

69

Diagram 5
WM

Wife's mother

H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e wife's m o t h e r feel standing t h e r e ?


W I F E ' S M O T H E R : N o t bad.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t has c h a n g e d for t h e wife?
W I F E : I ' m glad she's t h e r e . N o w I feel I c a n l o o k a r o u n d m e .
H E L L I N G E R to the group: T h e wife's m o t h e r is t h e o n e w h o m u s t g o . S h e
has forfeited b e l o n g i n g t o t h e family.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e w i f e ' s father feeling?
W I F E ' S F A T H E R + : I t feels m o r e c o m p l e t e s i n c e m y w i f e c a m e .
H E L L I N G E R to Thea: Go a n d stand in y o u r p l a c e .
Thea goes

to

her place

in

the constellation.

T H E A : I feel g o o d in relation t o m y sons. B u t I ' m n o t sure a b o u t m y


husband.
H U S B A N D : S h e is a v o i d i n g all physical c o n t a c t .
H E L L I N G E R : S h e needs t i m e t o g e t used t o it.
O n c e I h e a r d a b o u t a n E s k i m o w h o traveled t o t h e C a r i b b e a n for a s u m m e r v a c a t i o n . I t t o o k h i m a f o r t n i g h t t o g e t u s e d t o it.
T H E A : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g else w o r r y i n g m e . I ' m standing b e t w e e n m y husband and my brother.
H E L L I N G E R : M o v e c l o s e r t o y o u r h u s b a n d s o that y o u h a v e physical c o n tact w i t h h i m .

70

HUSBAND: She's still 3 centimeters away.


HELLINGER to the group: It would be a serious betrayal i f she were to be
happy with her husband. Then she would be daring to be happier than
her mother was. Happiness like that takes a lot of courage.

T h e consequences o f m u r d e r and threats o f m u r d e r


within the family

HELLINGER: Someone in a system who kills someone or wants to kill


someone in the family forfeits the right to belong to the system.
ELLA: Even through the mere threat of murder?
HELLINGER: Yes. Through her threat of murder, her mother forfeited her
right to belong, and also her rights as a mother.
FRANK: Even though she didn't actually murder anyone?
HELLINGER: Yes. That was clear from the constellation.
Some time ago, a participant in a workshop told the group that his father
was the mayor, and had refused to surrender the city at the end of the
war. A lot of people were killed as a result. After the war, he was condemned to death, but he considered himself innocent, and his son looked
upon him as a hero. But when we set up his family constellation, it became clear that the father had forfeited his right to belong. When we
sent him out of the room, which signified his family's willingness to let
him go, everyone in the system suddenly felt calm and peaceful.
to Thea: Although it is quite clear that your mother has forfeited her belonging and her right to belong to the family system, it doesn't alter your
duty toward her. But you must be aware that the system has been heavily
burdened by her threats of murder, and this has had serious consequences, for example, for your brother. It is important that your sons withdraw from their mother's system and move closer to that of their father,
because this is the healthier part of the family. The safer place for them
is close to their father.
ROBERT: What happens in the case of an abortion? Does that count as
murder in terms of the system?
HELLINGER: No. It doesn't have the same consequences.
THEA: There's something else I'd like to ask. My mother compensated for
her threat of murder at least that's what I told myself. When we were
Trapped between the two fronts in Upper Silesia near the end of the war,
my mother threw herself in front of us children to protect us from exploding grenades. So she tried to save our lives many times. I looked on
this as compensation.

71

HELLINGER: I t d o e s n ' t annul the effect o f h e r threat o f m u r d e r . W h a t she


did was g o o d , and y o u must respect it, b u t it didn't c a n c e l o u t the effects
o f h e r threat o f murder, a s y o u can see from y o u r b r o t h e r ' s fate. W e
often i m a g i n e w e can c o m p e n s a t e for s o m e t h i n g , for e x a m p l e , t h r o u g h
a t o n e m e n t . B u t i f y o u observe w h a t actually happens i n families, y o u see
it d o e s n ' t w o r k . T h e o n l y thing that w o r k s is a full a c k n o w l e d g m e n t of
guilt. G u i l t c a n n o t be annulled and it c a n n o t be c o m p e n s a t e d for, b u t it
can g e n e r a t e strength to do g o o d . T h e r e is greatness in d o i n g g o o d , and
it has a r e c o n c i l i n g effect, b u t it does n o t annul the guilt. It is a far greater thing to face up to o n e ' s guilt than to b e l i e v e or act as if it c o u l d be
forgiven o r c o m p e n s a t e d for. S u c h guilt c a n n o t and m a y n o t b e forgiven.
F o r h o w c o u l d a n y o n e forgive s o m e t h i n g like that? G u i l t remains, and
it generates strength to do g o o d .
C A R L : I was s h o c k e d w h e n y o u said that T h e a ' s b r o t h e r ' s suicide was
s o m e t h i n g in the nature of a repetition of h e r father's death. I d o n ' t
understand that.
HELLINGER: I interpret it differently n o w . Actually, T h e a ' s m o t h e r is the
o n e w h o w a n t e d t o c o m m i t suicide, and h e r son did i t for her. T h o s e
are the real dynamics.
to Thea: D o e s this ring true to y o u ?
THEA: Y e s .
CLAUDIA: T h e n the son's suicide had n o t h i n g to do w i t h the father's death
b u t was c o n n e c t e d w i t h the m o t h e r ' s threat o f m u r d e r ?
HELLINGER: Y e s . T h a t is h o w I see it n o w . T h e o t h e r dynamics m a y also
b e operating, that h e followed his father o u t o f loyalty, b u t t h e dynamics
resulting from the m o t h e r ' s threat o f m u r d e r w e r e m u c h stronger. T h e
w e a k e r dynamics lose their significance w h e n s o m e t h i n g s t r o n g e r c o m e s
o n t o the s c e n e . S o m e t h i n g that w o u l d be i m p o r t a n t in a n o t h e r system is
n o l o n g e r i m p o r t a n t here b e c a u s e i t i s o v e r s h a d o w e d b y the force o f the
o t h e r dynamics. In cases like this, y o u solve the i m p o r t a n t t h i n g and ign o r e the less i m p o r t a n t o n e . T h e m o t h e r ' s threat o f m u r d e r overshadows
e v e r y t h i n g else.

P e o p l e w h o h a v e forfeited their right


to belong m u s t leave
G E O R G E : Y o u said that T h e a ' s m o t h e r has forfeited h e r right t o b e l o n g t o
t h e system. I w o u l d be interested to k n o w w h e n this applies and w h e n
it doesn't, and h o w it should be handled.

72

HELLINGER: It is often o n l y possible to decide this in a c o n c r e t e situation.


B e l o n g i n g and t h e right t o b e l o n g are always forfeited w h e n s o m e o n e i n
t h e family kills o r threatens t o kill a n o t h e r m e m b e r o f t h e family, o r
w h e n t h e person kills s o m e o n e else. W h e n this happens, t h e person must
leave o r b e e x c l u d e d ; o t h e r w i s e a n i n n o c e n t person will leave o r b e e x c l u d e d instead.
S o m e t i m e ago, there was an Irish participant in a w o r k s h o p w h o s e
grandfather had b e e n a f r e e d o m fighter and had shot his b r o t h e r . B u t far
f r o m b e i n g e x c l u d e d , he was regarded as a h e r o . O n e of his grandsons
w e n t t o live far away, like s o m e o n e w h o n o l o n g e r b e l o n g e d , and this
grandson also had a serious quarrel w i t h his b r o t h e r . W h e n his family
c o n s t e l l a t i o n was set up, w e sent the grandfather o u t o f t h e r o o m , and
i m m e d i a t e l y there was p e a c e b e t w e e n the b r o t h e r s and all t h e o t h e r
m e m b e r s o f t h e system.
I n a n o t h e r w o r k s h o p , o n e o f t h e participants was a g r e a t - n i e c e o f H e r m a n n G o e r i n g , w h o ran t h e c o n c e n t r a t i o n camps i n t h e T h i r d R e i c h .
W h e n h e r family constellation was set up, it i m m e d i a t e l y b e c a m e clear
that h e still h a u n t e d t h e family. T h e y still k e p t s o m e valuable pieces o f
silver w i t h his n a m e engraved o n t h e m . W h e n w e set u p h e r family syst e m , t h e m e m b e r s o f h e r family found p e a c e o n l y w h e n h e was sent o u t
of t h e r o o m that is, e x c l u d e d . I advised h e r to get rid of t h e silver
n o t to sell it or give it away or in any w a y exploit it, b u t to dispose of it
in such a w a y that there w o u l d be no trace of it left. A year later, she did.
G E O R G E : W h a t happens w h e n a m a n marries his wife w i t h o u t really w a n t ing her, or the o t h e r w a y around? D o e s he forfeit his right to b e l o n g ?
HELLINGER: He m a y lose his right to b e l o n g to his present family, b u t his
right t o b e l o n g t o his family o f origin remains intact.

Questions that help and questions that don't


FRANK: I c a n ' t help w o n d e r i n g w h e t h e r i n t h e case o f T h e a ' s family o n e
shouldn't pay m o r e attention t o the probability that T h e a ' s m o t h e r was
a v i c t i m of a m u r d e r o u s suppressed anger.
HELLINGER: W h a t y o u are d o i n g n o w . . .
FRANK: I h a v e n ' t finished y e t .
HELLINGER: B u t y o u ' v e said e n o u g h t o s h o w t h e effect o f this k i n d o f
questioning. It is risky to q u e s t i o n a solution. L e t me tell y o u h o w I e x p e r i e n c e it. W h e n s o m e o n e tells m e s o m e t h i n g a b o u t p r o b l e m s , a n i m a g e
of the system forms in my m i n d , and it suddenly b e c o m e s clear to me as

73

t o w h i c h p r o b l e m i s m o s t highly c h a r g e d w i t h e n e r g y . I f I t h e n b e g i n t o
d o u b t w h a t I have seen and start asking h y p o t h e t i c a l questions, t h e i m a g e
disappears and t h e e n e r g y that I and t h e client n e e d for a c t i o n dwindles.
D o y o u understand?
F R A N K : W e l l , yes, I k n o w that this sort of thing can happen, b u t w h a t I
w a n t e d to do n o w was to ask a n o t h e r question. I also w o r k w i t h situations like this, and I w o u l d b e interested t o k n o w w h e t h e r o n e c o u l d n ' t
l o o k at it t h e w a y I described.
HELLINGER: Y o u c a n ' t m a k e c o m p a r i s o n s like that. W e k n o w w h a t w e a c tually e x p e r i e n c e d i n the constellation. I f w e start speculating a b o u t o t h e r
possible dynamics, t h e e n e r g y o f the real situation gets lost. I f y o u w e r e
to describe a c o n c r e t e case, we c o u l d w o r k w i t h it in a c o n c r e t e w a y ,
and it w o u l d have energy, b u t like this, the question remains h y p o t h e t i c a l
and d e v o i d o f energy. T h e r e ' s n o n e e d t o ask w h a t a m o u n t a i n m i g h t
l o o k like i f y o u are actually l o o k i n g a t it.
D A G M A R : I have a n o t h e r question. T h e a ' s m o t h e r lives in T h e a ' s h o u s e hold, and h e r father i s dead. H o w should she b e h a v e t o w a r d h e r m o t h e r
now?
HELLINGER: If I w e r e to answer y o u r question, it w o u l d take e n e r g y away
f r o m T h e a . T h a t c o n c e r n s T h e a , and she already k n o w s w h a t she has t o
do. B y asking this question a s i f i t w e r e s o m e t h i n g y o u n e e d e d t o k n o w ,
y o u shift t h e focus from T h e a to yourself; y o u shift t h e emphasis t o w a r d
speculation rather than c o n c r e t e a c t i o n . I f y o u h a v e a question o f y o u r
o w n , s o m e t h i n g that has t o d o w i t h y o u and y o u r needs, I'll b e happy
to e x p l o r e it w i t h y o u , b u t it m u s t be a c o n c r e t e question.

T h e therapist's responsibility w h e n w o r k i n g with


family constellations
S o m e therapists w o r k i n g w i t h family constellations prefer t o h a v e clients
l o o k for t h e s o l u t i o n themselves, a c c o r d i n g t o their feelings a t t h e m o m e n t . B u t clients c a n ' t find resolutions b y themselves b y l o o k i n g for
t h e m . S o l u t i o n s require the c o u r a g e to l o o k truth in the eye, and the
therapist m o r e often has this c o u r a g e p r o v i d e d he or she remains ind e p e n d e n t and aware and in h a r m o n y w i t h the laws that are at w o r k in
t h e system. If those w h o participate in a family c o n s t e l l a t i o n are left to
t h e i r o w n devices, t h e y t e n d t o b e h a v e a s i f t h e y had secretly conspired
t o k e e p t h e p r o b l e m intact. Therapists must n o t p r e t e n d that t h e y haven't
seen w h a t t h e y have seen, and t h e y must n o t hide b e h i n d subjunctives.

74

I f they do, they will b e c h e a t i n g t h e participants and taking part i n t h e i r


conspiracy.

If t h e y understand the laws that are at w o r k in systems,

t h e y w i l l see t h e solution, and a l t h o u g h they m a y have to c h a n g e things


a r o u n d a bit b e f o r e they find the e x a c t solution, the essentials are usually
clear to t h e m right from t h e start.
T h u s , t h e p r o c e d u r e w i t h family constellations i s purely p h e n o m e n o logical. Y o u o p e n y o u r s e l f u p t o a n o b s c u r e set o f c o n n e c t i o n s until t h e
h i d d e n d y n a m i c s o f the situation suddenly b e c o m e clear. Y o u must e x p o s e y o u r s e l f w i t h o u t reservations t o t h e u n k n o w n c o m p l e x i t y o f t h e a c tual situation. Y o u r c o n c e p t s , theories, and t e c h n i q u e s r e m o v e y o u and
r e d u c e y o u r full e x p o s u r e and solutions c a n ' t e m e r g e o u t o f t h e depth o f
t h e situation. It is impossible to find the solution t h r o u g h d e d u c t i o n ; it
has to be sought and found e a c h t i m e . T h a t ' s w h y every s o l u t i o n is n e w
and u n i q u e . I must e v e n forget my previous e x p e r i e n c e . If I say that this,
that, or t h e o t h e r is likely to be t h e case in a n e w constellation b e c a u s e
I ' v e seen i t i n a n o t h e r constellation, I ' m n o t i n c o n t a c t w i t h t h e reality
i n front o f m e . T h e i m p o r t a n t thing i n this w o r k i s t o approach e a c h
situation w i t h a fresh, o p e n m i n d . T h i s m e a n s that I really see and respect
all t h e participants, and a b o v e all, t h e o n e w h o bears t h e b u r d e n . It is
o n l y w h e n I see and r e c o g n i z e t h e actual person that I will be able to
find t h e solution. T h a t person is the crucial figure.*

Observing process rather than content


C A R L : I ' m still t h i n k i n g a b o u t T h e a ' s constellation. I k n o w T h e a ' s family
quite well, and I n o t i c e d that in s o m e cases t h e p e o p l e w h o t o o k part in
t h e constellation said s o m e t h i n g quite different from w h a t I w o u l d h a v e
e x p e c t e d t h e actual m e m b e r s o f t h e family t o say. B u t I was struck b y t h e
fact that t h e constellation y o u described as t h e m o r e drastic solution c o r r e s p o n d e d clearly t o m y p e r c e p t i o n o f t h e family. S o t h e constellation
y o u set up was accurate for this family as I see it. I ' v e b e e n w o n d e r i n g
h o w y o u m a n a g e n o t t o b e i n f l u e n c e d b y w h a t these p e o p l e said t h e y
w e r e feeling.
HELLINGER: I n e v e r am. I w a t c h to see w h e t h e r s o m e o n e is c e n t e r e d and
fully c o n c e n t r a t e d or w h e t h e r t h e person is distracted by s o m e t h i n g .

You will find more on the phenomenological method in the section "Answers to Questions
from a Friend."

75

C A R L : T h a t was certainly very clear h e r e .


R A Y M O N D : I used to t h i n k that t h e a i m was to find t h e final c o n s t e l l a t i o n
as q u i c k l y as possible. B u t n o w I see that the i n t e r m e d i a t e steps and
changes w i t h i n the constellation are i m p o r t a n t for t h e final solution.
HELLINGER: T h e final constellation, w h i c h represents the r e s o l u t i o n , is
f o u n d t h r o u g h a n u m b e r o f steps. F r e q u e n t l y , o n e first shows the e x t r e m e solutions t o w a r d w h i c h the system is tending, and t h e n goes on to
w o r k t o w a r d a less e x t r e m e solution. B u t y o u have t o m o v e q u i c k l y t o w a r d the solution because i f the search takes t o o l o n g , the e n e r g y dissipates. S o m e t i m e s y o u k n o w what's right i m m e d i a t e l y and a single step is
all that's necessary.

B e c o m i n g entangled in other people's confusion and


o t h e r people's feelings in a f a m i l y c o n s t e l l a t i o n
JONAS: W h e n I was representing the third son in T h e a ' s c o n s t e l l a t i o n , I
was very confused, and in the b r e a k I tried to find o u t w h y . I t h i n k it
has a g o o d deal t o d o w i t h m y o w n family. T h e c o n f u s i o n c a m e from
the fact that although at the b e g i n n i n g , I listened carefully to w h o was
w h o , I nevertheless had the idea that the father in the constellation was
n o t T h e a ' s husband, b u t h e r father. I a m n o w w o n d e r i n g i f this has
s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h m y family, since m y m o t h e r also lost h e r father
w h e n she was very y o u n g .
HELLINGER: I w o u l d interpret this to m e a n that y o u w e r e feeling w h a t had
h a p p e n e d i n T h e a ' s family. D o n ' t try t o transfer i t o n t o y o u r family. T h a t
needs t o b e w o r k e d o n separately. B u t it's a g o o d t h i n g y o u s p o k e about
it. It c o u l d be that there is a similar confusion in T h e a ' s relationship to
h e r h u s b a n d and y o u h a v e g i v e n h e r a n i m p o r t a n t f e e d b a c k .
L E O : I h a v e n ' t g o t t e n o u t o f m y role a s t h e b r o t h e r w h o c o m m i t t e d suicide, a l t h o u g h I feel that it has n o t h i n g to do w i t h me as I am today.
HELLINGER: Y o u have t o m a k e a c o n s c i o u s effort t o c o m e o u t o f the role.
W h e n y o u take part in a constellation, y o u see h o w easy it is to b e c o m e
e n t a n g l e d i n a n alien system. I f i t can h a p p e n t o y o u , j u s t t h i n k h o w
m u c h m o r e easily a child w h o lives in the system all t h e t i m e can b e c o m e entangled i n the feelings and dynamics o f o t h e r m e m b e r s o f the
family. Y o u also e x p e r i e n c e h o w unreliable o u r feelings are and h o w
q u i c k l y t h e y c h a n g e i f the constellation alters o n l y slightly.
to the group: C a n we close this subject n o w ?
HARRY: No.

76

T h e m o t h e r ' s threat o f suicide


H A R R Y : I have b e e n living w i t h threats o f suicide b y w o m e n almost all m y
life. I was the oldest child, and after the b r e a k u p of h e r marriage, my
m o t h e r frequently said to m e : " I ' l l kill m y s e l f on such and such a day."
S h e n e v e r did, b u t h e r threats i m p o s e d an e n o r m o u s b u r d e n on m e . I r e m e m b e r it w e l l . It was terrible. It b e g a n w h e n I was 1 4 .
HELLINGER: W h a t w o u l d have b e e n the solution? Is y o u r m o t h e r still alive?
HARRY: Yes.
HELLINGER: Is she still saying it?
H A R R Y : N o , n o . N o w she i s trying t o p r o l o n g h e r o w n life and t h e lives
o f others.
HELLINGER: W h a t w o u l d have b e e n the r i g h t answer, the r e d e e m i n g answer? I'll tell y o u . T h a t ' s w h a t I ' m h e r e for. D o y o u w a n t t o hear it?
H A R R Y : Certainly.
HELLINGER: I t w o u l d have b e e n : " D e a r M u m m y , d o n ' t w o r r y . W h e n t h e
t i m e c o m e s , I'll do it for y o u . "
HELLINGER to the group: Do y o u see the effect? W h a t c h a n c e w o u l d she
have had o f killing h e r s e l f after that? A n d h e w o u l d have b e e n free. T h e
w o r d s m a y s e e m strange, but the effects are g o o d . It's o k a y to use tricks
in this w o r k , p r o v i d e d t h e y are helpful.
H A R R Y : T h e same thing h a p p e n e d w i t h m y first wife, the m o t h e r o f m y
children.
HELLINGER: I d o n ' t w a n t to hear a b o u t that n o w .
to the group: W h a t is he d o i n g n o w ?
WILLIAM: H a r p i n g on the p r o b l e m ?
HELLINGER: H e k n o w s the solution. H e c o u l d d o exactly the same t h i n g
w i t h his wife as he c o u l d have d o n e w i t h his m o t h e r , b u t h e ' d rather stay
stuck w i t h the p r o b l e m .
J O H N : B u t the w o r d s o n l y w o r k i f h e uses t h e m a s a trick and d o e s n ' t b e lieve that in the e n d he will really have to kill himself?
HELLINGER: If t h e y are to w o r k , t h e n he has to say t h e m ambiguously,
and this takes a lot of strength. A n y o n e can say t h e m seriously, b u t to say
t h e m a m b i g u o u s l y so that the o t h e r person remains in d o u b t is an art. It
is a trick, but it requires strength. J u s t i m a g i n e his g o i n g to his m o t h e r
and saying these words to her. He w o u l d be scared stiff.
J O H N : W h a t I m e a n is that w h e n he says these words, he m i g h t b e l i e v e
that he will have to do w h a t he says. Perhaps he d o e s n ' t t h i n k of the
w o r d s as b e i n g a m b i g u o u s .
HELLINGER: My suspicion is that he has often t h o u g h t seriously a b o u t

77

having to kill himself. B u t the words w o u l d save h i m .


G E R T R U D E : I didn't quite understand the words, I didn't quite hear t h e m .
W i l l y o u say t h e m again?
HELLINGER: N o . I d o n ' t repeat things like that.
H A R R Y : N o w I a m really frustrated. Y o u stopped m y saying that m y s e c o n d wife . . .
HELLINGER: I d o n ' t w a n t t o k n o w that n o w , y o u c a n ' t force m e t o listen.
Y o u ' l l h a v e t o w i n m e o v e r i f y o u w a n t m e t o listen t o w h a t y o u have
t o say.

Perhaps i t will help y o u t o understand the secret dynamics o f suicide b e t ter if I tell y o u a story. It is the sort of story that t o u c h e s a sentimental
c h o r d , and w h e n w e hear it, i t m a y s e e m a s i f the threat o f death and
separation has lost its p o w e r . To s o m e it brings relief, like a glass of
w i n e a t s u n d o w n . T h e y sleep better. T h e n e x t day, h o w e v e r , t h e y get
up again and go to w o r k .
B u t others, w h e n t h e y have tasted this w i n e , sleep o n , and t h e y n e e d
s o m e o n e w h o k n o w s h o w t o w a k e n t h e m . T h i s person will tell the story
w i t h a slightly different slant and c h a n g e its sweet p o i s o n i n t o an antidote
that will help t h e m w a k e up again and escape the p o w e r of the first
story's spell.

The end
Harold,

a youth

of 20 who enjoyed shocking people by pretending that he was

on speaking terms with death,


Maude,

and

along with

that,

in

the

told a friend about his girlfriend,

middle

their engagement,

of

festivities

she revealed to him

and would breathe her last breath at midnight.


nothing,

and

then

he

told

Once upon a time, on a tiny planet,

rose.

the

her

birthday

his friend said

there lived a little man,

and because

he called himself Prince, which means the

But he was not quite alone, for he shared his planet with a
but now she seemed to do

and the little prince who was really still a child had

his work cut out to keep her alive. He gave her water every day,

78

80-year-old

80th

that she had swallowed poison

For a little while,

Once she had exuded the most beautiful scent,

nothing but wilt,

celebrate

the following story.*

he was the only person on the planet,


First and Best.

to

and at night

he provided

her

her for himself,

with
as

shelter from

wonder he grew weary


First of all,
his own,
make
he

to

in

ands of roses,
with

opulence

in

and one

he

and

He

then

be shy,

he said:

the neighborhood.

he arrived on

beautiful

rose garden.

had never even

he had known

there lost

"Maybe you

so far away,

is

think

in

these

dreamed

but one,

wonder,
roses

themselves

special and

must go

the desert.

who

had

home to

When

They were as

been forced

became

he would be
When

the lovely planet Earth,

where
thous-

must

he

The
and

aware

night fell,

he

for the

covered

first

been

there could

be so

many

and he was

enraptured by

was seen

a fox.

their

he

by

as

The fox pre-

here

are

beautiful.

But

because she

to

crash-land,
to

that

makes such great

and

he

hoped

that

the pilot would

to

That's

how

the

morning,

the

pilot

remains

was

later

time in years,

are

nothing
which

demands

his

not

take

upon

with

that led him

he

could stay

care of him,

and when
he

a pilot

with

him.

the little

told him

that

rose.

meet a snake.

little prince
found

track

he came across

be a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow,

He pretended that he

and the snake bit him on the ankle.

his

they

But your rose,

her!"

he crept away

lay still.
following

Harold

have

and the air was sweet and

that

and need little care.

unique

leaving and returning to

ing to tread on it,


then

tiny as

There

he had been walking for some hours,

But the pilot turned out


prince

No

leave.

There was nothing there to

The little prince became confused and sad and set off along a
to

to

and when he noticed that the little stranger was easily deceived,

They grow almost by


You

something from

her thorns.

splendor.

while he stood

special.

finally

dazzlingly

until

wanted

day he decided

all vying to outdo each other in beauty,

and

tended to

you.

when

she showed him

stay.

their scent.

roses, for up

But

But

the past,

the years went by,

he visited some planets

want

awakened

is

as

he continued on,

heavy

cold.

and their princes were as curious as he was.

him

So

the

had been possible in

his

was go-

He twitched once or twice,

died.
body.

"Clever

fellow,"

he

thought,

sand.

revealed

did

not

attend

Maude's funeral.

Instead,

he laid some roses on his father's grave.

P e r h a p s I s h o u l d a d d that m a n y p e o p l e w h o are f o n d o f S a i n t - E x u p e r y ' s


story o f t h e little p r i n c e h a r b o r t h o u g h t s o f s u i c i d e , a n d s o m e t i m e s a c t u ally k i l l t h e m s e l v e s . T h e s t o r y o f t h e little p r i n c e p r o v i d e s t h e m w i t h a
pretext of i n n o c e n c e because it gives suicide the appearance of a g a m e
t h r o u g h w h i c h a c h i l d i s h d r e a m c o m e s t r u e . T h e y d r e a m that t h e i r l o n g -

79

i n g and t h e i r h o p e c a n c o n q u e r death, and that death r e m o v e s separation


r a t h e r t h a n sealing it. A n d t h e y forget that w h a t w e call i m m o r t a l i s that
w h i c h w e k n o w t o b e past a n d lost.

A m a t t e r o f life a n d d e a t h
L E O : I h a v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a l o t a b o u t t h e fact that p e o p l e in my family
f r e q u e n t l y say that life stops b e i n g fun o n c e y o u are o v e r 3 0 . M y m o t h e r
said i t t o m e again j u s t r e c e n t l y o n t h e t e l e p h o n e .
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t s o m e t i m e s happens i n C h r i s t i a n families. P e o p l e die w i t h
Jesus.
L E O : A l l t h e s a m e , it's hard t o let m y parents die l i k e that. W h a t I w a n t e d
t o say this m o r n i n g was that m y father r e c e n t l y tried t o start driving t h e
car again. H e ' s v e r y s t u b b o r n , b u t h e has p r e m a t u r e d e m e n t i a , a n d s o m e t i m e s h e c a n ' t f i n d t h e c o n t r o l s , for e x a m p l e , t h e s w i t c h for t h e lights.
W h e n h e t r i e d t o drive, I said t o m y m o t h e r , and I t h i n k this m a y h a v e
had a double meaning: " O k a y , then we can bury h i m b e t w e e n Giessen
a n d F u l d a t h e n e x t t i m e w e drive a l o n g that r o a d . " B u t t h e r e was a n e l e m e n t o f seriousness i n w h a t I said. T h i s i s a n e w situation for m e . S o m e t i m e s I d o n ' t k n o w w h e t h e r t o m a k e j o k e s a b o u t i t o r j u s t let m y parents
g e t o n w i t h it.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r b e h a v i o r i s typical o f s o m e o n e w h o refuses t o take
death seriously. T h a t ' s h o w y o u w e r e talking this m o r n i n g , t o o , and
that's w h y I i n t e r r u p t e d y o u . T h e r e was s o m e t h i n g d e s t r u c t i v e a b o u t t h e
w a y y o u t a l k e d a b o u t y o u r parents. I c o n s i d e r p e o p l e w h o talk l i k e that
t o b e basically s u i c i d e - p r o n e . B e h i n d t h e i r cheerful a n d s o m e t i m e s v e r y
friendly facades t h e r e i s a quite different set o f d y n a m i c s a t w o r k . Y o u
c a n tell f r o m t h e w a y t h e y talk that t h e r e i s s o m e t h i n g dreadful g o i n g o n
i n t h e i r system. W h a t y o u h a v e j u s t said s h o w e d this v e r y clearly.
N o w y o u are b e i n g serious. D o y o u see t h e difference c o m p a r e d w i t h
this m o r n i n g ? H o w serious y o u are n o w ? A n d h o w c e n t e r e d ?
to the group: It is i m p o r t a n t that t h e therapist refuse to let t h e c l i e n t drift o f f
i n t o flippancy a b o u t matters l i k e this. T h e therapist m u s t l e a d t h e g r o u p
b a c k t o seriousness i m m e d i a t e l y . A f t e r all, w h a t w e are t a l k i n g a b o u t i s
a m a t t e r o f life a n d death.
L E O : W h a t I said this m o r n i n g w a s n ' t m e a n t t o b e f l i p p a n t .
Leo

laughs

as

he speaks.

H E L L I N G E R to the group: T h e r e he g o e s again. H e ' s j u s t d o n e it again. D i d


y o u n o t i c e ? T h a t ' s e x a c t l y w h a t I m e a n , and it's v e r y d a n g e r o u s . I c o n -

sider p e o p l e w h o do this to be in danger b e c a u s e t h e y are up to s o m e thing, and t h e y m a y n o t e v e n be aware of w h a t t h e y are up t o . It is as


i f t h e y w e r e driven b y a n alien force.
to Leo: Y o u c a n ' t stop y o u r s e l f from laughing. Y o u are driven to it. T h e r e fore, w e have t o get t o the r o o t o f the matter. D i d a n y t h i n g special
h a p p e n in y o u r parents' families?
L E O : M y m o t h e r ' s father was a m i n e r and h e died very y o u n g o f b l a c k
l u n g disease.
HELLINGER: W h e n a child in y o u r m o t h e r ' s situation reaches t h e age at
w h i c h h e r father died, it often happens that she feels she has no right to
live l o n g e r than h e r father did, and she m a y e v e n w a n t to f o l l o w h i m
i n t o death. A n d i f o n e o f h e r children notices o r suspects s o m e t h i n g o f
this kind, he or she m a y w a n t to die instead of her. C h i l d r e n in this situation laugh w h e n t h e y t h i n k a b o u t dying and death.

T h e grave
UNA: I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a b o u t w h a t y o u said during the past h a l f h o u r ,
and I ' m in a t u r m o i l . It has s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h guilt and suicide, b u t
I d o n ' t k n o w exactly what. It also has s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h the deep
b o w I o u g h t t o m a k e t o m y m o t h e r . T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g stopping m e
f r o m d o i n g it, b u t I d o n ' t k n o w what.
HELLINGER: T h e deep b o w w o u l d liberate y o u from the grave.
A n y t h i n g else?
UNA: I d o n ' t k n o w . I ' m sad that y o u should say s o m e t h i n g like that to m e .
I d o n ' t k n o w w h e t h e r it's true or n o t . T h e r e ' s n o t h i n g I can say a b o u t
it, e x c e p t that it makes me sad. B e c a u s e it has to do w i t h death.
Una

weeps.

HELLINGER: I'll leave it like that for the m o m e n t .

T W O GREAT-UNCLES WERE EXCLUDED,


AND AN UNCLE WAS DESPISED
FRANK: My n a m e is Frank, and I have k n o w n B e r t for quite a l o n g t i m e .
I ' m d i v o r c e d and I have t w o children, ages 2 1 and 1 4 , w i t h w h o m I ' m
l u c k y e n o u g h to have a very g o o d relationship. I live w i t h D a g m a r in
o u r o w n h o u s e , and after s o m e rather stormy years, o u r relationship has
finally b e c o m e m u c h m o r e h a r m o n i o u s . I ' m a psychotherapist and I do
a lot o f systemic w o r k . I ' m aware that I b e c o m e very i n v o l v e d e m o t i o n -

81

ally w i t h w h a t i s g o i n g o n w h e n I ' m w o r k i n g w i t h p e o p l e , a n d I t h i n k
I n e e d t o d o s o m e w o r k o n this for myself. S o m e t h i n g s that h a v e h a p p e n e d h e r e h a v e also m o v e d m e deeply: first o f all, t h e fate o f R o b e r t ' s
sister, w h o d i e d s o y o u n g , a n d t h e n t h e business w i t h t h e s u s p e c t e d w a r
c r i m i n a l . A little w h i l e a g o , my b o d y was v i b r a t i n g so h a r d that I
c o u l d n ' t g o o n w r i t i n g , and I badly w a n t t o find o u t w h a t t h e s e d y n a m ics are.
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , w e ' l l set u p y o u r family c o n s t e l l a t i o n . W h e n t h e r e are
such strong dynamics around, we must w o r k with t h e m at o n c e .
F R A N K : I t h i n k I s h o u l d set u p m y family o f o r i g i n .
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y . W h o b e l o n g s t o it?
F R A N K : M y father, m y m o t h e r , m y sister, m e ( I ' m t h e s e c o n d c h i l d ) , m y
y o u n g e r b r o t h e r , and a n o t h e r sister.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s e i t h e r o f y o u r parents p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r i n v o l v e d i n
a close relationship?
FRANK: N o .
H E L L I N G E R : I s t h e r e a n y o n e missing?
F R A N K : W e l l , t h e r e w e r e s o m e p e o p l e i n t h e family w h o w e r e e x c l u d e d .
H E L L I N G E R : W e ' l l b e g i n w i t h t h e n u c l e a r family a n d add a n y o n e w h o i s
m i s s i n g later o n .

82

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
3
4

Father
Mother
First child, a daughter
Second child, a son (= Frank)
Third child, a son
Fourth child, a daughter

HELLINGER: W h e n all t h e participants are facing t h e same d i r e c t i o n as t h e y


are in this constellation, it m e a n s that t h e r e are p e o p l e missing at t h e
front. W h o are t h e y all l o o k i n g at? W h o o u g h t t o b e standing there a t
t h e front? D i d anything particular h a p p e n i n y o u r m o t h e r ' s family?
FRANK: W e l l , h e r grandfather was killed i n t h e first w a r w h e n m y m o t h e r
was 1 2 . A n d h e r b r o t h e r was the b l a c k sheep o f t h e family.
HELLINGER: W h a t d o y o u m e a n , t h e black sheep?
FRANK: First of all, he was h o m o s e x u a l , and that in itself was f r o w n e d
upon. A n d then he was c o n s i d e r e d to be a n e ' e r - d o - w e l l , and that was
considered to be even worse.
HELLINGER: W e ' l l add h i m t o t h e constellation. W h a t else h a p p e n e d i n
y o u r m o t h e r ' s family?

83

FRANK: T w o o f h e r uncles w e r e sent t o A m e r i c a a s failures. O n e o f t h e m


drank and the o t h e r was a rake.
HELLINGER: T h o s e are the t w o missing persons. Y o u r m o t h e r ' s b r o t h e r i s
o n l y representing t h e m . W e must put t h e m i n front o f the family. T h e
t w o uncles are i m p o r t a n t t o the system b e c a u s e o f their fate, n o t their
b e h a v i o r . T h e fact that t h e y w e r e sent away to A m e r i c a is w h a t c o u n t s .
FRANK: M y b r o t h e r also w e n t t o A m e r i c a , b y t h e w a y .
Hellinger

adds

the excluded persons to the constellation.

Diagram 2
MB
MOU
MYU

Mother's brother
Mother's older uncle
Mother's younger uncle

HELLINGER: W h a t has c h a n g e d for the father?


F A T H E R : In the first constellation, I was gazing at n o t h i n g , j u s t drifting.
N o w e v e r y t h i n g is c a l m e r and stable and I can stay w h e r e I am.
HELLINGER: H o w i s the m o t h e r feeling?

84

MOTHER: I can see the three m e n w i t h o n e e y e only, b u t I w o u l d like to


b e able t o l o o k a t t h e m properly.
HELLINGER: M o v e so that y o u can see t h e m .
MOTHER: N o w it's o k a y .
HELLINGER: H o w does the oldest child feel?
FIRST CHILD: W e l l , it's b e t t e r than it was. B e f o r e , e v e r y t h i n g was so o p e n
that it felt dangerous, and I felt as if I ' d b e e n sent on ahead by the others.
I had to stand at the front. N o w I have a feeling of sympathy for t h e u n cles t h e r e in front; I feel o k a y w i t h t h e m there.
HELLINGER to the representative of Frank: H o w does the s e c o n d c h i l d feel,
the son?
SECOND CHILD: I ' m n o t sure w h a t to t h i n k a b o u t it. I d o n ' t k n o w w h e t h e r I ' m drawn toward t h e m o r repulsed b y t h e m .
HELLINGER: H O W do y o u feel? W h a t has changed?
SECOND CHILD: It makes me feel m o r e c e n t e r e d .
HELLINGER: W h a t is y o u r feeling? Is it b e t t e r or w o r s e ?
SECOND CHILD: B e t t e r .
HELLINGER:

H o w a b o u t the y o u n g e r b r o t h e r w h o w a n t e d t o

go

to

America?
THIRD CHILD: B e f o r e , I felt fine. I didn't n o t i c e w h o was b e h i n d m e . I
didn't feel c o n n e c t e d to t h e m .
HELLINGER: W e ' l l send y o u to A m e r i c a right away.
THIRD CHILD: I c a n ' t wait to g o . W h e n I saw t h e m standing there, it was
absolutely clear that I must g o .
FRANK: Incidentally, my b r o t h e r is constantly visiting o u r relatives, and he
is always trying to m a k e me do the same.
Hellinger places

the

younger

brother

in

the group

of excluded

persons.

85

Diagram 3

H E L L I N G E R : H O W does the y o u n g e r sister feel?


F O U R T H C H I L D : I ' m glad there's s o m e o n e standing t h e r e in front o f m e .
It felt awful b e f o r e b e c a u s e I had no c o n t a c t w i t h the family b e h i n d m e .
I felt lost. I am glad a b o u t the p e o p l e standing in front of me n o w . I feel
sort o f i n - b e t w e e n , but it's okay.
H E L L I N G E R : T h i s constellation is o n l y the b e g i n n i n g . W e can w o r k from
here.
to Frank: D i d anything special happen in y o u r father's family?
F R A N K : M y father was a Nazi, and I have n e v e r k n o w n exactly w h a t h e
did. B u t he must have had an i m p o r t a n t position b e c a u s e he didn't get
called up.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s he i n t e r n e d after the war?
F R A N K : Y e s , and h e ranted and raved for years at the injustice that had
b e e n d o n e t o h i m and G e r m a n y .
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t doesn't s e e m t o influence the constellation at the m o m e n t . I ' m g o i n g to c h a n g e the constellation so that the e x c l u d e d persons
are visible to the m o t h e r but n o t to the children.

86

Diagram 4

H E L L I N G E R : H O W is the m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : It feels g o o d here beside m y husband.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t about the father?
F A T H E R : It's m u c h better than it was.
H E L L I N G E R : A n d the children?
A L L T H E C H I L D R E N : Good.

H E L L I N G E R to Frank: W o u l d y o u like to go and stand in your place?


H o w d o y o u feel there?
F R A N K : It feels good.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t is h o w things should be. T h e excluded persons are r e spected even though they are not in view.
F R A N K : W h a t I don't like about it is that m y h o m o s e x u a l uncle is standing
next to the other excluded persons that the three of them are together.
H E L L I N G E R : O n e reason for b e c o m i n g h o m o s e x u a l is that s o m e o n e has t o
represent a m e m b e r of the family w h o is excluded. T h a t ' s the w a y it is
here. It's a hard fate, b u t y o u can't interfere w i t h it.*

This subject is discussed in detail on page 3 7 0 under "Identification with a person of the opposite sex in homosexual love and psychosis."

87

FRANK: Y e s . Perhaps w e children should leave the past b e h i n d and l o o k


t o w a r d the future.
HELLINGER: Shall I s h o w y o u h o w to l o o k at the future? All four children
must turn around so that their parents are b e h i n d t h e m . T h e n the parents
stay w h e r e t h e y are, and the children are free to g o . T h a t ' s the future.

Diagram 5

HELLINGER: G o o d . T h a t ' s all, then.


to Frank: B u t write the constellations d o w n . It's s o m e t i m e s helpful.

T h e m e m b e r s of the family system


W h o are the m e m b e r s o f the family system? W h o m must w e consider
w h e n we set up a family constellation?
T h e w o r d " s y s t e m " is used h e r e in the sense of a fellowship of fate
e x t e n d i n g o v e r several generations. T h a t means that its m e m b e r s m a y b e c o m e entangled i n the fates o f o t h e r m e m b e r s w i t h o u t b e i n g aware o f it.
T h e f o l l o w i n g persons usually b e l o n g t o this fellowship o f fate:

88

T h e c h i l d and his siblings o r h a l f siblings, i n c l u d i n g those w h o h a v e


died o r w h o w e r e stillborn. T h i s i s t h e l o w e s t level.

T h e n , on the n e x t level, t h e parents and their siblings or h a l f siblings,


i n c l u d i n g those w h o have died o r w h o w e r e stillborn.

After t h e m , on the n e x t level up, the grandparents. A n d s o m e t i m e s


o n e o r m o r e o f their siblings o r h a l f siblings, although this i s rare.

O n e o r m o r e o f t h e great-grandparents m a y also b e l o n g t o t h e f e l l o w ship of fate, although this is also rare.

A m o n g the persons m e n t i o n e d so far, t h o s e w h o s e fates w e r e e s p e c i a l l y hard o r w h o w e r e w r o n g e d b y o t h e r m e m b e r s o f t h e system for


example, concerning an inheritance, or w h o were excluded or given
away o c c u p y a particularly i m p o r t a n t place.

T h e n , and these are often the m o s t i m p o r t a n t persons of all, c o m e all


t h o s e w h o have g i v e n up their places in t h e system for others, e v e n
if t h e y w e r e n o t related, for e x a m p l e , a f o r m e r h u s b a n d or a f o r m e r
wife o f the parents o r grandparents, o r a f o r m e r fiancee, e v e n i f t h e y
are dead.

T h e father o r m o t h e r o f h a l f siblings also b e l o n g s t o the system. F u r t h e r m o r e , all those t h r o u g h w h o s e disadvantage or loss s o m e o n e else
i n t h e system gained a n advantage, for e x a m p l e , w h e n s o m e o n e c o m e s
i n t o an i n h e r i t a n c e b e c a u s e s o m e o n e else died y o u n g or was disinherited.

In addition, all those w h o have c o n t r i b u t e d to the w e l l - b e i n g of s o m e o n e i n the system and w h o w e r e subsequently w r o n g e d , for e x a m p l e ,
an e m p l o y e e . It must, h o w e v e r , be a considerable w r o n g or a c o n s i d erable disadvantage.
U n c l e s , aunts, and cousins b y marriage d o n o t b e l o n g t o t h e system i n
this sense.
S o m e p e o p l e t h i n k that persons w h o have lived i n t h e family, for
e x a m p l e , a g r a n d m o t h e r or an aunt, are particularly i m p o r t a n t to t h e syst e m . I n fact, h o w e v e r , closeness o r distance i n terms o f space i s n o t t h e
reason w h y t h e y are i m p o r t a n t t o t h e system. O n t h e c o n t r a r y , p e o p l e
are often e n t a n g l e d i n t h e fates o f others o f w h o m t h e y k n o w n o t h i n g .

U n i t e d in a c o m m o n fate: survivors a n d the d e c e a s e d


and victims and perpetrators
E x p e r i e n c e in family constellations o v e r t h e years has repeatedly m a d e
clear h o w deep t h e b o n d i s b e t w e e n those w h o survive and t h o s e w h o

89

die, a n d b e t w e e n perpetrators and t h e i r v i c t i m s . I t s h o w s h o w f a r - r e a c h i n g t h e effects o f s u c h b o n d s are, t o u c h i n g n o t o n l y t h e first g e n e r a t i o n s ,


b u t also t h o s e that f o l l o w . F o r e x a m p l e , w a r v e t e r a n s feel a p r o f o u n d aff i n i t y w i t h t h e i r d e c e a s e d c o m r a d e s a n d also t o the e n e m y soldiers t h e y
k i l l e d , a n d u n e x p e c t e d l y , t h e i r c h i l d r e n and g r a n d c h i l d r e n o f t e n feel it as
w e l l . T h i s has b e e n o b s e r v e d i n c o n s t e l l a t i o n s i n t h e p r o f o u n d pull c h i l d r e n feel t o turn t o w a r d t h e i r fathers' a n d grandfathers' d e c e a s e d friends
a n d e n e m i e s , t o stand o r t o lie d o w n w i t h t h e m , a n d i n t h e t o u c h i n g l y
p o w e r f u l l o n g i n g t h e y often feel t o die w i t h t h e m , a l o n g i n g t h a t s o m e t i m e s a c t u a l l y leads t o suicide. W h e n c h i l d r e n act o n s u c h a l o n g i n g , t h e y
are n o t a c t i n g o n t h e i r o w n feelings, b u t t h e y t a k e o n t h e l o n g i n g o f
t h e i r fathers a n d grandfathers t o b e r e u n i t e d w i t h t h e d e c e a s e d .
I n c o n s t e l l a t i o n s , r e l i e f c o m e s w h e n c h i l d r e n a l l o w t h e i r fathers a n d
grandfathers ( w h o are often already deceased) t o g o t o t h e i r d e c e a s e d c o m rades a n d e n e m i e s , t o lie d o w n w i t h t h e m and t o b e d e a d w i t h t h e m .
W h e n c h i l d r e n c a n a l l o w this t o h a p p e n , a n e x t r e m e l y m o v i n g c o m r a d e ship o f t e n e m e r g e s b e t w e e n t h o s e w h o s u r v i v e d and t h o s e w h o w e r e t h e
v i c t i m s o f forces that are g r e a t e r than o u r superficial beliefs and p r e j u d i c e s
are w o n t t o admit. B o t h t h e n u n d e r s t a n d t h e m s e l v e s t o b e helplessly
e x p o s e d t o s o m e t h i n g h i g h e r and t h e y j o i n t o g e t h e r , s u r r e n d e r i n g t o that
w h i c h t h e y c a n n o t understand. T h e y t h e n m e e t o n e a n o t h e r w i t h d e e p
l o v e a n d r e s p e c t . Fulfilled, i n death, t h e y l e a v e t h e past b e h i n d a n d g i v e
t h e m s e l v e s o v e r t o w h a t t h e y , m o s t i n t i m a t e l y , share i n c o m m o n .
I n c o n s t e l l a t i o n s , s o m e t h i n g similar h a p p e n s b e t w e e n v i c t i m s a n d p e r p e t r a t o r s . F o r e x a m p l e , b e t w e e n radical N a t i o n a l Socialists a n d t h o s e t h e y
r i d i c u l e d , p e r s e c u t e d , a n d m u r d e r e d . I n death, b o t h v i c t i m s a n d p e r p e t r a tors e x p e r i e n c e t h e m s e l v e s a s fingers o f a single giant h a n d g u i d i n g h i s tory quite u n t o u c h e d by our concepts of j u s t i c e and injustice, treating
o u r h o p e s a n d desires a s irrelevant, and e x p o s i n g o u r d i s t i n c t i o n s b e t w e e n
g o o d a n d evil as h o p e l e s s l y superficial.

A wife t h r e a t e n e d to c o m m i t suicide
H A R R Y : M y first w i f e o f t e n t h r e a t e n e d t o c o m m i t s u i c i d e , a n d she also
w a n t e d us to m a k e a s u i c i d e pact. I still feel i n d i g n a n t w h e n I t h i n k
a b o u t it. H e r s u i c i d e threats and h e r idea that w e s h o u l d c o m m i t suicide
t o g e t h e r m a d e m e m a k e t h e m o s t awful c o n c e s s i o n s , a n d c o m p l i c a t e d m y
w h o l e life. I still h a v e n ' t g o t t e n o v e r m y a n g e r a t t h e b l a c k m a i l .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e ' s a b a s i c rule in family t h e r a p y that says that p e r s o n s
w h o s e e m t o b e " g o o d " are usually " b a d , " and t h e o t h e r w a y a r o u n d .

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Y o u ' r e i n d i g n a n t b e c a u s e y o u r w i f e w a n t e d t o kill herself. T h e q u e s t i o n


is, w h o was suicidal, y o u o r y o u r w i f e ? W h a t i f i t w e r e y o u ? S u c h a
s t r o n g f e e l i n g o f i n d i g n a t i o n m a k e s m e suspect that i t m u s t b e t h e o t h e r
w a y a r o u n d . O t h e r w i s e , y o u w o u l d n ' t n e e d t o feel s o s t r o n g l y , b u t I'll
g i v e y o u s o m e t i m e t o t h i n k a b o u t i t b e f o r e w e set i t u p

T H E DAUGHTER REPRESENTS HER


FATHER'S FORMER FIANCEE
ELLA: M y n a m e i s E l l a . I ' m m a r r i e d , and m y t h e m e h e r e i s m y unfulfilled
w i s h for c h i l d r e n . I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a b o u t m y father's f o r m e r f i a n c e e t o
w h o m h e was e n g a g e d b e f o r e h e m a r r i e d m y m o t h e r .

H e b r o k e his

p r o m i s e t o m a r r y h e r , a n d she n e v e r m a r r i e d . S h e lives n e a r m y father's


sister, i n w h a t used b e E a s t G e r m a n y , and I ' m g o i n g t o visit h e r t h e r e
s o o n for t h e first t i m e .
HELLINGER: T h i s fiancee is y o u r role model.
ELLA: I d o n ' t k n o w .
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t did I say?
ELLA: T h a t this f i a n c e e i s m y r o l e m o d e l .
HELLINGER: Exactly.
ELLA: N o .
HELLINGER: D o e s y o u r " n o " change anything?
ELLA: C e r t a i n l y it d o e s .
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , let's set u p y o u r family c o n s t e l l a t i o n , a n d t h e n y o u c a n
c h e c k it.

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Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
FFF

Father
Mother
First child, a daughter (= Ella)
Second child, a son
Father's former fiancee

HELLINGER: W a s y o u r m o t h e r previously married o r engaged?


ELLA: N o . B u t she h a d t w o miscarriages b e f o r e I was b o r n . S h e t h o u g h t
s h e w o u l d n ' t b e able t o h a v e c h i l d r e n . T h e n she t o o k s o m e m e d i c i n e ,
a n d she has b e e n a depressive e v e r s i n c e .
H E L L I N G E R : B u t she h a d y o u ?
ELLA: Y e s , she h a d m e right after t a k i n g t h e m e d i c i n e . T h e n she t o o k
s o m e m o r e m e d i c i n e , and had my brother.
H E L L I N G E R to the group: W h e n t h e h u s b a n d a n d w i f e stand o p p o s i t e e a c h
o t h e r l i k e this it indicates that t h e i r i n t i m a t e relationship is o v e r .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e father feel?
F A T H E R : T e r r i b l e . I h a v e n o relationship w i t h t h e p e o p l e i n front o f m e ,
o r w i t h a n y o n e o n m y right o r left. I ' m b e i n g p i e r c e d t h r o u g h f r o m b e h i n d terrible. I ' m t o r n t o bits, u n l o v e d , i g n o r e d .
H E L L I N G E R : A n d rightly so.
to the group: He has t h r o w n a w a y his c h a n c e s . A n y o n e w h o treats his fianc e e a s h e did has n o c h a n c e s left. H e has forfeited t h e m .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o e s t h e m o t h e r feel?
M O T H E R : I feel p u s h e d o u t b y m y h u s b a n d . I ' m glad that m y s o n i s h e r e .

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H E L L I N G E R : H O W i s the son feeling?


S E C O N D C H I L D : N o t bad at all. I ' m rather surprised, b u t I feel o k a y h e r e
as the son.
H E L L I N G E R to the representative of Etta: H o w a b o u t the daughter?
F I R S T C H I L D : V e r y o d d indeed. I d o n ' t w a n t t o have anything t o do w i t h
any o f t h e m .
H E L L I N G E R to the group: T h a t c o u l d j u s t as w e l l b e t h e fiancee's feeling.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does the f o r m e r fiancee feel?
F A T H E R ' S F O R M E R F I A N C E E : W h e n y o u put m e here I had the feeling that
I'd won.
Hellinger places

the

daughter

next

to

the former fiancee.

Diagram 2

H E L L I N G E R to the representative of Ella: H o w ' s that?


F I R S T C H I L D : W h e n y o u asked m y father's fiancee h o w she was feeling,
that was the first thing that interested m e . T h e n I l o o k e d at her. B u t
standing n e x t to h e r like this is m o s t unpleasant.
H E L L I N G E R : M o v e closer.
F I R S T C H I L D : I'll try it out. It is very strange. It's as i f she w e r e leaning
against me and I have to h o l d her. It's confusing. It's n o t g o o d .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does the m o t h e r feel n o w ?
M O T H E R : B e t t e r . T h e aggression has g o n e .

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H E L L I N G E R : W h o should really b e standing n e x t to the father's fiancee?


M O T H E R : I don't know.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u should. G o and stand n e x t to her.
The

mother stands

daughter returns

to

next

to

her husband's former fiancee,

and

the

her place.

Diagram 3

M O T H E R : N o w it's g o o d .
H E L L I N G E R : E x a c t l y . T h a t ' s the reason for the depression.
to the group: It's o n l y w h e n she has feelings of solidarity w i t h the fiancee
that she feels o k a y . T h a t ' s w h e r e she must g o .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does the f o r m e r fiancee feel?
F A T H E R ' S F O R M E R FIANCEE:

Hellinger

94

rearranges

the

Good.

constellation.

Diagram 4

H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e father feel?


F A T H E R : E x c l u d e d , b u t t h e future's o p e n .
H E L L I N G E R : D o y o u feel b e t t e r o r w o r s e ?
F A T H E R : It's v e r y a m b i v a l e n t .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s i t for t h e f o r m e r f i a n c e e ?
F A T H E R ' S F O R M E R FIANCEE: It feels g o o d on my left. I l i k e that. B u t I
feel sorry a b o u t m y f o r m e r f i a n c e .
H E L L I N G E R : H e ' s n o l o n g e r available.
F A T H E R ' S F O R M E R FIANCEE: I a m l o o k i n g m o r e t o w a r d m y left than a t
him.
H E L L I N G E R : W e c a n try o u t w h a t w o u l d h a p p e n i f . . .
Hellinger places the father and his former fiancee as a couple opposite

the family.

95

Diagram 5

HELLINGER: H O W is that for the father?


FATHER: N o w it's bearable for the first t i m e .
HELLINGER: H o w is it for the m o t h e r ?
M O T H E R : M u c h better.
HELLINGER: H o w a b o u t the f o r m e r fiancee?
F A T H E R ' S F O R M E R FIANCEE: G o o d .
F I R S T C H I L D : T h i s is the best constellation for m e . B u t it's h i g h t i m e I left
h e r e and started standing o n m y o w n feet.
HELLINGER to Ella: Go and stand in y o u r place.
ELLA from her place in

the constellation:

That's good.

T h e best place for children


J A Y : In a family constellation, w h e n children are placed f a c e - t o - f a c e w i t h
t h e i r parents, I e x p e r i e n c e it as a c o n f r o n t a t i o n .
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s w h a t y o u r visual impression o f the constellation makes
y o u think y o u " o u g h t " t o feel, b u t the representatives didn't e x p e r i e n c e
it as a c o n f r o n t a t i o n . W h e n a constellation is e x p e r i e n c e d as c o m p l e t e ,
the parents usually form o n e group and the children a n o t h e r , and they
are p l a c e d i n the order o f the hierarchy o f origin, i n a c l o c k w i s e circle,
e v e n w h e n t h e y are opposite each other. T h i s was clear in Ella's c o n s t e l lation. T h e husband c a m e first, t h e n the f o r m e r fiancee, t h e n the wife
and t h e first child, and finally the s e c o n d child. B u t their e x a c t positions

96

w i t h i n this hierarchical order depend on the circumstances. If the c h i l dren n e e d to enter their father's sphere of influence, they m o v e closer to
the father, and if they n e e d to be in their m o t h e r ' s sphere of influence,
they stand closer to her. In Ella's constellation, they had to stand closer
to their m o t h e r , b u t not facing h e r directly. B u t children usually face
their parents unless there is s o m e special reason w h y they shouldn't.
J A Y : I t h o u g h t that in an ideal constellation it was okay for the children to
be placed c l o c k w i s e in order of age, but that they should be in a halfcircle rather than face-to-face w i t h their parents.
H E L L I N G E R : N o . T h e circle is still c o m p l e t e even i f the parents are standing on o n e side and the children on the other. It is different if there are
persons missing. S u c h persons, for example, a m o t h e r ' s dead t w i n sister,
s o m e t i m e s stand b e t w e e n the parents and the children.
J A Y : I f the constellation appears s o closed, h o w can the children gain their
freedom? Do they gain it w h e n they turn around?
H E L L I N G E R : E x a c t l y . W h e n the time c o m e s for the children to leave the
family, they simply turn around and walk away from their parents. A n d
the parents stay w h e r e they are and gaze after them, wishing t h e m well.
T h a t ' s a g o o d solution for everyone.
By the way, in everyday family life, it's a g o o d idea for the parents to
sit o n o n e side o f the table with the children opposite t h e m i n order o f
age, that is, the oldest on the right with the s e c o n d child on his or h e r
left, and so on. Sitting like this at the table tends to create h a r m o n y in
the family.

U n c o n s c i o u s identification with a
parent's f o r m e r partner
P A R T I C I P A N T : H O W is it possible for a daughter to identify w i t h her father's former partner if she doesn't actually k n o w her?
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u d o n ' t have to k n o w the persons w i t h w h o m y o u identify. T h e c o m p u l s i o n to identify originates in the system, and it w o r k s
w i t h o u t y o u r k n o w i n g the persons y o u are representing. T h u s i f s o m e one's father had an earlier close relationship w i t h another w o m a n , o n e
of his daughters often takes after this w o m a n and represents h e r w i t h o u t
b e i n g aware o f it. A n d i f s o m e o n e ' s m o t h e r had a n earlier close r e l a t i o n

ship w i t h a n o t h e r man, o n e of h e r sons often takes after this m a n and


represents h i m w i t h o u t b e i n g aware o f it. T h i s hidden dynamic m a y
m a k e a daughter b e c o m e her m o t h e r ' s rival, and a son m a y b e c o m e his

97

father's rival, w i t h o u t any o f the persons c o n c e r n e d b e i n g aware o f w h a t


is g o i n g o n .
T h e pressure o n the daughter t o represent h e r father's f o r m e r wife o r
partner t h r o u g h identification w i t h h e r is less strong if h e r m o t h e r h o n o r s
and respects that w o m a n , w h i l e at the same t i m e , she makes a c o n s c i o u s
effort to take h e r place b e t w e e n h e r husband and his f o r m e r partner, and
she also takes h i m a s h e r o w n husband. B u t regardless o f h o w t h e m o t h e r
b e h a v e s t o w a r d h e r husband's f o r m e r wife or partner, t h e daughter can
b e c o m e free o f h e r identification i f she says t o h e r m o t h e r , e v e n i f i t i s
o n l y in her heart: " Y o u are my m o t h e r , and I am y o u r daughter. Y o u are
my real m o t h e r . I ' m n o t related to the other w o m a n . " A n d if she says to
h e r father, e v e n if it is only in h e r heart: " T h i s is my m o t h e r , and I am her
daughter. S h e i s m y real m o t h e r . I ' m n o t related t o t h e o t h e r w o m a n . "
T h i s m a k e s it possible for the daughter to l o v e h e r m o t h e r as h e r
m o t h e r , and t h e m o t h e r can l o v e h e r daughter as h e r daughter w i t h o u t
fearing h e r as a rival. A n d t h e daughter can turn to her father and l o v e
h i m as h e r father, and the father can turn to his daughter and l o v e h e r
as his daughter w i t h o u t imagining in her his former wife or f o r m e r partner.
T h e same t h i n g applies to a son. T h e pressure on h i m to represent his
m o t h e r ' s f o r m e r husband or partner t h r o u g h identification w i t h h i m is
less strong if his father h o n o r s and respects this o t h e r , earlier partner,
w h i l e , at t h e same t i m e , he makes a c o n s c i o u s effort to stand b e t w e e n
h i m and his wife, and if he also takes h e r as his o w n wife. B u t regardless
o f h o w t h e father behaves t o w a r d his wife's f o r m e r partner, the son can
b e c o m e free of his identification if he says to his father, e v e n if it is only
in his heart: " Y o u are my father, and I am y o u r son. Y o u are my real
father. I ' m n o t related t o t h e o t h e r m a n . " A n d i f h e says t o his m o t h e r ,
e v e n if it is o n l y in his heart: " T h i s is my father, and I am his son. He
is my real father. I ' m n o t related to the o t h e r m a n . "
T h i s m a k e s it possible for the son to l o v e his father as his father, and
t h e father can l o v e his son as his son w i t h o u t fearing h i m as a rival. A n d
t h e son can turn to his m o t h e r and l o v e h e r as his m o t h e r , and the
m o t h e r can turn to h e r son and l o v e h i m as h e r son w i t h o u t i m a g i n i n g
i n h i m h e r f o r m e r husband o r f o r m e r partner.
U n c o n s c i o u s identification w i t h parents' f o r m e r partners s o m e t i m e s
c o n t r i b u t e s to psychosis, especially w h e n a son has to represent his father's f o r m e r wife b e c a u s e t h e r e is no girl in t h e family to do it, or w h e n
a daughter has to represent h e r m o t h e r ' s f o r m e r husband b e c a u s e there
is no b o y in t h e family to do it.

98

Preoccupation with G o d
RUTH: My n a m e is R u t h . I ' m a m i n i s t e r by profession, b u t a lot has
c h a n g e d in r e c e n t years. I ' v e taken on m o r e responsibility, and I was r e c e n t l y e l e c t e d a m e m b e r of t h e c h u r c h g o v e r n i n g c o m m i t t e e . I still have
to find my right place on this team, and I t h i n k a b o u t it so m u c h that I
e v e n dream a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: A s t h e last person t o b e e l e c t e d t o t h e c o m m i t t e e , y o u m u s t
find y o u r right position b e f o r e y o u try t o e x e r c i s e any i n f l u e n c e . F o r t h e
t i m e b e i n g , y o u s h o u l d let t h e others do t h e t h i n k i n g and simply agree
w i t h their decisions.
RUTH: T h e w h o l e t i m e I am sitting h e r e in the g r o u p and listening to y o u
and t h e others, part o f m e i s p r e o c c u p i e d w i t h t h e c h u r c h c o m m i t t e e . I t
is t h e b a c k g r o u n d b e h i n d e v e r y t h i n g else.
HELLINGER: I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g a b o u t c h u r c h g o v e r n i n g c o m m i t t e e s .
T h e i r m o s t distinctive characteristic is that t h e y h a v e little faith in
G o d , b u t rely primarily o n their o w n planning. I f there i s a G o d , t h e y
s h o u l d n ' t have t o w o r r y s o m u c h .
T h e r e o n c e was a m a n called P e t e r . T h e r e is a story a b o u t h i m in t h e
A c t s o f t h e Apostles. W h e n h e was standing trial i n J e r u s a l e m , a certain
G a m a l i e l , w h o was s o m e sort o f high priest, said s o m e wise w o r d s . D o
you remember them?
RUTH: I k n o w w h a t y o u m e a n .
HELLINGER: " I f this w o r k b e o f G o d , n o o n e can o v e r t h r o w it. B u t i f i t
b e o f m e n , i t will c o m e t o naught, and y o u n e e d d o n o t h i n g . "
RUTH: B u t I h a v e n ' t finished yet.
HELLINGER: So I see. B u t o n c e y o u really understand and absorb w h a t I
have j u s t said, y o u will be able to sit on this c o m m i t t e e as if y o u w e r e
n o t part o f it, and y o u r influence will b e effective a t t h e crucial m o m e n t
w i t h o u t y o u r saying anything.
RUTH: T h a t sounds g o o d . B u t I feel there's s o m e t h i n g that gets in t h e
w a y , and I w a n t to understand w h a t ' s g o i n g o n .
HELLINGER: Y o u w a n t t o understand t h e ways o f G o d ? Perhaps i t i s p r e cisely w h e n things g o w r o n g that G o d ' s w i l l i s fulfilled. W h o can tell?
RUTH: W h a t y o u say t o u c h e s m e , b u t I d o n ' t understand w h y .
HELLINGER: T h e r e is s o m e t h i n g else w o r t h considering: H o w is it possible
for a n y o n e to put a s p o k e in G o d ' s w h e e l ? S p e a k i n g t h e o l o g i c a l l y or p h i losophically, h o w can a n y o n e , either g o o d o r evil, e v e r d o a n y t h i n g a gainst G o d ' s will, o r p r e v e n t G o d from d o i n g s o m e t h i n g ?
RUTH: I d o n ' t understand w h y I feel like crying n o w .

99

HELLINGER: I can tell y o u w h y . D o y o u r e m e m b e r t h e P r i m a l T h e r a p y


session w e had s o m e t i m e ago?
R U T H : It's n e v e r far away from m e .
HELLINGER: I r e m e m b e r y o u r little girl's dream that y o u r l o v e c o u l d m a k e
y o u r father return safely from t h e war. T h e t i m e has n o w c o m e t o say
g o o d b y e t o that beautiful dream. D o y o u understand the c o n n e c t i o n n o w ?
R U T H : N o , n o t quite. B u t there's s o m e t h i n g else. E v e r since y o u started
talking a b o u t i n n e r pictures I have b e e n driven b a c k and forth b e t w e e n
different feelings.
HELLINGER: In t h e past, I used to go to a lot of c h u r c h c o n f e r e n c e s , and
s o m e t i m e s I w o u l d m a k e a r e m a r k about s o m e t h i n g that I had o b s e r v e d .
T h e o t h e r participants a t t h e c o n f e r e n c e w o u l d shake their heads i n disapproval, b u t o n e y e a r later, o n e o f t h e m w o u l d say t h e same t h i n g that
I had said and this t i m e e v e r y o n e w o u l d agree as if it w e r e t h e m o s t n a t ural t h i n g in t h e w o r l d . It's fun to see h o w a r e m a r k can w o r k , quietly,
o v e r a year. T h a t ' s h o w y o u can influence c o m m i t t e e s w i t h o u t a n y o n e ' s
n o t i c i n g it. B u t it has to be the right remark!

W h o should have custody o f the child


of an addicted mother?
CLAUDIA: I am l o o k i n g for t h e right f o r m u l a t i o n for a report I ' m w r i t i n g
a b o u t t h e f o u r - y e a r - o l d child o f a n addicted m o t h e r .
HELLINGER: W h a t a b o u t t h e father?
CLAUDIA: T h e parents live apart. T h e father l o o k e d after t h e c h i l d w h e n
t h e m o t h e r was i n various clinics, and w h e n they separated, h e g o t t o g e t h e r w i t h a n o t h e r w o m a n . T h a t ' s g o i n g m o d e r a t e l y well. S h e also has
t w o children.
HELLINGER: W h a t ' s t h e purpose o f t h e report?
CLAUDIA: T o d e c i d e w h o should have custody o f t h e child.
HELLINGER: It sounds like the child should go to t h e father. He seems to
b e acting m o r e i n t h e child's interests.
CLAUDIA: E v e n i f t h e child w o u l d b e living w i t h the father's parents m o s t
o f t h e t i m e w o u l d that b e o k a y ?
HELLINGER: N o , i t w o u l d b e b e t t e r for h i m t o take t h e child i n t o his
family. H i s n e w partner b r o u g h t t w o children i n t o t h e relationship. I f h e
brings o n e as w e l l , t h e y will be m o r e b a l a n c e d , and that's g o o d for their
relationship. F r o m that p o i n t o f v i e w alone, i t w o u l d b e a g o o d thing,
q u i t e apart from t h e fact that it's g o o d for t h e child.

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C L A U D I A : S O w e have to take the child away f r o m t h e addicted m o t h e r ?


HELLINGER:

Yes.

C L A U D I A : A n d w h a t do y o u suggest w h e n t h e m o t h e r is b e t t e r , say in a
year or two?
H E L L I N G E R : T h e child m u s t stay w i t h h e r father.
C L A U D I A : E v e n if the child is a girl?
H E L L I N G E R : E v e n then.
C L A U D I A : W h a t a b o u t visiting rights? M a y t h e m o t h e r see h e r child?
H E L L I N G E R : A S a m o t h e r , she has an i n c o n t e s t a b l e right t o see h e r child,
and that right must b e respected. B u t t h e child's w e l l - b e i n g has p r e c e d e n c e o v e r h e r rights. As l o n g as she is addicted, t h e r e is a certain danger
for t h e child, so o n e has to consider w h a t t h e m o s t sensible s o l u t i o n
w o u l d b e for t h e child. W h e n she's c u r e d o f h e r addiction, there's n o
l o n g e r any o b j e c t i o n t o h e r visiting t h e child.
C L A U D I A : A n d h o w should I handle t h e husband's family's lack o f u n d e r standing o f h e r illness? I c o n s i d e r h e r addiction t o b e a n illness, b u t h e r
husband's family tends to c o n d e m n h e r as an irresponsible g o o d - f o r nothing.

W h a t leads t o a d d i c t i o n ?
H E L L I N G E R : O n e reason p e o p l e b e c o m e addicted is w h e n a m o t h e r says
t o h e r child: " E v e r y t h i n g that c o m e s from y o u r father i s worthless. Y o u
m u s t take o n l y from m e . " T h e n t h e child takes s o m u c h from t h e
m o t h e r that it does harm. In this pattern, addiction is t h e child's r e v e n g e
o n the m o t h e r b e c a u s e she p r e v e n t e d the c h i l d f r o m taking from t h e
father. D o y o u understand?
C L A U D I A : Y e s , although that was n o t really m y question. B u t it is v e r y i m portant for m e . M y original q u e s t i o n was: W h a t can I d o for t h e c h i l d
o r for t h e m o t h e r w h e n the m o t h e r i s given hardly any respect b y t h e
family in w h i c h t h e child grows up? H o w can I i n t e r v e n e ?
H E L L I N G E R : I ' m n o t sure that there's anything you can d o to i n t e r v e n e ,
b u t y o u m i g h t try t o explain t o t h e husband w h a t leads t o addiction.
T h a t m i g h t help h i m see h e r in a different light. A n d y o u c o u l d tell h i m
that i t will b e easier for t h e child t o feel c o m p l e t e i f h e respects b o t h h e r
m o t h e r and h i m s e l f i n her.
I'll g i v e y o u a n e x a m p l e . A w o m a n c a m e i n t o p s y c h o t h e r a p y w i t h h e r
h u s b a n d b e c a u s e she t h o u g h t that h e should b e d o i n g s o m e t h i n g positive
for himself. S h e h e r s e l f had taken part in m a n y groups and had b e e n in

101

Primal T h e r a p y , and I don't k n o w what else. T h e husband c a m e to participate in o n e of my groups, and w h e n I saw him, I said to him: " W h a t
are y o u doing here? Y o u don't l o o k like y o u n e e d therapy." H e was delighted. He was a craftsman, a simple man. A few days later, he said he
c o u l d n ' t really understand w h y he felt so g o o d because his father had
b e e n killed in the war five weeks before the man was born, so he'd
never k n o w n him. I said to him: "It's possible that y o u never missed h i m
because y o u r m o t h e r loved and respected h i m so m u c h . " " Y e s , " he said,
"she did." Later on we set up his family constellation, and this is h o w it
looked.
Hettinger chooses representatives and sets up

the constellation.

Diagram 1
F+ Deceased father
M

Mother

S o n (= Client)

HELLINGER: T h a t was the constellation. T h e wife said: "I feel as if I ' m half
m y s e l f and h a l f my husband." T h e n I put her husband right b e h i n d her
like this:

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Diagram 2

HELLINGER: S h e said, " N o w he and I are o n e . " T h e son felt very happy.
T h a t ' s what happens w h e n the o n e partner really respects the other.
T h e n the o n e partner can represent the o t h e r as well.
to the son's representative: H o w are y o u feeling?
SON: I feel very warm.
HELLINGER: T h e father was n o t missed because he was h o n o r e d and r e spected.
to the group: Children thrive w h e n their father respects and honors their
m o t h e r in t h e m and w h e n their m o t h e r honors and respects their father
in t h e m as well. T h e n the children feel w h o l e . T h a t ' s w h y w h e n the
partners want a divorce, the parent w h o most honors and respects the
other parent in the children must be given custody. T h i s is usually the
husband. B u t w o m e n can earn the right as well.
CLAUDIA: H o w ?
HELLINGER: By doing the same.
T H E A : I have another question about addiction. Y o u said that addiction is
loyalty toward the father. A child b e c o m e s addicted because the m o t h e r
says that n o t h i n g g o o d can c o m e from the father. B u t y o u also said
something very important, and I don't think I can quite r e m e m b e r it all,
about what happens in addiction.
HELLINGER: T h e child takes so m u c h food and drink from the m o t h e r that
she harms herself. T h a t ' s addiction, w h e n a person takes so m u c h m o r e
than is needed that he or she is harmed. T h a t ' s w h y addicts should be
treated only by m e n . W o m e n are not capable of it, unless they really r e spect the addict's father. If they do, they may be able to represent him,
as we have seen in this example.

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D A G M A R : IS that a g e n e r a l rule, o r does it m a k e a d i f f e r e n c e w h e t h e r t h e


addicted person is male or female?
H E L L I N G E R : N o , it's a basic rule.
D A G M A R : SO t h e situation is always the same: T h e m o t h e r says t o t h e child,
w h o t h e n b e c o m e s addicted: " N o t h i n g that c o m e s f r o m y o u r father i s any
g o o d . D o n ' t take a n y t h i n g from y o u r father, take o n l y f r o m m e . " B u t
w h a t happens w h e n t h e father is also addicted, an a l c o h o l i c , for e x a m p l e ,
a n d the m o t h e r says t o h e r son: " W h a t y o u r father does i s n o g o o d " ?
H E L L I N G E R : I f t h e m o t h e r w a n t s t o h e l p h e r son, she c a n say t o h i m , " I
l o v e y o u r father i n y o u , a n d it's o k a y w i t h m e i f y o u are l i k e h i m . " T h e
effect i s strange. F o r i f t h e father i s r e s p e c t e d i n t h e son, t h e s o n d o e s n ' t
n e e d to b e c o m e an alcoholic. T h e procedure is directly contrary to what
often happens in practice.
T H O M A S : IS t h e t r e m e n d o u s i n c r e a s e in a d d i c t i o n p r o b l e m s i n t h e w e s t e r n
w o r l d c o n n e c t e d w i t h this?
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s . M e n are o n t h e retreat. W o m e n are despising m e n m o r e
a n d m o r e , a n d a d d i c t i o n i s i n c r e a s i n g . B u t girls b e c o m e p r o n e t o addiction j u s t as boys do.

Addiction as a means of atonement


G E R T R U D E : U n t i l t h e w o r d " a d d i c t i o n " was m e n t i o n e d , I d i d n ' t t h i n k I
h a d a n y t h i n g particular t o say. M y father was a n a l c o h o l i c ,

and my

m o t h e r always used to say that I take after h i m . I t h i n k she said it m a i n l y


b e c a u s e she was afraid of it. F o r a t i m e I did h a v e q u i t e a p r o b l e m w i t h
alcohol, and n o w I am addicted to nicotine.
H E L L I N G E R : T h i s r e m i n d s m e o f a w o m a n w h o o n c e c a m e t o m e for help.
S h e h a d a s t r o n g p e r s o n a l i t y , b u t later o n she b e c a m e p s y c h o t i c a n d starte d d r i n k i n g . T h e n she w a n t e d t o c o m e t o m e for a f e w sessions. I a g r e e d
t o see h e r , a n d t h e first t h i n g that h a p p e n e d was that she s a w h e r m o t h e r
l y i n g o n t h e f l o o r d r u n k and h e r father l o o k i n g o n helplessly. S h e was
a n g r y w i t h h e r m o t h e r , s o I said t o h e r , " I m a g i n e that y o u r m o t h e r i s l y i n g t h e r e o n t h e floor, a n d g o a n d lie d o w n b e s i d e h e r a n d l o o k a t h e r
w i t h l o v e . " S h e did w h a t I suggested, and s u d d e n l y l o v e f l o w e d f r o m h e r
t o h e r m o t h e r , a n d she was freed f r o m t h e c o m p u l s i o n t o a t o n e . Y o u can
d o s o m e t h i n g similar w i t h y o u r father. Y o u can i m a g i n e h i m standing,
sitting, o r l y i n g t h e r e d r u n k , a n d y o u c a n g o and stand o r sit o r lie b e s i d e
h i m , i n front o f y o u r m o t h e r , and l o o k a t h i m w i t h l o v e .
G E R T R U D E : M y m o t h e r has t o b e t h e r e t o o ?

104

H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , in y o u r m i n d ' s e y e . It is o n l y a p i c t u r e , d o n ' t forget.


G E R T R U D E : Y e s . M y father was always v e r y aggressive . . .
H E L L I N G E R : N o , n o . I d o n ' t w a n t t o h e a r a b o u t that. Y o u h a v e t h e s o l u tion. T h a t is enough. W h e n y o u have the solution, y o u don't n e e d to go
back to the problem.

Intuition is dependent on love


H E L L I N G E R t o Gertrude: I n t u i t i o n o n l y w o r k s w h e n w e are c o n c e n t r a t i n g
o n t h e s o l u t i o n , b e c a u s e t h e n w e are c o n c e n t r a t i n g o n l o v e a n d r e s p e c t .
T h e n w e d o n ' t n e e d a n y stories a b o u t a n y o n e . A s s o o n a s w e start t o b e c o m e c u r i o u s a n d w a n t t o k n o w m o r e a b o u t t h e p r o b l e m , i n t u i t i o n ends.
I t i s d e p e n d e n t o n r e s p e c t and l o v e .

Addiction as a t t e m p t e d suicide
L i f e - e n d a n g e r i n g addictions, for e x a m p l e , h e r o i n a d d i c t i o n s , are s o m e t i m e s c o n c e a l e d attempts t o c o m m i t suicide. S u c h a t t e m p t s o f t e n f o l l o w
t h e s y s t e m i c d y n a m i c , " I will f o l l o w y o u " o r " B e t t e r I t h a n y o u , " o r
s o m e t i m e s e v e n , " B e t t e r I die than y o u . " H e r e i s a n e x a m p l e :
A y o u n g h e r o i n addict said, " M y m o t h e r i s d y i n g o f c a n c e r . " W h e n
she p l a c e d representatives for h e r s e l f and h e r m o t h e r in a c o n s t e l l a t i o n ,
t h e y s t o o d facing o n e a n o t h e r , b u t a t s o m e distance. T h e d e p t h o f l o v e
t h e d a u g h t e r ' s r e p r e s e n t a t i v e displayed t o w a r d t h e m o t h e r w a s o v e r w h e l m i n g . W h e n she r e a c h e d o u t h e r arms and said, " I ' l l c o m e w i t h
y o u , " i t b e c a m e q u i t e clear that she w a n t e d i n s o m e w a y t o die w i t h h e r
mother.

T h e healing m o v e m e n t t o w a r d the m o t h e r
U N A : I ' v e b e e n i n a t u r m o i l e v e r s i n c e y o u said that m a k i n g a d e e p b o w
t o m y m o t h e r w o u l d liberate m e f r o m t h e g r a v e . A t t h e m o m e n t , I feel
a b i t b e t t e r , b u t I feel v e r y w e a k , a n d I h a v e pains in t h e area a r o u n d my
pelvis a n d i n m y chest. It's b e t t e r a t t h e m o m e n t , b u t w h e n I started
thinking about m y m o t h e r , w h i c h I've b e e n doing a lot, m y image o f
h e r was as a v e r y . . .
HELLINGER: Y o u r d e s c r i p t i o n o f y o u r parents d o e s n ' t d o a n y g o o d a t all.
T h e o n l y t h i n g that matters i s w h a t actually h a p p e n e d .

105

U N A : F o r t h e first t i m e , i t o c c u r r e d t o m e that m y m o t h e r m a y h a v e k i l l e d
herself, o r a t least that she c o n s i d e r e d it. T h a t ' s n e w for m e .
H E L L I N G E R : N O W w e ' r e c o m i n g to the point.
Una

sobs.

U N A : E s p e c i a l l y a s I e x p e r i e n c e d i t q u i t e differently.
H E L L I N G E R : Y O U see h o w m u c h y o u l o v e h e r ?
to the group: It is a painful feeling, c o m i n g f a c e - t o - f a c e w i t h l o v e .
U N A : I t takes s o m u c h strength.
H E L L I N G E R : N o , d o n ' t say a n y t h i n g . I t is a g o o d f e e l i n g and it w i l l d o its
w o r k b y itself. I'll l e a v e y o u w i t h it.
Una

stands

up

and prepares

to

leave

the

room.

H E L L I N G E R : N O , stay h e r e . It's m u c h b e t t e r for y o u t o stay h e r e w i t h us.


C o m e a n d sit n e x t t o m e and l e a n against m e .
Una

sobs.

H E L L I N G E R : B r e a t h e d e e p l y , and k e e p y o u r m o u t h o p e n . P u t y o u r arms
a r o u n d m e , b o t h arms. Y e s , l i k e that. B r e a t h e s t r o n g l y , t h r o u g h y o u r
m o u t h . Say " M u m m y . "
U N A :Mummy.
H E L L I N G E R : "Mummy."
U N A : Mummy. Mummy.
H E L L I N G E R : "Dear Mummy."
U N A : Dear Mummy.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o y o u feel n o w ?
U N A : I feel grateful.
H E L L I N G E R to the group: W e h a v e j u s t w i t n e s s e d h o w a c h i l d ' s i n t e r r u p t e d
m o v e m e n t t o w a r d h e r m o t h e r was r e s u m e d a n d finally b r o u g h t t o its
c o m p l e t i o n . D i d y o u see h o w painful i t was? P e o p l e k e e p this feeling
d e e p l y h i d d e n and p r o t e c t e d , a n d t h e y are afraid t o g o b a c k a n d r e s u m e
and complete the interrupted m o v e m e n t .

WHAT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED WHEN A CHILD'S


INTERRUPTED

MOVEMENT

TOWARD

ITS

MOTHER

OR FATHER IS RESUMED AND COMPLETED

T h e parents
T h e best person to help the child c o m p l e t e an interrupted m o v e m e n t tow a r d a b e l o v e d p e r s o n i s t h e m o t h e r s i n c e t h e c h i l d ' s natural m o v e m e n t
is usually t o w a r d h e r . In t h e case of small c h i l d r e n , this is easy e n o u g h

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T h e m o t h e r simply holds the child tightly in her arms w i t h love for as


l o n g as it takes for the love and longing that have turned into anger and
sadness (because the m o v e m e n t toward the m o t h e r was interrupted) to
start flowing again and the child b e c o m e s relaxed in the m o t h e r ' s arms.
A m o t h e r can also help a g r o w n - u p child to c o m p l e t e an interrupted
m o v e m e n t toward her and reduce the consequences of the interruption
by holding the child. B u t the procedure must be resumed at the time in
the child's life w h e n the m o v e m e n t was interrupted, and the child must
be helped to reach the goal that he or she was striving to reach at the
time. It is the child " b a c k t h e r e " w h o wants to go to the m o t h e r , and
still wants to go to the m o t h e r " b a c k t h e r e . " So the m o t h e r and the
child must b e c o m e the m o t h e r and the child " b a c k t h e r e " for as l o n g as
the m o t h e r is holding her child. H o w e v e r , the question is h o w to reunite
the m o t h e r and child w h e n they have b e e n separated for so long.
L e t me give y o u an example: A m o t h e r was worried about h e r
g r o w n - u p daughter. B u t her daughter avoided her m o t h e r and seldom
c a m e h o m e . I told the m o t h e r that she must hold her daughter in h e r
arms as a m o t h e r w o u l d hold a distressed child. B u t she shouldn't do
anything n o w e x c e p t keep this as an image in her heart and allow it to
take its effect. A year later, the m o t h e r told me that her daughter had
c o m e h o m e and cuddled up to her quietly and intimately, and the m o t h er had held her for a long time w i t h o u t saying a word. T h e n the daughter got up and left. N e i t h e r m o t h e r n o r daughter had said anything at all.

Representatives of the parents


If neither the m o t h e r n o r the father is available, helpers can represent
t h e m . In the case of small children, the representatives may be relatives
or teachers; with adults it is usually a psychotherapist. T h e helper or
therapist must wait for the right m o m e n t , and then ally h i m s e l f or herself
inwardly with the m o t h e r or father of the child and act as his or her r e p resentative. T h e therapist loves the child as the parents and receives the
child's love, w h i c h on the surface is directed toward the therapist b u t is,
in fact, directed to the parents. As soon as the child reaches the goal, that
is, the parents, the therapist withdraws, thus remaining detached and i n wardly free despite the intimacy.

107

T h e deep b o w
It s o m e t i m e s happens that the adult child is h a m p e r e d in t h e m o v e m e n t
t o w a r d t h e parents by t h e fact that he or she despises or r e p r o a c h e s t h e m ,
for e x a m p l e , if he or she thinks he or she is b e t t e r than t h e parents, or
i f h e o r she wants from t h e m s o m e t h i n g o t h e r than w h a t they w e r e p r e pared or able to give. W h e n this is so, the m o v e m e n t t o w a r d the parents
m u s t b e p r e c e d e d b y a deep b o w .
T h i s b o w is really an i n n e r process, b u t it gains in depth and p o w e r
w h e n it is g i v e n a visible and audible f o r m w h e n , for e x a m p l e , the
c o n s t e l l a t i o n of the child's family of origin is set up in a g r o u p and t h e
" c h i l d " kneels b e f o r e t h e representatives o f the parents, and b o w s l o w
until t o u c h i n g t h e g r o u n d w i t h arms stretched o u t t o w a r d t h e m and
palms t u r n e d upward. T h e child remains in this p o s i t i o n until ready to
say t o o n e o r b o t h o f t h e m : " I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h r e s p e c t , " o r " I
h o n o r y o u as my m o t h e r . I h o n o r y o u as my father." S o m e t i m e s the
c h i l d m a y add: " I a m sorry," o r " I did n o t k n o w , " o r " P l e a s e d o n ' t b e
angry w i t h m e , " o r " I have missed y o u s o m u c h , " o r simply " P l e a s e . "
It is o n l y t h e n that t h e child can stand up and m o v e t o w a r d t h e m with
l o v e , e m b r a c e t h e m closely, and say: " D e a r M u m m y , " " D e a r D a d d y , "
o r simply " M u m m y " o r " D a d d y . "
It's i m p o r t a n t for the representatives to r e m a i n silent during t h e w h o l e
p r o c e d u r e , and n o t t o m o v e t o w a r d t h e child w h e n h e o r she b o w s
t o t h e m . T h e y simply accept the child's respect a s representatives o f
t h e child's parents until the alienation dissolves. T h e y can r e s p o n d spont a n e o u s l y after the child has d o n e the w o r k and found t h e m o v e m e n t
that heals.
T h e therapist i n charge o f the group directs t h e process, watching
closely for t h e right m o m e n t for t h e child t o m a k e t h e m o v e m e n t toward
t h e parent, and w h e t h e r this m o v e m e n t must be p r e c e d e d by a deep
b o w . T h e therapist m a y offer words for " t h e c h i l d " t o repeat w h i l e b o w i n g to or e m b r a c i n g t h e parent, and also w a t c h e s for signals of resistance
and helps t o o v e r c o m e t h e m , for e x a m p l e , b y telling " t h e c h i l d " t o
b r e a t h e deeply, to k e e p his or h e r m o u t h slightly o p e n , and to a l l o w his
or h e r h e a d to fall forward. Feelings that m a k e p e o p l e w e a k are elements
o f resistance, for e x a m p l e , m o a n i n g o r m a k i n g i n c o h e r e n t sounds, and a
therapist can tell " t h e c h i l d " to resist t h e weakness, to c o n c e n t r a t e on his
o r h e r strength, and t o b r e a t h e strongly w i t h o u t vocalizing. E v e r y t h i n g
that m a k e s t h e child w e a k m e r e l y repeats the i n t e r r u p t i o n o f t h e m o v e m e n t instead o f c o m p l e t i n g it. S o m e t i m e s the therapist m a y p l a c e a hand

108

gently b e t w e e n the " c h i l d ' s " shoulder blades to provide a feeling of safety
and to support the m o v e m e n t . S o m e t i m e s the therapist may discontinue
the process if "the c h i l d " is n o t prepared to s h o w the parents the n e c e s sary respect. Or he or she m a y interrupt after the b o w and n o t follow it
up w i t h anything else, for example, w h e n " t h e child" has d o n e his parents s o m e grievous w r o n g and owes t h e m a t o n e m e n t .
I f the b o w and the m o v e m e n t toward the parent are clearly t o o m u c h
for " t h e c h i l d " himself, his representative in the family constellation m a y
do and say what is necessary in the child's place. T h i s can be even m o r e
effective than w h e n "the child" actually does it.

T h e m o v e m e n t toward the parents


must reach beyond them
T h e m o v e m e n t toward our parents and the deep b o w before t h e m has
a profound significance w h i c h reaches b e y o n d t h e m as individual persons.
We e x p e r i e n c e the b o w as a c o m m i t m e n t to our origins and as the
deepest possible acceptance o f our fate. A n y o n e w h o completes the b o w
in this way and the m o v e m e n t toward the parents and b e y o n d t h e m will
then be able to stand erect beside t h e m with dignity.

109

THE SECOND DAY

Adopting the role of victim as


a means of revenge
H A R R Y : I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a b o u t a r e m a r k y o u m a d e yesterday. Y o u said,
"Faithfulness conflicts w i t h l i f e . "
HELLINGER: I d o n ' t r e m e m b e r saying that. B u t I have a n o t h e r saying for
y o u that will help p r e v e n t things I say h e r e from b e i n g taken o u t of c o n text: " P r a c t i c e conflicts w i t h t h e o r y . "
Laughter

in

the group.

H A R R Y : I d o n ' t feel like laughing. Y e s t e r d a y I talked a b o u t h o w my first


wife b l a c k m a i l e d me w i t h threats of suicide, and y o u said that there's a
basic rule in family therapy that says that persons w h o s e e m to be " g o o d "
are usually " b a d " and the o t h e r w a y around, and that perhaps I ' m the
o n e w h o really w a n t e d t o c o m m i t suicide. T h i s was a c o m p l e t e l y n e w
idea for m e , and at first it was totally u n a c c e p t a b l e . I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g
a b o u t it a lot, b u t I still h a v e n ' t c o m e to any c o n c l u s i o n . I have n e v e r
c o n s c i o u s l y c o n s i d e r e d c o m m i t t i n g suicide, o n the contrary, I ' v e always
b e e n deeply s h o c k e d b y o t h e r people's suicides.
HELLINGER: B e i n g s h o c k e d by it is equivalent to considering it for y o u r self.
H A R R Y : T h a t m a k e s sense. After m y divorce f r o m m y f i r s t wife, I had t e r rible nightmares a b o u t suicide for about three years. I ' v e killed m y s e l f in
all sorts of ways in my dreams, b u t I n e v e r really a c k n o w l e d g e d that I
was t h i n k i n g seriously a b o u t it. M y s e c o n d daughter, w i t h w h o m I ' m
v e r y close, always appeared in those dreams.
HELLINGER: T h o s e dreams s h o w clearly that y o u ' v e b e e n busy w i t h the
possibility o f c o m m i t t i n g suicide. N o w y o u have the c h a n c e t o l o o k a t
i t m o r e clearly. Y o u r family constellation shows that y o u have b e e n sel e c t e d for the role of v i c t i m . P e o p l e w h o study t h e o l o g y are y o u a
C a t h o l i c or a Protestant . . . ?
H A R R Y : I ' m a Protestant, b u t n o t a very strong o n e .
HELLINGER: It's m o r e p r o n o u n c e d w i t h C a t h o l i c s than w i t h Protestants,
b u t I ' v e o b s e r v e d s o m e t h i n g interesting: P e o p l e w h o study t h e o l o g y are
often identified w i t h the v i c t i m role, especially i f t h e y g o o n t o b e c o m e
priests or ministers. It has s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h the biblical sacrifice of
the c h i l d for the g o o d o f the family.
H A R R Y : T h e sacrifice o f the first-born. Y e s t e r d a y I was struck b y the fact

110

that I had assumed the role of v i c t i m , and that it is very hard to c o m e


o u t of it. I realize that all my life I h a v e interpreted e v e r y t h i n g that h a p p e n e d f r o m the p o i n t o f v i e w o f the v i c t i m .
HELLINGER: I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g : Playing v i c t i m is a v e r y subtle f o r m
o f revenge.
Harry

laughs.

N o w y o u understand. I n families, victims w i n the p o w e r struggles.


A n y t h i n g else, Harry?
HARRY: N o . I'll g o o n t h i n k i n g a b o u t it.

T h e reassurance
SOPHIE: I talked to my husband yesterday e v e n i n g and told h i m w h a t I ' v e
e x p e r i e n c e d and felt since I ' v e b e e n here. It was a v e r y g o o d talk. He
said I s h o u l d n ' t forget that he is my husband.

The compensation
BRIGITTE: Y e s t e r d a y I was as e x h a u s t e d as if I ' d b e e n r u n n i n g my o w n
w o r k s h o p for seven days on end.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s w h a t happens i f y o u o n l y w a n t t o b e a n observer.
BRIGITTE: I can't stop t h i n k i n g a b o u t my oldest daughter. As a protest
against m e , she m o v e d to a n o t h e r t o w n , refused to go to c o l l e g e , and
was d e t e r m i n e d to have five children (I have four). S h e finally studied p s y c h o l o g y , b u t she is still n o t w o r k i n g . S h e is the o n l y o n e of my daughters
w i t h w h o m I d o n ' t get along and w i t h w h o m I c a n ' t c o p e .
HELLINGER: S i n c e y o u d o n ' t w a n t t o w o r k here, there's n o t h i n g w e can
do a b o u t it.

(pause)

I was g e t t i n g b a c k at y o u .
BRIGITTE: So it seems. B u t , of course, I w a n t to w o r k on it.
HELLINGER: R e a l l y ? H e r e ?

BRIGITTE: Y e s .
HELLINGER: O k a y , I'll w o r k w i t h y o u , but n o t j u s t yet.

A surprising r e c o v e r y
GERTRUDE: F o r the f i r s t t i m e i n ages, m y h a n d didn't g o n u m b during t h e
night. A n d I was able t o t h i n k o f the father o f m y son w i t h l o v e . I was

111

really surprised this m o r n i n g w h e n I realized I had slept t h r o u g h the


night.

A m i c a b l e feelings
R O B E R T : I feel fine, really g o o d , and I can feel my sister A d e l a i d e by my
side. It's a w o n d e r f u l feeling. I k n o w that I can be m o r e a m i c a b l e t o w a r d
m y wife n o w . It's really incredible, this c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n m y little
dead sister, Adelaide, and my feelings for my wife.
HELLINGER: T h e rules o f l o g i c are different from the rules o f t h e soul o r
t h e rules o f reality. Y o u can see w h a t i s right and true b y l o o k i n g a t h o w
things affect y o u r soul.
R O B E R T : T h e effects are certainly u n e x p e c t e d , b u t I t h i n k w h a t ' s h a p p e n e d is wonderful.
HELLINGER: N e v e r t h e l e s s , I'll tell y o u a cautionary story. In C o l o g n e ,
t h e r e was o n c e a t i m e w h e n e v e r y t h i n g was wonderful. D i d y o u k n o w
that? T h e story goes that w h e n p e o p l e w o k e u p i n t h e m o r n i n g , they
f o u n d that t h e elves had d o n e all their w o r k for t h e m during the night.
E v e r y t h i n g was f i n e until o n e day s o m e o n e w a n t e d t o k n o w h o w and
w h y it h a p p e n e d . ..

I d e n t i f y i n g a d o u b l e shift
CLAUDIA: T h e r e i s s o m e sort o f dialogue g o i n g o n inside m e . Y e s t e r d a y
I said that I did my best to m a k e life difficult for my husband, b u t n o w
I ' m starting t o criticize h i m for s o m e o f t h e things h e did. A n d s o the
s q u a b b l i n g is b e g i n n i n g all o v e r again.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s what's k n o w n as p r o l o n g i n g t h e process.
CLAUDIA: T h e r e wasn't t i m e for m e t o w o r k o n this yesterday. W h e n I
was driving h e r e this m o r n i n g , I was angry at getting caught in a traffic
j a m , and t h e n I r e m e m b e r e d that I had s o m e aunts, o l d e r sisters of my
father, w h o w e r e v e r y angry w i t h m y grandfather b e c a u s e h e had m i s m a n a g e d t h e family affairs so badly that it was impossible for t h e m to get
married. T h e y w e r e f o r c e d t o c o n t i n u e w o r k i n g o n t h e farm and w e r e
forbidden t o marry. U n d e r m y grandfather's m a n a g e m e n t t h e family,
w h i c h had b e e n very rich, b e c a m e v e r y p o o r .
HELLINGER: I w o n d e r i f y o u are taking the side o f those w o m e n i n y o u r
battle against y o u r o w n husband, even t h o u g h he is c o m p l e t e l y i n n o c e n t .
CLAUDIA: I ' m n o t sure a b o u t that.

112

R E S O L V I N G

D O U B L E

S H I F T

LAURA: I ' m very upset and angry, and I d o n ' t k n o w w h y .


HELLINGER: U p s e t and angry? R e a l l y angry?
LAURA: Y e s . Y o u ' r e laughing?
HELLINGER: W o u l d y o u prefer it if I cried? O k a y , let's set up y o u r family
constellation.
Laura

sets

up

the constellation

of her present family.

Diagram 1
Hb
W
D

Husband
Wife (= Laura)
Daughter

HELLINGER: T h i s constellation suggests that there is a m a j o r systemic e n t a n g l e m e n t . E v e n in o n e ' s wildest dreams it's impossible to i m a g i n e s u c h
a relationship b e t w e e n a husband and wife.
to Laura: D o e s anything o c c u r to y o u ?
LAURA: I ' v e often had the feeling that s o m e o n e is hiding s o m e t h i n g . I ' m

113

on the track of a secret, but it always causes t r o u b l e if I ask a question


a b o u t it. B u t I have a strong feeling that my m o t h e r is hiding s o m e t h i n g .
HELLINGER: T h e n the e n t a n g l e m e n t c o m e s from h e r side o f the family.
LAURA: M y m o t h e r ' s parents had seven children, all o f t h e m daughters.
T h i s seems to have a n n o y e d h e r father very m u c h . He w a n t e d a son, and
he w o u l d have b e e n delighted if all his daughters had had children w i t h o u t getting married i n the h o p e that o n e o f t h e m w o u l d p r o d u c e a son
w h o w o u l d carry on the family n a m e . A n d all his daughters did exactly
that, e x c e p t m y m o t h e r . S h e g o t married, and she was the o n l y o n e w h o
had sons. All the others o n l y had daughters.
HELLINGER: S o w h o m did y o u r husband have t o represent i n y o u r c o n stellation? Y o u r grandfather. If that is so, then y o u o w e y o u r husband a
great deal.
to the group: I ' d like to say s o m e t h i n g about the dynamics of the d o u b l e disp l a c e m e n t . T h e first question I ask Laura here is: W h a t must the d a u g h ters have felt a b o u t their father? T h e y w e r e angry w i t h h i m , and rightly
so. A n d w h o b e c a m e the target o f this anger?
LAURA: My d i v o r c e d husband.
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y . Y o u have taken o n the feelings o f these aunts. T h i s
is displacement on the subject level, the shift of y o u r aunts' feelings from
t h e m t o y o u . B u t instead o f b e i n g angry w i t h y o u r grandfather, y o u g o t
angry w i t h y o u r husband. On the o b j e c t level, this is a d i s p l a c e m e n t of
their feelings t o w a r d y o u r grandfather t o y o u r d i v o r c e d husband. S o y o u
see, y o u o w e y o u r husband a great deal. W h e n p e o p l e feel the k i n d o f
righteousness y o u felt w h e n y o u w e r e talking a b o u t y o u r husband, it is
usually a sign of a d o u b l e displacement. W h e n y o u w a n t to settle a p e r sonal issue and fight for y o u r o w n rights, y o u are n o t as i n v o l v e d and
c o n v i n c e d as w h e n y o u ' r e fighting for s o m e o n e else's rights.
T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I ' d like to do w i t h y o u . I ' d like y o u to set up a
constellation w i t h all these aunts, and t h e n enter it yourself.

114

Diagram 2
Al
A2

First aunt
Second aunt, etc.

HELLINGER: N O W l o o k a t e a c h aunt kindly, and say t o e a c h o n e i n turn,


" M y dear aunt," j u s t as a y o u n g child m i g h t speak to a b e l o v e d aunt.
LAURA: B u t I d o n ' t feel particularly well disposed t o w a r d t h e m .
HELLINGER: T h e n g o o n saying i t until y o u do.
Laura repeats

the wor&s

until they come more easily.

HELLINGER: N o w k n e e l d o w n i n front o f y o u r aunts, b o w l o w until y o u


are t o u c h i n g t h e f l o o r , stretch y o u r arms o u t i n front o f y o u w i t h y o u r
palms t u r n e d upward, and say t o y o u r aunts, " I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h
respect."

115

Diagram 3

L A U R A : I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h respect.
H E L L I N G E R : " M y dear aunts, I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h r e s p e c t . "
L A U R A : M y d e a r aunts, I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h respect.
H E L L I N G E R : N o w stand n e x t t o y o u r aunts and say t o e a c h o f t h e m
turn, " M y dear a u n t . "
L A U R A : M y dear aunt, m y dear aunt, . . .
Laura

is

freely.

After a

sentative

116

deeply
back

moved.

little
into

Her

while,
her fteld

love

and pain

Hellinger brings
of vision.

her

and

sympathy flow

husband's

repre-

Diagram 4

Laura goes
arms

to

around

the person
his

neck,

representing her husband and throws

her

sobbing.

L A U R A : Please f o r g i v e m e !
H E L L I N G E R : S a y o n l y , " I ' m s o r r y . " N o t h i n g else. " I ' m s o r r y . "
L A U R A : I ' m sorry.
HELLINGER: Say, "I didn't k n o w . "
LAURA: I didn't k n o w .
H E L L I N G E R : N o w g o a n d stand n e x t t o h i m , a n d w e ' l l add y o u r d a u g h t e r
to the scene.

117

Diagram 5

to the people in the constellation: H o w are y o u all f e e l i n g n o w ?


They all say they are feeling okay.

HELLINGER

H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , that's all.

to the group:

I ' d l i k e t o e x p l a i n t h e w o r k w i t h a d o u b l e shift. I n a d o u b l e

shift, it c a n clearly be s e e n that t h e p e r s o n affected is no l o n g e r fully


h i m s e l f o r h e r s e l f b u t i s i d e n t i f i e d w i t h s o m e o n e else. B e i n g identified
m e a n s that y o u h a v e t h e feelings o f t h e p e r s o n w i t h w h o m y o u are i d e n tified b u t y o u feel a n d act a s i f this p e r s o n ' s feelings w e r e y o u r s . Y o u
d o n ' t r e g a r d h i m o r h e r a s b e i n g a separate e n t i t y , a n d y o u d o n ' t e v e n
realize w h a t ' s g o i n g o n . T h a t ' s w h y i t was necessary t o b r i n g t h e aunts
o n t o t h e s c e n e s o that L a u r a c o u l d e x p e r i e n c e t h e m a s separate f r o m h e r self. S e e i n g t h e m physically r e p r e s e n t e d m a d e i t possible f o r h e r t o r e s o l v e t h e i d e n t i f i c a t i o n , especially w h e n she said t o t h e m , " I b o w d o w n
t o y o u w i t h r e s p e c t . " H e r aunts b e c a m e h e r aunts o n c e m o r e , a n d she
b e c a m e herself, a n d o n l y herself. H e r aunts w e r e o n c e again adult p e o p l e
w h o b o r e t h e r e s p o n s i b i l i t y for t h e i r rights a n d t h e i r d i g n i t y t h e m s e l v e s ,
a n d L a u r a was o n c e again a y o u n g c h i l d w h o c o u l d l o v e h e r aunts a s she
did as a c h i l d .
R E P R E S E N T A T I V E O F O N E O F T H E A U N T S : W h e n I was representing her

118

aunt, I felt the i m p o r t a n c e of b e i n g s h o w n this respect v e r y strongly.


HELLINGER: It was clear h o w g o o d the aunts felt w h e n t h e y suddenly
s t o o d t h e r e in their full dignity. W i t h o u t that, it w o u l d n ' t have w o r k e d .
I t w o u l d n ' t have w o r k e d unless the l o v e had b e e n p r e c e d e d b y respect.
T h i s also applies w h e n children r e c o n c i l e w i t h their parents; t h e y often
have to b o w d o w n to their parents with respect first, particularly if t h e y ' v e
d o n e t h e i r parents s o m e w r o n g , o r have felt c o n d e s c e n d i n g t o w a r d t h e m .
A really l o v i n g e n c o u n t e r can develop w h e n l o v e is p r e c e d e d by respect.
O t h e r w i s e , there's s o m e t h i n g missing, and the e n c o u n t e r lacks energy.
M o s t serious difficulties b e t w e e n marriage partners are based on a d o u b l e displacement. All efforts to find o u t what's w r o n g will fail unless t h e
identification is r e c o g n i z e d and resolved. It is o n l y t h e n that a n e w , p o s i tive relationship can b e g i n . P e o p l e w h o are identified w i t h s o m e o n e else
are living in an alien w o r l d and no l o n g e r are able to respond as t h e m selves. T h e y are strangers to themselves, and do n o t see their partners as
t h e y really are, b u t as strangers. E v e r y t h i n g is distorted.
LAURA: I ' m absolutely amazed. F o r the first t i m e in my life, the l o w e r part
of my b a c k feels w a r m w i t h o u t a n y o n e t o u c h i n g it. I have n e v e r felt that
before.
R E P R E S E N T A T I V E OF THE HUSBAND: I was very m o v e d w h e n she said,
" I ' m sorry, I didn't k n o w . "

T h e w r o n g kind o f forgiveness
HELLINGER to Laura: I stopped y o u from saying "Please forgive m e " b e cause it w o u l d n ' t have d o n e any g o o d . I ' v e b e e n interested in u n d e r standing forgiveness for a l o n g t i m e , and I ' v e m a d e s o m e surprising o b servations and I ' v e had s o m e i m p o r t a n t insights. C o n t r a r y t o w h a t w e
usually b e l i e v e , we m a y n o t ask for forgiveness, and no o n e has the
p o w e r t o forgive u s e v e n i f w e d o ask for it. W h e n s o m e o n e asks m e for
forgiveness, he or she puts the responsibility for t h e guilt on m e , as if I
c o u l d limit the guilt o r d e t e r m i n e the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f w h a t t h e p e r s o n
has d o n e . It's exactly t h e same w h e n s o m e o n e confesses. P e o p l e w h o
confess m a k e the o t h e r person responsible for t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f their
b e h a v i o r . A lot o f p e o p l e confess w h a t t h e y h a v e d o n e t o their p s y c h o therapists, b u t they d o n ' t talk to the injured person. If the therapist p e r mits it, he or she takes on t h e responsibility for w h a t was d o n e and is
stuck w i t h it. O n e w a y for therapists to p r o t e c t themselves is to say, "I
d o n ' t w a n t t o hear a b o u t that."

119

F o r g i v e n e s s creates a n i n e q u a l i t y b e t w e e n t h e p e r s o n w h o forgives a n d
t h e p e r s o n w h o i s f o r g i v e n . B u t w h e n y o u express g e n u i n e r e m o r s e , y o u
r e m a i n o n a n e q u a l f o o t i n g . Y o u k e e p y o u r dignity, a n d t h e o t h e r p e r s o n
f i n d s i t m u c h easier t o a p p r o a c h and a c c e p t y o u t h a n i f y o u h a d asked
h i m or her to forgive y o u .
L A U R A : I felt that. T h e r e was a t r e m e n d o u s difference. T h a t was t h e right
t h i n g to say.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r pain was p r o o f o f y o u r r e s p e c t for y o u r h u s b a n d , a n d
that's e n o u g h .

The consequences for the child


L A U R A the following day. I was g o i n g t o say this m o r n i n g that I felt w o n derful, a n d I actually did for a b o u t t e n m i n u t e s . B u t n o w s o m e t h i n g else
has o c c u r r e d t o m e , a n d I n e e d y o u r a d v i c e . I didn't m a r r y i n t o m y h u s b a n d ' s family, h e m a r r i e d i n t o m i n e . A f t e r t h e d i v o r c e , I started using m y
b i r t h n a m e again, a n d m y d a u g h t e r uses i t t o o . M y h u s b a n d ' s parents i n t e r f e r e d a l o t i n o u r d i v o r c e , and w e f o u g h t t o t h e b i t t e r e n d . A f t e r w a r d
I forbade my daughter to have anything to do with them, but I ' m n o w
b e g i n n i n g to t h i n k that was a terrible m i s t a k e .
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , i t c e r t a i n l y was. B u t i t c a n still b e put right.
L A U R A : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g else I m u s t tell y o u .

D u r i n g t h e past six

m o n t h s , m y d a u g h t e r has h a d n o c o n t a c t w i t h m y h u s b a n d b e c a u s e t h e r e
w a s a s u s p i c i o n that he h a d sexually abused h e r , a n d I c a n ' t trust h i m
w i t h h e r . B u t n o w I feel that she s h o u l d h a v e c o n t a c t w i t h h e r g r a n d parents, a n d that she s h o u l d visit t h e m w i t h h e r father. I f a n y b o d y h a d
t o l d m e y e s t e r d a y that that's h o w I ' d feel t o d a y , I w o u l d h a v e l a u g h e d
at t h e idea. B u t I still d o n ' t trust h i m .
I always h a d t h e feeling that I h a d sacrificed my c h i l d . T h a t ' s n o t a
n e w r e a l i z a t i o n for m e . I t has b e e n a favorite g a m e i n o u r family for g e n erations a n d I d i d n ' t w a n t to do t h e s a m e t h i n g . B u t a l t h o u g h I used
t o b e c e r t a i n that I h a d g i v e n m y d a u g h t e r t h e p r o t e c t i o n she n e e d e d i n
g o o d t i m e , I a m n o l o n g e r s o sure. A n d n o w I c a n ' t m u s t e r u p t h e c o u r a g e a n d trust t o say t o m y f o r m e r h u s b a n d , " T a k e y o u r d a u g h t e r a n d a c c o m p a n y h e r t o y o u r parents, that's w h e r e she b e l o n g s . "
H E L L I N G E R : W e l l , as far as r e s o l v i n g t h e sexual abuse is c o n c e r n e d , y o u
c o u l d say t o y o u r d a u g h t e r , " Y o u did s o m e t h i n g for m e . "
L A U R A : Is it really necessary t o talk t o h e r a b o u t it?
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s . C h i l d r e n feel t h e truth o f t h e u n d e r l y i n g d y n a m i c s a n d

120

t h e y deserve t o have the words that describe that clearly, b u t y o u c a n b e


discreet. Y o u d o n ' t n e e d t o bluntly n a m e everything. Y o u can tell her,
" Y o u did s o m e t h i n g for m e , and n o w e v e r y t h i n g can c o m e right again."
Y o u can also say t o her, " C h i l d r e n are always i n n o c e n t . " S h e needs t o
k n o w that. I f y o u d o that, y o u ' l l b e a c c e p t i n g responsibility for w h a t
h a p p e n e d , t o g e t h e r w i t h y o u r husband, and t h e child will b e free.

A HANDICAPPED

B R O T H E R AND

AN UNACKNOWLEDGED HALF B R O T H E R ,
B O T H OF W H O M DIED AS CHILDREN
U N A : E v e r since y o u s p o k e a b o u t t h e grave, I have b e e n t h i n k i n g that I
have strong and c o m p l e x feelings a b o u t death . . .
HELLINGER: I d o n ' t w a n t to hear a b o u t that.
U N A : T h a t ' s n o t w h a t I w a n t t o talk about, either. B u t s o m e t h i n g o c c u r r e d
to me yesterday for the first t i m e . In addition to my older b r o t h e r , I also
had a h a l f b r o t h e r , a n illegitimate child o f m y father. M y o l d e r b r o t h e r
had severe brain damage and died six m o n t h s after I was b o r n , b u t I ' v e
n e v e r t h o u g h t m u c h a b o u t m y father's illegitimate son, w h o also d i e d
y o u n g . A n d n o w the w o r k that y o u have b e e n d o i n g h e r e has b r o u g h t
h i m closer to me for t h e first t i m e .
HELLINGER: W a s y o u r h a l f b r o t h e r the oldest child?
U N A : N o , h e c a m e b e t w e e n m e and m y o l d e r b r o t h e r . I a m t h e y o u n g e s t .
HELLINGER: W h a t about y o u r h a l f b r o t h e r ' s m o t h e r ?
UNA: I d o n ' t k n o w anything a b o u t her, e x c e p t that she later m a r r i e d . S h e
was my father's secretary. I o n l y k n o w that she was o k a y afterward. I
l e a r n e d that after my father's death.
HELLINGER: In situations like this, l o v e follows orders that are very different
from o u r m o r a l c o n v i c t i o n s of right and w r o n g . L o v e is best served in
situations like this w h e n the m a n separates from his first wife and marries
the m o t h e r o f his n e w child. T h a t w o u l d have b e e n the c o r r e c t thing for
h i m to have d o n e . T h e fact that y o u r m o t h e r was given priority, and that
her husband stayed with h e r means that the s e c o n d w o m a n was w r o n g e d .
UNA: M y m o t h e r w a n t e d t o take o n the child.
HELLINGER: N o , n o , that w o u l d have b e e n w r o n g t o o ! S h e had n o right
to t h e child.
UNA: N o , she had n o right t o it.
HELLINGER: N o w set u p t h e constellation o f y o u r family o f origin and
w e ' l l see w h a t it l o o k s l i k e .

121

Una

begins setting up

her family of origin.

H E L L I N G E R : W a s either o f y o u r parents previously married o r engaged?


U N A : Y e s , m y father was. M y father had a previous wife. I o n l y learned
a b o u t this after my father's death.
H E L L I N G E R : W e r e there any children from the marriage?
U N A : N O . M y m o t h e r also had s o m e sort o f previous relationship that was
v e r y i m p o r t a n t t o her. T h e m a n was 2 5 years older than she was.
H E L L I N G E R : W e n e e d b o t h o f t h e m for the constellation.
D i d either o f y o u r parent criticize o r b l a m e themselves o r their partner
for the child's brain damage?
U N A : M y m o t h e r did, I think. S h e t o o k pills during the birth. T h e m i d wife gave t h e m to her. I think it was b e c a u s e she w a n t e d to relax. I
t h i n k my m o t h e r felt guilty a b o u t the pills.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t do the doctors h e r e say a b o u t it? Is it possible that the
pills c o u l d have caused the child's brain damage?
A D O C T O R : I f t h e y p r o l o n g e d the birth, yes.
U N A : T h e child g o t stuck, absolutely stuck, and m y m o t h e r later d e n i e d
it.

122

Diagram 1
F
M
ljM2f
2f
3
F1W
MFP

Father
Mother
First child, a handicapped son, deceased
Mother of the deceased illegitimate son, deceased
Father's second child, an illegitimate son, deceased
T h i r d child, a daughter (= U n a )
Father's first wife
Mother's former partner

U N A : T h e r e suddenly s e e m to be so m a n y p e o p l e around, and y e t I always


felt so a l o n e .
HELLINGER: H o w is the father feeling?
F A T H E R : I d o n ' t feel at all g o o d . I am angry, b u t it's a confused situation.
I have t h e feeling that I c a n ' t m o v e either forward or b a c k w a r d .
HELLINGER: H o w i s the m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : T e r r i b l e . A b s o l u t e l y terrible. A b s o l u t e l y terrible.
HELLINGER: W h a t about t h e deceased older son?
F I R S T CHILD+: I feel fine. I feel b r o a d and heavy and w a r m b e t w e e n these
t w o . T h e r e ' s n o t h i n g else I n e e d .
HELLINGER: H o w about the m o t h e r o f the illegitimate son?
M O T H E R OF THE DECEASED SECOND CHILD+: I feel as if I had b e e n left

123

a l o n e w i t h my child. I have a lot of responsibility.


HELLINGER: HOW is the deceased illegitimate son feeling?
SECOND CHILD+: T e r r i b l y sad. I have tears in my eyes. N o t g o o d at all.
HELLINGER: HOW a b o u t the father's first wife?
F A T H E R ' S FIRST WIFE: Strange. O n the o n e hand, I ' d rather n o t have a n y t h i n g t o d o w i t h any o f t h e m . B u t o n the o t h e r hand, i f I a m t o b e h e r e
at all, t h e n I w a n t to be the g r a n d m o t h e r of the w h o l e lot.
HELLINGER: H o w is the m o t h e r ' s f o r m e r partner feeling?
M O T H E R ' S F O R M E R P A R T N E R : T h e r e ' s a lot o f w a r m t h here o n m y right,
as if I w e r e b e i n g gently stroked, or as if I w e r e stroking s o m e o n e . I feel
a sort o f pull, b u t actually o n l y t o w a r d this w o m a n . T h e others are n o t
important.
HELLINGER: H o w is the daughter feeling?
T H I R D CHILD: It is as if I w e r e split d o w n the middle. O n e h a l f of m e , the
right half, is w a r m , at the b a c k as well. T h e o t h e r h a l f is i c e - c o l d , and I
feel helpless.
Hellinger places
others.

124

the father's first

wife

so

that

she

is facing

the

Diagram 2

HELLINGER: H O W is the father feeling now?


FATHER: It's better now that I can see her. W h e n she was standing behind
me, it was not good at all.
MOTHER: It's still not good, but it's much better.
THIRD CHILD: I am glad that I have someone to look at.
HELLINGER: H O W is the first wife feeling?
FATHER'S FIRST WIFE: It was very cold where I was standing before, and
here it's suddenly warm. N o w I am beginning to feel interested. There's
a connection there now.
Hellinger places

the

mother next

to

the father's first wife.

125

Diagram 3

FATHER: T h a t ' s better. N o w I can see my s e c o n d wife for the first time.
B e f o r e y o u m o v e d her, I was wondering what on earth she was doing
here. I have nothing against her, but I haven't m u c h feeling for her
either.
T H I R D CHILD: I can breathe m o r e easily.
F I R S T CHILD+: It makes no difference to m e .
Hellinger changes

the constellation

and places

the

older deceased

son on the floor in front of his parents with his back toward them,
leaning

126

against

them.

Diagram 4

HELLINGER: H o w does that feel to the older son?


F I R S T CHILDf: Appropriate.
HELLINGER: H o w about the m o t h e r ?
M O T H E R : I am starting to feel sad.
Hellinger places

the

deceased illegitimate son

next

to

his father.

127

Diagram 5

H E L L I N G E R : H o w does the father feel n o w ?


F A T H E R : Strange. M y illegitimate son standing n e x t t o m e m a k e s m e rather
uneasy. M y son d o w n t h e r e o n the floor i s fine. T h e only reason for m y
c o n n e c t i o n to my wife is so that we can l o o k after o u r son. I have a feeling of sympathy t o w a r d her, but I also have the feeling that there's s o m e t h i n g n o t quite right w i t h o u r partnership. I d o n ' t k n o w w h a t it is.
H E L L I N G E R : F r o m a systemic p o i n t o f v i e w , the partnership is o v e r .
A n d h o w is the daughter feeling?
THIRD

CHILD:

Not

Hellinger sets

128

good.

up

the solution.

Diagram 6

H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o e s t h e d a u g h t e r feel i n this p o s i t i o n ?
T H I R D CHILD: B e t t e r .
M O T H E R : I feel b e t t e r , t o o .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e d e c e a s e d i l l e g i t i m a t e s o n feel?
S E C O N D CHILD+: I am glad that I can stand n e x t to my m o t h e r again. I
felt v e r y l o n e l y w h e n I was standing n e x t t o m y father.
T H I R D CHILD: I no l o n g e r feel as if I w e r e split d o w n t h e m i d d l e .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e m o t h e r o f t h e i l l e g i t i m a t e c h i l d feeling?
M O T H E R O F THE DECEASED SECOND CHILD+: Q u i t e g o o d . I was sad b e cause m y s o n was s o far away. B u t it's b e t t e r n o w . I t i s g o o d .
M O T H E R : I t m a k e s m e feel sad.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e father's first w i f e feeling?
F A T H E R ' S F I R S T WIFE: I n o l o n g e r h a v e a n y t h i n g t o d o w i t h t h e m .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e later events w e r e s o p o w e r f u l that t h e earlier r e l a t i o n s h i p
is no longer important.
to the mother's former partner. Is t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p still i m p o r t a n t to y o u ?
M O T H E R ' S F O R M E R P A R T N E R : I feel w a r m , and I l i k e l o o k i n g at t h e m all,
b u t it is o v e r .
H E L L I N G E R t o Una: W o u l d y o u l i k e t o g o a n d stand i n y o u r p l a c e ?

129

Una goes

to

her place and stands

looking at them

all for a

long

time.
U N A : I l i k e h a v i n g this c o n n e c t i o n to t h e right and to t h e left. It m a k e s
m e feel g o o d . I t also feels g o o d t o b e standing b e t w e e n t h e m e n . I was
a m o t h e r ' s c h i l d . I also t h i n k m y m o t h e r w o u l d h a v e b e e n m u c h b e t t e r
o f f standing n e x t t o m y father t h a n w o r r y i n g a b o u t m e . I was a m a z e d
w h e n my r e p r e s e n t a t i v e said she felt split. I h a v e o f t e n felt split, v e r y ,
v e r y o f t e n . E i t h e r h o r i z o n t a l l y right t h r o u g h t h e m i d d l e o r vertically
f r o m t o p t o b o t t o m . I d o n ' t feel that a t t h e m o m e n t . A n d t h e r e o n m y
left it's n e w to me that I h a v e this b r o t h e r . It's t h e first t i m e that I ' v e
b e e n a w a r e o f h i m . I still t h i n k it's sad, b u t it's n o t t r o u b l i n g m e s o
m u c h at the m o m e n t .
HELLINGER: N o w there's peace.
Una gently

strokes

her father and

her

two

brothers.

U N A : N o w it's g o o d .
H E L L I N G E R : I ' l l tell y o u a story. It is called:

Fullness
A youth
"What
who

asked an
is

the

old man:

difference

between

are

now

almost part of what

and me,

who

is still becoming?"

The

old

"I have
"The

man

replied:

been

more.

dawning

than

the one

day

you,
has

been,

seems greater

before

because

the day at dusk is mostly past.


But the

new day,

although

it's yet to come,

can only be what it already is,


and so
"It

it,

climbs

steeply
reaching

too, grows more by fading.


like

toward

yesterday
the

noon,

zenith just

before

rests a while on high,

130

the greatest

or so it seems,

heat;

until,

as if drawn

which grows

by its own

with

the

increasing weight,

advancing

hour,

it bows down deeply to the night.


"And,

like

the day

that went before,

it reaches its completion when


"But nothing
It remains
Although

it is

and

becomes

Like

in

more

drop

an

what

been

too,

is fully past.

can ever really disappear.

it has existed.

now past,
still

round

dissolves
"Only

that has

because

it,

its effect continues


through

the

new

of rain falling from

ocean,

which

that follows.

a passing cloud

remains.

never could come

into

being

because we dreamed of it but did not act,


thought

of it

but failed

all

that which

all

that for which

to

remains

implement

unknown

we feared

to

to pay

the

thought

our experience,
the price

all that is lost.


"Experience
"Thus

unlived

the god

is

of the

lost forever.
right

and fitting

moment

appears to us like a youth


with a lock of hair in front and a bald patch
We grasp him
and from
The youth
to
The

behind
then

by his curls
we

asked,

become what you


old

man

clutch

behind.

in front
at

emptiness."

"What must I do

have

answered,

been?"
"Be!"

HELLINGER: O k a y , U n a ?
U N A : T h e story said s o m e t h i n g i m p o r t a n t t o m e .

A hopeless struggle
ELLA: I feel fine. E v e r s i n c e I set up my family c o n s t e l l a t i o n I h a v e b e e n
feeling m u c h m o r e awake. B u t there's s o m e t h i n g I didn't understand,
s o m e t h i n g y o u said b e f o r e I set up t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n . Y o u said that it is
useless t o f i g h t against t h e fact that m y father's f i a n c e e i s m y r o l e m o d e l .
I d i d n ' t u n d e r s t a n d that. B u t I did u n d e r s t a n d t h e i m a g e .
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s e n o u g h . S o m e p e o p l e t h i n k that w h e n t h e y d e n y s o m e t h i n g , it ceases to exist. T h a t ' s w h a t I m e a n t .
ELLA: I feel g o o d n o w that m y father's f i a n c e e i s i n h e r right p l a c e .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e i s a story i n t h e B i b l e a b o u t a c e r t a i n J a c o b . H e w r e s t l e d w i t h a n a n g e l b y a river t h e w h o l e n i g h t l o n g .
ELLA: N o t t h e a n g e l G a b r i e l ?
H E L L I N G E R : N o t t h e angel G a b r i e l . T h e angel's n a m e i s n ' t m e n t i o n e d .
A c t u a l l y , t h e a n g e l i n this story i s a v i s i o n o f G o d .
T h e a n g e l said t o J a c o b , " L e t m e g o ! " a n d J a c o b said, " I w i l l n o t let y o u
g o until y o u bless m e . " I t was o n l y t h e n that t h e y c o u l d part. O k a y ?

T a k i n g o n s o m e o n e else's s a d n e s s m a k e s o n e w e a k
ELLA: I feel I h a v e b e e n g o i n g t h r o u g h a p e r i o d o f c h a n g e for s o m e t i m e ,
a n d it is c o n n e c t e d w i t h sadness. T o d a y , after I started f e e l i n g so m u c h
m o r e a w a k e , I felt full o f e n e r g y . B u t w h i l e U n a was setting u p h e r c o n stellation, in w h i c h I r e p r e s e n t e d h e r m o t h e r , I started f e e l i n g v e r y sad.
a n d I used this f e e l i n g a s a m e a n s o f w o r k i n g o n m y o w n sadness. B u t
s o m e h o w m y e n e r g y s e e m e d t o drain a w a y . It's b a c k again n o w , t h o u g h .
H E L L I N G E R : T a k i n g o n s o m e o n e else's sadness i s t h e s a m e a s t a k i n g o n
s o m e o n e else's guilt. Y o u r o w n sadness, for w h i c h t h e r e i s a valid reason,
m a k e s y o u s t r o n g . I t i s always p o w e r f u l . B u t s o m e o n e else's sadness
doesn't give y o u anything. W h e n s o m e o n e weeps and others w e e p in
s y m p a t h y , o n l y t h e p e r s o n w e e p i n g for his o r h e r o w n sadness b e c o m e s
strong. T h e others b e c o m e w e a k .

Psychological hygiene in constellations


F R A N K : W h e n I was r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e father i n U n a ' s family c o n s t e l l a t i o n .
I started f e e l i n g dizzy it was m o s t unpleasant. It is a f e e l i n g I ' m quite
familiar w i t h .
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u m u s t l e a v e that f e e l i n g e n t i r e l y w i t h t h e p e r s o n y o u w e r e
r e p r e s e n t i n g . T h i s i s v e r y i m p o r t a n t . O n e o f t h e basic p r i n c i p l e s o f this

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w o r k i s that y o u d o n ' t treat t h e feelings y o u e x p e r i e n c e i n a c o n s t e l l a t i o n


a s i f t h e y w e r e y o u r o w n . E v e n i f t h e r e i s a similarity t o y o u r o w n f e e l ings, t h e c a r e o f y o u r o w n soul forbids y o u r g e t t i n g personally i n v o l v e d .
W h e n a feeling c o m e s t o y o u o f its o w n a c c o r d outside o f t h e f i e l d o f t h e
constellation, then y o u can accept it as y o u r o w n , but never in c o n n e c t i o n w i t h s o m e o n e else's c o n s t e l l a t i o n . A s a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e , y o u m u s t r e m a i n e n t i r e l y n e u t r a l and personally u n t o u c h a b l e , o t h e r w i s e y o u are l a y i n g y o u r s e l f o p e n t o fantasy and c o n f u s i o n . T h i s i s a n i m p o r t a n t w a r n i n g .
F R A N K : W o u l d y o u say, t h e n , that I m u s t n o t " t r y it o n for s i z e , " e v e n i f
I e x p e r i e n c e it as r e s o n a n c e ?
H E L L I N G E R : N O , w h i l e y o u are in a c o n s t e l l a t i o n as a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e , a n d
i m m e d i a t e l y afterward, resist t h e t e m p t a t i o n t o try o n t h e feelings for
size. O f c o u r s e , all i m p o r t a n t h u m a n issues f i n d a r e s o n a n c e i n all o f us,
a n d e v e r y t h i n g w e d o h e r e i s l i n k e d t o i m p o r t a n t h u m a n issues. B u t i f
y o u a l l o w y o u r s e l f t o b e c o m e i n v o l v e d i n a p e r s o n a l w a y w h i l e y o u are
t r y i n g to serve as a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e , it's as if y o u are s o a k i n g things up i n d i s c r i m i n a t e l y , l i k e a s p o n g e . It's b e t t e r to be r i g o r o u s in t h e a s s u m p t i o n
that e v e r y t h i n g y o u feel i n t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n has n o t h i n g t o d o w i t h y o u
e v e n if it does.
F R A N K laughing: T h a n k s v e r y m u c h .
H E L L I N G E R : I ' m n o t trying t o insinuate that this is w h a t y o u d o . I ' m o n l y
m e n t i o n i n g it as a w a r n i n g n o t to get personally i n v o l v e d . It's e x t r e m e l y
i m p o r t a n t t o b e able t o draw t h e l i n e .
F R A N K : I n r e c e n t years, I h a v e often suddenly started feeling so dizzy that
I h a v e h a d t o sit d o w n . T h e r e ' s n o t h i n g o r g a n i c a l l y w r o n g , b u t i t w o r r i e s
m e a n d I w o u l d l i k e t o k n o w w h a t i t is.
H E L L I N G E R : M y s u g g e s t i o n is that w h e n this happens again, y o u s h o u l d
j u s t relax a n d let g o o f t h e feeling. A n d apropos " l e t t i n g g o , " I h a v e j u s t
r e m e m b e r e d a s e n t e n c e that is valuable b e c a u s e it t o u c h e s t h e soul. P e r haps i t will help y o u . T h e w o r d s are, " T o let g o m e a n s t o g o o n ,
changed."

T h e stress o f b e i n g h a p p y
F R A N K : E v e r s i n c e I w o r k e d w i t h m y family c o n s t e l l a t i o n y e s t e r d a y , I ' v e
b e e n w o r k i n g w i t h i t inwardly.

I haven't been thinking consciously

a b o u t i t v e r y m u c h b e c a u s e i t was s o m e h o w rather t o o m u c h for m e .


W h e n I realized this, it o c c u r r e d to me that I o f t e n feel that things are
t o o m u c h for m e . T h i s s o m e t i m e s m a k e s m e start r e a d i n g c o m p u l s i v e l y .

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HELLINGER: Perhaps y o u find b e i n g happy t o o stressful.


F R A N K laughing: T h a t ' s possible, of course. It's funny, w h e n I ' m sitting in
a circle like this, I find m y s e l f c o u n t i n g the p e o p l e in it o v e r and o v e r
again.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s a g o o d w a y o f distracting y o u r s e l f from b e i n g happy.
L e t me tell y o u a short story.
A m a n called Nasrudin he was a mullah or s o m e t h i n g of the sort
d r e a m e d that s o m e o n e was c o u n t i n g o u t gold coins i n t o his hand.
W h e n h e had n i n e coins i n his hand, the person c o u n t i n g o u t the m o n e y
suddenly stopped. Nasrudin shouted, "I must have all ten!" so loudly that
he w o k e up. T h e n he closed his eyes again and said, " A l l right, n i n e will
do."
A n y t h i n g else, F r a n k ?

D i v o r c e a n d guilt
FRANK: Y e s . W h e n I was representing U n a ' s father i n h e r family constellation, i t suddenly o c c u r r e d t o m e that I d o n ' t k n o w exactly h o w m y c h i l dren feel a b o u t my separation and divorce. I find it hard to talk to t h e m
a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: It's n o n e o f y o u r children's business.
FRANK: B u t I w o u l d like t o k n o w h o w t h e y feel.
HELLINGER: Y o u can ask t h e m h o w they feel, b u t n o t h o w t h e y feel about
the d i v o r c e . Y o u must n o t talk to t h e m about it. D i v o r c e is a matter
b e t w e e n the parents, and they do n o t have to justify their separation to
their children.
B u t there's a n o t h e r i m p o r t a n t aspect to this. T h e r e is always an e l e m e n t of guilt in d i v o r c e d i v o r c e is invariably e x p e r i e n c e d as guilt. It
y o u ask y o u r children if t h e y feel o k a y , e x p e c t i n g that t h e y will say yes.
y o u are s u b c o n s c i o u s l y w a n t i n g t h e m to release y o u from s o m e t h i n g for
w h i c h t h e y are n o t responsible. T h i s places a heavy b u r d e n on t h e m .
FRANK: I certainly d o n ' t w a n t to do that. B u t there's s o m e t h i n g in all this
that is m a k i n g me feel uneasy, and I d o n ' t k n o w exactly w h a t it is.

Children frequently atone for


irresponsible separations
HELLINGER: T h e r e is s o m e t h i n g else to consider in the case of separation.
If a partner leaves the marriage irresponsibly and w i t h o u t due considera-

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t i o n , if, for e x a m p l e , he or she says, " I ' m leaving y o u b e c a u s e I w a n t to


live my o w n life, and what y o u and the children do is y o u r p r o b l e m , " it
is n o t unusual for a child of the marriage to c o m m i t suicide. T h e child e x periences irresponsible separation as a capital c r i m e that must be a t o n e d for.
F R A N K : Y o u m e a n t h e child feels the irresponsible attitude must b e a t o n e d
for?
HELLINGER: Y e s . T h i s must b e taken i n t o c o n s i d e r a t i o n w h e n a h u s b a n d
and wife d e c i d e to separate. It is possible to relieve t h e c h i l d r e n of t h e i r
b u r d e n i f t h e marriage partners take e a c h o t h e r seriously and s u c c e e d i n
f i n d i n g a g o o d solution for t h e unfinished business b e t w e e n t h e m . T h e y
can o n l y f i n d a g o o d solution i f b o t h o f t h e m face u p t o their responsib i l i t y for w h a t w e n t w r o n g , and i f t h e children k n o w that t h e i r parents
are serious a b o u t w h a t t h e y are doing. T h e n no a t o n e m e n t is necessary.
FRANK: I m u s t do s o m e m o r e t h i n k i n g about a t o n e m e n t and w h a t it
means.

Compulsive compensation through atonement


HELLINGER: A t o n e m e n t is a form of c o m p e n s a t i o n , a b l i n d urge t o w a r d
b a l a n c e . J u s t as in nature we o b s e r v e a t e n d e n c y to k e e p systems in b a l a n c e , w e f i n d the same urge i n the p s y c h e . A t o n e m e n t i s a n a t t e m p t b y
t h e p s y c h e to e v e n o u t inequalities, b u t it is an instinctive attempt, a n d
it often takes its c o u r s e w i t h o u t t h e person c o n c e r n e d b e i n g able to w i t h stand it. W e can raise the instinctive urge and a c h i e v e b a l a n c e and c o m p e n s a t i o n on a h i g h e r level and a c c o r d i n g to a h i g h e r order. I call this
h i g h e r l e v e l the orders o f l o v e . L o v e operates o n a h i g h e r level than t h e
b l i n d instinctive urge that seeks c o m p e n s a t i o n t h r o u g h a t o n e m e n t , and
it m a k e s a t o n e m e n t unnecessary. F o r e x a m p l e , parents can raise t h e l e v e l
o f their i n t e r a c t i o n w h e n t h e y a c k n o w l e d g e and face u p t o t h e fact that
things h a v e g o n e w r o n g i n their marriage, and each o f t h e m accepts r e sponsibility for t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s . I f t h e y d o that, l o v e i s served. O n t h e
o t h e r hand, i f t h e y cling t o illusions o f i n n o c e n c e and t o b l a m i n g o n e
a n o t h e r , t h e n t h e system seeks its b a l a n c e blindly and i n n o c e n t c h i l d r e n
get r e c r u i t e d t o a t o n e . R a i s i n g a n i n t e r a c t i o n t o the level o f l o v e requires
that we see clearly w h a t ' s really g o i n g on and a c c e p t o u r guilt. G u i l t in
this c o n t e x t isn't a m o r a l issue, it's a systemic d y n a m i c . W h e n parents
carry t h e i r o w n guilt, w h e n t h e y b e a r t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f their o w n a c tions, t h e i r children n o l o n g e r have the c o m p u l s i v e urge t o a t o n e .

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Feelings of guilt as a denial of reality


HELLINGER: I n this c o n t e x t , feelings o f guilt are a c o n s e q u e n c e o f denying
reality. Y o u deny reality w h e n y o u b e h a v e a s i f y o u w e r e free although
y o u are i n fact b o u n d b y the b o n d and responsibilities o f marriage; this
is a denial of reality.
FRANK: T h a t ' s w h a t I used to do. I r e m e m b e r angrily d e n y i n g that I was
tied.
HELLINGER: Perhaps the t i m e has c o m e for y o u to c o r r e c t that. T h a t ' s an
i n n e r process o f a c k n o w l e d g i n g that the b o n d t o y o u r f o r m e r partner
exists, and o f k n o w i n g that y o u will b e free t o enter i n t o a n e w relationship o n l y w h e n y o u h o n o r that previous b o n d .
G E R T R U D E : D o e s the age o f the children m a k e any difference i n the case
o f divorce?
HELLINGER: C e r t a i n l y it does. W h e n the children have already left h o m e ,
the parents are freer than w h e n the children are still living at h o m e or
w h e n t h e y are very y o u n g . T h a t ' s quite clear.
T H O M A S : W h o decides w h e t h e r the parents are b e h a v i n g irresponsibly?
HELLINGER: N o o n e decides. I t i s s o m e t h i n g that i s e x p e r i e n c e d . W h e n
a c o u p l e separates, i f t h e y are honest, b o t h partners k n o w w h e t h e r o r not
t h e y are acting irresponsibly. It sounds as t h o u g h there was an e l e m e n t
o f irresponsibility i n y o u r case.
THOMAS:

Long

No.

pause.

HELLINGER: O k a y , that's n o t for to me to decide. T h a t is h o w it sounds.


T h e r e ' s a short p o e m by H o l d e r l i n a b o u t lovers. It says:
"Separate!

It seemed so

smart

Why are we so shocked now,


Ah!

We know so

and good.
as if we'd murdered love?

little of ourselves!

There's a hidden god in us who rules."


H o w e v e r we interpret this p o e m , it hints at the e x p e r i e n c e I was talking
about.

T h e b o n d created by the c o n s u m m a t i o n of love


T h e physical c o n s u m m a t i o n o f l o v e creates a b o n d b e t w e e n partners, and
its effects can be as strong as those of the b o n d b e t w e e n children and
their parents. Separation from a partner, especially the m o t h e r or father

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o f o u r children, can cause a s m u c h pain and e v e n m o r e guilt t h a n t h e


separation from o u r parents. W e t e n d t o underestimate t h e strength o f
this b o n d , and m a n y p e o p l e e n t e r and leave relationships a s i f t h e y w e r e
a club t o b e j o i n e d o r left o n a w h i m . B u t o n c e t h e b o n d has b e e n e s tablished, we c a n n o t leave a relationship w i t h o u t pain and w i t h o u t guilt.
L o v e does n o t respect o u r pretense o f f r e e d o m . S o m e p e o p l e close their
hearts i n order n o t t o feel t h e pain and guilt o f separation, b u t h a v i n g
d o n e that, a n e w l o v e eludes t h e m . T h e strength o f t h e b o n d i s reflected
in t h e depth and intensity of t h e pain and the guilt.

W i t h i n the m o t h e r ' s sphere o f influence


IDA: W h a t is h a p p e n i n g h e r e is affecting me v e r y deeply. S e e i n g t h e influe n c e o f t h e siblings w h o died y o u n g i n s o m e o f t h e constellations trigg e r e d a strong r e a c t i o n in m e . I ' m trying to get clear a b o u t s o m e things
that are confusing m e . M y m o t h e r always p r o v i d e d for us. S h e e a r n e d
t h e m o n e y for the family, and we lived on h e r earnings, so I d o n ' t h a v e
a v e r y clear p i c t u r e o f t h e role o f t h e wife and the r o l e o f t h e husband.
HELLINGER: W h a t h a p p e n e d t o y o u r father?
IDA: M y father was c o m p l e t e l y entangled w i t h his family o f origin. H e
spent m a n y years in prison, and he m a y still be there.
HELLINGER: W h y ?
IDA: B e c a u s e o f his political v i e w s , a l t h o u g h that's n o t the real reason.
HELLINGER: W h a t is the real reason?
IDA: T h e real reason is that my g r a n d m o t h e r , his m o t h e r , had a child by
h e r sister's husband, and this child was m u r d e r e d .
HELLINGER: M u r d e r e d ? B y w h o m ?
IDA: P r o b a b l y b y the m o t h e r . M y grandmother had the child and t h e n . . .
W e l l , s o m e p e o p l e say it died, and others say it was m u r d e r e d . My
father was entangled in this.
HELLINGER: H e ' s paying for s o m e t h i n g others did. B u t that has n o t h i n g
t o d o w i t h y o u r question a b o u t t h e role o f h u s b a n d and wife. T h e s o l u t i o n for y o u is t h e following: In y o u r heart, let y o u r father go b a c k to his
family, and y o u g o and stand n e x t t o y o u r m o t h e r . Y o u ' l l b e safe t h e r e .
T h a t ' s all y o u have to do.
IDA: Y e s . Y e s t e r d a y things s e e m e d clearer, i n c l u d i n g the issue o f t h e r o l e
of a career w o m a n . P e o p l e say I am t o o ambitious.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s g o o d . Y o u take after y o u r m o t h e r .
IDA: Y e s , that's true. T h a t d o e s n ' t c o m e from m y father.

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HELLINGER: M a n y p e o p l e w o u l d b e happy t o have a role m o d e l like y o u :


mother.
IDA: Y e s . T h a t was w h a t I was confused about. I t h o u g h t I was still under
m y father's influence and b o u n d t o h i m . B u t it's n o t his i n f l u e n c e , it's
my mother's.
HELLINGER: S h e has a g o o d influence on y o u .

Different ways of giving and taking in the family


IDA: I have a n o t h e r question. C h i l d r e n take from their parents. W h a t happens i f m y sister gives m e s o m e t h i n g a s i f she w e r e m y m o t h e r ? It's natural t o take f r o m m y parents, b u t w h a t happens w h e n i t c o m e s from m y
sister?
HELLINGER: Parents give themselves as they are to their children, and they
can neither add to what they are n o r take away from it. C h i l d r e n get their
parents o n l y as they are, they can neither add to n o r take away from what
their parents give t h e m in this way. T h i s is the way it is, and we m a y not
like it, b u t we c a n ' t change it. It's quite a different thing to give s o m e o n e
s o m e t h i n g w e ' v e acquired. T h a t ' s t h e f i r s t thing. W h e n w e understand
that t h e o n l y possible parents for us are e x a c t l y the o n e s we have, it
b e c o m e s clear that t h e r e is no sense in wishing we had different parents.
D i f f e r e n t parents w o u l d have had a different child, n o t us. If we r e c o g nize this fundamental truth, we can " h a v e " o u r parents in a deep sense
and feel c o m p l e t e . A n d w e can forget a b o u t trying t o c h a n g e o u r parents
B u t in addition to w h a t t h e y are, parents also give their c h i l d r e n w h a :
t h e y have acquired. T h e y p r o v i d e for t h e m i n all sorts o f ways for m a n y
years, and children a c c e p t this from their parents as well. T h e fact that
parents give so m u c h m o r e t h a n children do creates a t r e m e n d o u s i n e q u ality b e t w e e n children and their parents, an inequality that c h i l d r e n can
n e v e r e v e n out. B e c a u s e children feel this, they often try to escape from
t h e o b l i g a t i o n i t imposes o n t h e m b y d e m e a n i n g and belittling their parents. B u t c h i l d r e n pass on w h a t they have r e c e i v e d from their parents tc
t h e i r o w n children o r t o o t h e r p e o p l e t h r o u g h b e c o m i n g i n v o l v e d i n social w o r k or c o m m u n a l affairs. In this way, t h e y finally a c h i e v e balance
and c o m p e n s a t i o n .
B u t parents also have personal guilt, e n t a n g l e m e n t s , or m e r i t , like your
father's. T h e s e things b e l o n g to the parents a l o n e and c h i l d r e n cannot
and m u s t n o t take t h e m from their parents. I f t h e y do, t h e y h a r m love
T h e y m a y n o t take o n their parents' guilt o r its c o n s e q u e n c e s , n o r may

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t h e y take o n their parents' merits. T h e y m a y feel entitled t o t h e i r parents'


merits and t h e y m a y feel responsible for their parents' guilt, b u t t h e y
h a r m themselves and their parents w h e n t h e y try t o take t h e m o n . O f
course, children w h o s e parents have a c h i e v e d a respected p o s i t i o n have
a b i g advantage, and this is s o m e t h i n g that parents give to their children
as w e l l . B u t a child is silly w h o says, "I am a great painter b e c a u s e my
father was a great painter," or "I am a great politician b e c a u s e my father
was a great p o l i t i c i a n , " or anything of that sort. H e r e a child must draw
a line o u t o f respect for the parents. B u t children w h o use w h a t t h e y
h a v e r e c e i v e d from their parents t o d o s o m e t h i n g o n their o w n can t h e n
c l a i m their a c c o m p l i s h m e n t s as their o w n , and if children do s o m e t h i n g
that m a k e s t h e m guilty, t h e y must a c k n o w l e d g e this t o o as their o w n
guilt.
T h e r e are s o m e issues and duties, h o w e v e r , that are c o m m o n t o b o t h
parents and children. A family is a group u n i t e d by a c o m m o n n e e d to
survive and sharing a c o m m o n destiny. E a c h individual m e m b e r has his
o r h e r o w n duties and responsibilities. T h u s children must also give w h e n
it is necessary, and parents can d e m a n d that their children m a k e a c o n t r i b u t i o n to t h e w e l l - b e i n g of the family as a w h o l e . Y o u r sister p r o b a b l y
t o o k o n t h e task o f l o o k i n g after y o u w h e n y o u r m o t h e r was n o t present,
and it was all right for y o u to take w h a t she gave y o u in fact, y o u had
no other choice.
Parents g o t o o far w h e n t h e y m a k e demands o n their children that e x c e e d the needs o f t h e w e l l - b e i n g o f t h e greater w h o l e . F o r e x a m p l e , parents s o m e t i m e s d e m a n d that their children c o m f o r t t h e m . T h e n t h e c h i l dren have t o b e h a v e a s i f they w e r e t h e parents o f their parents, and their
parents b e h a v e as if t h e y w e r e t h e children of their children. T h i s is a
perversion o f t h e relationship b e t w e e n parents and children. C h i l d r e n
c a n n o t p r o t e c t themselves against such demands b y their parents. T h e y
b e c o m e e n t a n g l e d i n s o m e t h i n g against w h i c h t h e y have n o defense and
are f o r c e d t o p r e s u m e t o s o m e t h i n g for w h i c h they later punish t h e m selves. F o r e x a m p l e , children w h o w e r e forced t o take o n inappropriate
responsibility often later suffer illness or misfortune, or failure or early
death. It is o n l y w h e n children have b e c o m e adult and are able to see
h o w t h e y w e r e entangled that t h e y can c o r r e c t it, a l t h o u g h t h e y m a y
n e e d s o m e help, for e x a m p l e , the help of p s y c h o t h e r a p y . Is that clear?
IDA: Y e s .

139

Beloved burden
W I L L I A M : M y n a m e is W i l l i a m . I ' m m a r r i e d to Ida, and w e h a v e a small
d a u g h t e r . I ' m a n e n g i n e e r b y profession, a n d Ida a n d I o w n a c o m p a n y
that m a k e s m e a s u r i n g i n s t r u m e n t s for c o m p u t e r s . A t t h e m o m e n t , I w o r k
b e t w e e n t w e l v e and f o u r t e e n h o u r s a day. I d o n ' t really w a n t to w o r k so
h a r d b u t it s e e m s u n a v o i d a b l e . I t h i n k I h a v e t o . I c a n ' t j u s t let things
slide, e v e n t h o u g h I ' m m y o w n boss.
H E L L I N G E R : It's n o t q u i t e as s i m p l e as that. T h e r e is a right w a y o f d o i n g
things, a n d y o u c a n n o t deviate f r o m i t w i t h o u t h a r m i n g yourself. N o o n e
i s free i n t e r m s o f this right w a y . W h e n y o u h a v e a r e s p o n s i b l e p o s i t i o n
in a firm, e v e n if it is y o u r o w n , y o u are n o t free.
W I L L I A M : B u t I started m y o w n business so that I w o u l d b e free t o o r g a n ize my w o r k as I l i k e d .
H E L L I N G E R : N o w y o u h a v e d i s c o v e r e d that was an illusion. S e l f - e m p l o y e d
p e o p l e are n o freer t h a n a n y o n e else. Y o u h a v e a r e s p o n s i b i l i t y t o y o u r
firm, y o u h a v e a responsibility to y o u r family, a n d y o u h a v e a r e s p o n s i b i l i t y t o y o u r s e l f . W h a t y o u n e e d t o d o n o w i s t o strike a b a l a n c e a m o n g
t h e different areas. T h a t is t h e difficult t h i n g .. .
W I L L I A M : A l t h o u g h I ' v e h a d t o o m u c h t o d o for a l o n g t i m e n o w , I m i g h t
b e a b l e t o divide t h e w o r k i n t o smaller units . . .
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u j u s t c u t m e o f f f r o m s h o w i n g y o u t h e s o l u t i o n . I was j u s :
g o i n g t o tell y o u t h e a n s w e r t o y o u r p r o b l e m w h e n y o u r e p e a t e d the
p r o b l e m . I see y o u are happy w i t h it in s o m e w a y a n d I m u s t n o t p r e s u m e t o i n t e r f e r e w i t h s u c h happiness.
W I L L I A M : NOW I feel bad.
He sighs and is close to tears.
H E L L I N G E R : L o o k at m e in a friendly w a y . W i l l i a m , y o u ' r e n o t really with
us. C a n y o u feel that? W h e n y o u ' r e p r e o c c u p i e d w i t h s u c h feelings, y o u
c a n ' t l o o k a t t h e p e r s o n y o u ' r e talking t o . T h a t s h o w s that y o u r feelings
h a v e n o t h i n g t o d o w i t h t h e present.
W I L L I A M : T h a t ' s true.
H E L L I N G E R : I f y o u w o u l d l o o k at m e a n d see m e , y o u r feelings w o u l d
change at o n c e .
(pause) Y o u ' r e still n o t l o o k i n g a t m e . C a n y o u feel that? A n d e v e n i t
y o u d o l o o k a t m e , y o u c a n ' t see m e .
WILLIAM:

NOW

can

see

you.

H E L L I N G E R : N o y o u can't, not yet.


WILLIAM:

Yes

can!

He moves his hand as if he were trying to brush the mist away from before his eyes.

140

H E L L I N G E R : Y o u still c a n ' t see m e . D o y o u n o t i c e that? Y o u ' r e still p r e o c c u p i e d w i t h y o u r i n n e r i m a g e . Ida c a n see me (Ida is sitting next to William),

but you

can't.

W I L L I A M : I was f e e l i n g p r e t t y g o o d w h e n I c a m e h e r e this m o r n i n g . B u t
w h a t has h a p p e n e d i n t h e g r o u p s i n c e t h e n , w i t h H a r r y , for e x a m p l e , has
h i t m e hard, especially t h e w o r d " v i c t i m . "
Long

pause.

H E L L I N G E R : Are you a victim?


WILLIAM:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : O f w h o m or o f what?
W I L L I A M : I b e l i e v e I h a v e a t e c h n i q u e for a r r a n g i n g things so that I b e c o m e a victim.
H E L L I N G E R : T h e v i c t i m has t o a t o n e . T h e q u e s t i o n is, for w h o m are y o u
a t o n i n g , for s o m e o n e i n y o u r system o r for y o u r o w n guilt? H a v e y o u
e v e r b e e n g u i l t y o f a n y t h i n g ? H a v e y o u c a u s e d a n y o n e ' s death, for e x a m ple, in a r o a d a c c i d e n t ?
W I L L I A M : N o . B u t m y father was i l l e g i t i m a t e , and it was t a b o o t o m e n t i o n
my grandfather. I n e v e r e v e n m e t h i m . I r e c e n t l y l e a r n e d that he h a d a
family and that o n e o f his sons, w h o was o n e o f m y uncles, killed himself.
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , so t h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g sinister in y o u r s y s t e m . L e t ' s t a k e
a l o o k at it t o g e t h e r .

T H E FATHER WAS ILLEGITIMATE,


THE FATHER'S FATHER
WAS EXCLUDED FROM THE FAMILY
W I L L I A M : W h o m do I need?
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r father a n d m o t h e r a n d t h e i r c h i l d r e n . W a s e i t h e r o f
y o u r parents p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d , o r was t h e r e a c h i l d w h o
died young?
WILLIAM:

No.

H E L L I N G E R : I S t h e r e a n y o n e missing?
W I L L I A M : A S I said, m y father's father was t a b o o .
H E L L I N G E R : W e ' l l w a i t a b i t b e f o r e w e b r i n g h i m in. First o f all, w e ' l l set
u p t h e n u c l e a r family.

141

When
ing

William set up his family constellation, he started by plachis

moved

own

representative facing

him further

his father,

and

subsequently

away.

Diagram 1
F
M
1

Father
Mother
First child, a daughter

S e c o n d child, a son (= W i l l i a m )

HELLINGER: A r e y o u r parents divorced?


WILLIAM: N o .
HELLINGER: W h a t happened in y o u r m o t h e r ' s family? D i d a n y o n e die?
WILLIAM: My grandfather's first wife died giving birth to her first child, a
son. My grandfather remarried and had three children w i t h his second
wife, my m o t h e r and t w o aunts.
HELLINGER: Y o u r grandfather's first wife is the important person. W e ' l l
add her to the constellation.

142

Diagram 2
MFlWf

Mother's father's first wife, who died in childbirth

HELLINGER: How is the father feeling?


FATHER: I feel rather lost here.
HELLINGER to the group: It would be difficult to set up a constellation that
shows the lack of unity in a family more clearly.
H o w is the mother feeling?
MOTHER: At first, I felt as if I were dead.
HELLINGER to the mother. That is the identification with your grandfather's
first wife.
MOTHER: I feel slightly drawn toward my husband, and when my son came
and stood in front of me, I felt I had at least some sort of a relationship.
HELLINGER: How is the daughter feeling?
FIRST CHILD: Not good and not bad.
HELLINGER to the representative of William: What about the son?
SECOND CHILD: Until the grandfather's first wife appeared on the scene,
I was feeling so lifeless that I was not sure I was alive at all. I didn't feel
any sort of a relationship to anyone. Since she's been here, there's been
a slight feeling of warmth coming from her direction.
MOTHER'S FATHER'S FIRST W I F E 7 : I'm angry, and I feel like grabbing the
woman in front of me. I feel important.

143

F A T H E R : A t t h e b e g i n n i n g , w h e n I was standing h e r e a n d t h e rest o f t h e


c o n s t e l l a t i o n was b e i n g set up, my lips felt w a r m a n d I w a n t e d to go to
m y w i f e . B u t t h e feeling d w i n d l e d , and n o w it's g o n e a l t o g e t h e r .
H E L L I N G E R to William: I ' m g o i n g to add y o u r grandfather to t h e c o n s t e l lation.
Hettinger

adds

the grandfather

and

turns

the

mother around.

Diagram 3
FF

Father's father

F A T H E R : N O W it's b e t t e r . It feels r o u n d e r .
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , it is r o u n d e r .
to the daughter. H a s a n y t h i n g c h a n g e d for y o u ?
F I R S T CHILD: Y e s . It's b e t t e r .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : A s i f I h a d c o m e b a c k f r o m t h e dead.
HELLINGER

to the representative of William:

S E C O N D CHILD:

H o w are y o u feeling?

Good.

M O T H E R ' S FATHER'S FIRST W I F E f : W h e n William's m o t h e r turned ar o u n d , I t h o u g h t : that's t h e m o s t I will t o l e r a t e . I ' m n o t p u t t i n g up w i t h

144

anything else. She laughs. I feel fine. T h i s w o m a n is i m p o r t a n t to m e .


T h e others are n o t s o important.
HELLINGER: H o w i s the m o t h e r feeling n o w ?
M O T H E R : M u c h b e t t e r than I was, but I still feel far away and alone.
F A T H E R : T h e distance b e t w e e n m e and m y wife i s g o o d . A n d it's i m p o r tant that she's n o w facing the right way.
F A T H E R ' S FATHER: I feel a liking for these t w o in front of m e , my son and
m y grandson. A n d I like m y granddaughter, t o o , t h e r e o n m y left. B u t
I ' m m a i n l y interested i n m y son and m y grandson.
SECOND CHILD: I d o n ' t n e e d to be quite as close to my father as I am
n o w . M y grandfather i s very i m p o r t a n t t o m e . W h e n h e appeared o n t h e
s c e n e , I suddenly f o u n d a p o i n t of o r i e n t a t i o n .
HELLINGER to William: He is a g o o d role m o d e l for y o u .
IDA

(William's wife):

He was a businessman.

HELLINGER: A businessman? T h a t t o o ?
Laughter

in

the group.

Diagram 4

F A T H E R : I felt w a r m e r b e f o r e . N o w my son is standing opposite m e , and


further away, b u t I have to a c c e p t it. I have lost s o m e t h i n g .

145

S E C O N D C H I L D : A g a i n I felt a s h u d d e r run t h r o u g h m e , b u t I t h i n k it's


g o o d l i k e this. It's m u c h b e t t e r than i t was w h e n I was standing n e x t t o
m y father.
H E L L I N G E R : T O y o u r father, y o u r e p r e s e n t his father. T h a t ' s w h y y o u r p o sitions w e r e i n t e r c h a n g e a b l e .
H E L L I N G E R to the mother. H a s a n y t h i n g c h a n g e d for y o u ?
M O T H E R : I l i k e b e i n g able to l o o k at m y c h i l d r e n .
F A T H E R : I ' m n o t used to h a v i n g m y w i f e so close. B u t I c a n a c c e p t it.
Hellinger

adds

representatives.

Diagram 5
MF
MM

Mother's father
Mother's mother

H E L L I N G E R to the people in the constellation: H o w are y o u feeling n o w ?


M O T H E R : Good.
F A T H E R : G o o d . C o m p l e t e . N o w things are b a l a n c e d . I feel o k a y w i t h m y
w i f e standing n e x t t o m e . S o m e t h i n g was n o t q u i t e right b e f o r e .
S E C O N D C H I L D : It's v e r y strange s e e i n g m y parents so c l o s e t o g e t h e r . I
d o n ' t q u i t e trust it.

146

F A T H E R ' S F A T H E R : It feels g o o d having n o t h i n g b e t w e e n m e and m y


grandchildren, and I like b e i n g able to see my son clearly. B u t the w o m en d o n ' t s e e m to have m u c h to do w i t h m e . I start to feel frightened
w h e n I l o o k at t h e m .
H E L L I N G E R to William: W o u l d y o u like to g o and stand in y o u r place?
WILLIAM:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R to the group: I ' d like to say s o m e t h i n g a b o u t these dynamics.


W h e n a w o m a n dies in childbirth, it has the same effect on t h e system
as a m u r d e r and, like a m u r d e r , it demands a t o n e m e n t . Usually, o n e of
t h e sons c o m e s under pressure to c o m p e n s a t e in s o m e way, e v e n to die.
T h a t w o u l d b e W i l l i a m . T h a t ' s w h y h e felt h e was a v i c t i m . H e w o u l d
have b e e n i n danger had this w o m a n n o t b e e n a c c o r d e d the respect due
to her.
t o William: Y o u ' l l b e m u c h safer i f y o u m o v e closer t o y o u r father and furt h e r away from y o u r m o t h e r . Y o u r father's father can free y o u f r o m the
e n t a n g l e m e n t and m a k e y o u safe. G o o d , that's all, then.

W h e n a child takes on the role of a p a r e n t


IDA: Y o u told W i l l i a m that for his father he represents his father's father.
W h a t does that m e a n ?
H E L L I N G E R : W i l l i a m ' s father was missing his father. W i l l i a m t o o k o n t h e
f u n c t i o n o f b e i n g his father's father. H e assumed the function o f b e i n g
a parent to his o w n father. W h e n a parent didn't have a g o o d r e l a t i o n ship w i t h o n e o f his o r h e r parents, t h e n o n e o f the children assumes the
f u n c t i o n o f b e i n g the missing parent for his o r her o w n father o r m o t h e r .
T h i s is s o m e t i m e s called the parentification of a child, and the reason for
t h e b r o k e n relationship d o e s n ' t matter.

A t o n e m e n t for the death of a w o m a n in childbirth


F R A N K : IS the child w h o was b o r n w h e n the m o t h e r died i m p o r t a n t for
William?
H E L L I N G E R : N o , n o t here. T h e dead w o m a n is t o o powerful.
G E O R G E : B u t w h a t i f the child had died?
H E L L I N G E R : E v e n then it p r o b a b l y w o u l d n o t b e as i m p o r t a n t as the dead
mother.
to William: D i d the child die?
W I L L I A M : N O . H e ' s m y oldest u n c l e o n m y m o t h e r ' s side.

147

F R A N K to William: A n d h o w is he doing?
WILLIAM: H e ' s fine.
FRANK: It amazes me that he's fine and s o m e o n e else has to carry the burden.
WILLIAM: Y e s . H e ' s d o n e s o m e crazy things, b u t he's fine i n spite o f t h e m .
H e ' s i n the best o f health.
HELLINGER to the group: D o i n g crazy things m e a n s , of course, that he was
d o i n g s o m e t h i n g that e n d a n g e r e d his life. T h a t ' s w h a t p e o p l e in his situation often d o . W i l l i a m has given us the clue.
T h e r e ' s a crazy fantasy prevalent in o u r society that's b o t h hostile and
degrading to w o m e n : In a system like this, husbands and sons often feel
t h e y have to atone for the death of the w o m a n w h o died at childbirth. It
m a y h a v e s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h the fact that, i n o u r society, the act o f
p r o c r e a t i o n is still so often regarded as b e i n g i n d e c e n t , e v e n t h o u g h it is,
in fact, t h e greatest h u m a n act of all. T h e r e is n o t h i n g greater and m o r e
h u m a n than this, and t h e r e is n o t h i n g that entails a greater risk. Parents
k n o w this. T h e y are aware o f the risk, and t h e y act i n full k n o w l e d g e o f
the risk i n v o l v e d w h e n they have a child. T h i s is w h a t gives t h e act of
p r o c r e a t i o n its greatness.
B o t h the m a n and the w o m a n are aware o f the risk, b u t w h e n the
w o r s t does happen, the c o n s e q u e n c e s for the w o m a n are graver than for
the m a n b e c a u s e she loses h e r life. W h e n this is interpreted as if the m a n
had m u r d e r e d the w o m a n and sacrificed h e r to his base instincts, this is
a grave injustice to the w o m a n . It demeans h e r willingness to risk h e r life
for h e r children and it is an insult to h e r dignity quite apart f r o m the
dignity o f the m a n .
W h e n w o m e n die in childbirth their husbands are often treated as
murderers, but in family constellations, it invariably b e c o m e s clear that
the dead w o m e n d o n o t c o n d e m n o r b l a m e their husbands, that they
w e r e w e l l aware o f the risk, and o f their dignity and value. T h e y d o c o n d e m n t h o s e w h o d o n o t respect and h o n o r t h e m b e c a u s e t h e y m a y b e
frightened b y the death o f a w o m a n i n childbirth. T h i s fear can b e m a i n tained o v e r m a n y generations, and the death of a w o m a n in childbirth is
s o m e t i m e s a t o n e d for o v e r m a n y generations. T h i s a t o n e m e n t s o m e t i m e s
takes s o m e strange forms.
I'll give y o u an e x a m p l e . A participant in a w o r k s h o p o n c e set up the
constellation o f his family o f origin: father, m o t h e r , and t h r e e brothers.
T h e t h r e e brothers w e r e very restless and upset, and after e x p e r i m e n t i n g
for quite a t i m e , we eventually found o u t that the first wife of the participant's great-grandfather had died in childbirth. W h e n I placed the dead
w o m a n b e h i n d the t h r e e brothers, they suddenly started feeling quiet and

148

peaceful. All t h r e e w e r e h o m o s e x u a l , and o n e o f t h e m had c o m m i t t e d


suicide. It happens quite frequently that s o m e o n e in a family system, s o m e times e v e n a grandchild or great-grandchild, c o m m i t s suicide to a t o n e for
the death of a w o m a n in childbirth. By the way, this also demonstrates
a set o f dynamics I ' v e often observed: M a n y h o m o s e x u a l m e n have had
to represent a w o m a n in their family b e c a u s e no girl was available.
to William: If y o u are interested in a solution, y o u n e e d to leave the sphere
o f influence o f y o u r m o t h e r and h e r family and e n t e r that o f y o u r father
and y o u r grandfather, the businessman. T h a t w o u l d help y o u t o free
y o u r s e l f f r o m the e n t a n g l e m e n t i n y o u r m o t h e r ' s family, and b e free o f
t h e feeling that y o u are a v i c t i m or that y o u have to a t o n e for s o m e t h i n g .
WILLIAM: B u t I didn't find o u t until quite r e c e n t l y that my grandfather had
his o w n business.
HELLINGER: E n t a n g l e m e n t s are n o t passed o n verbally. T h e y w o r k w i t h o u t
o u r c o n s c i o u s k n o w l e d g e . K n o w l e d g e o f their cause i s direct and i m m e diate. I f this w e r e n o t so, w e w o u l d n o t b e able t o d o this w o r k w i t h
family constellations.
FRANK: I have a n o t h e r question a b o u t guilt, real or i m a g i n e d . As I u n d e r stand it, a descendant identifies, on the o n e hand, w i t h the w o m a n w h o
died, and o n the other, w i t h the p r e s u m e d guilt o f the ancestor. B u t
these are t w o different p e o p l e .
HELLINGER: T h e n u m b e r o f actual persons i n v o l v e d isn't s o i m p o r t a n t .
T h e c o n s c i e n c e operating in the family system isn't so discriminating, and
it tends to treat t h e m all as o n e . T h e fantasy o p e r a t i n g in the system
seems to be that the grandfather as m u r d e r e r should c o m m i t suicide, and
b e c a u s e h e didn't, s o m e o n e else did instead. B u t the m a n w h o s e wife
died in childbirth didn't have this fantasy he k n e w better. His d e scendants have the fantasy.
B u t t h e r e i s also a n o t h e r idea b e h i n d this: W h e n s o m e o n e i n t h e
system dies, s o m e o n e else must die as c o m p e n s a t i o n . T h i s is an a n c i e n t ,
p r i m i t i v e idea o f c o m p e n s a t i o n that w o r k s deep d o w n i n the soul. T h e
archaic urge for c o m p e n s a t i o n can be transformed i n t o l o v e on a h i g h e r
level a c c o r d i n g t o the orders o f l o v e . W h e n s o m e o n e w h o has m a d e
r o o m for s o m e o n e else in the system is a c c o r d e d due respect and h o n o r ,
n o t h i n g else needs to be d o n e . As s o o n as s o m e o n e does m o r e , tries to
a t o n e in a n o t h e r way, takes on guilt, due respect for the deceased is dim i n i s h e d . It is the respect and the a c k n o w l e d g m e n t of the deceased's
sacrifice in the service of life that c o u n t . N o t h i n g else is necessary. T h a t ' s
w h y we all have it w i t h i n o u r p o w e r to do what's necessary.
FRANK: So all that's n e e d e d is a c k n o w l e d g m e n t and respect?

149

HELLINGER: Y e s . R e s p e c t and h o n o r i n g w h a t serves life.


C A R L : T h a t ' s w h a t I w a n t e d to ask a little w h i l e ago. W h e n s o m e o n e w h o
feels like a v i c t i m gives the person c o n c e r n e d the respect and h o n o r due,
is that e n o u g h ? D o e s n ' t s o m e o n e else have to do it as well?
HELLINGER: W h e n it is d o n e authentically, deep in the heart, it's e n o u g h .
W i l l i a m must h o n o r his grandfather's first wife for m a k i n g r o o m for his
m o t h e r ' s m o t h e r , and thus for his o w n m o t h e r and for h i m . H e r death
was a p r i c e paid for his life.
ANNE: D o e s i t m a k e any difference w h e t h e r the misfortune c o m e s from
the m o t h e r ' s side or the father's side?
HELLINGER: N o , i t m a k e s n o difference.

In this c o n t e x t , I ' m g o i n g to tell y o u a fairy tale that's a c o d e d message,


and y e t revealing. It leads us to b e l i e v e that we can c h a n g e the way
things are t h r o u g h o u r wishes, and it seduces us perhaps to actions that
lead to the very misfortune we fear, rather than to the g o o d fortune we
desire.
W h e n such pictures are operating in the b a c k g r o u n d , it helps to tell
t h e story slightly differently from the original. T h a t m a k e s it clear that
o u r wishes have their limitations and that o u r p r e s u m p t u o u s actions are
d o o m e d t o failure. T h e n w h e n w e listen t o the story, w e c o m e d o w n t o
earth and realize o u r limitations.

The

illusion

An old king was

lying on his deathbed,

worrying about the future of his king-

dom. He summoned his most faithful servant, fohn, and told him a secret. Then
he said,

"My most faithful fohn,

take care of my son when I am dead, for he

is of tender age and cannot always know how to conduct himself.

Promise me

you will teach him everything he ought to know and serve him

with fidelity."

Faithful J o h n felt very important (after all,

he was only a servant) and, bliss-

fully ignorant of what was to come, he raised his right hand and swore,
keep your secret and I will serve your son with
my

fidelity

"I will

even if it should cost me

life."
The old king said no more, but laid his head on his pillow and died.

When

he had been carried to his grave and the mourning was over, faithful fohn led
the young king through the palace and showed him all the rooms and all the

150

riches of the kingdom.


opened,

There was one door,

the young

When faithful John


the king tried to

by force;

noticed

and so,

and

became

that he passed by un-

told him that his father had forbidden him to open the door,
it open

king

however,

impatient.

break

and

with a heavy heart, faithful John unlocked the

door.
In the room was a picture,

but faithful John went in

of the picture so that the king could not see it.


young king pushed
swoon.

him

to

one side,

saw the picture,

It was a portrait of the princess

When he came
of nothing,

to

himself again,

first

of the

and stood in front

It did no good,

however.

and fell

into

The
deep

Golden Dwelling.

he was beside himself, for he could think

except how he could make her his bride.

He dared not ask openly

for her hand as he had heard that her father had turned away all her suitors.
And so

he

and faithful John put

Their investigations

their heads

revealed that

gold more than anything else in the world.


and

all

the golden

onboard a ship,
the princess

tableware

together and

the princess
So

and services from

of the

thought

Golden

up

a plan.

Dwelling

desired

they took all the golden jewelry


the

royal

treasury,

stowed

it

and sailed across the sea until they arrived at the town where

of the

Golden

gold and secretly went to

Dwelling

lived.

Then faithful John

the palace to offer it for sale,

took

some

and when

of the

the princess

heard about it, she asked to see all he had. He told her that he was only the
servant of a rich merchant and that they had great quantities of fine gold wares
aboard his ship and,
I will go
When

after some resistance, she said,

there myself and behold the


the

king,

disguised as

treasures

merchant,

"Conduct me to your ship,

of your master."
saw her,

he perceived

beauty was even greater than the picture had revealed to him,
into

the hold of the ship and showed her all his golden
Meanwhile, faithful John

dered.

treasures.

had weighed anchor and put up sails,

sailed out once again to sea.

and

the ship

The princess noticed, and at first she was bewil-

But then she guessed what was going on,

with her own secret desires,

that her

and he took her

and since it complied perfectly

she pretended she was

pened and played along with them.

unaware of what had hap-

Wlien she had seen all there was to see,

she acted as if she were surprised and shocked to see that the ship was already
far out to sea.

But the king took her by the hand and said,

"Don't be afraid!

I am not a merchant, I am a king, and I love you so much that I am asking


you

to

be my wife."

thought of the gold,

She

looked at him,

decided that he had a kind face,

and said yes.

While they were sailing across the sea, faithful John was sitting at the wheel
whistling a happy tune because his ruse had worked so well.
three ravens
a

flying

mast and began

toward him.
talking among

Wlien they reached the ship,

Suddenly he saw
they perched on

themselves.

151

The first raven said, "The king has not got the princess yet. When they
reach land a chestnut horse will leap forward to meet him, and he will mount
it in order to ride to the palace. But the horse will run away with him and he
will never be seen again." The second raven said, "Unless, of course, someone
else mounts it first, draws a pistol from its holster, and shoots it dead." And
the third raven said, "But whosoever knows of this and tells of it will be turned
to stone from the toes to the knees."
The first raven said, "But even if the horse be killed, the young king will
still not keep his bride. When they enter the palace together, a woven bridal
garment will be lying there and the king will want to put it on. But if he does,
it will burn him like sulfur and pitch to the very marrow of his bones." The
second raven said, "Unless, of course, someone wearing gloves picks up the garment and throws it into the fire before the king can put it on." And the third
raven said, "But whosoever knows this and tells of it will be turned to stone
from the knees to the heart."
The first raven said, "Even if the bridal garment be burned, the king will
still not have his bride. After the wedding, when the dancing begins, the queen
will suddenly turn pale and fall down as if dead." And the second raven said,
"And unless someone unfastens her bodice and draws three drops of blood from
her right breast and spits them out again, she will die." And the third raven
said, "But whosoever knows this and tells of it will be turned to stone from the
heart to the crown of the head."
It now became clear to faithful John that things were becoming serious. But,
true to his oath, he made up his mind to do everything in his power to save the
king and queen, even if it should cost him his life.
When they came to shore, everything happened as it had been foretold by
the ravens. A chestnut horse sprang forward, and before the king could mount
it, faithful John jumped onto its back, took a pistol from his holster, and shot
the animal dead. Then the other attendants said, "What a nerve he has! How
shameful to have killed the magnificent horse that was to have carried the king
to the palace! He must be punished!" But the king said, "Leave him alone.
He is my most faithful John. Who knows what good may come of this?"
They entered the palace, and there lay the bridal garment. But before the
king could pick it up and put it on, faithful John seized it with gloved hands
and threw it into the fire. Then the other attendants said, "What a nerve he
has! The king was just going to put on the bridal garment for his wedding, but
faithful John threw it into the fire before his very eyes! He must be punished!"
But the king said, "Leave him alone. He is my most faithful John. Who
knows what good may come of this?"
The wedding was solemnized. And when the dancing began, the queen

152

turned pale and fell to the ground as if she were dead.

Faithful John ran to her

side, and before the king had a chance to do anything (he was still very inexperienced),
drops

he unfastened her bodice,

of blood from

it,

and spat

drew out her right breast,


them

out

again.

Immediately,

sucked three
she

opened

her eyes and recovered.

But the king had seen what had happened and was

ashamed,

heard his

and when

he

attendants

whispering

that

this

time faithful

John really had gone too far and that the king would be a laughingstock if he
did not have him punished,
a

he had him condemned to death and thrown into

dungeon.
The following morning,

to

when he was being led to the gallows and was about

be executed, faithful John

ravens had said.

he would be executed,
stone.

tried to decide whether he should reveal what the

Whatever happened,

he was doomed to die: if he kept silent,

and if he revealed what he knew,

he would be turned to

Then he decided that it would be better to speak out because, as he told

himself,

"Perhaps

When

the

truth

will make

them free."

he was standing before the executioner and,

granted permission to make one last speech,

like all criminals,

was

he related to all present why he had

done these things that had seemed to be so bad. And when he had finished
speaking,

he became a stone and fell down lifeless.

All the people cried out in anguish,


chambers.

Then

ravens said,

That is how he died.

and the king and queen retired to their

the queen looked at the king and said,

but I said nothing for fear that I would be

the king laid his finger on her lips and whispered to her,

"I, too, heard what the


turned to stone." But
"I heard them, too!"

But that is not the end of the story. For the king did not dare to have the
stone figure of faithful John buried, but had it placed in the palace gardens as
a

monument.

And whenever he passed by it,

faithful John!" Soon,


became pregnant,

however,

and after a year,

she bore him twins,

When the children were 3 years old,


and he said to his wife,

he sighed and said,

"Ah,

my

he had other things to distract him, for the queen


two winsome boys.

the king could no longer remain silent,

"We must do something to bring faithful John back to

life, and we shall be able to accomplish this by sacrificing that which we hold
most dear."

The queen turned pale and said,

That is our children!" And


The following morning,

the king said,

he drew his sword,

"That which we hold most dear?


"Yes."
cut off his children's heads and

poured their blood over the monument of faithful John in the hope that he
would come back to life.

But he remained a stone.

Then the queen cried out,

"This

her chamber, packed her belongings,


king,

however,

is the end of everything!" She retired to


and returned home

went to his mother's grave,

knelt down,

to

her country.

The

and wept.

153

A n y o n e w h o feels t e m p t e d t o refer t o t h e original story will discover, o n


reading it carefully, the same message. In addition, h o w e v e r , the person
will find that t h e real fairy tale blunts and softens t h e t e r r o r of t h e u n v e i l e d
truth by suggesting that t h e fear that he or she will find the heavens e m p t y
can be e x o r c i s e d by a d e c e p t i v e h o p e .

F a t h e r and son
W A L T E R : I f o l l o w e d y o u r advice and had a talk w i t h my son last night. It
was surprisingly easy. He o n l y said, " A s a psychologist, y o u s h o u l d have
k n o w n that yourself."
T h e n I said to h i m , " S o m e t i m e s I n e e d a push, t o o . " We talked a bit
m o r e later in t h e e v e n i n g , and he said, "Perhaps I will study psychologyafter all." T h e n m y wife added, " B u t y o u ' l l have t o get g o o d grades i f
y o u w a n t to study p s y c h o l o g y , " and I said, " H e ' l l get g o o d grades if he's
really i n t e r e s t e d . "
HELLINGER: T h a t was a g o o d m o v e psychologically. I'll give y o u a n o t h e r
e x a m p l e . A m a n taking part in a w o r k s h o p o n c e said, " M y son does not
respect m e . " I said t o h i m , " Y o u can solve that very easily. T h e n e x t
t i m e he b e h a v e s disrespectfully, y o u m u s t t h u m p t h e table w i t h y o u r fist
and say, 'Listen, m y b o y , I ' m y o u r father and y o u ' r e m y s o n . ' " T h e
participant w e n t h o m e that e v e n i n g (he lived n e a r b y ) , and t h e following
m o r n i n g , he told t h e group, "Last n i g h t I had t h e best talk w i t h my son
that I have e v e r had. I didn't e v e n have to t h u m p t h e t a b l e . " W h a t had
h a p p e n e d was that the father had c h a n g e d inwardly, and this had made
it possible for t h e l o v e and respect b e t w e e n h i m and his son to start
flowing again.

U n k n o w n grandfather
W A L T E R : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g else w o r r y i n g m e that I c a n ' t quite put m y
finger o n . My m o t h e r was an illegitimate child, and I o n c e asked her
w h a t had h a p p e n e d to h e r father. S h e didn't w a n t to talk a b o u t it. B u t
t h e n she said, " H e died early o n . " W h e n I was t h i n k i n g a b o u t this, I r e m e m b e r e d that my m o t h e r o n c e said that h e r father later married and that
t h e y o u n g e s t son o f this marriage was killed i n the w a r a t t h e age o f 1 8 .
HELLINGER: T h e grandfather i s t h e i m p o r t a n t person for y o u . Y o u must
g i v e h i m a place in y o u r heart.
W A L T E R : T h e t r o u b l e is, I d o n ' t k n o w h i m . I c a n ' t r e a c h h i m .

154

H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , y o u can. T h e r e was o n c e a m a n called K o n r a d L o r e n z . *


H a v e y o u heard o f h i m ? H e had a dog w i t h the o m i n o u s n a m e o f Stasi,
a l t h o u g h the n a m e didn't m e a n anything a t the time.+ T h e n the d o g
died, and L o r e n z regretted that h e hadn't g o t o n e o f its descendants. H e
said t o himself, " I certainly w o n ' t let that happen again." T h e n h e g o t
a n o t h e r dog, this t i m e called T i t o , and h e m a d e sure that h e k e p t o n e o f
T i t o ' s descendants, and t h e n o n e o f T i t o ' s descendant's descendants. O n e
day, this y o u n g d o g was playing i n front o f h i m , and L o r e n z t h o u g h t ,
"Just like T i t o . " B u t t h e n h e suddenly realized, " T h a t ' s n o t true. It's n o t
j u s t like T i t o , it is T i t o . "
W A L T E R : T h a t seems a bit exaggerated.
H E L L I N G E R : D O y o u really think so? C h i l d r e n always k n o w their parents,
e v e n i f t h e y have n e v e r seen t h e m . T h e y are their parents, and t h e i r
grandparents.

H o n o r i n g one's m o t h e r
W A L T E R : I ' m b e g i n n i n g to realize h o w i m p o r t a n t it is for m e t o h o n o r m y
parents. W i t h regard to my father, it's n o t so difficult I can do it. B u t
I c a n ' t h o n o r my m o t h e r and I treat her disrespectfully.
H E L L I N G E R to the group: N o w he's m a d e it m o r e difficult for h i m s e l f to
solve the p r o b l e m . H e c o u l d have started h o n o r i n g his m o t h e r straight
away instead of describing h o w hard it is.
to Walter. I ' v e told y o u the healing words. Y o u j u s t have to say t h e m a f e w
times until t h e y are a u t h e n t i c . D o y o u r e m e m b e r t h e m ?
Walter shakes

his

head.

H E L L I N G E R : I'll say t h e m o n c e m o r e . T h e y are, " I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h


r e s p e c t . " T h e r e is n o t h i n g to stop y o u r repeating these w o r d s until t h e y
ring true.

Displaced enthusiasm
D A G M A R : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g that bothers m e . I simply c a n n o t b e a r it
w h e n people ignore me.

* T h e ethologist Konrad Lorenz.


"1" Stasi is short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, the secret police in East Germany.

155

H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s s o m e o n e else's feeling. T h e q u e s t i o n is, from w h o m


and for w h o m have y o u taken o n this feeling?
D A G M A R : Y e s t e r d a y , I t o o k a n o t h e r l o o k at the family tree that I painted
w i t h l o v i n g care w h e n I was training as a family therapist five g e n e r a tions of it. I b e c a m e very i n v o l v e d w i t h it again yesterday, and o n c e or
t w i c e , w h e n I t h o u g h t I had found s o m e t h i n g important, I heard y o u r
v o i c e saying; " T h a t ' s n o t i t . " I t s o u n d e d terribly strict and dismissive. F i nally, I g o t stuck w i t h m y g r a n d m o t h e r o n m y m o t h e r ' s side; she o n l y
d e c i d e d to get m a r r i e d after g o i n g w i t h my grandfather for fifteen years.
S h e left a s e c u r e situation to go to h e r husband on an i m p o v e r i s h e d farm.
He died quite s o o n afterward, and she ran t h e farm alone.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s y o u r g r a n d m o t h e r m a r r i e d t o a n y o n e else b e f o r e that?
D A G M A R : N O , she w e n t i n t o d o m e s t i c service at the age o f 1 5 , and h e r future husband was e m p l o y e d as a chauffeur by the same e m p l o y e r s . T h e y
w e r e t o g e t h e r for f i f t e e n years b e f o r e t h e y married.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t s t o o d in the w a y o f t h e marriage?
D A G M A R : I don't know.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t do y o u t h i n k it m i g h t have b e e n ?
D A G M A R : T h e first thing that o c c u r r e d to m e was that m y grandfather
m i g h t have b e e n l o o k i n g for s o m e o n e else.
H E L L I N G E R : I have a n o t h e r idea, s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h their e m p l o y e r s .
D A G M A R : W e l l , I do k n o w that t h e y w e r e very reluctant t o let m y grandmother go.
H E L L I N G E R : Exactly.
D A G M A R : T h e y valued h e r very highly.
H E L L I N G E R : W i t h w h o m was y o u r g r a n d m o t h e r angry?
D A G M A R : W e l l , I k n o w she was angry w i t h h e r husband. D o y o u m e a n
that she was really angry w i t h h e r employers?
H E L L I N G E R : Exactly.
D A G M A R : S h e always s p o k e very well o f t h e m . S h e felt t h e y appreciated
h e r and g e n u i n e l y w a n t e d h e r to stay.
H E L L I N G E R : Perhaps she didn't really w a n t to marry h e r husband. I f so,
she really pulled the w o o l o v e r his eyes.

THE

D A U G H T E R
F A T H E R ' S

I S

I D E N T I F I E D

F O R M E R

W I T H

H E R

F I A N C E E

D A G M A R : I ' d like see i f I have a role in m y family o f o r i g i n o r w h e t h e r I


am b e i n g presumptuous. I w o u l d like to get rid of a b u r d e n .

156

H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , set up t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n .
D A G M A R : F a t h e r , m o t h e r , grandparents?
H E L L I N G E R : N o , j u s t y o u r father, y o u r m o t h e r , a n d t h e i r c h i l d r e n . T h a t ' s
e n o u g h . O r was e i t h e r o f y o u r parents p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d ?
D A G M A R : M y father was e n g a g e d , a n d later o n , h e h a d a r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h
another woman.
H E L L I N G E R : D i d a n y c h i l d r e n result f r o m this r e l a t i o n s h i p ?
DAGMAR:

NO.

H E L L I N G E R : W h y did t h e y b r e a k o f f the e n g a g e m e n t ?
D A G M A R : M y father g o t t i r e d o f t h e w o m a n t o w h o m h e was e n g a g e d .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e w a y y o u say that, it sounds l i k e y o u are i d e n t i f i e d w i t h
h e r . W e c a n p r o b a b l y forget e v e r y o n e else.
D A G M A R : T h a t surprises m e .
H E L L I N G E R : W e ' l l i n c l u d e t h e f o r m e r f i a n c e e in t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n .

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
FFF

Father
Mother
First child, a son
S e c o n d child, a d a u g h t e r (= D a g m a r )
Father's former fiancee

H E L L I N G E R : H O W is t h e father feeling?
F A T H E R : N o t g o o d at all. D a g m a r t u r n e d m e t o w a r d m y f o r m e r f i a n c e e
m o r e t h a n I w a n t e d . I felt I m u s t resist. I c a n j u s t see t w o p e o p l e to my

157

left a n d right, b u t o n l y o u t o f t h e c o r n e r o f m y e y e , a n d t h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g unpleasant b e h i n d m e .


H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o e s t h e m o t h e r feel?
M O T H E R : I d o n ' t feel t o o b a d , b u t I h a v e no feeling for my h u s b a n d . I
c a n o n l y see m y son. I c a n j u s t c a t c h a g l i m p s e o f m y d a u g h t e r o u t o f
the c o r n e r of my eye, but I ' m concentrating mainly on my son. I don't
feel a n y t h i n g b e h i n d m e .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e s o n feeling?
F I R S T CHILD: I ' m g o i n g to r u n a w a y any m i n u t e (mother and son laugh).
H E L L I N G E R to Dagmar's representative:

H o w is t h e d a u g h t e r feeling?

S E C O N D CHILD: S o r t o f d e t a c h e d , a n d I feel I a m b e i n g w a t c h e d .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o e s t h e f o r m e r f i a n c e e feel?
F O R M E R FIANCEE: I c a n ' t stop l o o k i n g a t m y fiance.
H E L L I N G E R to Dagmar's representative: M o v e to t h e left of y o u r father's
fiancee.

Diagram 2

H E L L I N G E R : H o w are y o u f e e l i n g n o w ?
S E C O N D CHILD: I feel m o r e as if I b e l o n g e d .
H E L L I N G E R t o Dagmar. T h a t ' s t h e i d e n t i f i c a t i o n . N o w j u s t i m a g i n e h o w
this w o m a n m u s t h a v e felt, t h e w a y y o u r father t a l k e d a b o u t h e r . Y o u
h a v e t a k e n o v e r this feeling o f a n g e r f r o m h e r .
D A G M A R : M y father hardly e v e r t a l k e d a b o u t her.

158

H E L L I N G E R : Y o u said h e g o t t i r e d o f her.
D A G M A R : A h , y e s . T h a t ' s true.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w m u s t she h a v e felt?
D A G M A R : S h e m u s t h a v e b e e n furious w i t h h i m .
H E L L I N G E R : E x a c t l y . N o w y o u see w h e r e y o u r feelings c o m e f r o m w h e n
y o u feel y o u are b e i n g i g n o r e d . F r o m her. T h a t ' s w h y all y o u r quarrels
w i t h F r a n k h a v e b e e n i n vain. Dagmar laughs. Y o u ' v e b e e n v e n t i n g y o u r
anger on the w r o n g person.
F A T H E R : I feel d r a w n t o m y f i a n c e e . It's n o t true that I g o t t i r e d o f h e r ,
o r that I d o n ' t l i k e h e r a n y m o r e .
H E L L I N G E R t o the mother. H o w d o y o u f e e l w h e n y o u see y o u r d a u g h t e r
standing b y y o u r h u s b a n d ' s f o r m e r f i a n c e e ? B e t t e r o r w o r s e ?
M O T H E R : W o r s e . I miss her.
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , y o u h a v e a m o t h e r ' s heart.
Hettinger

rearranges

the

constellation.

Diagram 3

H E L L I N G E R : H o w d o e s that feel?
M O T H E R : Better.
F A T H E R : T h a t ' s g o o d for m e .
F I R S T CHILD: I feel sorry for my m o t h e r , she's so a l o n e .
H E L L I N G E R to the former fiancee: Has a n y t h i n g c h a n g e d for y o u ?
F O R M E R FIANCEE: Y e s . T h e m a n n o w has a face. N o w I c a n l o o k a t h i m .

159

S E C O N D CHILD: I feel a b i t far away, b u t I realize that I ' m v e r y i n v o l v e d


w i t h m y father's f o r m e r f i a n c e e standing h e r e n e x t t o m e .
Hellinger sets

up

the

solution.

Diagram 4

H E L L I N G E R to the mother. H o w d o e s that feel?


MOTHER: Good.
F A T H E R : N o w t h e family i s u n i t e d . I suddenly t h o u g h t : n o w t h e w h o l e
business w i t h m y f i a n c e e i s o v e r .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e d a u g h t e r feel?
S E C O N D CHILD looking at the floor. I d o n ' t feel I b e l o n g h e r e . I ' m h e r e , but
I ' m s o m e h o w a stranger.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e f o r m e r f i a n c e e feel?
F O R M E R FIANCEE: I feel fine. I ' m free.
H E L L I N G E R to Dagmar's representative: N o w t h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I w o u l d like
t o d o w i t h y o u . I t w o n ' t b e s o hard for y o u b e c a u s e y o u are o n l y r e p r e s e n t i n g D a g m a r and i t d o e s n ' t c o n c e r n y o u personally.
K n e e l d o w n i n front o f y o u r m o t h e r , b o w l o w until y o u are t o u c h i n g
t h e g r o u n d , a n d s t r e t c h o u t y o u r arms w i t h y o u r palms t u r n e d upward.
She bows in front of the mother.
straighten

160

up

again.

After a little while,

she starts to

H E L L I N G E R : It's n o t t i m e to straighten up yet. Stay like that a little l o n g e r .


to the mother. H o w do y o u feel? W h a t effect is it having on y o u ?
M O T H E R : It's as i f I didn't deserve to have h e r b o w i n g b e f o r e m e like this.
I ' m n o t w o r t h y o f it.
H E L L I N G E R after a while to Dagmar's representative: Y o u can straighten up
again n o w . H o w d o y o u feel?
S E C O N D C H I L D : Better.

She smiles at her mother,

and her mother returns the smile.

H E L L I N G E R to Dagmar. T h a t ' s y o u r n e x t step, t o turn t o w a r d y o u r m o t h e r ,


no m a t t e r w h a t she feels a b o u t it. T h a t will resolve y o u r identification
w i t h y o u r father's fiancee. Y o u r m o t h e r d o e s n ' t feel w o r t h y o f i t b e c a u s e
she's standing b e t w e e n h e r husband and his f i a n c e e . B u t the c h i l d s h o u l d
still b o w d o w n t o her. T h e act o f b o w i n g d o w n i s a n expression o f r e spect.
FORMER

FIANCEE:

It was

i m p o r t a n t for m e

too.

H E L L I N G E R : It gives y o u e v e n m o r e freedom.
H E L L I N G E R to Dagmar. W o u l d y o u like to g o and stand t h e r e yourself?
Dagmar goes
the

to

her place in

the constellation and looks

down at

floor.

D A G M A R : I was very t o u c h e d w h e n m y representative was b o w i n g to m y


m o t h e r . B u t m y m o t h e r w o n ' t a c c e p t it.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s n o t w h a t she said.
D A G M A R : S h e said she didn't feel w o r t h y o f it.
H E L L I N G E R : S h e had the right t o say that.
to the group: T h e positive effect of the b o w d o e s n ' t d e p e n d on w h a t the
o t h e r p e r s o n says. I n this k i n d o f therapy, w e l o o k for solutions that
d o n ' t d e p e n d o n w h a t o t h e r p e o p l e do. N o o n e has t o b e any different
f r o m the w a y he or she is. Parents do n o t n e e d to c h a n g e , and n o b o d y
has to a p o l o g i z e . E a c h individual simply does w h a t is necessary. F o r
e x a m p l e , b o w i n g before the parents, regardless o f w h a t the others do.
T h e solution lies i n w h a t o n e does oneself.

Objective and subjective presumptuousness


H E L L I N G E R to Dagmar. I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g that m a y help y o u . W h e n
a c h i l d is representing s o m e o n e else in a family system and finds h e r s e l f
p o i n t i n g an accusing finger at h e r parents, h e r presumptuousness is real,

161

b u t it d o e s n ' t carry personal guilt. It is the result of dynamics the child


can n e i t h e r understand n o r resist. It's an e n t a n g l e m e n t e v e n t h o u g h the
presumptiousness has the same effect w h e t h e r or n o t the child does it on
purpose. O n the o t h e r hand, i f y o u carry o n i n the same o l d w a y after
this w o r k s h o p , t h e n y o u ' l l b e personally guilty o f presumptuousness b e cause n o w y o u have the c h o i c e n o t t o repeat that.

L o n g i n g for one's father


G E R T R U D E : I ' m n o t feeling at all g o o d . I have a queasy feeling in my
s t o m a c h , and I still have the s y m p t o m s I e x p e r i e n c e d w h e n I was r e p r e senting the m o t h e r i n D a g m a r ' s constellation j u s t n o w . I c a n ' t r e m e m b e r
e v e r feeling as w e a k as this b e f o r e .
HELLINGER: B u t that has n o t h i n g to do w i t h y o u .
G E R T R U D E : NO, but it is affecting m e . T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I w a n t e d to ask
y o u I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g about it during the b r e a k a b o u t my illegitim a t e son. She sighs and is near to tears. Am I guilty?
HELLINGER: B r i n g y o u r chair and c o m e and sit i n front o f m e . A b i t c l o s er. N o w close y o u r eyes and o p e n y o u r m o u t h slightly. C a r r y o n b r e a t h ing, and j u s t relax and let things take their course.
Hellinger pulls

her

head forward gently.

B r e a t h e faster. G o w i t h the m o v e m e n t o f y o u r b o d y .
Gertrude

sobs.

I m a g i n e y o u are h o l d i n g o n t o s o m e t h i n g .
(After a pause) Shall we stop here?
She

nods.

O k a y . H o w are y o u feeling?
G E R T R U D E : B e t t e r . B u t I d o n ' t understand.
HELLINGER: T h a t d o e s n ' t matter.
HELLINGER as Gertrude begins showing emotion again: F o l l o w the feeling, gc
w i t h the m o v e m e n t o f y o u r b o d y .
She

weeps.

HELLINGER in a whisper: A r e y o u l o n g i n g for s o m e o n e ?


G E R T R U D E : I ' m t h i n k i n g a b o u t m y father.
HELLINGER: C l o s e y o u r eyes. I m a g i n e y o u are g o i n g h o m e t o h i m .
She

sobs.

K e e p o n breathing. L e t i t f l o w .
She

breathes

more

easily.

D o y o u k n o w the s o n g a b o u t the t w o royal children?

162

GERTRUDE:

NO.

H E L L I N G E R : N o ? It goes like this, " T h e y could never c o m e together, for


the water b e t w e e n them was m u c h t o o d e e p . "
G E R T R U D E laughing: I got very close to him.
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y . W e ' l l leave it like that.

P r i o r i t y o f the h u s b a n d o r wife i n t h e family


G E O R G E : In family constellations, w h e n does the husband stand o n the
right of his wife, and w h e n does he stand on her left?
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t varies. Basically, b o t h parents are equal. T h e y share the
highest position in the hierarchy. T h e n c o m e the children, the first child,
second, third, fourth, etc. A c c o r d i n g to the hierarchy of origin, the father
and m o t h e r are on an equal footing. After all, they b e g a n the relationship
together. B u t there is also a hierarchy based on function, and in this, the
partner w h o is responsible for the safety of the family usually has priority
o v e r the other o n e . T h i s responsibility is usually taken on by the husband. If this is so, he stands on the right of his wife. B u t there are families, for example, Ida's family of origin, in w h i c h it is quite clear that the
wife has priority over the husband. If this is so, the wife stands on her
husband's left.
T h e r e are other situations in w h i c h the wife also has priority. T h e
hierarchy changes w h e n important persons in the wife's family have b e e n
excluded. F o r example, if her father was excluded because he didn't m a r ry her mother, or if her m o t h e r was excluded because she had a particularly hard fate. T h e n the excluded persons c o m e first, starting from the right,
then the wife, and after her, the husband. T h i s has something to do with
the force of destiny. T h e a , for instance, had priority in her present family
because the force of destiny in her family of origin gave her predominance.
So y o u have to find the right hierarchical order in each individual
case.
If the husband was previously engaged, his wife usually stands b e t w e e n
h i m and his first partner. T h e same applies in reverse if the wife was
previously engaged. I n Dagmar's family o f origin, her m o t h e r stood b e t w e e n her husband and his former fiancee, and thus on her husband's
right. T h i s enabled her to s h o w her husband and his former fiancee that
she claimed h i m as her husband. A n d the husband's former fiancee n o t
only was separated from him, she was also free. B u t there are cases in
w h i c h the second partner might n o t stand b e t w e e n her husband and his
former wife. F o r example, if the former wife died, the husband still

163

m i g h t n e e d to stand b e t w e e n h e r and his n e w partner; and also if she has


b e e n d o n e a n injustice.

T h e w o m a n follows the m a n , a n d t h e m a n i s
in the service of w o m a n h o o d
HELLINGER: O n e o f the orders o f l o v e i n the relationship b e t w e e n a husb a n d and wife usually demands that the w o m a n f o l l o w the man. B y this
I m e a n that she must f o l l o w h i m into his c o u n t r y , his language, his c u l ture, and his family, and that she must allow the children to f o l l o w h i m
as w e l l . If the husband follows the wife w i t h o u t a supporting cause, t e n sion and conflict result. F o r e x a m p l e , w h e n a m a n marries i n t o his wife's
family and assumes privileges and advantages he did n o t earn by his o w n
efforts, he is f o l l o w i n g his wife, and that causes difficulties and gets in the
w a y of a fulfilling relationship. W h e n the wife follows the husband, it's
m u c h easier for their relationship to be really fulfilling. T h e same orders
o f l o v e also d e m a n d that the masculine authentically serve the f e m i n i n e .
T h a t is the b a l a n c e : the wife follows h e r husband i n t o his language, c u l ture, and family, and the masculine authentically serves the f e m i n i n e . I
k n o w this is stuff for controversy, but I ' m o n l y telling y o u w h a t I've
o b s e r v e d . If a n y o n e has an e x a m p l e to the contrary, I'll be glad to hear
it, b u t I ' v e n e v e r seen o n e myself.
JONAS: T h a t ' s patriarchy.
HELLINGER: N o , it isn't. It has n o t h i n g to do w i t h patriarchy. It's the m a s culine serving the feminine, and the feminine supporting that by following.
JONAS: A friend of m i n e , an A m e r i c a n , lives w i t h his Indian wife and her
family in India. He is n o w 60 years o l d and he's v e r y happy. It is o n e ot
the happiest relationships I have e v e r seen, and also very e x c e p t i o n a l .
HELLINGER: O k a y , I take b a c k w h a t I have j u s t said.
Laughter

in

the group.

ANNE: I d o n ' t t h i n k y o u should take it b a c k . W h a t y o u said had a definite


effect on m e , and I w o u l d like to hear s o m e m o r e a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: O k a y . I d o n ' t really c h a n g e my views so quickly, and I d o n ' t
always say w h a t I k n o w .
to Jonas: T h i s o r d e r of l o v e , like all orders, also e m b r a c e s dynamics that
p o i n t in the opposite direction. E v e r y truth implies its n e g a t i o n . T h a t is
always so. So it c o u l d w e l l be that y o u r friend acted exactly in alignment
w i t h the orders o f l o v e . W e n e e d t o guard against m a k i n g t h e orders o f
l o v e i n t o a m o r a l system. T h e y d o n ' t w o r k like that.

164

B u t I w o u l d like to add s o m e t h i n g a b o u t t h e c h i l d r e n of s u c h a relationship. W h e n t h e parents c o m e from t w o different c o u n t r i e s , t h e c h i l dren m u s t n o t b e m a d e t o c h o o s e b e t w e e n t h e countries a s i f t h e y w e r e


o b l i g e d t o d e c i d e for o n e c o u n t r y a t t h e e x p e n s e o f t h e o t h e r : t h e y b e l o n g to b o t h , b u t t h e father's c o u n t r y usually has priority.
G E R T R U D E : W h e r e did t h e t e r m " m o t h e r t o n g u e " c o m e from, t h e n ? It's
a c o n t r a d i c t i o n in terms.
HELLINGER: T h e language a child learns as a m o t h e r t o n g u e is a different
thing. T h e child starts learning and absorbing language i n t h e m o t h e r ' s
w o m b . B u t this does n o t contradict the o t h e r issue.
THOMAS: I t h i n k this has s o m e sort of b e a r i n g on my o w n personal h i s tory. It's g o t s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h m a r r y i n g i n t o a family and t h e p r e m ise that t h e w o m a n must f o l l o w the m a n .
HELLINGER: Please, n o t " m u s t f o l l o w . " It isn't a m o r a l issue, b u t rather
that l o v e i s w e l l served w h e n the w o m a n follows t h e m a n and w h e n t h e
m a s c u l i n e serves the f e m i n i n e . Y o u r m a r r y i n g into y o u r wife's family
places a b u r d e n o n the relationship and imposes limitations. B u t " f o l l o w i n g " is n o t t h e same as " o b e y i n g . " It simply m e a n s , "I will f o l l o w y o u
i n t o y o u r family."

Hopeless love
JOHN: I ' m v e r y interested in w h a t y o u are saying. F o r t h e past t w o years,
I ' v e had a girlfriend w h o lives in Switzerland, and up until n o w it has
b e e n impossible for us to get t o g e t h e r . T h i s m a k e s me sad. O n c e I almost
w e n t to live w i t h h e r in Switzerland, b u t t h e n I realized that s o m e t h i n g
w a s n ' t quite right a b o u t it and I felt that she m u s t c o m e to m e . I w a n t
v e r y m u c h t o b e w i t h her, and I c a n ' t understand w h y i t d o e s n ' t w o r k .
Perhaps it has s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h m e .
HELLINGER: I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g . A relationship b e t w e e n a m a n and a
w o m a n m u s t f u n c t i o n well i n the first 1 5 m i n u t e s . I f i t doesn't, y o u can
forget it.
WILLIAM: In the first 15 m i n u t e s ?
HELLINGER: Y e s , that's w h e n all the rules are established. In t h e first 15
m i n u t e s . Basically, n o t h i n g changes after that.
JOHN: T h a t m a k e s it s o u n d absolutely hopeless.
HELLINGER: F i n d s o m e o n e b e t t e r . T h e r e are p e o p l e w h o k e e p o n w a v i n g
at a departing train w h e n t h e n e x t train is already in t h e station. B u t
hopeless l o v e lasts l o n g e r .

165

J O H N : I have the impression that I l o v e this w o m a n , w h a t e v e r that means.


HELLINGER: D o e s she l o v e y o u ?
J O H N : I t h i n k so. B u t she seems to find it very difficult, and she is afraid
to s h o w and live h e r l o v e . T h e question I always ask m y s e l f is . . .
HELLINGER: N o , no y o u can forget a b o u t that.
JOHN: What?
HELLINGER: T h e r e was o n c e a m a n w h o had t h r e e girlfriends, and he
asked m e w h i c h o f t h e m h e should k e e p . I asked h i m t o tell m e s o m e t h i n g a b o u t e a c h o n e , and t h e n I said, " Y o u must k e e p t h e third one.'"
H e asked, " H o w d o y o u k n o w ? " and I said, " Y o u r face lit u p w h e n y o u
talked a b o u t h e r . "
B R I G I T T E : It's easier w h e n y o u have three.
HELLINGER to John: Y o u r face did n o t light up.
J O H N : B u t I k n o w it often does.
HELLINGER: S o m e p e o p l e t h i n k t h e y can o v e r c o m e obstacles and c h a n g e
things t h r o u g h l o v e . T h e y t h i n k that i f o n l y t h e y can l o v e intensely
e n o u g h , things will c h a n g e for the better. B u t t h e y don't!
J O H N : I admit I am quite disappointed a b o u t what's h a p p e n e d , b u t I k n o w
my face can still light up.
HELLINGER: I didn't see it. I w o u l d have n o t i c e d if it had h a p p e n e d .

W h a t w r o n g must I have done to you to m a k e


m e feel s o a n g r y w i t h y o u ?
J A Y : I ' m very upset and depressed. T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I ' v e b e e n wanting
to say s i n c e t h e w o r k s h o p b e g a n . F o u r years ago, I started a relationship,
w h i c h b r o k e up t w o and a h a l f years ago. It n e v e r really finished, just
sort of fizzled out. I t h i n k about this w o m a n dozens of times a day, and
it gets in the w a y of my present relationship. I ' m stuck, and I don't
k n o w why.
HELLINGER: D o y o u still o w e h e r s o m e t h i n g ?
Long

pause.

W h a t d o y o u still o w e her?
J A Y : I d o n ' t k n o w . I j u s t feel terribly angry w i t h her.
HELLINGER: Do y o u k n o w w h a t has caused this anger? T h e r e ' s a saying.
" W h a t w r o n g have I d o n e t o y o u that makes m e s o angry w i t h y o u ? "
A n g e r s o m e t i m e s serves as a defense against having to a c k n o w l e d g e guilt.
Long

pause.

W h a t are y o u t h i n k i n g n o w ?

166

J A Y : Perhaps I o w e h e r respect.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s n o t e n o u g h . B u t I'll give y o u a clue. A m a n w h o
stands n e x t to his father is attractive to w o m e n . B u t if he stands n e x t to
his m o t h e r , they feel sorry for h i m .

A n g e r as a defense against pain


R O B E R T : I ' m also angry in c o n n e c t i o n w i t h m y separation from m y wife.
HELLINGER: In separations, anger frequently substitutes for the pain of
grieving. I f b o t h partners allow themselves t o grieve, t o w e e p and t o feel
the depth of their pain, t h e n t h e y are able to talk a m i c a b l y afterward.
P e o p l e often l o o k for guilt in the attempt to escape f r o m this pain, b u t
t h e y are o n l y free w h e n t h e y have e x p e r i e n c e d the pain fully.

Controlled anger
H A R R Y : I ' m torturing m y s e l f w i t h the p r o b l e m o f anger and rage and aggression. I can't r e m e m b e r ever having a l l o w e d m y s e l f to express these
emotions.
HELLINGER: V e r y g o o d ! T h a t ' s called e m o t i o n a l c o n t i n e n c e . It's f o u n d i n
alpha animals.
H A R R Y : I ' m w o n d e r i n g (laughs) w h e t h e r I'll have to express my anger, or
w h e t h e r I can find a solution that will enable me to stay calm and peaceable.
HELLINGER: I have given y o u the answer.
H A R R Y : T h e n t h e r e must b e s o m e t h i n g w r o n g w i t h m y hearing.

Different kinds o f a n g e r
HELLINGER: I ' v e m a d e s o m e observations a b o u t anger. T h e r e are several
different kinds o f anger.
F o r e x a m p l e , i f s o m e o n e attacks m e o r does m e a n injustice and I r e act w i t h appropriate anger and rage, this anger enables me to defend and
assert m y s e l f energetically and effectively. It enables me to act. It is c o n structive and i t m a k e s m e strong. T h i s k i n d o f anger i s t o the p o i n t and
it dissolves w h e n it has a c h i e v e d its goal.
I m a y also b e c o m e angry because I realize that I ' v e n o t a c c e p t e d w h a t
I could, or that I ' v e n o t d e m a n d e d w h a t I o u g h t to have d e m a n d e d , or
that I ' v e n o t asked for w h a t I c o u l d have asked for. Instead of asserting

167

m y s e l f a n d t a k i n g w h a t I n e e d , I b e c o m e angry w i t h t h e p e r s o n s f r o m
w h o m I h a v e n o t t a k e n o r asked o r d e m a n d e d , a l t h o u g h I c o u l d h a v e o r
o u g h t t o h a v e t a k e n o r asked o r d e m a n d e d f r o m t h e m . T h i s a n g e r i s a
substitute for a c t i o n a n d the result of i n a c t i o n . It has a p a r a l y z i n g and
w e a k e n i n g effect a n d o f t e n lasts a l o n g t i m e .
A n g e r a s a substitute for l o v e w o r k s i n a similar w a y . I n s t e a d o f e x pressing m y l o v e , I b e c o m e angry w i t h t h e p e r s o n I l o v e . T h i s sort o f
a n g e r g o e s b a c k t o c h i l d h o o d w h e n i t was c a u s e d b y a painful i n t e r r u p t i o n o f a m o v e m e n t t o w a r d m y m o t h e r o r father. I t i s r e p e a t e d i n similar
situations later i n life a n d derives its p o w e r f r o m t h e r e p e t i t i o n o f the
early e x p e r i e n c e .
I s o m e t i m e s b e c o m e angry w i t h s o m e o n e b e c a u s e I ' v e w r o n g e d that
p e r s o n b u t d o n ' t w a n t to a d m i t it. I use this a n g e r as a defense against
the c o n s e q u e n c e s of my actions, and I m a k e the o t h e r person responsible
for my guilt. T h i s a n g e r is also a substitute for a c t i o n . It e n a b l e s me to
r e m a i n i n a c t i v e . I t paralyzes m e and m a k e s m e w e a k .
I m a y b e c o m e a n g r y w h e n s o m e o n e gives m e s o m u c h that I c a n n o t
repay t h e d e b t . T h a t ' s h a r d t o b e a r , g e t t i n g t o o m u c h that i s g o o d , and
I b e c o m e a n g r y w i t h t h e g i v e r a s a m e a n s o f d e f e n d i n g m y s e l f against the
obligation to compensate. T h i s kind of anger is expressed in the form of
b l a m e , for e x a m p l e , w h e n c h i l d r e n b l a m e t h e i r parents. It f u n c t i o n s as a
substitute for taking, a c c e p t i n g i n d e b t e d n e s s , t h a n k i n g , a n d a c t i n g w i t h
g r a t i t u d e . I t paralyzes t h o s e w h o e x p e r i e n c e i t a n d leaves t h e m e m p t y .
O r i t m a y t a k e t h e f o r m o f depression, w h i c h also serves a s a substitute
for t a k i n g , a c c e p t i n g , t h a n k i n g , a n d g i v i n g . It m a y also be e x p r e s s e d as
a l o n g - l a s t i n g sadness after a separation, particularly if I still o w e a c c e p t a n c e a n d gratitude, o r fail t o a c k o w l e d g e m y o w n guilt a n d its c o n s e q u e n c e s t o s o m e o n e w h o has d i e d o r left.
S o m e t i m e s p e o p l e are f i l l e d w i t h a n g e r t h e y h a v e t a k e n o v e r from
s o m e o n e else. F o r e x a m p l e , w h e n a p a r t i c i p a n t in a g r o u p suppresses anger, a n o t h e r m e m b e r o f t h e g r o u p (usually t h e w e a k e s t o n e ) s u b s e q u e n t l y
b e c o m e s a n g r y for n o apparent reason. I n families, t h e w e a k e s t m e m b e r
i s a c h i l d . W h e n , for e x a m p l e , t h e m o t h e r suppresses h e r a n g e r t o w a r d s
h e r h u s b a n d , o n e o f t h e c h i l d r e n o f t e n b e c o m e s a n g r y w i t h t h e father i n
h e r stead.
T h e w e a k e s t m e m b e r o f a g r o u p o r a family o f t e n b e c o m e s n o t onlv
t h e i n s t r u m e n t , b u t also t h e target, o f a n g e r . F o r e x a m p l e , w h e n p e o p l e
suppress a n g e r t o w a r d a s u p e r i o r , t h e y o f t e n t a k e it o u t on a w e a k e r pers o n i n t h e c o m p a n y . O r w h e n a h u s b a n d suppresses his a n g e r t o w a r d h i s
w i f e , a c h i l d o f t e n b e c o m e s t h e target o f his a n g e r .

168

O r a daughter m a y v e n t h e r m o t h e r ' s anger t o w a r d h e r husband, n o t


o n h e r father, b u t o n s o m e o n e w i t h w h o m she i s o n a m o r e equal f o o t ing, such a s h e r o w n husband. I n groups, a w e a k e r m e m b e r o f t h e g r o u p
b e c o m e s t h e scapegoat for this assumed anger rather than t h e stronger
person, t h e therapist or g r o u p leader, for w h o m it was originally i n t e n d e d . T h o s e w h o have taken o n anger have a specific quality o f rage
and feel p r o u d and righteous, b u t t h e y are acting w i t h alien e n e r g y and
alien righteousness and r e m a i n ineffective and w e a k . T h e v i c t i m s o f ass u m e d anger also feel strong in their righteous indignation, but, in fact,
t h e y r e m a i n w e a k , and their suffering is pointless.
Finally, t h e r e is an anger that is virtuous and beneficial. It is strong,
wakeful, c e n t e r e d , and assertive, and is directed t o w a r d appropriate goals.
It is e n l i g h t e n e d and c o u r a g e o u s , and capable of facing up to hard and
p o w e r f u l adversaries. B u t it is w i t h o u t e m o t i o n . Persons e x p e r i e n c i n g this
k i n d o f a n g e r d o n o t shrink from h a r m i n g others w h e n necessary, b u t
t h e y are n o t angry w i t h t h e person in question. T h i s aggression is pure
strength. It is the fruit of l o n g discipline and p r a c t i c e , b u t it c o m e s easily
t o t h o s e capable o f it.

Caution and courage


J O N A S : W h a t c o n c e r n s me at t h e m o m e n t is that I feel confused a b o u t my
family o f origin. W h e n I was 1 8 , I m o v e d o u t o f o u r h o m e and settled
1 9 0 miles away. T h e n m y m o t h e r g o t c a n c e r . I realized t h e r e was a c o n n e c t i o n , b u t I didn't react at all. T h e doctors said she was g o i n g to die,
b u t she r e c o v e r e d c o m p l e t e l y after three years. J u s t r e c e n t l y , this year, my
parents called to say that my b r o t h e r has b e c o m e m e n t a l l y ill. H e ' s 10
years y o u n g e r than I am. I still d o n ' t feel c o m p l e t e l y at ease h e r e in this
w o r k s h o p , and t h e w a y y o u tell p e o p l e what's true m a k e s m e cautious.
HELLINGER: I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g : C o u r a g e and c a u t i o n are as far apart
as t h e t w o ends of a b o w . Y e t the b o w is a single unit and t h e distance
b e t w e e n t h e t w o ends i s b r e a c h e d b y t h e string. T h a t ' s w h a t creates t h e
t e n s i o n that propels t h e a r r o w t o w a r d its target. B u t c a u t i o n a l o n e creates
n o tension.
JONAS: I ' m n o t clear a b o u t w h e t h e r I should try to help my family, e v e n
t h o u g h I ' m afraid that by d o i n g so, I m a y o n l y s u c c e e d in destabilizing
t h e present system. I w o u l d like to take a c l o s e r l o o k at my fear by setting up my family constellation.

169

A SON REPRESENTS

HIS

MOTHER'S

F O R M E R FIANCE
H E L L I N G E R to Jonas: W h o b e l o n g s to y o u r family?
J O N A S : M y father, m y m o t h e r , m y y o u n g e r b r o t h e r , and m e .
H E L L I N G E R : I s a n y o n e missing i n t h e n u c l e a r family?
J O N A S : Y e s , t h e r e was a stillborn sister.
H E L L I N G E R : S h e ' s i m p o r t a n t . I h e a r i t i n y o u r v o i c e . W h e n was she b o r n
JONAS: B e t w e e n me and my brother.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s e i t h e r o f y o u r parents p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d ?
J O N A S : Y e s . M y m o t h e r was e n g a g e d . H e r fiance was killed i n t h e war.
HELLINGER: W e need h i m i n the constellation.

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2t
3
MFFf

Father
Mother
First child, a son (= J o n a s )
Second child, a daughter, stillborn
Third child, a son
Mother's former fiance, killed in the war

H E L L I N G E R to Jonas, who is adding his mother's former fiance to the constellation.


W e c a n see t h e i d e n t i f i c a t i o n already.
J O N A S : M y i d e n t i f i c a t i o n w i t h m y m o t h e r ' s fiance?
HELLINGER: Y e s .

170

I'll set up the constellation for y o u . It's very simple.

Diagram 2

H E L L I N G E R : H o w is the father feeling?


F A T H E R : O k a y , b u t m y wife's f o r m e r fiance b o t h e r s m e a bit.
H E L L I N G E R : It is i m p o r t a n t that h e b e respected.
H o w i s the m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : I w o u l d like to turn around a bit so that I can see m y f o r m e r
fiance

(laughs).

H E L L I N G E R : Y e s . T h a t ' s w h a t y o u should do. H e b e l o n g s h e r e . B u t y o u r


h u s b a n d must stand b e t w e e n y o u , o t h e r w i s e t h e r e will b e t r o u b l e .
to Jonas' representative:

H o w is the older son feeling?

F I R S T C H I L D : I feel fine.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w a b o u t the y o u n g e r son?
T H I R D C H I L D : I feel very agitated, and I d o n ' t k n o w w h y .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w is the dead sister feeling?
S E C O N D CHILDJ-:

Good.

M O T H E R ' S F O R M E R F I A N C E + : I w o u l d like t o m o v e closer, b u t I k n o w


i t w o u l d n ' t b e right.
H E L L I N G E R to Jonas: W o u l d y o u like t o go and stand in y o u r place?
H E L L I N G E R when Jonas is standing in his place: N o w y o u can say a few s i m ple words to y o u r m o t h e r . L o o k at y o u r father and t h e n say to y o u r
m o t h e r , " H e is my real father."
Jonas

laughs

and

looks

at

the fiance.

171

HELLINGER: N o , n o .
to the group: He automatically c o m p e t e s w i t h his father b e c a u s e he r e p r e sents his m o t h e r ' s f o r m e r fiance. T h e fiance is i m p o r t a n t to his m o t h e r ,
a n d J o n a s represents h i m for her.
to Jonas: Y o u told us a b o u t y o u r g o i n g to live far away from h o m e . T h a t ' s
e x a c t l y t h e same thing y o u r m o t h e r ' s fiance did. B u t y o u can stay i f y o u
stand n e x t to y o u r father. T h a t ' s y o u r right place, by y o u r father. Say to
y o u r m o t h e r , " H e i s m y real father."
JONAS to his mother. He is my real father.
HELLINGER: " O n l y h i m . "
JONAS: O n l y h i m .
HELLINGER: " I ' m n o t related t o the o t h e r m a n . "
JONAS laughing: N o , I have n o t h i n g to do w i t h the o t h e r m a n . T h a t ' s it.
HELLINGER: I will tell y o u s o m e t h i n g a b o u t seekers after G o d .
JONAS: Please d o .
HELLINGER: T h e y are seeking their father, and w h e n t h e y f i n d h i m , they
stop s e e k i n g G o d . Or they do it differently.
O k a y , that's all.
to the group: A n y questions?
FRANK: S o m e t i m e s y o u start b y placing the o b j e c t o f the identification
n e x t to the person w h o is identified w i t h it b e f o r e m o v i n g h i m or her
s o m e w h e r e else. Y o u didn't d o that here.
HELLINGER: N o , J o n a s ' identification was so o b v i o u s that it wasn't n e c e s sary. As the w o r k s h o p progresses, fewer steps are necessary for t h e solut i o n b e c a u s e the participants are already familiar w i t h the p r o c e d u r e .

T h e s y s t e m i c sense o f b a l a n c e
HELLINGER: T h i s m i g h t be a g o o d place to say s o m e t h i n g a b o u t c o n s c i e n c e . W e have a sense o f b e l o n g i n g that binds u s t o p e o p l e and groups.
It is constantly guiding and c h e c k i n g us, holding us firm in o u r relationships, j u s t as o u r physical sense of balance allows us to m o v e safely w i t h i n
the force o f gravity. W e can a l l o w ourselves t o fall forward o r b a c k w a r d
or to the right or left, b u t a reflex a c t i o n forces us to regain o u r balance
and get b a c k on an e v e n k e e l before we really fall.
Similarly, o u r sense o f b e l o n g i n g keeps w a t c h o v e r o u r relationships.
T h i s sense also w o r k s like a reflex a c t i o n that corrects and compensates
w h e n e v e r w e deviate from the c o n d i t i o n s that maintain o u r relationships.
L i k e o u r physical sense o f balance, o u r sense o f b e l o n g i n g guards u s i n

172

the context of our surroundings, knows the extent and limits of our freedom, and guides us by means of our pain and our pleasure. We experience this pain as guilt and this pleasure as innocence.
We experience guilt and innocence only in relationships. As soon as
it affects other people, everything we do is accompanied by a sense of
innocence or guilt. Just as the observing eye is constantly distinguishing
between light and dark, our sense of belonging constantly distinguishes
between actions that endanger a relationship and those that support it.
We experience that which endangers a relationship as guilt, and that
which supports it as innocence.
But both guilt and innocence serve one and the same master. For just
as a coachman hitches his pair of horses to one carriage and guides them
in one direction, guilt and innocence draw us toward one goal. They
further our relationships, and through their interaction, keep us on track.
And although we may sometimes wish to take control ourselves, the
coachman keeps his hold on the reins. We travel on the coach as prisoners or guests. T h e coachman's name is conscience.

Different kinds of conscience


Our conscience demands that we serve and remain subservient to our
group, and it forbids anything that endangers its welfare or severs us from
it. The consciences of people who come from different families or different groups react differently according to the different values of each different group, for that which benefits one group may harm another, and
that which makes us innocent in the context of one group may make us
guilty in another. For example, we often follow a different conscience in
our profession than in our family.
But even within one group, conscience serves goals that both complement and contradict each other, for example, love and justice, or freedom and the law.
Conscience uses different feelings of guilt and innocence for each of
these different purposes. Thus our experience of guilt and innocence in
the service of love and loyalty is different from our experience of guilt
and innocence in the service of justice and compensation. Our experience of guilt and innocence in the service of law and order is different
from our experience of guilt and innocence in the service of renewal and
freedom. That which serves love may be damaging to justice, and the
just person's innocence may be the lover's guilt.

173

S o m e t i m e s we e x p e r i e n c e c o n s c i e n c e as s i m p l e a n d as s e r v i n g a single
p u r p o s e , a s w h e n w e h a s t e n t o help a c h i l d i n n e e d . M o r e usually, h o w e v e r , w e e x p e r i e n c e i t a s m u l t i p l e and m u l t i f a c e t e d , a n d o u r e x p e r i e n c e
o f guilt a n d i n n o c e n c e i s c o r r e s p o n d i n g l y c o m p l e x . A l t h o u g h w e s o m e t i m e s e x p e r i e n c e c o n s c i e n c e as a single unit, it m o r e f r e q u e n t l y r e s e m b l e s
a g r o u p i n w h i c h different m e m b e r s aspire t o w a r d different goals w i t h
t h e h e l p o f different feelings o f guilt and i n n o c e n c e . S o m e t i m e s t h e y are
m u t u a l l y s u p p o r t i v e , a n d s o m e t i m e s t h e y k e e p e a c h o t h e r i n c h e c k for
t h e g o o d o f t h e w h o l e . Y e t e v e n w h e n t h e y get i n e a c h o t h e r ' s w a y ,
t h e y still serve a c o m m o n p u r p o s e , j u s t as a g e n e r a l fights on different
fronts w i t h different armies and different strategies for different goals, and
y e t finally partially w i t h d r a w s t h e t r o o p s o n e v e r y front i n t h e s e r v i c e o f
peace.

I h a v e a story for y o u in this c o n t e x t .

Innocence
A

man who wanted to

leave his worries behind plucked up his courage and set out

on a new path.

When evening came,

he saw a cave.

"That's odd," he thought to himself.

tried

to

thought

enter,
to

but the entrance was sealed by

himself.

"Perhaps something

he could see the cave,


it and looking away.
ing away,
top
A

and

"That's

odd,"

he

thought

to

himself,

and cramped and crooked


fiery

enter it by force.

thing's going

to

the door was


himself outside

to

iron

happen."

open.
again

and he

he saw a snow-white circle,

little white circle huge


trying

an
to

door.

"That's odd,"

He sat

down

and he kept on looking at it and looking away,

suddenly found

little way away,

is going

and a little way away,

He approached the cave and


he

where

looking at

And after three days, just as he was looking at it and look-

he suddenly saw that

speed,

crouched down

he stopped for a rest,

and

He dashed into
on

the

rubbed his
and in

radiantly

the cave at

other side.
eyes

and sat

down.

the circle he saw himself,


white.

And all around

the

tongues of shadow licked at its edges as if they were


"That's

odd,"

he

thought to

himself.

"Perhaps some-

happen.

"And he sat down where he could see the circle and kept on looking at it and
looking away,

looking at it and looking away.

looking at it and looking away,


fiery tongues of shadow broke in,
stretch.

174

After three

days, just as

he saw the little white circle open up.


the circle expanded,

But now the circle was gray.

he was
The huge

and at last he had room to

Conscience and compensation


IDA: I have b e e n feeling freer and m e n t a l l y m o r e alert since W i l l i a m set up
his family constellation. B u t I ' m w o n d e r i n g a b o u t s o m e t h i n g . W h e n t h e
s o l u t i o n has b e e n found, is t h e r e still s o m e t h i n g that needs to be d o n e ?
HELLINGER: In a relationship or in a group, w h e n there's an inequality b e t w e e n the advantage e n j o y e d b y o n e person and t h e disadvantage suffered
b y a n o t h e r , e v e r y o n e c o n c e r n e d feels a n urge for e q u i l i b r i u m . T h e y e x p e r i e n c e this urge as a d e m a n d of c o n s c i e n c e , and w h e n t h e y fail to f o l l o w its dictates k n o w i n g l y , t h e y f o l l o w t h e m instinctively. T h i s c o n s c i e n c e is e x p e r i e n c e d as a sense of b a l a n c e and a n e e d for c o m p e n s a t i o n .
W e also feel this n e e d for c o m p e n s a t i o n w i t h respect t o fate w h e n w e
gain a n advantage o r have a p i e c e o f l u c k w i t h o u t having d o n e a n y t h i n g
to earn it ourselves.
W h e n e v e r s o m e o n e gives me s o m e t h i n g , I feel a certain unease e v e n
t h o u g h that w h i c h I have r e c e i v e d is pleasing to m e . I e x p e r i e n c e an i n debtedness and a n o b l i g a t i o n that c a n ' t b e relieved until I ' v e g i v e n s o m e t h i n g o f equal value i n return. W h e n t h e pressure o f t h e o b l i g a t i o n drives
m e t o give s o m e t h i n g o f equal value, I ' m liberated from m y debt and
feel light and free. S o m e p e o p l e try t o maintain the feeling o f lightness
and f r e e d o m b y refusing t o take s o m e t h i n g i n o r d e r t o a v o i d b e i n g u n d e r
an o b l i g a t i o n . D r o p o u t s favor this form of f r e e d o m f r o m debt, and so do
helpers w h o give w i t h o u t taking. B u t this k i n d o f f r e e d o m leaves p e o p l e
l o n e l y and e m p t y .

Constructive and destructive equilibrium


In a relationship b e t w e e n a m a n and a w o m a n , w h e n t h e w o m a n gives
t h e m a n s o m e t h i n g as a w a y of s h o w i n g h e r l o v e , t h e m a n feels u n d e r
o b l i g a t i o n t o h e r until h e has given h e r s o m e t h i n g i n return. B u t b e c a u s e
he loves her, he gives her a little m o r e than she gave h i m . N o w she feels
an o b l i g a t i o n and b e c a u s e she loves h i m , she gives h i m a little m o r e still.
T h i s giving and taking i n l o v e increases t h e v o l u m e o f t h e c o u p l e ' s e x c h a n g e , and w i t h it the c o u p l e ' s happiness, and their relationship g r o w s
stronger. B u t w h e n t h e m a n returns t o t h e w o m a n s o m e t h i n g o f o n l y
equal value, t h e pressure o f t h e o b l i g a t i o n t o equalize and t o c o n t i n u e
t h e e x c h a n g e ceases.
D A G M A R : A n d w h a t happens i f h e gives less i n return?
HELLINGER: W h e n a partner gives less than he has r e c e i v e d , he is putting
t h e relationship i n j e o p a r d y . I'll give y o u a n e x a m p l e : T h e e x c h a n g e o f

175

giving and taking and its increasing turnover can be compared to the act
of walking. When I want to move forward, I must lose my balance briefly and then regain it. If I fail to correct my posture immediately, I lose
my balance and fall, and I'm unable to move forward. T h e same thing
happens in a couple's relationship. When one partner gives and the other
refuses to take, the relationship breaks down. If we do no more than
keep our balance when, for example, partners in a couple relationship
give only as much as they have received and no more we stop moving forward. When the man gives less than he has received, the woman
will also give less than she has received; then instead of moving forward,
they move backward. Their happiness decreases and their relationship
weakens and finally breaks down.
What happens when someone does me a wrong? D o I have to
even it out in the same way?
H E L L I N G E R : W e experience the pressure to even out inequalities both
positively and negatively. When someone does me an injustice, I need
to take my revenge. If I forgive the other person instead of doing the
person some harm, or if I do not demand something that causes some
distress in order to achieve a balance, then I'm not taking the person seriously, and he or she will leave me. When I take my revenge in an appropriate way, I remain in contact. But many people treat injustices in
the same way as they treat gifts, only in reverse: to get their revenge,
they do something a little worse to someone who has wronged them
than this person did to them. Then the other person feels the right to do
yet another wrong, and thus the exchange of wrongs and injustices escalates, and with it suffering and misfortune.

BRIGITTE:

T h e question now is: What can partners do to put an end to the negative exchange and resume the positive one? Just as they give the other a
little more than they have received in order to increase the volume of
their exchange, they must do the same thing in reverse in the case of
negative exchanges that is, they must give a little less in return than
they have received. Then the negative exchange may cease and the positive one can be resumed.

T h e limits o f c o m p e n s a t i o n
People sometimes act as if the need for compensation, which is valid in
human relationships, were also valid in our relationship to God or to fate.
If, for example, people survive a perilous situation in which other people

176

died, they have a desire to repay G o d and fate for their salvation as if
they w e r e partners w h o s e favor must be w o n through c o m p e n s a t i o n .
P e o p l e may impose limitations upon themselves, acquire physical s y m p toms, or sacrifice s o m e t h i n g that they value as a means of trying to a c h i e v e balance, or sometimes s o m e o n e else m a y try to c o m p e n s a t e instead,
for e x a m p l e , o n e o f their children.
S o m e t i m e s people will refuse to accept partners w h o w e r e previously
engaged or married to s o m e o n e else, even if that person is dead, because
they w o u l d have gained their n e w partner at the former partner's cost.
Or children of a s e c o n d marriage may refuse fully to accept their parents and their advantages because r o o m has b e e n made for t h e m by others.
It is e v e n worse if, w h e n fate has b e e n kind to t h e m , t h e y regard
themselves as special and elite and boast about their luck. If they do this,
their l u c k m a y change for the worse, no matter h o w we explain it, b e cause it b e c o m e s intolerable b o t h to themselves and others.

Balance through gratitude and humility


W e take advantages that c o m e from fate o r G o d appropriately w h e n w e
are simply grateful for an undeserved gift. Gratitude is acceptance w i t h o u t
arrogance. It evens out inequalities w i t h o u t p a y m e n t of a price. T h i s
gratitude is n o t the same thing as merely saying " T h a n k y o u . " W h e n I
give s o m e o n e s o m e t h i n g and the person merely says, " T h a n k y o u , " this
is n o t e n o u g h . B u t w h e n his face lights up and he says, " T h i s is a lovely
present," he has h o n o r e d b o t h me and the gift. S o m e people do this w i t h
G o d and fate as well. T h e y automatically say " T h a n k y o u " instead of
lighting up with j o y and taking with love.
Y e t anyone w h o accepts an undeserved gift from fate feels under an
obligation to do s o m e t h i n g in return. Instead of burdening and limiting
ourselves in s o m e way, h o w e v e r , we may give s o m e t h i n g positive to
others. T h i s frees us from our obligation in a beneficial way.
B u t j u s t as we take the positive w h e n it c o m e s to us undeserved, we
must also accept the negative that we did n o t cause. If we b o w to fate
in b o t h g o o d times and bad, we are in h a r m o n y w i t h destiny, and free.
T h i s b o w i n g to fate I call humility.

Lasting clarity
DAGMAR:

What

my

family

constellation

this

morning

showed

was

177

absolutely c o r r e c t . I really didn't h o n o r my m o t h e r . At first I felt a bit


sad, b u t t h e n I had a feeling of great and lasting clarity. A n d t h e n there
was a sort o f d o m i n o effect inside m e . M y m o t h e r turned a r o u n d and
b o w e d to h e r m o t h e r w i t h respect, and h e r m o t h e r said to her, as my
m o t h e r said t o m e , " I a m n o t w o r t h y o f i t . " I t d o e s n ' t m a t t e r t o m e any
m o r e w h e t h e r m y grandfather pulled the w o o l o v e r m y grandmother's
eyes or it was the o t h e r w a y around. I can be d e t a c h e d a b o u t it.
Already my inner relationships w i t h the m e n in my family have
changed, for example, m y relationship w i t h m y brother. T h a t ' s n e w . I ' m
very curious about what's g o i n g to happen next. Inwardly, I ' v e g o n e over
to my father's side, and I have changed my likes and dislikes around. But
I still have a question: W h a t happens w h e n s o m e o n e has n o t b e e n h o n ored? My paternal grandmother lost her daughter w h e n she was 6 months
old, and I have the impression that she did n o t really h o n o r or accept either h e r husband or her t w o sons w h o w e r e b o r n later. Is t h e r e anything
I should do?
HELLINGER: N o . Y o u must a c k n o w l e d g e the fact that y o u r g r a n d m o t h e r
r e m a i n e d b o u n d u p i n the pain caused b y the death o f h e r daughter and
was n o t free for the others.

Leaving the past in p e a c e


HELLINGER to Dagmar. T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I ' d like to say to y o u . T h e r e is
a l a w in families and e x t e n d e d families that stipulates that the past must,
after a t i m e , be a l l o w e d to be o v e r and past. T h i s is very i m p o r t a n t . F o r
example, what happened in your grandmother's generation must n o w be
a l l o w e d to be o v e r and past. T h e same t h i n g applies to s y m p t o m s like
the s y m p t o m s y o u , F r a n k , described a little w h i l e ago: if t h e y are allowed
to be o v e r and past, t h e y m a y leave y o u in p e a c e . E v e r y t h i n g o b e y s the
l a w o f transitoriness, and w e a c k n o w l e d g e and h o n o r this l a w if, a t the
appropriate t i m e , we allow w h a t is transitory to be o v e r and w h a t is past
t o b e past. W e m a y o n l y g o b a c k i n t o the past i f i t i s necessary t o deal
w i t h s o m e t h i n g that is h o l d i n g us b a c k , or in order to r e c o v e r s o m e t h i n g
that we left t h e r e and w h i c h we n e e d for o u r future. T h i s is the reason
that we should n o t go b a c k t o o far, unless t h e r e is s o m e t h i n g really serious that still has an adverse effect in the present. T h e fifth g e n e r a t i o n , for
e x a m p l e , is t o o far b a c k . T h e furthest we should go is the fourth g e n e r a t i o n . In families that are p r o u d of their tall family trees, ugly things are
often n o t a l l o w e d to rest for a l o n g t i m e .

178

D A G M A R : L e t t i n g things rest in p e a c e in this sense is a w o n d e r f u l e x perience.


HELLINGER: W e find p e a c e w h e n w e a l l o w things t o rest, for e x a m p l e , t h e
dead. T h e n t h e y are at p e a c e . In R i l k e ' s Duino Elegies t h e r e is a beautiful
passage in w h i c h he writes:
"In the end,

those who were carried off early no longer need us: they are

weaned from

earth's sorrows

soft

of their mothers."

breasts

and joys,

as gently as children

outgrow the

T h e dead n e e d a little t i m e to be w e a n e d from life on earth, for t h e y are


in a different realm and t h e y must be a l l o w e d to stay there. In a n o t h e r
of R i l k e ' s p o e m s ,

Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes, O r p h e u s wants to b r i n g

E u r y d i c e b a c k from the dead. B u t she hesitates, for:


"She was content within herself.
And

being

like

dead fulfilled

her

completion."

A n y t h i n g else, D a g m a r ? Y o u really do have a clear l o o k about y o u n o w .

A l l t h a t r e m a i n s o f fire i s a s h e s
D A G M A R : I feel wonderful, really wonderful. B u t there's still s o m e t h i n g
else that I ' m rather reluctant to talk about.
HELLINGER: D o n ' t talk about it n o w . First of all, trust y o u r r e l u c t a n c e .
M a k e certain that it's right for y o u to talk a b o u t it, that it's appropriate.
I f y o u are doubtful, i t isn't appropriate.
D A G M A R : It seems right to me to talk a b o u t it. I have n o t i c e d .. .
HELLINGER: N o , stop. My p e r c e p t i o n is that it is n o t appropriate at t h e
moment.
HELLINGER to the group: It is i m p o r t a n t that therapists respect and p r o t e c t
secrets. I f w e try t o t h r o w light o n s o m e t h i n g that does n o t shine o f its
o w n a c c o r d , it loses its l u m i n o s i t y at o n c e .
IDA: W h e n I see w h a t is happening here, I have the feeling that I b o t h u n derstand and do n o t understand.
HELLINGER: T h e r e are things that m o v e us, a l t h o u g h we c a n n o t grasp
t h e m . T h e y r e m a i n secret. I f w e try t o analyze t h e m i n o r d e r t o u n d e r stand t h e m fully, all that remains of the fire is ashes.

179

N o m o r e b a c k pains
U N A : I feel fine. I was very tired, b u t n o w I feel I can participate again
I w a n t t o t h a n k e v e r y o n e w h o h e l p e d m e b y taking part i n m y family
constellations. Y e s , I really feel g o o d at t h e m o m e n t . A n d t h e pains in
m y b a c k have g o n e . I nearly forgot t o m e n t i o n that.

I N E Q U A L I T Y

IN

T H E

A
L A W

C O U P L E ' S
O F

R E L A T I O N S H I P

A N D

C O M P E N S A T I O N

B R I G I T T E : N O W that I have d e c i d e d t o w o r k , I should like t o start at o n c e .


H E L L I N G E R : Okay.
B R I G I T T E : Shall I set up m y o w n family o f origin o r m y daughter's? M y
p r o b l e m c o n c e r n s m y daughter.
H E L L I N G E R : S e t up y o u r present family w i t h all the m e n , w o m e n , and
c h i l d r e n w h o b e l o n g t o it.
B R I G I T T E : I have b e e n m a r r i e d t w i c e . M y first h u s b a n d left us and later
died.
H E L L I N G E R : W h y did y o u separate? W h a t h a p p e n e d ?
B R I G I T T E : I was studying p s y c h o l o g y , and w h e n I had c o m p l e t e d m y studies, I didn't n e e d h i m any m o r e .
H E L L I N G E R : That's a g o o d example o f the dynamic o f compensation.
W h e n o n e partner in a marriage learns a profession w h i l e t h e o t h e r partn e r pays for it, it v e r y often happens that t h e partner w h o was provided
for later leaves the marriage. T h e partner w h o was given a career is unable
to e v e n o u t the inequality by giving s o m e t h i n g of equal value in return.
A marriage c a n n o t survive w i t h such a crass inequality. It has to be evened
out. T h e same thing applies w h e n the wife pays for h e r h u s b a n d t o study
during their marriage. He often leaves h e r as s o o n as he has c o m p l e t e d
his studies. If y o u l o v e s o m e o n e , it's a g o o d idea n o t to give t h e person
m o r e t h a n h e o r she can repay. Y o u still o w e y o u r h u s b a n d s o m e t h i n g .
B R I G I T T E : I have v e r y specific and selective m e m o r i e s o f his weaknesses.
B u t I k n o w I still o w e h i m s o m e t h i n g .
H E L L I N G E R : M e m o r i e s are deliberate.
B R I G I T T E : Y e s t e r d a y and t h e day b e f o r e I tried to find s o m e p h o t o s o f h i m
to put i n t o a frame w i t h s o m e o t h e r p h o t o s , b u t my c h i l d r e n had taken
all t h e p h o t o s . I c o u l d n ' t f i n d any o f t h e m
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r children are m a k i n g up for w h a t y o u failed to d o .
B R I G I T T E : M y husband remarried and had t w o children w i t h his s e c o n d
wife.

180

H E L L I N G E R : W e ' l l n e e d t h e m for the constellation t o o .


B R I G I T T E : My second husband brought t w o children into our marriage.
H i s first w i f e d i e d .

Brigitte

starts

setting

up

her family

constellation.

H E L L I N G E R : I'll do it for y o u . In this case, it's v e r y s i m p l e .

Diagram 1
IHb

First husband, father o f 1-4 and 5 - 6

Wife, m o t h e r of 1-4 (= Brigitte)

First child, a daughter

S e c o n d child, a daughter

T h i r d child, a daughter

Fourth child, a daughter

2W

First husband's second wife, m o t h e r o f 5 - 6

First husband's first child with second wife, a daughter

S e c o n d child with second wife, a son

2Hb

S e c o n d husband, father o f 7 - 8

2 H b l W f S e c o n d husband's first wife, deceased, m o t h e r of 78


7

First child of second husband's first marriage, a son

S e c o n d child of second husband's first marriage, a daughter

181

H E L L I N G E R : H o w are t h e daughters feeling?


F I R S T C H I L D (the problem child): T h e r e ' s strength o n e i t h e r side o f m e .
S E C O N D C H I L D : I feel c o m p l e t e .
T H I R D CHILD:

I a m impressed.

F O U R T H C H I L D : I feel fine.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w is t h e father feeling?
F I R S T H U S B A N D : I was v e r y t o u c h e d w h e n I h e a r d that m y daughters t o o k
my p h o t o s . B e f o r e that, I felt that I h a d no r e l a t i o n s h i p to a n y o n e .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e c h i l d r e n b e l o n g w i t h t h e i r father. T h e i r m o t h e r has n o
right t o t h e m . T h e y b e l o n g w i t h t h e i r father's family.
H o w i s t h e s e c o n d w i f e feeling?
S E C O N D WIFE:
FIFTH CHILD:

Okay.
Okay.

H E L L I N G E R to the second wife's two children: T h e y are all y o u r siblings.


S I X T H C H I L D : T h e r e are r a t h e r a l o t o f w o m e n .
HELLINGER:

For

you,

yes.

H o w i s t h e s e c o n d h u s b a n d feeling?
S E C O N D H U S B A N D : I d o n ' t t h i n k this gap b e t w e e n m e a n d m y w i f e c a m e
a b o u t b y c h a n c e . B u t it's o k a y l i k e this.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w a b o u t his first w i f e ?
S E C O N D H U S B A N D ' S F I R S T W I F E + : It's okay.

H E L L I N G E R : H o w are his c h i l d r e n feeling?


S E V E N T H C H I L D : T h e y ' r e an i n t e r e s t i n g l o t .
E I G H T H C H I L D : I feel g o o d .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e wife feeling?
W I F E : I d o n ' t feel g o o d at all. I feel suffocated. I t ' s all t o o m u c h . I w o u l d
l i k e to be in a smaller c i r c l e .
F I R S T C H I L D : I w a n t t o m o v e c l o s e r t o m y father.
H E L L I N G E R : Exactly.
Hellinger

182

changes

the

constellation.

Diagram 2

W I F E : It's m u c h b e t t e r like this, b u t I feel sad a b o u t losing my daughters.


I feel v e r y drawn to t h e m .
HELLINGER: Y o u have forfeited y o u r c h a n c e o f having t h e m trust y o u .
T h e y feel b e t t e r w i t h y o u r husband and his system, and t h e y b e l o n g
t h e r e . Y o u must n o t take t h e m away from h i m . Y o u o w e t h e m t o h i m .
B R I G I T T E : I ' m i n the process o f separating f r o m m y s e c o n d husband.
HELLINGER: T h e representatives' reactions s h o w that y o u have n o place i n
his system either. Y o u d o n ' t b e l o n g t o either system.
Hettinger sets

up

the solution.

183

Diagram 3

HELLINGER to the wife: H o w do y o u feel in this position?


W I F E : It's okay.
HELLINGER: It's the fitting place for y o u .
W I F E : It's okay. Y e s , it's better. It gives me space.
SECOND CHILD: F o r the first t i m e , I am aware of a living feeling b e t w e e n
m e and m y m o t h e r .
F I R S T CHILD: I feel I have s o m e c o n t a c t w i t h h e r n o w .
HELLINGER to the group: We are l o o k i n g at the c o n s e q u e n c e s of an irresponsible separation. P e o p l e w h o separate irresponsibly forfeit their right
to m a k e a claim as full m e m b e r s of the system.
to Brigitte: W o u l d y o u like to go and stand in y o u r place?
Brigitte goes

to

her place in

the constellation.

HELLINGER: If y o u like, y o u can try standing in different places and see


w h e r e y o u feel best.
B R I G I T T E : I ' m the o n e w h o ' s b e e n betrayed.
HELLINGER: N o . Y o u are o n l y bearing the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f y o u r decision.
I f y o u d o n ' t b e a r the c o n s e q u e n c e s , y o u r daughters will.
B R I G I T T E : Y e s , I have to b e a r t h e m . She weeps.

184

HELLINGER: T h a t w o u l d b e a g o o d t h i n g t o d o , b u t y o u h a v e n ' t agreed


t o do so y e t .
BRIGITTE: T h a t could be.
HELLINGER: Y o u r reactions s h o w that y o u h a v e n ' t agreed y e t , b u t y o u r
pain has a healing effect. It r e c o n c i l e s y o u r daughters w i t h t h e i r m o t h e r .
Okay?
Brigitte

nods.

HELLINGER: O k a y , that's all.


to the group: We saw here that w h e n p e o p l e do s o m e t h i n g for themselves
w i t h o u t sufficient c o n c e r n for others, like B r i g i t t e did, t h e y c a n n o t e s cape the c o n s e q u e n c e s and they must a c c e p t t h e m . It was unjust that h e r
h u s b a n d was w r o n g e d and his children w e r e taken f r o m h i m . T h e o n e
w h o leaves must stay a l o n e , and the children must stay w i t h t h e o n e w h o
has b e e n w r o n g e d . T h i s is an i m p o r t a n t principle.
B R I G I T T E : T h e reason I started studying was that m y h u s b a n d h a d b e e n
carrying on a relationship w i t h a n o t h e r w o m a n for a year and a half.
HELLINGER: He also has a share of the guilt. T h a t ' s an i m p o r t a n t additional
aspect, b u t it isn't sufficient to c h a n g e the d y n a m i c of the constellation,
w h i c h leaves y o u standing alone, b e a r i n g the responsibility for y o u r part
of what happened. W h e n you r e m e m b e r what happened with y o u as the
v i c t i m and y o u r husband as the perpetrator, it m i g h t r e d u c e y o u r guilty
feelings, b u t it also m a k e s it impossible for y o u to act effectively to
c o m p l e t e the solution.

Jealousy and compensation


CLAUDIA: I have a question. B r i g i t t e started studying and c o m p l e t e d h e r
studies. T h e n c a m e the separation. B u t i t was h e r husband w h o left, n o t
her. At least, that's h o w I u n d e r s t o o d it.
HELLINGER: T r y i n g to figure o u t w h o left first d o e s n ' t m a k e a difference
for B r i g i t t e , b e c a u s e the dynamics o f h e r situation are clear. T h e details
are n o t s o i m p o r t a n t . R e m e m b e r the basic rule o f this w o r k , that things
are usually the opposite o f w h a t p e o p l e say. W i t h j e a l o u s y , for e x a m p l e ,
t h e j e a l o u s partner in fact usually wants to m a k e the o t h e r o n e leave, n o t
stay, a l t h o u g h she acts as if she's j e a l o u s b e c a u s e she wants h i m to stay.
C o n s i d e r the effect o f s o m e o n e ' s b e i n g j e a l o u s o f y o u . D o e s i t m a k e y o u
w a n t t o m o v e closer, o r d o y o u pull b a c k ?
J e a l o u s y is a way of trying to m a k e the o t h e r person guilty for t h e
separation, b u t the actual guilt and its c o n s e q u e n c e s are as t h e y are, r e -

185

gardless of w h i c h partner physically leaves first. S o m e t i m e s a partner will


leave the marriage as a favor to the other. B u t w h e n o n e partner does
s o m e t h i n g that d o e s n ' t c o n t r i b u t e to the marriage at the o t h e r partner's
e x p e n s e , and h e r partner pays for it, she effectively ends the relationship.
It usually w o r k s w e l l for the wife's parents to pay for h e r studies, and it
is o k a y for t h e husband's parents to pay for his studies.
to Brigitte: W h o supported the family w h i l e y o u studied?
B R I G I T T E : I did.
HELLINGER: T h e n the dynamics are n o t the same as t h e y w o u l d have b e e n
i f y o u r husband had paid.
Y o u r studies w e r e a w a y o f freeing y o u r s e l f from y o u r relationship
w i t h y o u r husband, and m a y b e y o u w a n t e d t o a v e n g e y o u r s e l f o n h i m
for his relationship w i t h a n o t h e r w o m a n . Y o u r m o t i v e m a y h a v e b e e n
t o g e t e v e n w i t h h i m . T h e question is: W h i c h o f y o u was hurt m o r e b y
the o t h e r ? Y o u o r h i m ? W h o s e was the greater r e v e n g e ? T h i s i s really
w h a t y o u w e r e referring t o w h e n y o u asked a b o u t negative c o m p e n s a t i o n
yesterday. T h i s is s o m e t h i n g that y o u must take i n t o c o n s i d e r a t i o n w h a t e v e r y o u decide t o do.

I n n o c e n c e a n d guilt
T h e r e ' s a n o t h e r d y n a m i c that I ' v e seen i n relationship systems. T h e i n n o c e n t party is always the m o r e dangerous o n e . His is the greater anger,
and his actions are m o s t destructive to the relationship. He loses his sense
of p r o p o r t i o n because he feels he is in the right. T h e guilty party is usually
far m o r e prepared to give in and m a k e reparations. A t t e m p t s at r e c o n c i l i ation usually g o w r o n g b e c a u s e o f the i n n o c e n t party, n o t the guilty o n e .

Unfaithfulness a n d faithfulness
T H E A : I ' m still t h i n k i n g a b o u t the fact that although B r i g i t t e o n l y started
studying p s y c h o l o g y a year and a h a l f after h e r husband had b e c o m e i n v o l v e d w i t h a n o t h e r w o m a n , t h e constellation nevertheless s h o w e d that
she had forfeited h e r claim to h e r daughters. As a w o m a n , I feel this is
unjust.
HELLINGER: O n the surface, i t seems like that, b u t i f w e l o o k m o r e
closely, is it really so unjust? W h a t y o u are o v e r l o o k i n g is the guilt of the
i n n o c e n t party. In systemic w o r k , it's rare that o n e person has all the
guilt and the o t h e r n o n e . As a rule, the guilty partner has no angry feel-

186

ings t o w a r d the partner, b u t t h e i n n o c e n t partner feels righteous anger,


and his guilt is m a d e w o r s e by t h e fact that it is disguised as i n n o c e n c e
and as a sense of j u s t i c e . W h a t is really so terrible a b o u t s o m e o n e h a v i n g
a relationship outside of his, or her, marriage? W h a t real h a r m is d o n e ?
T h e i n n o c e n t partner claims a m o r a l right t o fidelity w h e n t h e fact o f t h e
affair shows that a different d y n a m i c is operating. T h a t is p r e s u m p t u o u s ,
to use a m o r a l claim as if fidelity of t h e heart c o u l d be legislated w i t h
will p o w e r . Instead o f trying t o k e e p h e r partner t h r o u g h l o v e , she p e r s e cutes h i m and actually makes i t impossible for h i m t o c o m e b a c k t o her.
I ' m in favor of a m o r e h u m a n and m o d e r a t e course. I have a deep r e spect for fidelity, b u t the fidelity I respect is t h e result of l o v e , n o t m o r a l
legislation. M a r r i a g e partners often w a n t t o b e the o n l y persons w h o are
i m p o r t a n t to their partners. B u t s o m e t i m e s a husband or wife m e e t s
s o m e o n e else w h o i s important, and their partners d e n y the reality o f t h e
situation w h e n t h e y persecute t h e m for this. I f t h e y w a n t l o v e t o s u c c e e d , b o t h partners must respect the situation as it is, and t h e n t h e y h a v e
a c h a n c e to find a g o o d solution for e v e r y o n e . B u t this can o n l y h a p p e n
t h r o u g h l o v e . D o y o u get a feel for t h e d y n a m i c I ' m describing?

THEA: Y e s .
HELLINGER: T h e r e is also a n o t h e r aspect to consider. O n e partner's fight
to k e e p t h e o t h e r partner often draws its e n e r g y from t h e i n n e r child's
fear o f losing t h e m o t h e r . I f that's t h e case, t h e d e m a n d for faithfulness
is actually d i r e c t e d m o r e t o w a r d his m o t h e r than his partner. Faithfulness
in marriage, particularly w h e n it entails an e l e m e n t of self-sacrifice, is t h e
transference o f t h e child's loyalty t o the m o t h e r o n t o t h e h u s b a n d o r
wife. W h e n this is so, an unfinished situation f r o m t h e past is b e i n g
b r o u g h t i n t o t h e present in a damaging w a y . It isn't real.
L e t me give y o u an e x a m p l e : A little w h i l e ago I r e c e i v e d a letter
from a m a n telling me that he had b e c o m e engaged. His fiancee had told
h i m that h e r l o v e for h i m was o n l y a transference, and that she w a n t e d
t o b e i n d e p e n d e n t and free t o have o t h e r relationships. H e felt h e m u s t
nevertheless r e m a i n faithful t o her, and wait for h e r t o c o m e b a c k t o
h i m . I w r o t e h i m t h e f o l l o w i n g letter:
" Y o u s h o w faithfulness t o w a r d y o u r partner i n t h e same uncritical w a y
children do t o w a r d their m o t h e r s . F o r this reason, y o u r feelings are d e c e i v i n g y o u . S h e is n o t y o u r m o t h e r and she does n o t deserve that k i n d
o f loyalty."
H e w r o t e b a c k saying that w h e n h e read m y letter, h e i m m e d i a t e l y
felt liberated. He t o o k o f f his e n g a g e m e n t ring and was free for w h a t e v e r
t h e future held.

187

A s s u m e d feelings o f r e v e n g e
U N A : O n the o n e hand, I ' m still t h i n k i n g a b o u t B r i g i t t e ' s system. T h e
orders o f l o v e y o u describe have a n i n e x o r a b i l i t y a b o u t t h e m , and t h e y
s e e m to w o r k at a very deep level, e v e n t h o u g h I'd like to b e l i e v e that
t h e y are j u s t y o u r beliefs. I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a b o u t this a lot.
O n the o t h e r hand, I ' m c o n c e r n e d w i t h s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h m e and
my m o t h e r . I was married for o n l y a very short t i m e , and during my
marriage, my husband was frequently unfaithful to m e , and w h e n I left
h i m , I felt absolutely i n n o c e n t . W h i c h brings me to my identification w i t h
m y m o t h e r , because s o m e t h i n g similar happened t o her. M y father m e a n t
well w h e n he sent h e r and my ailing b r o t h e r to recuperate w i t h h e r family,
b u t w h i l e she was away, he had an affair w i t h his secretary, w h o b e c a m e
the m o t h e r o f his s e c o n d child. I was aware o f m y m o t h e r ' s vengeful
feelings t o w a r d m y father, b u t having w a t c h e d the constellations here,
I ' v e g o t t e n the idea that I t o o k o v e r h e r feelings. T h i s is s o m e t h i n g n e w ,
and it's c o n n e c t e d to a sensation of heat. B u t it feels o k a y to let it b e .

Reflections on innocence
C A R L : I j u s t l o o k e d at my w a t c h and realized that today's w o r k is almost
over, and I ' m surprised at h o w fresh and e n e r g e t i c I still feel. I ' v e b e e n
t h i n k i n g a b o u t w h a t y o u said a b o u t the i n n o c e n t party b e i n g the d a n g e r ous o n e . T h i s m a d e a v e r y powerful impression on m e .

Gifts f o r o n e ' s m o t h e r
CLAUDIA: I feel agitated. I ' m t h i n k i n g a b o u t my m o t h e r . W a l t e r has j u s t
left b e c a u s e it's his m o t h e r ' s birthday t o m o r r o w and he wants to visit her.
T o m o r r o w i s m y m o t h e r ' s birthday a s well, b u t I ' m d a m n e d i f I a m g o ing to see her. T h i s really b e g a n yesterday m o r n i n g w h e n y o u .. . She
starts to cry.
HELLINGER: S l o w d o w n a m i n u t e ! T r y t h i n k i n g a b o u t w h a t a gift y o u can
take h e r from this w o r k s h o p . It's a wonderful o p p o r t u n i t y to surprise her,
b u t b e sure t o let h e r k n o w i n advance that y o u are b r i n g i n g h e r s o m e t h i n g special. So y o u can stay h e r e t o m o r r o w w i t h a clear c o n s c i e n c e .
Agreed?
CLAUDIA laughing: I ' v e n e v e r tried to do anything like that b e f o r e , b u t it
appeals t o m e .

188

Crises a r e m o s t easily r e s o l v e d after t h e y p e a k


R O B E R T : I ' m separated from my wife and I feel w o r r i e d b e c a u s e I h a v e
t o d e c i d e s o o n w h e t h e r t o give u p m y h o u s e and r e m a i n w i t h m y son.
HELLINGER: It's all m u c h t o o early. A crisis can o n l y be resolved w h e n it
has r e a c h e d its peak.
I was o n c e headmaster o f a b i g s c h o o l . T h e r e w e r e often crises, b u t
I w o u l d o b s e r v e t h e f e r m e n t a t i o n process for days on e n d until t h e crisis
r e a c h e d its peak. T h e n it was q u i c k l y resolved. At the peak, it's v e r y easy
to find a solution.
R O B E R T : Y e s , b u t I have t o decide, w h e n I see m y wife again. S h e suggested that we m e e t , b u t I didn't w a n t t o . I h a v e n ' t had any c o n t a c t w i t h
h e r at all for t h r e e m o n t h s .
HELLINGER: N o w y o u m u s t wait until y o u feel t h e t i m e i s right for y o u .
T h e ball i s i n y o u r court. Y o u must c o n t a c t h e r i n any case.
R O B E R T : I k n o w that. It's j u s t a m a t t e r o f w h e n and h o w .
HELLINGER: Y o u ' l l k n o w a t o n c e w h e n the t i m e i s ripe. E v e n w h e n y o u
already k n o w h o w y o u ' r e g o i n g t o d e c i d e , y o u have t o give y o u r s e l f
t i m e t o g a t h e r strength t o carry o u t the decision.
R O B E R T : I find it v e r y hard to wait.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s b e c a u s e y o u are n o t a warrior. W a r r i o r s k n o w h o w t o
wait. In a battle, w h e n t h e e n e m y attacks, y o u have to w a i t until he is
w i t h i n 2 0 0 feet b e f o r e y o u act. T h a t ' s v e r y hard. I t i s easier t o f i r e b l i n d ly w h e n t h e e n e m y is still a m i l e away. B u t w h a t will it a c h i e v e ?

T H E O T H E R IMAGE
FRANK: I have a question a b o u t my separation. I h a v e n o t i c e d that in
family constellations, for e x a m p l e , B r i g i t t e ' s , t h e father always has custody
o f t h e children. W h a t does this m e a n i n m y case?
HELLINGER: I t has n o b e a r i n g o n y o u r relationship w i t h y o u r children. I t
o n l y applied t o t h e relationship i n B r i g i t t e ' s constellation. W e d o n ' t y e t
k n o w w h a t i s appropriate i n y o u r case. I f y o u w a n t t o f i n d o u t , y o u c a n
set up y o u r family constellation.
F R A N K : I w o u l d like to do that.
HELLINGER: T h e n d o i t n o w .
F R A N K : T h e m e m b e r s o f m y family are m y d i v o r c e d wife, m e , t w o c h i l dren, and D a g m a r , m y present partner, w h o i s h e r e w i t h m e .
HELLINGER: W a s e i t h e r o f y o u married b e f o r e ?
FRANK: D a g m a r was.

189

H E L L I N G E R : W e will n e e d h e r husband t o o .
Frank

sets

up

the

constellation

of his present family.

Diagram 1
H u s b a n d , father of 1

and 2 (= Frank)

First wife, divorced, mother of 1 and 2


First child, a son
Second child, a daughter
Second partner, not married to Frank
Second partner's first husband, divorced

H E L L I N G E R : H o w is the husband feeling?


H U S B A N D : W h e n m y present partner c a m e and s t o o d b y m e , it gave m e
a feeling of w a r m t h . B u t I miss my children.
H E L L I N G E R : H O W is the d i v o r c e d wife feeling?
FIRST WIFE:

I c a n ' t say.

F I R S T C H I L D : AS I ' m standing n o w I have n o c o n t a c t w i t h m y father. I


also h a v e the feeling that I will lose c o n t a c t w i t h my m o t h e r if I m o v e
closer t o m y father.
H E L L I N G E R : M o v e closer to h i m so that y o u can see h o w it feels.
The son stands

next to

his father.

F I R S T C H I L D : T h a t feels better. I also have m o r e c o n t a c t w i t h m y m o t h e r .


S E C O N D C H I L D : I feel o k a y h e r e , b u t I ' d rather do s o m e t h i n g o n m y o w n .

190

F I R S T WIFE: I can't believe my eyes.


HELLINGER to the daughter. Go and stand by y o u r b r o t h e r .
to the first wife: T u r n a r o u n d and face away f r o m t h e m . H o w is that?
F I R S T WIFE: G o o d .
HUSBAND: T h a t feels very g o o d t o m e , t o o .
HELLINGER to the first wife: T a k e a step forward. H o w does that feel?
F I R S T WIFE: G o o d .
SECOND P A R T N E R ' S FIRST HUSBAND: I have n o t h i n g to do w i t h any of
t h e m , b u t t h e r e i s still s o m e t e n s i o n b e t w e e n m e and m y f o r m e r partner.
The former partner
Hellinger

laughs.
changes

the

constellation.

Diagram 2

HELLINGER to Frank and Dagmar: N o w go and stand in y o u r places in the


constellation.
HELLINGER to the daughter. Do y o u feel o k a y there?
SECOND CHILD: Y e s , a l t h o u g h I t h i n k t h e r e will b e t r o u b l e b e t w e e n m e
and the o t h e r w o m a n .
HELLINGER: Y e s , o f course! Y o u will represent y o u r m o t h e r for her.
F I R S T CHILD: I miss my m o t h e r , t o o .
F I R S T WIFE: I was curious to see what's g o i n g to h a p p e n n o w .
She

has

turned

to face

the family

again.

191

HELLINGER: W h a t does it feel like, l o o k i n g at y o u r family from this distance?


F I R S T WIFE: M o r e c o m p l e t e .
FRANK: I ' m amazed.
HELLINGER: T h a t is a clear, simple solution. O k a y , that's all.
F R A N K after sitting down again: I d o n ' t understand it all yet, but I ' v e suddenly realized a f e w things.
HELLINGER: J u s t e n j o y that! It's e n o u g h i f y o u j u s t e n j o y it.
FRANK: I ' m very uncertain a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: E n j o y i t h o w e v e r uncertain y o u are. T h e r e are p e o p l e w h o
c a n ' t e n j o y their soup until t h e y have found the hair in it. B u t it's possible to forget a b o u t the hair and finish the soup anyway.
O k a y , it's always the same w i t h y o u . Happiness creates fear. A n d it brings
responsibility.
FRANK: I t h i n k I have to be clearer in my m i n d b e f o r e I can take on any
responsibility.
HELLINGER: It is clear that y o u r wife is drawn to h e r c o u n t r y of origin and
h e r system, and that the children must stay w i t h y o u . S h e was v e r y r e l i e v e d w h e n she saw that.
FRANK: I always felt guilty.
HELLINGER: It's unnecessary to talk a b o u t guilt in this case. T h e r e are
o t h e r dynamics at w o r k , and it's right as it is.
O k a y , w e ' l l stop h e r e for today.

192

THE THIRD DAY

The round
HELLINGER: G o o d m o r n i n g . I ' d like to start again today w i t h a r o u n d .
E v e r y o n e will get a c h a n c e to say w h a t ' s g o i n g o n , or to ask questions
o r m a k e c o m m e n t s about the w o r k .
PARTICIPANT: B e f o r e we start, I have a question a b o u t that. W h a t happens
h e r e is v e r y different from any group therapy I ' v e e x p e r i e n c e d . T h e r e are
almost no interactions b e t w e e n participants, and all t h e c o n t a c t happens
b e t w e e n y o u and the client. It's almost like individual therapy in a g r o u p
setting. C a n y o u say s o m e t h i n g a b o u t y o u r t h i n k i n g b e h i n d that? Y o u
s e e m to actively discourage us from participating.
HELLINGER: I actually strongly e n c o u r a g e y o u r participation, b u t I do
shape it. M a n y years ago, in S o u t h Africa, I g o t my start as a therapist
w o r k i n g w i t h g r o u p dynamics i n e c u m e n i c a l and interracial groups.
There

w e r e v e r y intense

interactions b e t w e e n participants

in those

groups, and a great deal was a c c o m p l i s h e d . B u t h e r e , we are d o i n g


s o m e t h i n g different, as y o u n o t i c e d , and y o u all n e e d a different f r e e d o m .
In a " r o u n d , " e v e r y o n e has t h e f r e e d o m to talk a b o u t the effects of
t h e w o r k and t o ask questions, v o i c e o b j e c t i o n s , and m a k e c o m m e n t s . O r
y o u m a y w o r k o n personal issues that are i m p o r t a n t and appropriate.
W h e n t h e others r e m a i n attentive and c e n t e r e d and let the speaker talk
w i t h o u t interrupting, t h e n each participant in turn has t h e c h a n c e to say
w h a t is on his or h e r m i n d freely and doesn't n e e d to w o r r y a b o u t b e i n g
distracted b y o t h e r group m e m b e r s ' remarks o r o b j e c t i o n s .
Y o u ' v e p r o b a b l y n o t i c e d h o w i m p o r t a n t the o t h e r participants are i n
m a i n t a i n i n g a group a t m o s p h e r e in w h i c h t h e w o r k can happen at this
depth. T h e w o r k c o u l d n ' t happen i f y o u w e r e n ' t actively c o n t r i b u t i n g t o
t h e g r o u p a t m o s p h e r e . T h e others in the g r o u p are also i m p o r t a n t partners for t h e therapist, b e c a u s e as s o o n as s o m e o n e starts to digress and
gets carried away w i t h explanations and justifications, t h e g r o u p b e c o m e s
restless. T h a t ' s a g o o d clue for t h e therapist that s o m e t h i n g is n o t right,
and h e o r she can interrupt and m o v e o n t o the n e x t person. T h a t helps
t h e w h o l e group t o maintain c o n c e n t r a t i o n and t o create a n a t m o s p h e r e
that i s respectful o f the seriousness o f t h e t h e m e s p e o p l e bring. A s l o n g
as a participant is w o r k i n g on s o m e t h i n g truly i m p o r t a n t , t h e n t h e group
remains attentive and c e n t e r e d , e v e n i f t h e w o r k takes a l o n g t i m e . I n
fact, issues that are i m p o r t a n t for o n e person t o u c h e v e r y o n e , and w h e n

193

o n e p e r s o n resolves s o m e t h i n g that is i m p o r t a n t to h i m or her, the others


profit as w e l l w i t h o u t having to w o r k themselves. E v e r y o n e w o r k s for
e v e r y o n e else. It's very efficient.
T h e r e ' s a n o t h e r p o i n t t o consider. M u c h o f w h a t w e w o r k w i t h here
is the result of e n t a n g l e m e n t s that a family system i m p o s e d on a child,
and that a child a c c e p t e d o u t o f l o v e . T h e y often are things w e didn't
c h o o s e and c o u l d n ' t defend ourselves against. W o r k i n g at that level e x poses b o t h o u r child's loyalty and o u r i n n o c e n t defenselessness. P e o p l e
feel safer o p e n i n g up to that level w h e n t h e y d o n ' t have to w o r r y about
c o m m e n t s , criticism, feedback, o r suggestions from o t h e r group m e m b e r s .
N o m a t t e r h o w well m e a n i n g , c o m m e n t s can easily hurt and s h a m e that
t e n d e r place w h e r e we all still l o v e i n n o c e n t l y , like little children. G r o u p
process and group dynamics are effective m e t h o d s for o t h e r tasks, but
t h e y j u s t d o n ' t offer the level o f safety w e n e e d i n order t o w o r k a s w e
do here.
S o w e sacrifice s o m e interactions b e t w e e n m e m b e r s i n order t o m a k e
it safe to do w h a t we do here.

Assumed symptoms
ANNE: I feel fine. I sense that quite a lot has b e e n h a p p e n i n g inside m e ,
and several things have b e c o m e clearer. I n o w realize that I ' m identified
w i t h s o m e o n e , and possibly w i t h several p e o p l e . . .
HELLINGER: N o , as a rule, identification is limited to o n e person. If there
are m o r e , it tends to m a k e p e o p l e crazy.
ANNE: W e l l , I suspect that I ' m identified w i t h m y g r a n d m o t h e r . S o m e times I feel it physically in the w a y I breathe, as if I c a n ' t b r e a t h e deeply
and o n l y use the upper part o f m y b o d y . I also h o l d m y breath s o m e times, for e x a m p l e , w h e n I ' m afraid or in a situation i n v o l v i n g conflict.
At these times, I also m a k e m y s e l f as small physically as possible. I rem e m b e r that my g r a n d m o t h e r frequently a c t e d paranoid. W h e n I was a
child, she often asked me to go and see if there was a n y o n e hiding. I
t h i n k I t o o k on s o m e of her fear, and I often held my b r e a t h in these
situations.
HELLINGER: W h a t w o u l d be a g o o d thing to do in such a situation?
ANNE: B r e a t h e , I e x p e c t .
HELLINGER: T o l o o k a t y o u r g r a n d m o t h e r w i t h l o v e and say t o her, " I ' m
h o l d i n g my breath for you." (pause) H a v e y o u found a w a y to take thai
in?

194

ANNE: I ' m trying to.


H E L L I N G E R : D O y o u feel y o u r l o v e for h e r ? I t will m a k e y o u free i f y o u
a l l o w i t t o c o m e t o light. A n y t h i n g else, A n n e ?
A N N E : Y e s . T h i s m o r n i n g , for t h e first t i m e , I realized that w h e n I talk
a b o u t m y father's parents, I d o n o t say that t h e y are d e a d b u t that t h e y
were

murdered.

HELLINGER: M u r d e r e d by w h o m ?
A N N E : I t was d u r i n g t h e t i m e o f t h e N a z i s . I c o m e f r o m a J e w i s h family.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t i s always v e r y , v e r y i m p o r t a n t . D o y o u k n o w w h a t I ' v e
observed? A Jewish w o m a n can't marry a G e r m a n man.
ANNE: I married a German.
H E L L I N G E R : I t c a n ' t w o r k . A J e w i s h w o m a n c a n ' t successfully m a r r y a
G e r m a n m a n . It's b o u n d t o g o w r o n g . I ' v e n e v e r s e e n i t w o r k . T h e
o t h e r w a y a r o u n d s e e m s t o w o r k o k a y , w h e n a J e w i s h m a n marries a
G e r m a n w o m a n , b u t n o t v i c e versa. I t j u s t d o e s n ' t w o r k o u t .
JOHN: Is it possible to e x p l a i n s o m e t h i n g l i k e that, or d o e s it j u s t h a p p e n ?
H E L L I N G E R : I d o n ' t e v e n try to e x p l a i n it. It's j u s t an o b s e r v a t i o n I ' v e
made.

to Anne:

H a v e y o u ever seen a marriage b e t w e e n a J e w i s h w o m a n and a

non-Jewish man work?


ANNE: Y e s .
H E L L I N G E R : H a v e y o u really?
ANNE: I have.
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , t h e n perhaps m y s t a t e m e n t was t o o g l o b a l . M a y b e it's
m o r e a c c u r a t e to say that it's v e r y difficult.
A N N E : I ' m a w a r e o f t h e difficulties, b e l i e v e m e . T h e t r u t h i s that I ' m s e p a rated from my husband because we couldn't m a k e it w o r k .
H E L L I N G E R : W h e n a J e w i s h w o m a n marries a n o n - J e w i s h m a n , especially
a G e r m a n m a n , she i m p l i c i t l y r e n o u n c e s h e r J e w i s h faith. B u t that's
s o m e t h i n g a J e w c a n ' t d o . T h e b o n d c r e a t e d b y t h e i r c o m m o n fate c r e ates a b o n d b e t w e e n J e w s that is so strong that it's usually i m p o s s i b l e to
truly b r e a k it.
A N N E : W h y d o y o u say i t i s different w i t h a J e w i s h m a n ?
H E L L I N G E R : I t m a y h a v e s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h w h a t I said y e s t e r d a y a b o u t
t h e w o m a n f o l l o w i n g t h e m a n . W h e n a J e w i s h w o m a n d o e s that, s h e
i m p l i c i t l y leaves h e r faith. A n o n - J e w i s h w o m a n c a n f o l l o w a J e w i s h m a n
a n d r e m a i n true t o h e r faith, b u t i t d o e s n ' t s e e m t o w o r k t h e o t h e r w a y
around.
GEORGE: I s n ' t i t b e c a u s e J u d a i s m i s passed o n b y t h e w o m e n ? T h i s w o u l d
m e a n that t h e c h i l d r e n w o u l d a u t o m a t i c a l l y l e a v e t h e i r father's family.

195

H E L L I N G E R : P e r h a p s , b u t w h a t I k n o w for sure is w h a t I ' v e s e e n and h e a r d


f r o m actual c o u p l e s I ' v e w o r k e d w i t h o v e r t h e years: A J e w i s h w o m a n
injures h e r b o n d w i t h t h e system o f values she g r e w u p w i t h w h e n she
m a r r i e s a n o n - J e w i s h m a n . T h i s i s o n l y o n e o f m a n y aspects. B u t w h a t e v e r t h e reason, I ' v e v e r y often s e e n that a J e w i s h w o m a n a n d a n o n J e w i s h m a n h a v e a v e r y difficult t i m e m a k i n g a m a r r i a g e w o r k .
A N N E : B u t I c h o s e this m a n . W h a t m a k e s i t e v e n m o r e c o m p l i c a t e d i s that
my h u s b a n d was a c a n d i d a t e for t h e p r i e s t h o o d . He is a C a t h o l i c t h e ologian. His m o t h e r never intended h i m to marry.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s n o t s o hard t o r e s o l v e . T h a t ' s n o r e a s o n n o t t o m a r r y
h i m o r t o l e a v e h i m . T h e difficulty i s m o r e l i k e l y t o lie w i t h y o u and
y o u r parents and y o u r fate.
R O B E R T : P e r h a p s t h e p e r c e n t a g e o f J e w i s h b l o o d plays a part. P e r h a p s it
makes a difference if s o m e o n e is only half or a quarter J e w i s h ?
H E L L I N G E R : I d o n ' t w a n t t o g o i n t o t h e legalistic aspects n o w . T h e i m p o r tant t h i n g is to identify t h e forces that are at w o r k . T h e details h a v e to
b e verified.
to Anne: Y o u h a v e g i v e n us s o m e i m p o r t a n t i n f o r m a t i o n . It w i l l m a k e it
easier f o r us to set up y o u r family c o n s t e l l a t i o n .

The appropriate measure


IDA: M y h e a r t i s r a c i n g , a n d m y q u e s t i o n is: H o w d o e s o n e f i n d t h e a p p r o priate m e a s u r e ?
H E L L I N G E R : T h e appropriate m e a s u r e ?
IDA: Y e s , t h e appropriate m e a s u r e .
H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e ' s a n i n n e r o r i e n t a t i o n . I f y o u pay a t t e n t i o n t o i t a n d are
fully c e n t e r e d , y o u c a n sense w h e n t h e b a l a n c e b e t w e e n e x p r e s s i n g and
w i t h h o l d i n g i s right. W e f r e q u e n t l y try t o f i n d t h e right b a l a n c e t h r o u g h
o u r i n t e l l e c t , a n d i t often turns o u t w r o n g . T h e i n n e r sense i s a m o r e
t r u s t w o r t h y o r i e n t a t i o n . F o r e x a m p l e , i f y o u feel s o m e t h i n g v e r y strongly,
l i k e U n a ' s feeling t o w a r d h e r m o t h e r t h e day b e f o r e y e s t e r d a y , a n d y o u
trust this feeling and a l l o w y o u r s e l f to e x p e r i e n c e it fully, t h e n it shows
y o u w h a t ' s appropriate t o express. I f y o u d o this, y o u k e e p y o u r sense o t
p r o p o r t i o n a n d stay w i t h i n appropriate limits.
It's a different m a t t e r w h e n s o m e o n e i m a g i n e s a f e e l i n g i n s t e a d o f e x p e r i e n c i n g i t fully, l i k e W i l l i a m did w i t h his f e e l i n g o f b e i n g a v i c t i m .
T h a t f e e l i n g was c o l o r e d b y his past. Y o u l o s e y o u r sense o f p r o p o r t i o n
a n d g o b e y o n d t h e appropriate limits b e c a u s e y o u are n o t c e n t e r e d i n

196

y o u r s e l f and in the present. B u t a feeling that springs directly from a real


situation is always appropriate, e v e n if it m a y s e e m to be e x c e s s i v e , and
y o u k n o w i m m e d i a t e l y w h e n y o u have r e a c h e d t h e limit. I n a similar
w a y , y o u can sense t h e appropriate limit i n o t h e r situations. S o m e p e o p l e
t h i n k that if t h e y allow themselves less space and less s c o p e , t h e y w i l l be
safer. B u t t h e y ' r e n o t really, b e c a u s e w e are safe w i t h i n t h e w h o l e e x t e n t
o f the appropriate limits, and s o m e t i m e s t h e y ' r e very w i d e .
IDA: D o e s that m e a n that in the case of c o m p e n s a t i o n and a t o n e m e n t I must
w a i t until I have found the appropriate measure for giving and taking?
HELLINGER: B a l a n c e results from y o u r i n t e r a c t i o n w i t h an actual situation
o r task, o r w i t h a n actual person. Y o u c a n ' t w o r k i t o u t b e f o r e h a n d .

Exonerated
WILLIAM: I slept very well, and I suddenly s e e m to have lots of t i m e .
HELLINGER: G o o d .
WILLIAM: A n d I feel g o o d in o t h e r ways, t o o .

T h e high price
HELLINGER: H o w are y o u feeling, Clara?
CLARA: G o o d . B u t I ' m pretty exhausted.
HELLINGER: O f course.
CLARA: T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I ' d like t o ask y o u . E v e r since t h e t h e m e o f
c o m p e n s a t i o n and a t o n e m e n t c a m e u p yesterday, I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g
a b o u t my accident. I had a serious car a c c i d e n t n i n e years ago, and
w h e n e v e r I t h o u g h t o f c o m p e n s a t i o n and a t o n e m e n t i n c o n n e c t i o n w i t h
t h e accident, I t h o u g h t o f m y relationship w i t h the m a n I was w i t h w h e n
t h e a c c i d e n t h a p p e n e d . B u t I was w o n d e r i n g yesterday w h e t h e r t h e a c c i dent had s o m e t h i n g directly t o d o w i t h m y family.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s possible.
CLARA: Y o u m e a n a b o u t the family?
HELLINGER: Y e s . W h a t are y o u g o i n g t o d o a b o u t i t n o w ?
CLARA: I d o n ' t k n o w .
HELLINGER: W e c a n ' t c h a n g e the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f t h e a c c i d e n t . T h e y are
s o m e t h i n g y o u have t o bear. B u t y o u can m a k e t h e m less b u r d e n s o m e
b y a l l o w i n g t h e m t o r e m i n d y o u o f w h a t h a p p e n e d yesterday, and b y
giving e v e r y o n e w h o belongs t o y o u r family a place i n y o u r heart. Y o u
m u s t a c c e p t t h e rest as y o u r fate.

197

to the group: I w o u l d like to say s o m e t h i n g a b o u t trauma, accidents, and


misfortune. M a n y p e o p l e w h o have had a hard fate, for e x a m p l e , p e o p l e
w h o h a v e b e e n tortured o r w h o have escaped from c o n c e n t r a t i o n camps,
often o v e r l o o k the m o s t i m p o r t a n t thing.
CLARA: T h a t t h e y survived?
HELLINGER: Y e s , that in that sense, it e n d e d well. T h a t ' s the hardest thing
to accept.
S o m e t i m e ago, a m a n p h o n e d m e and told m e that h e had b e e n t o
R h o d e s w i t h a group, and w h e n he was there, he and the group crawled
t h r o u g h a v e r y n a r r o w a n c i e n t aqueduct. I n the m i d d l e o f the tunnel, h e
p a n i c k e d . H e m a n a g e d t o get o u t and returned t o t h e h o t e l . T h e r e h e
had a n o t h e r p a n i c attack. He p a c k e d and left for h o m e at o n c e , and
w h e n h e g o t b a c k h o m e , h e had a n o t h e r p a n i c attack i n the night. W h e n
he described this to me on the t e l e p h o n e , I said, " T h o s e feelings are c o n n e c t e d w i t h y o u r b i r t h . " T h e n I p r o m i s e d h i m that w h e n I had a place
free in a w o r k s h o p , I w o u l d let h i m k n o w . He c a m e to a w o r k s h o p and
r e e x p e r i e n c e d his birth. B u t it didn't help. I asked h i m , " W h a t h a p p e n e d
at y o u r b i r t h . " He said, " M y m o t h e r nearly b l e d to d e a t h . " I said,
" O k a y , k n e e l d o w n , l o o k a t the wall and i m a g i n e y o u r m o t h e r , l o o k a t
h e r and say, 'I take from y o u my life at the p r i c e y o u had to pay for
it.' " B u t he c o u l d n ' t say it. It was t o o hard for h i m . After t h r e e days, he
was able to say it, and t h e n everything was o k a y .
t o Clara: T h a t was the m e a n i n g o f y o u r deep b o w s yesterday: y o u a c c e p t e d
y o u r life from e a c h person at the p r i c e it cost t h e m . A n d t h e y all w i s h e d
y o u well, didn't they? T h a t ' s h o w it is: s o m e o n e w h o has paid a price
wants to see that it wasn't in vain.
CLARA: Y o u m e a n the a c c i d e n t was the price?
HELLINGER: N o , the others paid the price for y o u r life, and t h e y w a n t to
see that it w a s n ' t in vain. So if y o u a c c e p t y o u r life at the p r i c e that the
others paid and m a k e s o m e t h i n g o f it, t h e y will b e r e c o n c i l e d w i t h the
p r i c e . B u t i f y o u allow y o u r s e l f t o b e w r e t c h e d , the p r i c e t h e y paid will
h a v e b e e n i n vain. A g r e e d ?
CLARA: Y e s .
HELLINGER: G o o d . A n y t h i n g else?
CLARA: T h a n k y o u .

T h e base feeling, a n d h o w t o c h a n g e i t
SOPHIE: I slept w e l l last night, in t w o different phases. After sleeping really
deeply for a t i m e , I w o k e up, and at first, I felt quite calm. B u t t h e n all

198

sorts o f things that h a d h a p p e n e d i n t h e past c a m e t o m i n d . I h a v e n ' t a n y


specific p r o b l e m s w i t h m y family, b u t I suddenly felt v e r y s t r o n g l y that
I o w e my p r e s e n t w e l l - b e i n g to t h e fact that I w a s in a safe p o s i t i o n w i t h
m y father w h e n m y m o t h e r died.
H E L L I N G E R : W h e n did y o u r m o t h e r die?
SOPHIE: W h e n I was j u s t 7 years old. M y siblings h a d q u i t e a b a d t i m e .
H E L L I N G E R : W h e n y o u l o o k a t p e o p l e , y o u c a n s o m e t i m e s see t h e i r b a s e
feeling. T h e base feeling i s t h e f e e l i n g y o u g o b a c k t o w h e n y o u w a n t
t o a v o i d stress. W h e n y o u b e c o m e m o r e h a p p y o r less h a p p y t h a n that
b a s e feeling, y o u r stress g o e s up. I f y o u i m a g i n e a scale r a n g i n g f r o m
m i n u s 1 0 0 a t t h e b o t t o m t o plus 1 0 0 a t t h e t o p , I ' d guess that y o u r b a s e
f e e l i n g i s a r o u n d m i n u s 5 0 . P e o p l e i n t h e m i n u s r a n g e are usually m i s s i n g
o n e o f t h e i r parents. A n n e , for e x a m p l e , i s i n t h e plus r a n g e . W i l l i a m i s
i n t h e m i n u s r a n g e . S t r a n g e l y e n o u g h , C l a r a i s fairly h i g h u p o n t h e
scale. It is said that y o u c a n ' t c h a n g e y o u r base feeling. H o w e v e r , I h a v e
f o u n d a w a y to do it.
SOPHIE laughing: I w i s h y o u ' d tell me h o w .
H E L L I N G E R : I w o u l d n ' t h a v e b o t h e r e d w i t h this l o n g i n t r o d u c t i o n i f I
w e r e n ' t g o i n g t o . I f y o u m a n a g e t o i n t e g r a t e t h e missing o r e x c l u d e d
p a r e n t , y o u r base feeling rises b y 7 5 p o i n t s .
Laughter

in

the group.

t o Sophie: Y o u lost y o u r m o t h e r w h e n y o u w e r e 7 , s o o f c o u r s e y o u miss


h e r . T h a t ' s q u i t e clear. B u t y o u c a n m a k e u p for i t b y g i v i n g h e r a p l a c e
i n y o u r heart. A c h i l d w h o loses o n e o f t h e parents isn't s t r o n g e n o u g h
t o b e a r t h e p a i n o f g r i e f a n d sadness. Instead, t h e c h i l d reacts w i t h a n g e r .
A n g e r i s t h e c h i l d ' s w a y o f g r i e v i n g . Later, w h e n she w a n t s t o g e t i n t o
c o n t a c t w i t h h e r grief, she c a n ' t find it, a n d she e x p e r i e n c e s a n g e r i n stead. T h i s m a k e s h e r a s h a m e d , b e c a u s e she isn't b e i n g true t o h e r actual
e x p e r i e n c e . B u t , in fact, a n g e r is a f o r m of g r i e f appropriate to a c h i l d .
P a r e n t s k n o w that. Y o u r m o t h e r w o u l d understand.
O f w h a t did y o u r m o t h e r die?
SOPHIE: O f t h e results o f a n o p e r a t i o n . T h e truth i s that she was p s y c h o s o m a t i c a l l y ill. S h e was always ill, a n d she j u s t c o u l d n ' t g e t w e l l .
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s something I'd like to do with y o u , to help y o u get
i n t o c o n t a c t w i t h y o u r m o t h e r and feel y o u r l o v e for h e r . It's n o t all that
dramatic, but we'll only do it if you want to.
SOPHIE: It frightens me a b i t .
H E L L I N G E R : O n e i s always afraid w h e n o n e a p p r o a c h e s essentials. B u t i t
is q u i t e s i m p l e , and it w i l l do y o u g o o d .
SOPHIE: O k a y .

199

P e a c e through love
HELLINGER to Clara: W o u l d y o u help m e , please?
CLARA: Y e s .
HELLINGER: L i e d o w n o n the f l o o r o n y o u r b a c k , close y o u r eyes, and j u s t
lie t h e r e .
to Sophie: N o w lie d o w n beside her, on y o u r b a c k , a little w a y away, so
that y o u r head is level w i t h hers.
N o w i m a g i n e that y o u ' r e a child lying n e x t t o y o u r ill m o t h e r , and l o o k
across at h e r w i t h l o v e . L o o k at her. B r e a t h e deeply.
Y o u are seeing h e r i n h e r illness. L o o k a t h e r w i t h l o v e .
Sophie

breathes

violently, feels

her grief,

and weeps with

her eyes

open.

HELLINGER: W i t h love! W h a t did y o u call y o u r m o t h e r w h e n y o u w e r e


a child?
SOPHIE: " M u m m y . "
HELLINGER: Say " D e a r M u m m y . "
SOPHIE: D e a r M u m m y .
HELLINGER: " D e a r M u m m y . " W i t h all y o u r l o v e . Say i t w i t h all the p o w er of your love, "Dear M u m m y . "
SOPHIE: D e a r M u m m y . Sophie begins to sob.
HELLINGER: Say it quietly.
SOPHIE: D e a r M u m m y .
HELLINGER: A n d say, " D e a r M u m m y , give m e y o u r blessing."
SOPHIE: D e a r M u m m y , give m e y o u r blessing.
HELLINGER:

after a pause,

when Sophie's grief is subsiding:

O k a y , that's all.

to the group: Do y o u see h o w radiant she is? Beautiful!


T h e basic therapeutic m e t h o d i s healing t h r o u g h l o v e . W h e n y o u c o n t a c t
l o v e , y o u ' r e ready for the n e x t step.

Secret happiness
H A R R Y : H O W d o y o u assess m y base level?
Laughter

in

the group.

HELLINGER: Strangely e n o u g h , on the plus side.


H A R R Y : T h a t surprises m e , but I ' m glad.
HELLINGER: E v e r y o n e can tell h o w high his o r h e r base level is. Y o u can
tell b y h o w y o u feel.
H A R R Y : I see m y s e l f as a m e l a n c h o l y person, and I t h o u g h t my m e l a n c h o l y w o u l d put m e o n the m i n u s side.
HELLINGER: M e l a n c h o l y guards y o u r secret happiness.

200

H A R R Y laughing: G o o d .
I have learned a great deal and I feel deeply grateful. I also e x p e r i e n c e
the vibrations here in this workshop as healing. T h i s is the first time I
have taken part in anything like this, and I w o u l d like to tell y o u about
three things that w e r e completely n e w to me and immediately helpful.
HELLINGER: O k a y .

A different kind of k n o w l e d g e
H A R R Y : I never realized before that there's a kind of direct k n o w l e d g e or
spontaneous recognition of what it is in us that c a n n o t be c o n v e y e d by
words. I had no idea that this kind of k n o w l e d g e exists, but it suddenly
b e c a m e clear to m e . If I hadn't discovered that kind of k n o w l e d g e , I
c o u l d n ' t have understood anything y o u said and demonstrated. It all
w o u l d have appeared to be absolutely inconsistent w i t h the superficial r e ality I k n e w from my family and w o u l d have seemed c o m p l e t e l y paradoxical, or at least merely hypothetical. B u t I really k n o w the way in
w h i c h what y o u say is true. T h a t was the first thing.
T h e second thing is that for decades n o w I've b e e n trying desperately
to mediate b e t w e e n the m e m b e r s of my family. I ' m like a crazy messenger w h o collapses j u s t as he is about to deliver his message, and I ' v e
n e g l e c t e d my o w n affairs as a result. I've e x p e n d e d e n o r m o u s amounts
of energy trying to arrange reconciliation in order to reestablish s o m e sort
of law and order, w h i c h , as I n o w realize, never really existed, or at best,
o n l y superficially. T h r o u g h y o u and this w o r k , I've learned that I can
turn toward my father w i t h o u t a personal confrontation. I was terribly
resentful toward h i m because he always avoided confrontations w i t h m e .
H e never gave m e any means o f orientation, n o matter h o w m u c h I p r o v o k e d him. He had a soul w i t h a raincoat on, in order to protect himself,
and I was terribly resentful. N o w , for the first time, I think it's possible
to c o m e to terms with him, even though he died five years ago. T h e
k n o w l e d g e that I do n o t have to r e n o u n c e h i m forever is very liberating,
particularly since I was the o n e w h o was most c o n c e r n e d about h i m , and
from w h o m he w i t h d r e w most emphatically.
T h e third thing, and then I ' m f i n i s h e d . I ' m b e c o m i n g r e c o n c i l e d t o
the fact that I've never used my aggression or anger, and that I ' v e forfeited my right to many things because I haven't fought for t h e m . At first
I thought I'd have to make up for that and b e c o m e m o r e aggressive, b u t
I ' m starting to see an inner way to gain the strength and energy that have
b e e n stifled by all this suppression.

201

Giving without taking


H E L L I N G E R : A n g e r is often a substitute for l o v e . A p p r o a c h i n g s o m e o n e
w i t h l o v e i s m u c h m o r e c h a l l e n g i n g than a p p r o a c h i n g w i t h a n g e r .
H A R R Y : P e o p l e c l o s e t o m e tell m e that I stifle t h e m a n d that I ' m o v e r l y
insistent w i t h m y l o v e . T h e y say I n e v e r g i v e t h e m a c h a n c e t o w a i t for
m y l o v e a n d t o ask for i t . . .
H E L L I N G E R : A b o v e all, y o u d o n o t take f r o m t h e m . P e o p l e w h o give
w i t h o u t t a k i n g are saying t o t h e o t h e r p e r s o n , " I w o u l d r a t h e r y o u felt
guilty t h a n m e . " T h e n t h e o t h e r p e r s o n b e c o m e s angry, a n d rightly so.
V i n c e n t de Paul have y o u heard of him?
H A R R Y : I ' v e h e a r d o f h i m , b u t I h a v e n ' t studied h i m .
H E L L I N G E R : H e was a saint w h o l i v e d i n Paris, a n e x p e r t o n b r o t h e r l y l o v e
i n t h e g o o d sense. H e o n c e t o l d a friend w h a t h e ' d l e a r n e d d u r i n g his
l o n g life. H e said, " W h e n t h e y w a n t t o help y o u , b e c a r e f u l . "
H A R R Y : I ' m familiar w i t h this mistrust, and I suffer f r o m it.
H E L L I N G E R : A n d rightly so. I h a v e a n a p h o r i s m for y o u : S o m e w o u l d - b e
h e l p e r s m a y b e c o m p a r e d t o scarabs that t h i n k that w h e n t h e y roll a
p i e c e o f d u n g w i t h t h e i r little feet, t h e y are r o t a t i n g t h e w o r l d .
Laughter

in

the group.

CLAUDIA: W h a t ' s a scarab?


H A R R Y : I n plain l a n g u a g e , it's a d u n g b e e t l e .
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s it exactly.

N e w perspectives
R O B E R T : I t did m e g o o d yesterday w h e n y o u said that it's t o o early t o
m a k e d e c i s i o n s . I t m a d e m e feel c a l m e r . I ' m a w a r e that m y a n g e r a n d irr i t a t i o n w i t h m y w i f e h a v e disappeared s i n c e t h e day b e f o r e yesterday.
E v e n i f I try t o f i n d t h e m , t h e y ' r e n o l o n g e r t h e r e (laughs).
HELLINGER:

H o w terrible!

(laughing)

R O B E R T : It's a c o m p l e t e l y n e w p e r s p e c t i v e . I d o n ' t y e t k n o w w h a t will


c o m e o u t o f it. I'll w a i t a n d see. B u t I feel g o o d .

Futile fantasies a b o u t relationships


J O H N : I ' m u n e a s y and agitated, a n d m y hands are d a m p . T h e e n t i r e day
y e s t e r d a y I felt m e n t a l l y disturbed, right up until t h e e v e n i n g . A l l sorts
o f things irritated m e . I ' m still a b i t d i s o r i e n t e d . T h e r e s e e m s t o b e s o
m u c h u n c e r t a i n t y . I d o n ' t t h i n k I really u n d e r s t a n d t h e w o r k w i t h the

202

family constellations. A n d my fantasies a b o u t an ideal partnership and r e lationship are falling to bits.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s j u s t as well.
A friend of m i n e , the psychotherapist H a n s J e l l o u s c h e k , has w r i t t e n a
b o o k i n w h i c h h e describes the effect o f these ideal fantasies. T h e b o o k
is called The Art of Living as a Couple.
J O H N : I ' m interested in a lot of w h a t has b e e n said, i n c l u d i n g w h a t H a r r y
said j u s t n o w . I have e x p e r i e n c e d m y s e l f in the s a m e way. I t e n d to give
a lot of l o v e , and I have great difficulty in taking or a c c e p t i n g anything.
I ' m afraid o f it.

Giving a n d taking in a partnership


HELLINGER: P e o p l e w h o are prepared to take from others w i t h l o v e are
h u m b l e . T a k i n g w i t h love requires pulling b a c k from t h e o t h e r p e r s o n
a b i t and letting go of a certain a m o u n t of p o w e r . T h i s m a k e s it easier
for the o t h e r person t o give. B u t w h e n w e take from others i n this w a y ,
we gather strength, and this enables us to give in return. T h e n b o t h p e r sons are h u m b l e b e c a u s e they b o t h r e c o g n i z e their d e p e n d e n c e and their
limits.
In a c o u p l e ' s relationship, the m a n has s o m e t h i n g that the w o m a n
lacks, and the w o m a n has s o m e t h i n g that the m a n lacks. T h e y ' r e c o m pletely equal, i n terms o f b o t h their capacity t o give and t h e i r n e e d t o r e c e i v e . On this level, their equality is o b v i o u s , and this equality can be
e x t e n d e d to o t h e r levels as well. As s o o n as o n e partner gives m o r e than
the o t h e r o r takes m o r e than the other, the relationship i s o u t o f b a l a n c e
and starts to go w r o n g . T h a t ' s w h y in couples' therapy the first t h i n g that
has to be established is w h o gives m o r e or w h o takes m o r e , and t h e n to
e v e n o u t the giving and taking. In fact, e a c h partner k n o w s i m m e d i a t e l y
w h e t h e r h e o r she gives m o r e o r takes m o r e .
J O H N : I have the idea that I ' m c o m p l e t e l y at my partner's m e r c y .
HELLINGER: W h a t ' s t o fear? B e i n g a t y o u r partner's m e r c y m e a n s that y o u
d o n ' t give h e r m o r e than she can give in return or is willing to give in
return. T h i s automatically sets a limit on y o u r giving and taking, and we
all are at the m e r c y of these limits. In the b e g i n n i n g , all relationships start
w i t h a n e e d for restraint b e c a u s e the capacity for giving and taking is
l i m i t e d . T h i s applies to all relationships. P e o p l e s o m e t i m e s l o o k for a r e lationship in w h i c h the m u t u a l giving and taking are unlimited, b u t s u c h
relationships d o n ' t exist. P e o p l e w h o have let g o o f this illusion f o r m

203

m o r e m o d e s t relationships, and b e c a u s e t h e y are m o d e s t , the p e o p l e are


m o r e likely t o b e happy.
J O H N : M y girlfriend says exactly the same thing.
HELLINGER: Y o u see!
J O H N : I understand it n o w .
HELLINGER: D o y o u k n o w the best w a y t o handle the question o f giving
and taking in a c o u p l e ' s relationship? Y o u ask y o u r partner for s o m e t h i n g
c o n c r e t e , s o m e t h i n g w i t h clear limits. F o r e x a m p l e , y o u d o n ' t say,
" P l e a s e l o v e m e m o r e . " T h a t i s n o t c o n c r e t e , and y o u r partner has n o
w a y o f k n o w i n g w h a t y o u really m e a n . Instead, try saying, " P l e a s e stay
and talk t o m e for h a l f a n h o u r . " T h e n y o u r partner k n o w s that w h e n
the h a l f h o u r i s over, she's d o n e w h a t y o u asked o f her. I f y o u say,
" P l e a s e stay w i t h m e forever," y o u m a k e i t impossible for h e r t o m e e t
y o u r request, and she understandably feels the impossibility o f m e e t i n g
y o u r demands. T h e s e are simple, m o d e s t pieces o f advice.
J O H N : It's clear t o m e o n a n intellectual level.
HELLINGER: It will filter t h r o u g h from the top to the b o t t o m .

Letting pressure flow away


M A R T H A : I have an awful feeling of pressure in my head. I t h i n k it must
be e i t h e r tears or fear, I d o n ' t k n o w w h i c h .
HELLINGER: B r i n g y o u r chair and c o m e and sit i n front o f m e !
Martha picks

up

her chair and sits

in front of Hettinger, facing

him.

M a k e yourself comfortable.
Martha

relaxes

and

laughs.

C l o s e y o u r eyes.
Hettinger gently

eases

her

head forward.

Breathe!
Hettinger lays his hand on

the hack of her neck and rocks her head gently from side

to side.
T a k e hold o f me!
She puts her arms round Hettinger and rocks gently to the right and left.
L e t y o u r s e l f g o w i t h the m o v e m e n t , w h e r e v e r i t takes y o u .
I m a g i n e that y o u r l o v e is flowing freely, and i m a g i n e the person it's
flowing to. Powerfully!
She

breathes

hard.

E x h a l e strongly! Faster! E x h a l e m o r e strongly! Faster!


Her pain

204

breaks

through,

and she weeps

loudly.

HELLINGER as her pain subsides: N o w b r e a t h e w i t h o u t using y o u r v o i c e .


She

breathes

more

quietly.

H o w are y o u feeling n o w ?
M A R T H A : G o o d . Y e s , n o w it's free t o flow.

T h e question o f religion
R O L P H : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g I ' m unsure a b o u t w i t h regard to m y clients.
W h e n t h e y have b e c o m e clearer a b o u t their issues, t h e y always b r i n g u p
t h e q u e s t i o n of religion. It always seems to happen s o o n e r or later. I always say as little as possible, but I s o m e t i m e s t h i n k I o u g h t to say m o r e .
HELLINGER: T h e y d o n ' t really c o m e i n t o c o n t a c t w i t h the question o f r e ligion.
ROLPH:

B u t w h a t should they do w i t h the

e n e r g y and creativity it

engenders?
HELLINGER: W e k n o w n o t h i n g a b o u t the question o f religion. Y o u r c l i ents are t o u c h i n g on a mystery. T h a t ' s quite a different thing. P e o p l e
often try to o v e r c o m e their fear of the u n k n o w n by trying to grasp it.
B u t t h e n the mystery withdraws and leaves t h e m b l i n d and w e a k .

Sadness about aunts w h o died in


a concentration c a m p
CLAUDIA: T h e r e are t w o things o n m y m i n d . S o m e t i m e s o n e o f t h e m i s
i n the f o r e g r o u n d and s o m e t i m e s the other. T h e first o n e c o n c e r n s m y
father's family. I d o n ' t k n o w if it's really still i m p o r t a n t . I suddenly r e m e m b e r e d that t w o o f m y father's sisters died i n a c o n c e n t r a t i o n c a m p .
She starts to weep.
HELLINGER: T h a t is important, very important. W h y did t h e y die in a
concentration camp?
CLAUDIA: T h e y w e r e put in a Polish c o n c e n t r a t i o n c a m p after t h e war. She
weeps.
HELLINGER: L o o k a t t h e m w i t h respect. W i t h respect for their fate. O k a y ?
W e ' l l c o m e b a c k t o this w h e n w e set u p y o u r family constellation. T h e y
must certainly b e included. T h e n y o u will see the strength that c o m e s
from t h e m .

205

Respecting the parents of handicapped children


C A R L : I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a lot a b o u t t h e p e o p l e I w o r k w i t h , and t h e s a c rifice that parents w i t h h a n d i c a p p e d children have t o m a k e . W h e n y o u
talked a b o u t w o u l d - b e helpers a little w h i l e ago, it m a d e me realize h o w
helpless I am.
HELLINGER: I have the deepest respect for y o u and y o u r w o r k . A great
m a n y p e o p l e have t h e illusion that a happy life is the m o s t i m p o r t a n t
t h i n g to strive for, b u t it isn't. T h e r e ' s value and greatness in t h e c h a l l e n g e and t h e d e d i c a t i o n t o t h e care o f h a n d i c a p p e d c h i l d r e n that can
n e v e r e v e n b e a p p r o a c h e d b y a s o - c a l l e d happy life. F o r t h e parents o f
h a n d i c a p p e d children, this is a predestined path that isn't c h o s e n and
c a n ' t be avoided. Y o u r task is to respect t h e m w i t h o u t pity. T h i s is
important.
R O L P H : I ' m t h i n k i n g o f a particularly difficult client, and I ' m aware that
I feel v e r y sorry for her.
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s a saying a b o u t compassion: C o m p a s s i o n requires the
c o u r a g e to face the w h o l e pain.

P r e s u m p t i o n a n d its c o n s e q u e n c e s
U N A : I feel g o o d b o t h m e n t a l l y and physically. I ' m n o t afraid any m o r e ,
b u t w h e n certain t h e m e s c o m e up, I still feel a c o n s t r i c t i o n in my chest.
It's n o t e x a c t l y a pain, b u t a sort of pressure. Y e s t e r d a y , w h e n we talked
a b o u t t h e guilt of t h e i n n o c e n t party, I felt that pressure. It has to do
w i t h m y m o t h e r , b u t w i t h m e a s well. M y father had a c h i l d w i t h ano t h e r w o m a n during t h e marriage t o m y m o t h e r , and she always i m pressed u p o n m e v e r y strongly h o w that had put h e r i n a n e x t r e m e l y difficult situation, especially since their child was v e r y ill. S h e repeatedly
t o l d m e h o w m y father's unfaithfulness had left h e r i n t h e lurch, and that
she w o u l d h a v e t a k e n h e r t w o children and left h i m i f she c o u l d have.
I n o w w o n d e r i f this i s w h a t stops m e from b o w i n g t o her.
HELLINGER: A child m u s t n o t interfere in t h e parents' affairs. It burdens
c h i l d r e n t o k n o w a b o u t their parents' happiness o r unhappiness i n their
relationship to o n e another, and t h e parents s h o u l d n ' t tell t h e child
a n y t h i n g a b o u t their i n t i m a t e relationship. It's n o n e o f t h e children's
business. T h e best thing for y o u t o d o i s t o forget w h a t y o u r m o t h e r told
y o u . It's really possible to forget.
UNA: Really?
HELLINGER: F o r g e t t i n g is a highly spiritual discipline. F o r g e t t i n g in this

206

sense is d o n e by w i t h d r a w i n g inwardly, and all at o n c e , t h e m e m o r y v a n ishes. After y o u ' v e forgotten, y o u can leave y o u r parents t o m a n a g e t h e i r
o w n conflict, and y o u ' r e free t o l o o k lovingly a t b o t h o f t h e m and t o
take f r o m t h e m the g o o d things t h e y have g i v e n y o u .
U N A : Okay. Good.
H E L L I N G E R : I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g else. O n l y sinners can b e lenient.
U N A : Lenient?
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , lenient. T h e i n n o c e n t are unforgiving.
U N A : A h , n o w I understand.
H E L L I N G E R : I n n o c e n c e and guilt are n o t identical w i t h g o o d and evil. I n
fact, it's often t h e o t h e r w a y around.
U N A : I ' m starting t o realize that I have b e e n hard and unforgiving for
m a n y years, a b o v e all i n m y j u d g m e n t s and m y evaluation o f right and
wrong.
H E L L I N G E R : S t o p describing it or y o u will start d o i n g it all o v e r again!
U N A : O k a y . W e l l , that was o n e o f t h e t h e m e s . T h e o t h e r o n e c a m e u p
during Clara's w o r k . T h r e e m o n t h s after my father's death, I h a d a serious car accident. A m o n g o t h e r things, I fractured t h e base o f m y skull
and b r o k e t w o o r three v e r t e b r a e . S i n c e t h e n I . . .
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s e n o u g h . W h a t are the dynamics?
U N A : I started t h i n k i n g a b o u t the a c c i d e n t and about y o u r r e f e r e n c e t o t h e
grave b e c a u s e I had several m o r e accidents afterward and I ' m still a c c i dent-prone.
H E L L I N G E R : D O you k n o w what makes you accident-prone?
U N A : I t seems a s i f I w a n t e d t o express solidarity w i t h and loyalty t o m y
father.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s o n e side o f it, b u t there's a n o t h e r possibility as w e l l .
W h a t y o u describe c o u l d also b e a n attempt t o a t o n e for y o u r v i o l a t i o n
o f t h e orders o f l o v e i n k n o w i n g m o r e than a c h i l d should a b o u t y o u r
parents' i n t i m a t e life. F o r e x a m p l e , w h e n a child presumes t o k n o w and
to j u d g e private matters b e t w e e n the parents, she puts h e r s e l f a b o v e h e r
parents. V i o l a t i o n s o f t h e o r d e r o f p r e c e d e n c e often result i n family t r a g e dies, serious accidents, and suicides. W h e n a m e m b e r o f t h e family w h o
i s l o w e r d o w n i n the hierarchy puts h i m s e l f o r h e r s e l f i n t h e place o f
s o m e o n e w h o i s h i g h e r up, h e o r she u n c o n s c i o u s l y reacts w i t h t h e
impulse to fail, to be unhappy, and to suffer misfortune.
T h e solution for y o u w o u l d b e t o extract y o u r s e l f from t h e e n t a n g l e m e n t in y o u r parents' private lives, to give thanks that e v e r y t h i n g has
t u r n e d o u t relatively w e l l so far, to learn from w h a t has h a p p e n e d , and
to resolve to put things to rights.

207

U N A : I ' d really like to take that in, b u t I feel as if I w e r e in a sort of mist.


I c a n ' t see y o u v e r y well.
HELLINGER: T h a t doesn't matter. I f y o u d o n ' t understand, t h e n y o u d o n ' t
disagree either. It will eventually sink in u n h i n d e r e d .
U N A : W h e n I t h i n k of all my accidents, I get a feeling that I c a n ' t d e scribe. It is misty, and h o t . I c a n ' t help t h i n k i n g a b o u t my father's b r o t h e r w h o had a fatal accident a t t h e age o f 5 4 o w i n g t o e x h a u s t i o n . I ' m oft e n exhausted. I d o n ' t have any feelings a b o u t it, b u t I have a sensation
o f h e a t that seems t o c o m e from b e l o w , and it's unpleasant.
HELLINGER: I ' v e already told y o u t h e story o f t h e E s k i m o . D o y o u r e m e m b e r it? H e w e n t t o t h e C a r i b b e a n for his s u m m e r v a c a t i o n and g o t
used to it after a fortnight. W h a t did he get used to?
U N A : T h e heat. O k a y , I understand.

Halfway there
FRANK: I ' m still t h i n k i n g a b o u t t h e constellation yesterday e v e n i n g . T h e r e
is s o m e t h i n g a b o u t my role in it that I d o n ' t quite understand.
HELLINGER: Y o u ' v e already seen e v e r y t h i n g y o u n e e d for t h e solution. I f
y o u try t o find o u t m o r e than y o u n e e d , y o u ' l l lose t h e solution. T r u e
k n o w l e d g e is always directed t o w a r d action. As s o o n as y o u w a n t to
k n o w m o r e than y o u n e e d t o k n o w t o e n a b l e y o u t o act, t h e k n o w l e d g e
b e c o m e s destructive and serves as a substitute for action.
F R A N K : Actually, that's t h e basic question that c o n c e r n s m e . I f this c o n s t e l l a t i o n i s c o r r e c t , w o u l d i t b e right for m e t o have m y c h i l d r e n w i t h m e ?
HELLINGER: O f course, it's right.
F R A N K : T h a t contradicts w h a t I see a t t h e m o m e n t . T h e y s e e m happy w i t h
their m o t h e r .
HELLINGER: O f course. Y o u r wife i s a g o o d m o t h e r . T h a t ' s w h y y o u
d o n ' t h a v e to d e c i d e anything at t h e m o m e n t . All y o u h a v e to do is to
carry t h e i m a g e that it is right in y o u r heart and m i n d let it w o r k for
you.
FRANK: A h a , that feels g o o d .
HELLINGER: T h e i m a g e does i t for y o u . Y o u j u s t wait for its effects t o d e velop. Okay?
FRANK: A l m o s t . Halfway.
HELLINGER: Halfway t o happiness, y o u m e a n ?
F R A N K : Halfway.

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Y e s a n d no to having a child of one's o w n


DAGMAR: W h a t happened at the end of Frank's constellation yesterday
evening was very important for m e . It's not easy for me to say this, b u t
it's what I've always wanted. My first reaction was that it w o u l d n ' t be
g o o d if F r a n k had his children with him unless I have a child w i t h h i m
t o o . I ' v e b e e n thinking about this for years n o w , and I ' m sure it has
s o m e t h i n g to do with an abortion and w i t h a recent miscarriage. So I ' m
of t w o minds as to w h e t h e r I w a n t a child w i t h Frank or w h e t h e r we
should plan to do s o m e t h i n g else together in the future.
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g else I'd like to say about Frank's constellation. As y o u b e g i n to understand h o w the image of the constellation is
to be translated into reality, the basic principle y o u must r e m e m b e r is
that y o u have neither rights n o r responsibilities regarding Frank's c h i l dren. T h e y are the business of Frank and his first wife and no o n e else.
DAGMAR: I entirely agree.
HELLINGER: Y o u are only Frank's s e c o n d wife, n o t h i n g m o r e . Y o u can
tell his children, " I ' m only Frank's s e c o n d wife; everything else to do
w i t h y o u is his business, his and y o u r m o t h e r ' s . " If y o u are k i n d to his
children, he o w e s y o u something because y o u are doing s o m e t h i n g that
isn't y o u r responsibility.
DAGMAR: I ' m very kind to his children.
HELLINGER: O n e can be kind to everyone. That's not the issue here. W h e n
y o u do s o m e t h i n g special for t h e m w h e n they are with y o u , c o o k i n g
t h e m a meal for example, y o u deserve Frank's appreciation. Of course,
y o u do it partly o u t of love for him, but it's still s o m e t h i n g that deserves
his a c k n o w l e d g m e n t .
DAGMAR: I've given t h e m presents, and I did my best to give t h e m a g o o d
time at Christmas .. .
HELLINGER: B e careful not t o put y o u r s e l f into their m o t h e r ' s place. Y o u r
kindness to t h e m must be almost accidental, almost off-handed. It's
Frank's responsibility to do what is necessary for the children, and a l t h o u g h y o u may support him, y o u m a k e it tough for t h e m if y o u start
c o m p e t i n g with their m o t h e r for their love and d o n ' t stay in the b a c k ground. A s e c o n d wife has to be e x t r e m e l y restrained.
T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g else. S e c o n d partners must respect the hierarchy o f
origin. In a partnership, the relationship b e t w e e n the husband and wife
as a c o u p l e always c o m e s before their relationship to their children. It often happens that parents' c o n c e r n for their children takes priority o v e r
their love as a couple, but this disturbs the hierarchy, and the children

209

b e c o m e uneasy, and the hierarchy must b e reestablished t o put the c h i l dren at ease. T h e relationship b e t w e e n a husband and wife must regain
priority o v e r their c o n c e r n for their children. I t does n o g o o d w h e n parents sacrifice themselves for their children, either for t h e m or for their
children. E v e r y o n e c o n c e r n e d has to be clear a b o u t this.
W h e n o n e partner already has children from a previous partnership,
the o r d e r of p r e c e d e n c e is different. In y o u r case, F r a n k was t h e husband
o f his first wife and the father o f his children, and o n l y t h e n y o u r husb a n d . H i s c o n c e r n and l o v e for his children must h a v e priority o v e r his
l o v e for y o u , and y o u must a c k n o w l e d g e and a c c e p t this. I f y o u w e r e t o
say t o h i m , " I c o m e first, and y o u r children c o m e s e c o n d , " this w o u l d
b e a v i o l a t i o n o f the o r d e r o f p r e c e d e n c e and w o u l d have serious c o n s e q u e n c e s for y o u r relationship.
D A G M A R : T h a t ' s wonderful advice.
HELLINGER: A n y t h i n g else?

Yes and no to smoking


D A G M A R : T h i s has n o t h i n g t o d o w i t h w h a t w e have b e e n talking about,
b u t it's also i m p o r t a n t to m e . I w a n t to stop s m o k i n g . I w a n t to stop this
self-destructive habit, and I w a n t to ask for y o u r help.
HELLINGER after a pause: I have a suggestion for y o u . W h e n y o u w a n t to
r e a c h for a cigarette, i m a g i n e y o u are cradling y o u r a b o r t e d c h i l d in y o u r
arms.

Relief for headaches


ELLA: I d o n ' t feel g o o d at all. I had such a b a d h e a d a c h e this m o r n i n g that
I almost c o u l d n ' t c o m e to the w o r k s h o p .
HELLINGER: W h a t sort o f a headache?
ELLA: I have a cold, b u t I d o n ' t t h i n k it has anything to do w i t h that. T h e
pain i s a t the b a c k o f m y head and i n m y n e c k .
HELLINGER: S o m e t i m e s headaches c o m e from p e n t - u p l o v e . W h e r e does
it w a n t to flow to, this l o v e ?
Ella gives a deep sigh.
E x h a l e deeply! T h a t ' s o n e w a y t o let the l o v e f l o w . L o o k i n g a t s o m e o n e
in a friendly w a y is a n o t h e r . Y e s , l o o k at m e ! G o o d m o r n i n g !
ELLA: G o o d m o r n i n g !
HELLINGER: A n o t h e r w a y is to let it flow t h r o u g h y o u r hands. O p e n y o u r

210

hands w i t h y o u r palms turned upward. Y e s , like that. T h e s e are all ways


to let p e n t - u p l o v e flow again: t h r o u g h exhaling, l o o k i n g friendly, and
turning y o u r palms upward.
ELLA: I often have the feeling that I d o n ' t l o v e my husband e n o u g h .
HELLINGER: I agree w i t h y o u , y o u don't.
ELLA: T h i s feeling goes away if I stand close to h i m in my i m a g i n a t i o n .
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y .
ELLA: B u t it d o e s n ' t f l o w of its o w n a c c o r d . I always have to m a k e a c o n scious effort.
HELLINGER: T h a t doesn't matter. T h e m a i n thing is that it helps.
A n d w h o else must y o u stand close to? In the b r e a k y o u can ask S o p h i e
w h o it is and h o w to do it! S h e ' l l tell y o u . A n y t h i n g else?
ELLA: Later.

H o n o r i n g one's father a n d behind h i m , G o d


HELLINGER: D o e s a n y o n e w a n t to say anything?
H A R R Y : Y e s . I was absolutely electrified w h e n U n a was talking a b o u t h e r
parents and y o u told h e r that p r e s u m p t i o n and i n t e r f e r e n c e in o n e ' s
parents' affairs are c o m p e n s a t e d for by the wish for misfortune and adversity. O v e r a p e r i o d of 13 years, w h e n I was a teenager, my m o t h e r spent
a l o t o f t i m e telling m e negative things a b o u t m y father. S h e was really
v i n d i c t i v e a b o u t it, and I c o u l d n ' t escape. I ' m sure it had a b a d effect on
m y relationship w i t h h i m . M y o n l y relationship t o m y father after that
was H o m e r i c laughter. I j u s t realized that I was o n l y in h a r m o n y w i t h
h i m w h e n w e w e r e b o t h laughing loudly a t s o m e stupid j o k e . I ' v e n e v e r
l a u g h e d like that w i t h a n y o n e else.
HELLINGER: W h a t is H o m e r i c laughter really?
H A R R Y : It's a sort o f . . . I n e v e r really found out.
Laughter

in

the group.

In any case, I n e v e r laughed like that w i t h a n y o n e else.


[Homeric laughter is resounding laughter and refers
of

the

to

the

"inextinguishable laughter

gods."]

Perhaps the fact that I often take b i g risks has s o m e t h i n g to do w i t h my


k n o w l e d g e o f m y parents' secrets. F o r e x a m p l e , I ' v e risked e n o r m o u s
sums o f m o n e y . . .
HELLINGER: N o , n o , n o . Y o u r descriptions o n l y intensify the p r o b l e m .
Y o u have to stop at o n c e w h e n the essential thing has b e e n said.
HARRY: Good.

211

HELLINGER: A n d n o w , w h a t is the solution?


H A R R Y : T h e spiritual discipline o f forgetting.
HELLINGER: In y o u r case, it is a deep b o w to y o u r father.
A n d w h e n y o u d o it, see G o d b e h i n d him!

Refusal to accept atonement


J A Y : I h a v e a question. W h e n o n e partner in a relationship hurts the o t h e r
badly, and t h e p e r s o n w h o has b e e n hurt refuses to discuss it, w h a t can
the p e r s o n w h o inflicted the hurt do?
HELLINGER: N o t h i n g . W h a t can h e do? H e must b e a r the c o n s e q u e n c e s
o f w h a t h e has d o n e . T h e n h e can b e free again. O t h e r w i s e it's a s i f h e
w e r e saying: " I have hurt m y partner, and n o w she has t o help m e t o
feel g o o d again." T h a t ' s n o t h o w things w o r k ! (Laughter in the group.)

T H E YOUNGEST DAUGHTER'S IDENTIFICATION


WITH HER MOTHER
R U T H : W h a t y o u said about m e l a n c h o l y b e i n g a p r o t e c t i o n for secret h a p piness struck h o m e w i t h m e . B u t I feel I ' v e had e n o u g h o f this n o w . I
w a n t t o set u p the constellation o f m y family o f origin and take m y place
in it. I get the impression that I . . .
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s n o n e e d t o explain. I f that's w h a t y o u want, that's
w h a t w e ' l l d o . W h o b e l o n g s t o y o u r family o f origin?
R U T H : M y father, m y m o t h e r , m y older t w i n sisters, and m e . T h e older
of the twins died four days after h e r birth.
HELLINGER: W h a t happened?
R U T H : T h e y w e r e p r e m a t u r e . T h e y had t o stay i n the hospital for quite
a l o n g t i m e . T h e n m y m o t h e r t o o k the y o u n g e r o n e h o m e . T h e older
o n e stayed in the hospital and died there.
HELLINGER: Is t h e r e a n y o n e else w h o belongs in the constellation?
R U T H : M y father's sister died i n childbirth, and a little later, o n e o f m y
father's brothers h a n g e d himself.
HELLINGER: D i d anything special h a p p e n in y o u r father's parents' families?
R U T H : After their son's suicide, it seems that e v e r y o n e b l a m e d e v e r y o n e
else.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s a w a y of avoiding facing up to grief.
O k a y , set up the constellation!

212

Diagram 1
F
M
If
2
3

Father
Mother
Older twin sister, died shortly after birth
Younger twin sister
Third child, daughter (= Ruth)

HELLINGER: Did your parents blame anyone for the death of the child?
RUTH: Yes. They blamed the hospital, and my mother blamed herself. She
had been told that it would be easier for her to take one child home first
and get used to having a baby in the house. My father was also blamed,
I blamed him myself. If he had been firmer, my mother would have
taken the other child home, too.
HELLINGER: How is the father feeling?
FATHER: At first, I felt fine here beside my wife. I liked the contact with
her. But the contact disappeared when the children arrived on the scene.
Now I feel a distance between us. There's a feeling of emptiness on my
right. Something is missing there. My youngest daughter is standing there
like a schoolteacher pointing an accusing finger at me and trying to correct me.
MOTHER: I feel as if I were on the witness stand. My youngest daughter
looks terribly angry and severe and accusing.
FIRST CHILD+: My right shoulder hurts. That's the only thing I feel, the
pain in my shoulder. And my left arm feels long and heavy.
SECOND CHILD: A shudder went through me when my younger sister
came and stood next to me. I felt terribly angry. I felt as if I were under

213

attack. T h a t o n l y stopped w h e n I l o o k e d at s o m e o n e else. I feel I n e e d


my o l d e r sister as a support. S h e is very i m p o r t a n t to m e . My parents
s e e m far away.
HELLINGER to Ruth's representative: H o w does t h e y o u n g e s t sister feel?
T H I R D CHILD: At first I felt I must try and k e e p the family cheerful, and
t h e n I felt I must t e a c h my parents h o w to be g o o d to e a c h o t h e r
(laughs).
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s an identification. T h a t ' s n o t a n o r m a l t h i n g for a child
t o feel. S h e ' s taken o n s o m e o n e else's function. T h e question is, w h o ?
to Ruth: W h a t h a p p e n e d in y o u r m o t h e r ' s family?
R U T H : M y m o t h e r ' s m o t h e r was the y o u n g e s t o f four children. H e r t h r e e
older siblings all died w i t h i n a fortnight o f e a c h o t h e r , o f s o m e children's
disease w h e n t h e y w e r e very y o u n g . M y m o t h e r was the o n l y o n e t o
survive.
HELLINGER: Y o u ' r e identified w i t h her. Y o u r feelings o f m e l a n c h o l y c o m e
f r o m her, and so does the feeling that y o u are responsible for y o u r parents' w e l l - b e i n g .
HELLINGER to the representative of the dead twin: Go and sit in front of y o u r
parents and lean against t h e m .
H o w does that feel?
F I R S T CHILDy: M u c h better. M y shoulder i s n o t hurting s o m u c h .
Hettinger

214

changes

the

constellation.

Diagram 2

HELLINGER: How do the parents feel now?


FATHER: I feel good. I have a pleasant contact with my wife. T h e children
are here. Everything seems balanced.
The mother nods in agreement.
HELLINGER to the parents: Lay a hand on the dead child's head with love,
both of you, as if you were giving her your blessing.
HELLINGER: H O W does the youngest sister feel now?
THIRD CHILD: It was an immediate relief when you put me on the same
level as my sister.
SECOND CHILD: I felt very bad when you took my twin sister away from
me. I miss her. But I can get used to being where I am now. T h e longer
I stand here, the better it feels.
FIRST CHILD+: It feels good.
HELLINGER: When you have taken enough from your parents, you can go
and stand next to your sister.

215

Diagram 3

HELLINGER: H o w is it n o w ?
F I R S T CHILD+: It's okay.
T H I R D CHILD: It's good. Of course, it makes me less important.
The three sisters laugh.
FATHER: It's good.
M O T H E R : Y e s , it's good.
HELLINGER to Ruth: W o u l d y o u like to go and stand in y o u r place?
Ruth goes to her place in the constellation and looks around her.
Hellinger adds her mother's mother; her father's sister,
in childbirth;

216

and her father's

brother,

who

who hanged himself.

died

Diagram 4
FS+
FB+
MM

Father's sister, died in childbirth


Father's brother, committed suicide
Mother's mother

H E L L I N G E R to Ruth: H o w is that for y o u , w i t h y o u r g r a n d m o t h e r s t a n d i n g


t h e r e ? Y o u m u s t i m a g i n e h e r t h r e e d e a d sisters standing n e x t t o h e r , a l t h o u g h I h a v e n ' t actually added t h e m .
R U T H : W h e n she's standing w h e r e she i s n o w i t i s o k a y . I f she w e r e c l o s er, i t w o u l d b e t o o sad.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e g r a n d m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R ' S MOTHER: G o o d .
HELLINGER: T h a t is an honorable place.
to the father. H o w is t h e father f e e l i n g n o w that his d e a d siblings h a v e
j o i n e d the group?
FATHER: G o o d . N o w t h e e m p t i n e s s has b e e n filled.
R U T H : It's g o o d l i k e this for m e .
HELLINGER: O k a y , that's all.

Inheritances with and without a price


R U T H : I i n h e r i t e d s o m e silver f r o m m y father's d e a d sister. W e h a v e t h e
same m o n o g r a m .
HELLINGER: Y o u must give it back.
R U T H : H o w d o I d o that?

217

H E L L I N G E R : I d o n ' t k n o w w h o t h e r e is t o w h o m y o u c o u l d g i v e it. B u t
y o u m u s t g i v e i t b a c k . D o y o u u n d e r s t a n d that?
RUTH:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : I f y o u d o n ' t g i v e it b a c k , y o u will b e p r o f i t i n g f r o m h e r
m i s f o r t u n e , a n d that w o u l d h a v e serious c o n s e q u e n c e s .
M O T H E R ' S R E P R E S E N T A T I V E : B e f o r e y o u said that R u t h m u s t g i v e t h e i n h e r i t a n c e b a c k , I h a d a feeling o f c o n s t r i c t i o n i n m y chest. I t disappeared
w h e n she a g r e e d .
R U T H : I c a n see t h e silver s p o o n s in m y m i n d ' s e y e . It's strange h o w att a c h e d I am to t h e m ! T h e y h a v e a v e r y special m e a n i n g (laughs).
H E L L I N G E R : D o y o u k n o w w h a t that's called? L o v e o f m i s f o r t u n e .
F R A N K : S o m e t h i n g has j u s t o c c u r r e d t o m e in c o n n e c t i o n w i t h g i v i n g
things b a c k . I h a v e a r u b y ring f r o m my godfather, my h o m o s e x u a l u n c l e .
H E L L I N G E R : I w o u l d k e e p that.
F R A N K : I n e v e r w e a r it. It is in t h e d r a w e r o f m y desk.
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , b u t y o u h a v e it. I w o u l d r e s p e c t it, t h e ring.
F R A N K : S h o u l d I j u s t l e a v e it w h e r e it is?
H E L L I N G E R : E x a c t l y . T h e r e are n o hard a n d fast rules, b u t y o u c a n feel
w h e t h e r it's right o r n o t . S o m e t h i n g i n u s clings t o t h e s e o b j e c t s , and
t h e y h a v e a n effect. T h e y are part o f life. T h e y ' r e n o t j u s t dead, lifeless
o b j e c t s . It is i m p o r t a n t to realize this.
t o Ruth: T h e silver s p o o n s s h o u l d g o t o s o m e o n e w h o i s c l o s e r t o y o u r
father's sister t h a n y o u are.
R U T H : I can't think o f anyone.
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , just keep the picture in y o u r mind.
W I L L I A M : I h a v e a q u e s t i o n . Y o u said that she s h o u l d e i t h e r r e t u r n t h e i n h e r i t a n c e o r g i v e i t away. W h a t h a p p e n s i n t h e o p p o s i t e case, for e x a m ple, w h e n s o m e o n e i s e n t i t l e d t o a n i n h e r i t a n c e ? I s t h e p e r s o n o b l i g e d t o
a c c e p t it, a n d c l a i m i t i f necessary?
H E L L I N G E R : I n s o m e cases, t h e r e is an o b l i g a t i o n t o t a k e o n an i n h e r i t e d
responsibility.
W I L L I A M : Y O U mean one may be obliged to accept the inheritance?
H E L L I N G E R : N o t always. B u t s o m e t i m e s loyalty d e m a n d s that s o m e o n e
t a k e o v e r a business, for e x a m p l e .
W I L L I A M : O n e ' s p a r e n t s ' business?
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s . R e f u s a l t o take o n t h e responsibility m a y result in failure
i n a n o t h e r s p h e r e . B u t i t depends o n t h e c i r c u m s t a n c e s .
W I L L I A M : I h a v e a m o r e c o n c r e t e q u e s t i o n . W h a t h a p p e n s i f t h e parents
o f t w o c h i l d r e n say t o o n e o f t h e m , " Y o u will g e t n o t h i n g , " a n d t o t h e
other, " Y o u will get everything?"

218

HELLINGER: T h e n the child w h o gets everything takes e v e r y t h i n g and later


gives h a l f o f i t t o the o t h e r child.
Laughter

in

the group.

T h e n j u s t i c e has b e e n d o n e all around.


WILLIAM: T h a t answers m y question perfectly.
D A G M A R : I have a question. If a m o t h e r leaves s o m e t h i n g to h e r daughter
that she has invested in such a w a y that the daughter will p r o b a b l y h a v e
to pay m o r e in taxes than she receives, must the daughter a c c e p t the i n heritance?
HELLINGER: It's like the images from the constellations. T h e images p o i n t
the w a y , b u t w e n e e d t o carefully c o n s i d e r w h a t t h e y m e a n i n e a c h situat i o n individually. Generalizations are dangerous. T h e general principle is
that a child is n o t o b l i g e d to pay h e r parents' debts. D e b t s are part of t h e
parents' personal affairs and have n o t h i n g to do w i t h the child.
D A G M A R : D o e s that m e a n that the daughter can decide in advance n o t to
a c c e p t the i n h e r i t a n c e ?
HELLINGER: S h e is free to do that, b u t l o v e is well served w h e n she does
it in s u c h a w a y that she remains in a l i g n m e n t w i t h h e r parents' g o o d i n t e n t i o n s . T h a t ' s w h y she can say she'll a c c e p t it e v e n if she later refuses
it. W h e n an i n h e r i t a n c e is b u r d e n e d in s o m e o t h e r w a y , for e x a m p l e , in
c o n n e c t i o n w i t h an injustice, t h e n l o v e is b e t t e r served if the c h i l d refuses
t o a c c e p t it. O t h e r w i s e she m a y b e c o m e entangled i n s o m e t h i n g negative
that's n o n e o f h e r business.

IN THE GRIP OF FATE


CLAUDIA: M a y I set u p m y family o f origin n o w ?
HELLINGER: Y e s . W h o b e l o n g s t o it?
CLAUDIA: M y father, m y m o t h e r , and their t h r e e daughters. T h e n m y
b r o t h e r b y a n o t h e r m a n , w h o was b o r n t w e l v e years later. T h e n m y p a r ents separated and my m o t h e r remarried. S i n c e t h e n she has d i v o r c e d h e r
s e c o n d husband as well.
HELLINGER: W h y did y o u r parents separate?
CLAUDIA: F o r a l o n g t i m e , we t h o u g h t it was b e c a u s e my father was an alc o h o l i c . He drank a lot. B u t actually t h e y drifted apart q u i t e early in
their relationship.
HELLINGER: W h e r e did the aunts c o m e from, the o n e s w h o died i n a c o n centration camp?
CLAUDIA: T h e y w e r e h a l f sisters o f m y great-grandfather's first wife. S h e
died having h e r sixth or seventh child.

219

When

Claudia

was

setting

up

representative of her younger sister.

the constellation,

she said

to

the

" Y o u emigrated to C a n a d a . "

H E L L I N G E R : B y g i v i n g h e r that i n f o r m a t i o n , y o u h a v e m a d e i t i m p o s s i b l e
f o r h e r t o feel s p o n t a n e o u s l y . N o w , i f she feels she w a n t s t o l e a v e , she
w o n ' t b e able t o tell i f i t i s a n original, s p o n t a n e o u s feeling o r i f she o n l y
feels i t b e c a u s e o f w h a t y o u said.

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
3
M2Hb
4

Father
Mother
First child, a daughter
S e c o n d child, a daughter (= Claudia)
Third child, a daughter
Mother's second husband, father of 4
Fourth child, a son

H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e father feeling?
F A T H E R : I have to restrain m y s e l f from taking my daughter in my arms. I feel

220

that a lot of things are not right. I feel as if I had done something wrong.
Father and daughter smile at each other.
HELLINGER to Claudia: How do you think your father is feeling? W h o is
he identified with?
CLAUDIA: With his father.
HELLINGER: And how is he looking at his daughter? Like he looked at his
first wife. The father and daughter represent the grandfather's relationship
with his first wife. We'll add them to the constellation.

Diagram 2
FF

Father's father

FFlWf Father's father's first wife, died in childbirth

HELLINGER: How does the father feel now?


FATHER: I know where I have come from, but I don't know where I
want to go.
HELLINGER: Is it better or worse?
221

F A T H E R : T W O thirds b e t t e r .
H E L L I N G E R : B e t t e r than n o t h i n g . Has anything c h a n g e d in y o u r r e l a t i o n ship w i t h y o u r daughter?
F A T H E R : V e r y little.
H E L L I N G E R to the representative of Claudia:

H o w is t h e s e c o n d daughter

feeling?
S E C O N D C H I L D : It's a b i t b e t t e r than b e f o r e . B e f o r e , I w a s n ' t interested in
t h e p e o p l e o v e r there, b u t n o w I feel I ' d like to go away. I can hardly
bear to look at my mother.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w is t h e m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : W h e n y o u w e r e setting up t h e constellation and y o u t o o k m y
h u s b a n d away, I suddenly felt that I c o u l d b r e a t h e m o r e easily, and w h e n
m y y o u n g e s t daughter w e n t further away, I t h o u g h t , " T h a n k goodness
for that. N o w I ' m rid o f h e r t o o . " I have n o relationship w i t h any o f
t h e m . I feel a b i t a n n o y e d w i t h my oldest daughter, b u t I d o n ' t k n o w
w h y . W h e n m y husband's father and his first wife c a m e , m y h u s b a n d and
my s e c o n d daughter suddenly b e c a m e m o r e important. I suddenly felt i n terested in t h e m , especially in t h e daughter.
H E L L I N G E R to Claudia: W h a t h a p p e n e d in y o u r m o t h e r ' s family?
C L A U D I A : H e r o l d e r b r o t h e r died w h e n h e was o n l y 6 w e e k s old. H e r
father was killed in t h e w a r w h e n she was 1 0 .
Hellinger changes

the

constellation

and

adds

the father's

and his half sisters who died in a concentration camp.

222

mother

Diagram 3
FM
FSj

Father's mother
Father's half sisters, died in a Polish concentration camp

HELLINGER: H o w does the father feel now?


FATHER: M u c h better.
FIRST CHILD: Since I've been standing next to my father, I don't feel so
dependent on him.
SECOND CHILD: I can't decide whether I should look at my father's family
or look away. At first, I felt compelled to look away, but now I feel I
can look at them.
HELLINGER: W h e n did that happen?
SECOND CHILD: I felt that when my grandfather's first wife came into
view.
HELLINGER: She is the person with the strongest effect in the constellation.
THIRD CHILD: I feel fine.
MOTHER: I don't feel good at all. I feel very uneasy here. I'm unaware of
the people to my left.

223

F O U R T H CHILD: W h e n I was facing my m o t h e r ' s first h u s b a n d , I felt v e r y


aggressive. T h a t c h a n g e d i m m e d i a t e l y w h e n his father c a m e a n d s t o o d
b e h i n d h i m . N o w , n e x t t o m y m o t h e r , I feel aggressive t o w a r d h e r . I
feel u n c o m f o r t a b l e h e r e .
H E L L I N G E R : G o a n d stand o n t h e o t h e r side o f y o u r father. H o w i s i t
now?
F O U R T H CHILD: M u c h b e t t e r .
H E L L I N G E R to the mother. H o w are y o u feeling n o w ?
M O T H E R : N o t good.
H E L L I N G E R to Claudia: Y o u r m o t h e r is b e i n g p u l l e d to l e a v e . H a s she e v e r
t r i e d t o c o m m i t suicide?
Claudia

weeps.

H E L L I N G E R : D i d she try t o kill herself?


CLAUDIA: S o m e t i m e s I t h i n k she'll really do it o n e day.
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , she i s b e i n g pressured t o l e a v e .
N o w w e ' l l add h e r dead b r o t h e r .
Hellinger places

224

the

dead

brother to

the

mother's

right.

Diagram 4
MBf

Mother's brother, died the age of 6 weeks

M O T H E R : That's better.
F O U R T H CHILD: F o r m e , t o o .
H E L L I N G E R : It's possible that y o u are identified w i t h h i m .
to the mother. Is that o k a y ? Do y o u feel all right l i k e this?
M O T H E R : I felt a s h u d d e r r u n o v e r my h e a d a n d b a c k . It's all right, b u t I
feel v e r y c o l d .
Hellinger adds

the

mother's father,

who

was

killed in

the war.

225

Diagram 5
M.F+

Mother's father, killed in the war

H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e m o t h e r ' s b r o t h e r feel?


M O T H E R ' S B R O T H E R + : B e t t e r s i n c e m y father c a m e .
M O T H E R : N o w I feel I b e l o n g .
H E L L I N G E R : M y i m a g e i s that she'll b e able t o r e t u r n t o h e r p r e s e n t family
a n d take up h e r rightful place if she stays by h e r b r o t h e r for a little w h i l e .
Hellinger
back.

226

moves

the

mother's father

and

brother

slightly further

Diagram 6

HELLINGER to the mother. How do you feel now?


MOTHER: Better, because my brother and my father are there. My unwell
feeling disappeared when they came. I can look at them all now. At the
same time, I still feel isolated. There's something not right toward my
left, where my second husband and my son are standing.
MOTHER'S SECOND HUSBAND: I think she pulled the wool over my eyes.
There's someone missing by my side.
Hellinger places the son next to his mother.
FOURTH CHILD: My hands feel damp. I would like to look at him (the
mother's dead brother).
Hellinger places the son next to his father.
FOURTH CHILD: It feels better here.
THIRD CHILD: I don't feel too good.

227

HELLINGER: GO and stand next to your mother.


to the group: T h e daughter is saying, " I will go instead o f you, Mother
dear."
HELLINGER to Claudia: N o w go and stand in your place. Is it okay?
She hesitates for a long time.
Go and stand next to your younger sister.
Claudia shakes her head.
T r y it!
She refuses, and starts weeping.
If you don't try it, you'll never know what it would be like.
She stands next to her younger sister.
CLAUDIA: I don't trust my mother.
MOTHER: I ' m concerned about my daughter. I felt warm toward her
when she came closer.
Claudia

weeps.

mother's

left.

Hellinger

moves

the

mother's

brother

to

the

HELLINGER to Claudia: H o w is it now?


She nods.
HELLINGER: Is it better?
She nods.
FIRST CHILD to Claudia: W h e n you came as my sister next to me, I suddenly felt sick and giddy.
HELLINGER to the oldest sister. Go and stand closer to your sisters. H o w is
that?
FIRST CHILD: Y e s , that's better.
FATHER: I think it's about time I knew what I've done wrong.
HELLINGER to the father. That's your father's question. And it's his feeling.
Y o u have taken it over from him. Go and stand next to your daughter.
FATHER: N o w it's okay.

228

Diagram 7

M O T H E R ' S SECOND HUSBAND: I h a v e a feeling o f t e n s i o n i n m y s h o u l d e r s .


E v e r since her b r o t h e r w e n t and stood n e x t to her, I have w a n t e d to go
to my wife.
H E L L I N G E R : T h r o u g h h i m y o u see h e r i n a different light.
to Claudia: D o e s that feel o k a y for y o u ?
She

smiles

and

nods.

H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , that's all.

A short round
H E L L I N G E R : L e t ' s do a short r o u n d . It'll be l i k e a siesta after a satisfying
m e a l . Y o u n e e d t i m e t o c a l m d o w n and g a t h e r s t r e n g t h for t h e w o r k t o
c o m e , a n d y o u ' l l h a v e a c h a n c e t o ask q u e s t i o n s a n d c a t c h u p w i t h a n y t h i n g that's b e e n left o u t . Y o u c a n h e a r w h a t ' s u p p e r m o s t i n t h e m i n d s
o f t h e o t h e r s , and w e ' l l g e t a n idea o f t h e w o r k y o u still w a n t t o d o .

229

S t a n d i n g firmly o n b o t h feet
A N N E : S i n c e this m o r n i n g , I ' v e b e e n feeling m o r e able t o stand f i r m l y o n
b o t h feet. I o f t e n o n l y stand on o n e f o o t a n d use t h e o t h e r o n e as a s u p p o r t . Y o u r a d v i c e a b o u t b r e a t h i n g m a d e i t easier f o r m e t o b r e a t h e .
W h e n I d o w h a t y o u suggested, I c a n stand f i r m l y o n b o t h feet.

W a n t i n g t o e s c a p e f r o m e m o t i o n a l fullness
IDA: T h i s m o r n i n g w h e n S o p h i e was w o r k i n g , I said t o myself, " I c a n ' t
b e a r all this happiness a n d u n h a p p i n e s s . " I w a n t e d b a d l y to l e a v e t h e
r o o m , b u t I stayed.
HELLINGER: It is hard to b e a r so m u c h happiness and unhappiness all at o n c e .
IDA: Y e s , it's h a r d t o b e a r .
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s w h y p e o p l e s o m e t i m e s w i t h d r a w f r o m i t a n d prefer t o
b e c o m e depressed. It's m o r e c o m f o r t a b l e . D e p r e s s i o n i s a n easier w a y t o
l i v e . T r y l o o k i n g happiness straight i n t h e e y e , l i k e a c h a l l e n g e .

Fullness a n d c o m p l e t e n e s s
W I L L I A M : I feel g o o d . T h i s m o r n i n g I h a d a strange t h o u g h t . I t h i n k I ' m
really q u i t e c o m p l e t e . I really d o n ' t n e e d m u c h m o r e o f a n y t h i n g .
HELLINGER: Exactly.
I ' l l tell y o u s o m e t h i n g a b o u t t h e f e e l i n g o f c o m p l e t e n e s s a n d h o w i t
c o m e s a b o u t . Y o u feel c o m p l e t e w h e n e v e r y o n e w h o b e l o n g s t o y o u r
s y s t e m has a p l a c e i n y o u r heart. T h a t i s t h e real m e a n i n g o f c o m p l e t e n e s s o r o f p e r f e c t i o n . I t i s o n l y w h e n y o u h a v e a c h i e v e d this fullness
that y o u ' r e free t o d e v e l o p a n d g o f o r w a r d . Y o u d o n ' t feel c o m p l e t e i f
t h e r e i s e v e n o n e m e m b e r o f y o u r family missing.
t o Claudia: I i m a g i n e that's h o w y o u m u s t b e feeling, C l a u d i a . Y o u must
b e f e e l i n g c o m p l e t e n o w that t h e y are all t h e r e .
Claudia

nods.

H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s great.
SOPHIE: I feel g o o d . I ' m v e r y i n t e r e s t e d in e v e r y t h i n g that is h a p p e n i n g .
I ' m a b i t tired, b u t o t h e r w i s e I feel fine.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u are e n t i t l e d t o feel tired.
Sophie

laughs.

C L A R A : I ' v e b e e n feeling w o n d e r f u l l y free a n d r e l i e v e d s i n c e y o u a n s w e r e d


m y q u e s t i o n this m o r n i n g .

230

HELLINGER: G o o d . T h e w o r k y o u did yesterday was a perfect illustration


o f the process o f b e c o m i n g c o m p l e t e .

I ' d like to tell y o u a story a b o u t c o m p l e t e n e s s and h o w it is a c h i e v e d . If


y o u give yourselves up to the story, it may, w h i l e y o u are listening, affect
y o u on a d e e p e r level.

Reunion
A

man who has been wandering for a long time looks ahead and sees in the

distance a house,

and knows that it belongs to him. He walks toward it,

and

reaching it, opens the door and enters a room where a table is laden for a great
feast.
Everyone who has ever been close to him has been invited,
vited comes, stays for a while,
mother and

his father;

his

siblings;

other grandfather and grandmother;


made a place for him,

and everyone in-

and then leaves. All who come bring a gift: his


one grandfather and

his

all those who

uncles

and

one grandmother;

aunts;

all

those

have cared for him friends,

who

the
have

teachers,

partners, children all those who have been important to him or still are important to him.

And everyone who comes brings something for which he or she

has paid the full price,


bring something,
suffering,
comes,

stays for a while,

stay for a while,

bring something,
brings something,

After the feast,

and then leaves,

and then

stay for a while,


stays for a while,

leave.

and then leave.


and then

the wanderer stays behind with

as

thoughts come,

And as wishes come,


leaves.

his many gifts,

and the only

people who remain with him are those for whom it is appropriate to stay.
goes to the window and looks out, sees other houses,
there will be a feast there,
him,

stay for a while,


We,

too,

He

and knows that one day

too, and that he will go to it,

take something with

and then leave.

are at a feast at this workshop.

took something.

and

And as life itself

Each of us brought something and

We stay for a while and then

leave.

Liking and respecting


H A R R Y : I ' m t r e m e n d o u s l y happy w h e n I see solutions b e i n g found. M y
happiness for the person c o n c e r n e d is almost o v e r w h e l m i n g .
W h e n I left last night, I still hadn't given my relatives w h o died their

231

d u e places. I n e v e r k n e w m o s t o f t h e m , i n c l u d i n g m y father's b r o t h e r
a n d sister. T h e y w e r e o c c u l t i s t s , a n d I was n o t s u p p o s e d t o k n o w a n y t h i n g a b o u t t h e m . T h e y w e r e c o m p l e t e l y t a b o o . I did m e e t his sister
w h e n she was i n a spiritualist phase a n d did a u t o m a t i c w r i t i n g . S h e h a d
all sorts o f obsessive s y m p t o m s , b u t I n e v e r k n e w m y u n c l e . H e was n e v e r m e n t i o n e d , e x c e p t b y this aunt, and a c c o r d i n g t o all reports, h e . . .
H E L L I N G E R : W e d o n ' t h a v e t o k n o w t h e details. It's e n o u g h for y o u t o
k n o w that t h e s e p e o p l e b e l o n g t o y o u , and that y o u g i v e t h e m a n h o n o r a b l e p l a c e i n y o u r heart. B u t y o u h a v e b e e n s p e a k i n g q u i t e disparagingly about them, y o u k n o w .
H A R R Y : W a s it n o t i c e a b l e ?
Laughter

in

the group.

H E L L I N G E R : Y o u c a n ' t h i d e things like that.


H A R R Y : M y feelings a b o u t t h e m are m a i n l y p o s i t i v e . I l i k e d m y aunt.
H E L L I N G E R : It's n o t a q u e s t i o n o f liking, b u t o f r e s p e c t . T h a t is m u c h
greater.

E q u a l s a m o n g equals
T H E A : I feel v e r y c l e a r h e a d e d , a n d that's a g o o d feeling. T h e difference
b e t w e e n " a c c e p t i n g " a n d " r e s p e c t i n g " has b e c o m e v e r y i m p o r t a n t . U n t i l
n o w , I n e v e r n o t i c e d t h e difference, b u t n o w it's a b s o l u t e l y c l e a r that
t h e r e is a difference, a n d that r e s p e c t is t h e n e x t step after a c c e p t a n c e .
T h a t ' s h o w I feel a b o u t it at t h e m o m e n t .
H E L L I N G E R : A c c e p t a n c e has n o p l a c e i n this c o n t e x t . I f y o u a c c e p t s o m e t h i n g , y o u b e h a v e a s i f y o u w e r e e n t i t l e d t o r e j e c t it, t o c h a n g e t h e w a y
it is.
T H E A : I was f e e l i n g glad that I ' v e at least c o m e this far.
H E L L I N G E R : It's n o t e n o u g h , n o t n e a r l y e n o u g h .
T H E A : S O I've noticed.
H E L L I N G E R : T h e essential t h i n g is b e i n g i n h a r m o n y w i t h s o m e t h i n g w i t h out regret and w i t h o u t ulterior motives. If I respect something, it means
that I ' m i n h a r m o n y w i t h i t t h e w a y i t is, w i t h o u t w a n t i n g t o c h a n g e it.
A n d i f I r e s p e c t a p e r s o n , i t m e a n s that I ' m i n h a r m o n y w i t h that p e r s o n
t h e w a y h e o r she is, I ' m i n h a r m o n y w i t h fate t h e w a y i t is, a n d I ' m i n
h a r m o n y w i t h t h e p e r s o n ' s e n t a n g l e m e n t t h e w a y i t is. T h a t i s v e r y h u m b l e , a n d i t preserves d e t a c h m e n t . B u t t h e r e i s c a r i n g i n this d e t a c h m e n t
a n d s t r e n g t h that w o r k s u n s e e n . I t i s o n l y i f I ' m i n h a r m o n y w i t h fate
that I m a y be able to take f r o m it t h e strength to c h a n g e it.

232

T H E A : Y e s . I t h i n k that's an i m p o r t a n t p o i n t . I t e n d t o m i x up m y o w n
fate w i t h t h e fate o f o t h e r p e o p l e .
HELLINGER: Y o u r confession does n o g o o d a t all. Y o u d e m e a n yourself.
W h e n p e o p l e d e m e a n themselves b y remarks like that, o r b y interpreting
t h e i r actions, it's harmful. I ' v e n e v e r seen i t d o a n y o n e g o o d . W h a t p e o ple are really saying w h e n they d e m e a n themselves is, "Please a c c e p t m e ,
I ' m so small and insignificant." B u t that manipulates the o t h e r person, for
w h e n y o u do this, y o u put the person in a superior position; t h e p e r s o n
needs t o care for y o u and y o u deny h i m o r h e r the c h a n c e t o b e equal.

Reconciliation t h r o u g h clarity
R O B E R T : I ' m very struck b y the w a y i n w h i c h the w o r k I did yesterday
is gradually taking effect. I have a picture in my m i n d of my daughter
w i t h my little dead sister b e h i n d her. I must have g r i e v e d terribly for her.
I have o v e r l o o k e d o t h e r p e o p l e ' s feelings and did t h e m w r o n g , p a r t i c u larly m y wife.
Robert is

very moved.

HELLINGER: T e l l h e r that. It m a y r e c o n c i l e her.

R e m a i n i n g attentive
CLAUDIA: I ' m still t h i n k i n g about m y n e w understanding o f m y family,
and I ' m j u s t b e g i n n i n g to grasp w h a t it all m e a n s .
HELLINGER: C o n s t e l l a t i o n s are like that, they go on w o r k i n g for a l o n g
time.
CLAUDIA: I told y o u about my m o t h e r ' s suicidal t e n d e n c i e s b e c a u s e I used
to t h i n k she really w o u l d kill herself. I understand it n o w . I t h i n k the
best t h i n g I can do is to j u s t let the constellation w o r k .
HELLINGER: I f y o u wish, y o u can tell y o u r m o t h e r a b o u t it. T e l l h e r a b o u t
the constellation and describe the effect it had on e v e r y o n e w h e n h e r
b r o t h e r s t o o d n e x t to her. D i d n ' t y o u w a n t to take h e r a birthday present
f r o m this w o r k s h o p ?
CLAUDIA: Y e s t e r d a y I t h o u g h t that the best thing that had h a p p e n e d was
that I didn't have to go to see her.
HELLINGER: N o w y o u have spoiled it. D i d y o u n o t i c e ?
CLAUDIA: I tried to spoil it.
HELLINGER: Y o u s u c c e e d e d , and there's n o t h i n g y o u can d o t o c h a n g e i t
n o w . P e o p l e s o m e t i m e s t h i n k that t h e y ' r e free after the deed. N o o n e i s
free after the deed, we are o n l y free before we have d o n e it.

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Self-restraint, with attentiveness and e n e r g y


L E O : I feel m o r e as if I b e l o n g , and I ' m curious to see w h a t I will do w h e n
I get h o m e .
HELLINGER: Prepare y o u r s e l f t o b e surprised b y things c h a n g i n g o n their
o w n a c c o r d , w i t h o u t y o u r d o i n g anything and w i t h o u t any i n t e n t i o n o n
y o u r part. L i v i n g w i t h that k i n d o f c h a n g e takes a lot o f strength, the
strength o f self-restraint. B u t t h e strength that i t costs y o u t o restrain
y o u r s e l f will c h a n g e d i r e c t i o n and flow t o w a r d t h e o t h e r m e m b e r s o f
y o u r family.
FRANK: T h e r e ' s a lot g o i n g on inside m e , and it feels g o o d to t h i n k that
I m u s t j u s t wait until s o m e t h i n g happens by itself, and that I m u s t stick
it o u t and n o t push it away.
HELLINGER: I t m a k e s a difference h o w y o u wait. W a i t w i t h attentiveness.

T h e limits o f i n n o c e n c e
J O N A S : T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g t r o u b l i n g m e , and I ' d like t o k n o w w h a t y o u
t h i n k a b o u t it. D u r i n g the past 10 years, I ' v e b e e n getting c l o s e r and
closer to my father, and I ' v e discovered a w o n d e r f u l l o v e b e t w e e n us.
B e c a u s e o f o u r m u t u a l trust, h e told m e that w h e n h e was 2 0 h e had
b e e n a guard in a c o n c e n t r a t i o n c a m p for three w e e k s . It's s o m e t h i n g I
c a n ' t b e a r t o t h i n k about, and I'd like t o b e free o f it.
HELLINGER: D o y o u w a n t t o b e free o f y o u r k n o w l e d g e o f w h a t h e did,
o r o f y o u r j u d g m e n t o f h i m ? H e didn't ask for t h e j o b .
JONAS: H e didn't?
HELLINGER: M o s t likely h e had n o c h o i c e . I f h e didn't feel a s h a m e d o f
w h a t he did, he w o u l d n ' t have w a i t e d so l o n g to tell y o u a b o u t it.
JONAS: I c a n ' t a c c e p t t h e fact that he did it.
HELLINGER: Y o u have n o right t o j u d g e h i m until y o u have b e e n i n a
situation like that yourself, and w h e n y o u have, y o u ' r e m o r e likely t o
understand his conflict than to j u d g e h i m .
A w h i l e ago, I saw a report on television about a Y u g o s l a v i a n w o m a n ,
a p o e t , w h o w a n t e d to erect a m o n u m e n t to a G e r m a n soldier. He had
b e e n detailed to a firing squad to s h o o t partisans, b u t he refused to raise
his g u n and w e n t o v e r to the partisans, and was shot w i t h t h e m .
H i s a c t i o n sounds h e r o i c , b u t w h a t sort o f a m a n was h e really? C a n
w e d e c i d e w h e t h e r h e was g o o d o r evil? W h a t did h e actually do? H e
c h o s e death o v e r a c c e p t i n g the e n o r m o u s guilt his fate w o u l d have laid
o n h i m had h e o b e y e d his orders and shot the partisans, b u t i f y o u r heart

234

is o p e n , what's m o r e difficult to bear, death or guilt? If h e ' d said to


himself, " I ' m b o u n d t o m y group b y fate and the partisans are b o u n d t o
t h e i r group by fate. I a c c e p t my destiny that it is I w h o has killed t h e m ,
and I a c c e p t the full guilt and the full c o n s e q u e n c e s of that fate," that
w o u l d also have required h e r o i c c o u r a g e . B u t t o t h i n k dying allows y o u
to escape y o u r fate is really taking the easy w a y out. S o m e t i m e s b e i n g a
v i c t i m is easier to b e a r than b e i n g a perpetrator. Do y o u b e g i n to u n d e r stand h o w difficult and inappropriate it is to j u d g e y o u r father, as if y o u
w o u l d h a v e acted b e t t e r in his situation?
Y o u can respect the fact that y o u r father was i n the situation y o u d e scribe, b u t it's arrogance t o j u d g e h i m . Y o u can try t o understand h i m ,
b u t it's the business o f the courts t o p r o b e and t o j u d g e , n o t yours. Y o u
h a v e n o right t o d e c i d e i f w h a t h e did was g o o d o r evil either.
JONAS: I ' m b e g i n n i n g t o understand the c o m p l e x i t y m o r e .
HELLINGER: I f y o u can see h o w helpless w e h u m a n s s o m e t i m e s are i n the
face o f o u r destiny, t h e n there's respect for t h e p o w e r o f fate.

T h e relief o f living i n the p r e s e n t


ELLA: I ' m e x p e r i e n c i n g a sort o f m o v e m e n t b e t w e e n m y h e a d and m y
hands. W h e n I ' m 1 0 0 p e r c e n t here, m y hands are w a r m and full o f e n e r gy. B u t w h e n I t h i n k h o w stupid i t was o f m e n o t t o have c o m e this
m o r n i n g , I get a h e a d a c h e .
HELLINGER: T r y saying t o yourself, " I t was stupid o f m e , and n o w I ' m
suffering the c o n s e q u e n c e s . " T h e n y o u ' l l feel better.
Ella

laughs.

Paying attention to the inner process


D A G M A R : I feel very full. I ' m h o n o r i n g my m o t h e r in my heart and a c k n o w l e d g i n g m y system o f origin and m y family the w h o l e t i m e . I t feels
so g o o d . I have a professional question: H o w do y o u deal systemically
w i t h clients w h o have b e e n the victims o f sexual abuse.

235

Helping victims of incest


HELLINGER: W h e n I ' m dealing w i t h a v i c t i m o f sexual abuse, m y sole i n terest m u s t be to help the child. E v e r y t h i n g else is s e c o n d a r y to that. S y s temically, the single m o s t c o m m o n d y n a m i c i n n o n v i o l e n t incestuous
sexual abuse o f children i s a n i m b a l a n c e o f giving and taking b e t w e e n the
parents. T h i s typically o c c u r s w h e n the wife was married b e f o r e and has
a c h i l d f r o m h e r first marriage. T h e inequality arises w h e n she t h e n m a r ries a m a n w i t h o u t children of his o w n and e x p e c t s h i m to support her
and h e r child. W h e n she d o e s n ' t adequately a c k n o w l e d g e and value his
gift to h e r by giving s o m e t h i n g to h i m that he sees as b e i n g of equal
value, he winds up giving m o r e than he receives. A powerful n e e d for
c o m p e n s a t i o n arises in such a system, and o n e w a y that it gets resolved
is for the wife, c o n s c i o u s l y or u n c o n s c i o u s l y , to give h e r daughter to her
husband as c o m p e n s a t i o n . In abuse that results from an i m b a l a n c e b e t w e e n giving and taking b e t w e e n the parents, and frequently in o t h e r
forms of sexual abuse as well, both parents are involved, the m o t h e r in
the b a c k g r o u n d and the father in the foreground. W h e n b o t h parents are
i n v o l v e d , it's impossible to find a solution before their shared responsibility is b r o u g h t to light.
F o r e x a m p l e , w h e n a w o m a n in a group says that she c a n ' t resolve the
effects of having b e e n sexually abused by h e r father or stepfather, I invite
h e r t o i m a g i n e h e r m o t h e r standing b e f o r e h e r and t o say t o her, " M o t h er, if it h e l p e d y o u , I was willing to do i t . " If she can say this a u t h e n t i cally, the c o n t e x t i m m e d i a t e l y changes. T h e n I invite h e r to i m a g i n e her
father, and to say to h i m , " D a d d y , I w a n t e d to help M o m m y . " T h e s e
s e n t e n c e s b r i n g the hidden dynamics b e t w e e n the parents to light, and
it b e c o m e s impossible for the adults sharing responsibility to c o n t i n u e
acting a s i f t h e y w e r e i n n o c e n t .
W h e n w e are dealing w i t h a current incestuous situation, w h e n the
client is the m o t h e r , for e x a m p l e , I say to h e r in the p r e s e n c e of h e r
child, " T h e c h i l d did it for h e r m o t h e r , " and I have the child say to her
m o t h e r , " I w a n t e d t o help y o u . " T h a t ends the incest. I t c a n ' t g o o n
w h e n the m o t h e r hears that. If the m a n is present, I have the c h i l d say
t o h i m , " I w a n t e d t o help M o m m y restore the b a l a n c e . " T h e sentences
m a k e it possible for the child to see h e r s e l f in a g o o d light, and after sayi n g s o m e t h i n g like that publicly, she k n o w s that she is i n n o c e n t and she
no l o n g e r has to feel as if it w e r e h e r fault.
T h e s e c o n d t h i n g I do is help the child regain h e r dignity. T h i s m a y
be necessary w h e n she feels defiled by the incest. Perhaps I will tell her

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a story by G o e t h e a b o u t a beautiful rose that was p l u c k e d and its s t e m


b r o k e n by a careless b o y , and although it p r i c k e d h i m trying to defend
itself, it h a d to suffer b e i n g p l u c k e d . T h e n I tell the c h i l d a secret: the
rose still has a beautiful fragrance!
Systemically v i e w e d , it's rare that there's o n l y o n e perpetrator. M o s t
e x p e r i e n c e d therapists are alert to the m o t h e r ' s surreptitious c o m p l i c i t y ,
b u t I ' v e seen m a n y cases in w h i c h the helpers inadvertently add to the
abuse. F o r e x a m p l e , a helper w h o is p r e o c c u p i e d w i t h p e r s e c u t i n g the
perpetrator d o e s n ' t help the c h i l d at all. A n d if t h e y are n o t very careful,
t h e helpers' o w n moralistic attitudes a b o u t sexuality can put the child's
sexuality in a very bad light. I ' v e f o u n d a d o w n - t o - e a r t h , c o m m o n s e n s e
attitude t o w a r d sexuality to be very helpful for m a n y children. S o m e t i m e s
the closeness and the i n t i m a c y of incest have a pleasurable aspect for c h i l dren, b u t t h e y feel ashamed to admit this because their m o t h e r s and t h e
o t h e r helpers c o m m u n i c a t e to t h e m that w h a t t h e y e x p e r i e n c e d is
w i c k e d . C h i l d r e n in this situation are confused and t h e y n e e d a w a y to
affirm the pleasure they e x p e r i e n c e d assuming, of course, that t h e y
really did e x p e r i e n c e pleasure. At the same t i m e , they n e e d the assurance
that h o w e v e r m u c h t h e y did or did n o t feel pleasure, t h e y are always
i n n o c e n t . It's appropriate and natural for children to be curious and to
w a n t t o have n e w e x p e r i e n c e s , and yet they r e m a i n i n n o c e n t n o m a t t e r
w h a t happens. W h e n a girl is c o n d e m n e d for having e x p e r i e n c e d pleasure, e v e n in incest, h e r w h o l e sexuality gets cast in a b a d light, as if it
w e r e s o m e t h i n g terrible. In fact, as far as the sexuality is c o n c e r n e d , all
that really happens is that the child prematurely has an e x p e r i e n c e that he
o r she w o u l d s o o n e r o r later have i n any case. T o put i t s o m e w h a t p r o v o c a t i v e l y , s o m e t h i n g that every h u m a n b e i n g e x p e r i e n c e s a t s o m e t i m e
or o t h e r is e x p e r i e n c e d t o o early by the child. It is a great r e l i e f to t h e
c h i l d w h e n she gets the message that h e r sexuality isn't what's b a d a b o u t
what happened.
T h e r e ' s a c o m m o n idea that the trauma o f incest inhibits the child's
later d e v e l o p m e n t . T h i s clearly happens s o m e t i m e s , b u t w h a t I ' v e m o r e
often o b s e r v e d is that the child's later d e v e l o p m e n t is i n h i b i t e d by t h e
b o n d b e t w e e n h e r and the perpetrator that results from their sexual c o n tact. U n l e s s she respects h e r first partner, this first b o n d can m a k e it difficult for h e r to feel free in h e r sexual surrender to h e r partner later on in
life. It's difficult for the child to respect the perpetrator w h e n h e r first e x p e r i e n c e o f giving h e r s e l f sexually and h e r first b o n d have b e e n p u b l i c l y
c o n d e m n e d and the offender treated as a criminal. B u t if she can a c k n o w l e d g e and affirm h e r first b o n d , she can integrate the e x p e r i e n c e

237

w i t h h e r f i r s t partner i n t o h e r n e w relationship and resolve it. R e a c t i n g


to incest w i t h righteous indignation and m o r a l outrage m a k e s it harder
to resolve t h e p r o b l e m , and actually increases d a m a g e to t h e v i c t i m .
CLAUDIA: Is t h e r e a b o n d b e t w e e n the child and t h e offender e v e n if t h e
e x p e r i e n c e was n o t pleasurable or pleasant for t h e child?
HELLINGER: M y o b s e r v a t i o n has b e e n that the b o n d i s t h e r e i n any case.
B u t regardless o f w h e t h e r t h e e x p e r i e n c e was pleasurable o r n o t , t h e
c h i l d has every right to b l a m e t h e offender. S h e has every right to say to
h i m , " Y o u w r o n g e d m e , and I'll n e v e r forgive y o u for it. It's n o t i n m y
p o w e r to forgive y o u . " W h e n she says this, she shifts the guilt f r o m h e r s e l f b a c k to t h e perpetrator, separates h e r s e l f from h i m , and withdraws
from t h e situation. H o w e v e r , if she expresses h e r feelings and criticizes
h i m o n a n e m o t i o n a l level, she increases h e r a t t a c h m e n t t o h i m . E m o t i o n
o n l y strengthens t h e b o n d , w h e r e a s i f the child can return t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f t h e incest t o t h e offender, she will b e free. N e i t h e r f i g h t i n g
n o r criticizing can resolve the situation. R e s o l u t i o n requires h e r t o leave
t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s of t h e incest, as m u c h as she can, w i t h t h e perpetrator
and t o w i t h d r a w h e r s e l f from the situation. T h e struggle,

the fight,

m e r e l y unites.
T h e r e is a n o t h e r i m p o r t a n t aspect. S e e n systemically, the therapist always sides w i t h t h e outcast persons. S o w h e n y o u are w o r k i n g w i t h i n cest, y o u must always give the offender a place in y o u r heart.
D A G M A R : I n m y heart?
HELLINGER: Y e s , i n y o u r heart. I f y o u d o n ' t , y o u w o n ' t b e able t o f i n d a
s o l u t i o n for t h e v i c t i m . Y o u must r e m e m b e r that t h e offender is also e n tangled, e v e n i f y o u d o n o t k n o w i n w h a t w a y . I f y o u c o u l d see his e n t a n g l e m e n t , y o u w o u l d understand his actions, and y o u w o u l d have quite
a different approach. G i v i n g h i m a place in y o u r heart and s e e i n g his e n t a n g l e m e n t i n n o w a y relieves h i m o f his responsibility and guilt, b u t i t
enables y o u to see that he t o o , in s o m e way, is a v i c t i m . T h e n y o u are
freer to l o o k for a resolution. Is that clear?
J O H N : I ' m surprised that t h e child, o r the v i c t i m , d o e s n ' t have t o forgive
t h e perpetrator o f t h e incest. C a n she b e c o m e free w i t h o u t forgiving
him?
HELLINGER: F o r g i v e n e s s is actually presumptuous. If y o u t h i n k a b o u t it,
does a child really have t h e p o w e r to forgive? If she c o u l d forgive, she
w o u l d have to take t h e w h o l e guilt and all t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s u p o n h e r self. T h e o n l y t i m e we can forgive is w h e n o u r guilt is mutual. W i t h
m u t u a l guilt, t h e parties m a k e it possible for e a c h o t h e r to m a k e a n e w
b e g i n n i n g t h r o u g h forgiveness. B u t the child does n o t share t h e guilt o f

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incest. S h e needs to find a way to say, " W h a t y o u did was w r o n g , and


y o u must bear the consequences. I shall make something of my life in spite
of it." If the child enters into a happy partnership later on despite the fact
that she was a victim of sexual abuse, it's also a r e l i e f to the offender. If,
on the o t h e r hand, the victim b e c o m e s wretched, she takes revenge on
the offender, but at a terrible price to herself. T h e s e things are quite
different w h e n we l o o k at t h e m p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l l y and systemically.
CLAUDIA: W h e n a child experiences sexual abuse as pleasurable, she often
approaches o t h e r adults in a provocative way, and then she is punished
and subjected to a w h o l e avalanche of "that's w i c k e d and that's forbidden."
HELLINGER: W h e n a child w h o has b e e n abused approaches o t h e r adults
in this way, it's her way of saying to her parents, " I ' m a w h o r e and I ' m
guilty, so y o u d o n ' t n e e d to feel guilty." T h a t ' s what I see w h e n I ' m
w o r k i n g w i t h a girl like that, that because of her love for her parents,
she's taking the guilt o n t o herself, making herself bad to m a k e it easier
for t h e m . If she can learn to see what I see, she can e x p e r i e n c e herself as
g o o d in this respect as well, and then she can be free. Y o u always have
to l o o k for love, that's w h e r e the solution lies.
DAGMAR: I j u s t can't believe that love plays any role in child pornography.
HELLINGER: Arguments like that distract us and are impediments to understanding.
DAGMAR: I don't understand.
HELLINGER: Y o u have to r e c k o n w i t h love as a motivating force all along
the line, even with the people w h o do terrible things to children to
m a k e pornographic movies and w i t h the people w h o go to see t h e m . I
can e x p e r i e n c e s o m e t h i n g as w r o n g or evil w i t h o u t having to hate a n y o n e . As a therapist, I ' m always l o o k i n g for a way to resolve an entanglem e n t , above all for the victim. W h e n the victim withdraws from the
w h o l e affair and leaves the guilt and the consequences of the actions to
the offender, and w h e n she makes something g o o d out of her e x p e r i e n c e
for herself, then what has happened is over and resolved for her. B u t as
s o o n as e m o t i o n a l impulses, such as " n o w we must punish the w i c k e d
culprits," c o m e into play, the victim's path to the solution is b l o c k e d .
Therapists w h o allow themselves to hate the perpetrator can o n l y damage
a client.
I'll give y o u an example. In a course I gave for psychiatrists, a w o m a n
told the group about a client of hers w h o had b e e n raped by her o w n
father, and her attitude toward him was filled with righteous loathing and
c o n d e m n a t i o n . I had her set up her client's system, and then I had her
add herself to the constellation, w h e r e v e r she felt was her right place. S h e

239

placed herself next to her client. Strangely, everyone in the constellation


felt a n g r y w i t h t h e psychiatrist, and n o b o d y trusted h e r . W h e n I p u t h e r
n e x t t o t h e father, e v e r y o n e i m m e d i a t e l y q u i e t e d d o w n a n d started t o
trust h e r , a n d t h e c l i e n t was v e r y r e l i e v e d . S t a n d i n g n e x t t o t h e p e r p e trator is o f t e n t h e best p l a c e for a therapist l o o k i n g for r e s o l u t i o n s .

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
Th

Father
Mother
First child, a daughter (= client)
Second child, a daughter
Therapist

W e c a n ' t e x c l u d e a n y o n e f r o m t h e system, e x c e p t i n t h e case o f serio u s c r i m e . N o n v i o l e n t i n c e s t , as a rule, is n o t a c r i m e for w h i c h t h e p e r p e t r a t o r forfeits t h e right t o b e l o n g t o t h e system. T h e s o l u t i o n f o r the
v i c t i m c a n o n l y b e f o u n d i f w e i n c l u d e e v e r y o n e w h o has b e e n e x c l u d e d
a n d d e f e n d t h e w h o l e n e s s o f t h e family system. W e ' r e a l o t m o r e likely
t o find t h e s o l u t i o n i f w e r e m e m b e r that a l t h o u g h t h e father i s t h e o b v i o u s offender, t h e m o t h e r is o f t e n a s e c r e t p e r p e t r a t o r w o r k i n g in the
b a c k g r o u n d , t h e eminence grise o f i n c e s t . I f t h e therapist o n l y sides w i t h
t h e v i c t i m a n d d o e s n ' t guard t h e system as a w h o l e , he or she o n l y m a k e s
things w o r s e , w h i c h c a n h a v e f a r - r e a c h i n g c o n s e q u e n c e s .

240

H o w t o help perpetrators o f incest


B R I G I T T E : W h a t d o y o u d o w h e n y o u are dealing w i t h the perpetrator o f
the incest?
HELLINGER: First of all, I usually talk to h i m individually and in a p r o tected framework. S o m e t i m e s I ask h i m if he can think of any way he
c o u l d help the v i c t i m to free herself from h i m and the w r o n g he did to
her, and to turn the consequences to the g o o d . If he hears this, he can
get out of a defensive position and start thinking constructively. G e n u i n e
remorse is the main thing he needs to find. T h i s is primarily an i n n e r
process, but it sometimes helps if he authentically says to the child, " I ' m
sorry that w h a t I did with y o u has hurt y o u . " T h i s relieves the child of
a b u r d e n and often helps her m o r e than if the offender w e r e punished.
B u t that is all he may say to her.
It's clear that the perpetrator hurts the v i c t i m m o r e w h e n he tries to
explain away or justify or m a k e light of his actions, b u t he also hurts h e r
i f h e demeans h i m s e l f i n front o f her. H e must n o t w a l l o w i n his guilt,
n o r may he ask the child for forgiveness or for anything else that w o u l d
lighten his burden. T h a t w o u l d be a further abuse, because it creates ano t h e r b u r d e n for the child and strengthens her b o n d to h i m . Incidentally,
this is also valid for mothers w h o k n e w what was going on.
E v e n guilty parents are still parents, and the children w o u l d not exist
w i t h o u t t h e m . In a certain way, children are their parents, thus humiliating the parents humiliates the children. T h a t means that the matter must
n e v e r be discussed in a demeaning way, either b e t w e e n the parents and
their children, b e t w e e n themselves, or especially n o t in front of a third
party, for example, a psychotherapist. T h i s only humiliates the parents in
their children's eyes, and it also humiliates the children, although on the
surface it m a y appear to be vindicating t h e m . Humiliated parents are lost
to their children.
In cases w h e n the offender is taken to court, I advise him to agree to
his penalty w i t h o u t trying to get it mitigated with the help of tricks or
g o o d references. H e ' s m o r e likely to regain s o m e of his dignity this way.
Apart from b e i n g justly penalized, perpetrators o f incest s o m e t i m e s b e c o m e the objects of hate campaigns that go t o o far and m a k e resolution
impossible for the victim. S o m e t i m e s i n n o c e n t persons are accused of i n cest and can't prove their i n n o c e n c e because the m e r e accusation falls
like a spark on dry grass. F o r them, I have a story. It is called:

241

The

stillness

At a psychotherapeutic congress,

a famous psychologist gave a

hood and was verbally attacked by a group

lecture on

of young women.

woman-

They complained

that it was a great injustice and that it was presumptuous of him as a man to
lecture

on

womanhood

spoken with

in

the presence

of women.

The psychologist,

who

had

the best of intentions, felt he was being unjustly accused and driven

into a corner, and matters were made worse by the fact that he did not seem to
have much
When

in

the way

of convincing arguments.

the discussion was over,

he

thought about what had happened and

tried to find out what he had done wrong.

He discussed it with his colleagues,

and then he decided to visit a wise man and ask him for advice.
The wise man said,
saw for yourself,
and although

they

"The young women were right.


have

they probably

no

difficulty

in

asserting

haven't experienced much

For although,
themselves

injustice

as you

against men,

themselves,

they

take the injustice experienced by other women as much to heart as if they had
experienced it
from

their host.

themselves and,

like a

mistletoe plant,

They have gained little

through

they remain dependent on the love of women.

they

their own

draw

their strength

life experience and

But they do help those who come

after them; for the one person sows and the other reaps.
The psychologist replied,

"I'm

not interested in all that.

What I want to

know is what I should do if I get into a similar situation."


"Do what someone does who is caught by a storm in a open
for whatever shelter he can

find

and waits until the storm is over.

field.

He looks

Then he steps

out into the open and enjoys the freshness of the air. "
The next time the psychologist met his colleagues,
wise man had advised him to do.

they asked him what the

"I can't remember exactly," he said,

he said that I should go out into the fresh air,

"I think

even during a storm."

A b o u t m o r a l indignation
HELLINGER: S o m e t i m e s therapists w h o try to s h o w the v i c t i m and the offender h o w t o turn the h a r m and the guilt i n t o g o o d b e c o m e the objects
o f i n d i g n a t i o n and outrage themselves. M o r a l l y righteous p e o p l e feel that
t h e y are i n the service o f a h i g h e r law, w h e t h e r i t b e the law o f M o s e s ,
t h e l a w o f Christ, the l a w o f h e a v e n , the "natural m o r a l l a w , " t h e law o f
a g r o u p , or e v e n o n l y the law of a b l i n d Zeitgeist. It makes no difference
w h a t it is called, m o r a l l y righteous persons b e l i e v e that the l a w gives
t h e m p o w e r o v e r b o t h the offenders and the victims and justifies the
h a r m that they, t h e indignant ones, d o t o others. T h e question is: H o w

242

c a n therapists c o u n t e r s u c h i n d i g n a t i o n w i t h o u t h a r m i n g t h e offender, t h e
v i c t i m , t h e m s e l v e s , o r t h e l a w ? L e t m e tell y o u a story, w h i c h I ' m sure
y o u ' v e already heard:

The

adulteress

In Jerusalem,

early

in

the

morning,

Olives and went to the temple.


learned and righteous
woman,

set her in

men

Inside,

and began

the circle,

man

came

to

teach.

and said,

Then

But

they

had done.
who

was

were

not really

concerned

outraged them

to

help people

and made them

their indignation,

although

Here we have
she was an
To

indignant.

belong

law,

And

they felt

the adulteress,

to wag his

finger.

the

righteous

him

to

and

tell them

leniency.
that

the

but also the man,


with

trap for this

to

do

To

one of them

His

man

clemency

law gave

them

if he did not share

the deed.
belongs

the woman:

the indignant people:

in

their hearts

they are

Both groups are burdened

the only difference being that with regard to

calls an even worse deed right.

But the man

the murderers,

indignant

the judges,

it

trap eluded

and the temptation

he bent down to the earth. And when


to

what he was thinking,


first

they were trying to

the law,

men failed

the first

and with regard to the second group,

In front of them all,

who is without sin cast the


in

or what she

of offenders.

the law calls a bad deed wrong,

them all:

adultery.

to say about

but they call themselves just and righteous.

the same harsh

group,

in

and the righteous and indignant people say she is a sin-

the other group

murderers,
by

adulteress,

of

What have you

he had nothing

two groups

Mount

about either the woman

and was famous for his

the right to destroy not only the woman,

ner.

taken

What they were really interested in was setting a


known

the

they brought to him

"This woman was

The law of Moses says that she must be stoned.


it?"

down from

he sat down in a middle of a circle of

take

his

hint

and continued

he straightened up and said,

asking
"Let he

stone." And again he stooped down

and wrote

the sand.
All at

once,

the law permits

everything changed: for the


or commands.

the youngest bringing up


writing
woman,

in

the sand.
"Where

Lord," she replied.


indignant ones,

the rear.

Wlien

are

your

Then,

he said,

heart knows

The indignant men


they

more

left the

than

that which

temple one

by one,

The man respected their shame and continued


had gone,

accusers?

Did

he straightened up
no

one

condemn

and asked the

you?"

"No

one,

as if he were of the same mind as the righteous and


"I do

not condemn you

either."

243

T h a t ' s really t h e e n d o f the story. I n the t e x t that has b e e n h a n d e d d o w n ,


the m a n w h o c a m e d o w n from the M o u n t o f O l i v e s i s r e p o r t e d t o h a v e
added, " G o , and sin no m o r e , " but those words, as biblical scholars have
p r o v e d , w e r e added later, probably by s o m e o n e w h o felt the l o v e and
greatness o f the story t o b e m o r e than h e o r she c o u l d bear.
T h e r e ' s a n o t h e r p o i n t o f interest i n the story. N e i t h e r the righteous
and indignant m e n n o r the story itself m e n t i o n s the real v i c t i m : the
w o m a n ' s husband.

H a d the righteous and indignant m e n s t o n e d the

w o m a n , h e r husband w o u l d have lost his wife t w i c e o v e r . As it was,


w i t h o u t the i n t e r f e r e n c e o f righteous and indignant m e n , the c o u p l e had
a c h a n c e to deal w i t h their p r o b l e m themselves and to a c h i e v e r e c o n c i l i a t i o n t h r o u g h l o v e , and perhaps to m a k e a fresh start. H a d the righteous
and indignant m e n b e e n a l l o w e d t o c o m e b e t w e e n t h e m , this solution
w o u l d have b e e n impossible, and n o t only the w o m a n , b u t also h e r h u s b a n d , w o u l d have b e e n w o r s e off.
So it is s o m e t i m e s w i t h abused children, w h e n t h e y fall i n t o the hands
o f morally indignant p e o p l e rather than l o v i n g o n e s . R i g h t e o u s p e o p l e
are n o t really c o n c e r n e d about the children. T h e measures t h e y r e c o m m e n d are the products o f their indignation, and t h e y o n l y m a k e things
harder for the victims. A child, although she was a v i c t i m , often remains
tied to and loyal to the offender. So if h e r father is p e r s e c u t e d and
m o r a l l y and physically destroyed, the child also dies morally and physically, o r o n e o f h e r children atones later o n . T h a t i s the curse o f indign a t i o n and the curse of the law that serves as justification.
W h a t , then, should caring and e n l i g h t e n e d therapists do? T h e y must
r e j e c t any dramatization o f the events and l o o k for simple ways i n w h i c h
b o t h the v i c t i m and the offender can b e g i n a n e w , b u t w i t h m o r e insight
and l o v e than b e f o r e . Instead o f l o o k i n g for a s o - c a l l e d h i g h e r law, e n l i g h t e n e d therapists l o o k o n l y at the actual p e o p l e , v i c t i m s and offenders,
and take their place a m o n g t h e m . T h e y k n o w that o n l y t h e law seems
to be u n b e n d i n g and eternal; on earth everything is transitory, and the
e n d is f o l l o w e d by a n e w b e g i n n i n g . T h e y stay h u m b l e , and have l o v e
for e v e r y o n e , for the victims, for the offenders, for the secret instigators
b e h i n d it all, and for the avengers. H a v e I m a d e the attitude clear?
DAGMAR: Y e s .

244

W H A T REDUCES WOMEN TO SIZE AFTER THEY ASSUME


THE ROLE OF GOD
H E L L I N G E R : N o w w e ' l l b e g i n w i t h t h e f i n a l r o u n d . It's t h e last c h a n c e t o
w o r k i n this w o r k s h o p . T h o m a s ?
T H O M A S : I ' d l i k e t o set up m y family o f o r i g i n a n d t a k e a l o o k at m y
grandfathers.
H E L L I N G E R : W h o b e l o n g s t o t h e family?
T H O M A S : M y father, m y m o t h e r , m y s e l f as t h e oldest child, a n d four sisters.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s e i t h e r o f y o u r parents p r e v i o u s l y m a r r i e d o r e n g a g e d ?
T H O M A S : M y m o t h e r had a c l o s e relationship w i t h a m a r r i e d m a n b e f o r e
she m a r r i e d m y father. S h e felt t h e y w e r e k i n d r e d spirits, b u t w h e n she
m e t m y father, she said, " T h i s m a n i s m e a n t for m e , " a n d she m a r r i e d
h i m . W h e n m y father died, she r e s u m e d t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h t h e o t h e r
man.
H E L L I N G E R : D i d y o u r father h a v e a c l o s e relationship b e f o r e h e m a r r i e d
your mother?
T H O M A S : N O . H e was a frustrated t h e o l o g i a n .
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t d o y o u m e a n b y a frustrated t h e o l o g i a n ?
T H O M A S : H e e n t e r e d a religious o r d e r , a n d h e t o l d m e h e w a n t e d t o " d o
i t t h o r o u g h l y , 1 5 0 p e r c e n t . " F o r i n s t a n c e , h e often chastised h i m s e l f .
T h e n h e h a d a n e r v o u s b r e a k d o w n a n d left t h e o r d e r .
H E L L I N G E R : S o u n d s l i k e y o u r father f o r g o t t o b e grateful for a h i d d e n
blessing h e r e c e i v e d . H i s n e r v o u s b r e a k d o w n , that w a s a n act o f g r a c e .
T H O M A S : H i s life was c h a r a c t e r i z e d b y failure.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s b e c a u s e h e did n o t a c k n o w l e d g e this blessing.
L e t m e tell y o u a story:

Mercy
During

save
to

roof,

last forever

him.

rescue

sent the man


he

not

a great food,

God to
wanted

docs

rabbi climbed onto

Soon
him.

away.

afterward a
But

Tlien

the

man

the

roof of his

rowed

rabbi said,

"God

house

toward him

too,

saying,

himself will save

a helicopter flew by and offered to

but he sent it away,

and prayed
in

to

boat and
me,"

take him

"God himself will save me."

and

off the
Finally,

drowned.
When

the

rabbi stood

had not saved him,


What

more

did you

before

God replied,

God's

throne

in

heaven

and complained

that he

"I sent you a boat and I sent you a helicopter.

want?"

245

O k a y , n o w let's set u p y o u r family o f origin!

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
3
4
5

Father
Mother
First child, a son (= T h o m a s )
Second child, a daughter
Third child, a daughter
Fourth child, a daughter
Fifth child, a daughter

H E L L I N G E R to the representatives of the family: W i t h w h o m are y o u all so


angry?
S E C O N D CHILD: W i t h o u r father?
HELLINGER: N o .
to Thomas: W i t h G o d . Is G o d in this c o n s t e l l a t i o n a m a n or a w o m a n ?
T H O M A S : I ' m n o t sure. I ' m n o t sure I understand.
H E L L I N G E R : W h e n G o d appears i n a system, h e i s always really s o m e o n e
i n t h e system.
THOMAS: T h e n he's a man.
H E L L I N G E R : I ' m n o t s o sure. O k a y , let's b e g i n .

246

H o w is the father feeling?


FATHER: Awful. I'm staring into emptiness, and I have nothing to do with
any of them.
HELLINGER: T h e father's detachment confirms it, the act of mercy didn't
help.
HELLINGER: How is the mother feeling?
MOTHER: In a word: impossible! Absolutely impossible!
HELLINGER: What about the son?
FIRST CHILD: Not good. I want to get away from here.
SECOND CHILD: I'm under a strain.
THIRD CHILD: I feel as if I were standing in a corner sheltered from the
wind.
FOURTH CHILD: I don't feel good either. I don't feel anything. That's all
I can say.
HELLINGER to Thomas: Tell me about your father's family.
THOMAS: My father was the oldest son. He had seven siblings. He wound
up running a department store that belonged to my mother's father. He
married into the family. My mother was, and is, the central figure.
HELLINGER: Did anything special happen in your father's family apart from
the large number of children?
THOMAS: One of his sisters died of T B . His youngest siblings were twins.
One of them fell down the stairs and died of his injuries. My father's
grandmother wanted him to become a priest, but his grandfather prevented it.
HELLINGER: His grandfather prevented it?
THOMAS: My grandfather was also supposed to become a priest, like my
father and me, but his father prevented it. T h e desire to have a priest in
the family was evidently handed down by the mothers, and the fathers
prevented it.
HELLINGER: Okay. Is G o d in this family a man or a woman?
Let's add him to the constellation.
THOMAS: Who?
HELLINGER: This G o d . W h o can it be?
THOMAS: N o w I feel like adding a woman.
HELLINGER: Yes, choose a woman to represent G o d .
to the group: But you needn't worry. In constellations, G o d always turns out
to be human.
Thomas places a woman in the constellation to represent God.

247

Diagram 2
G

God

HELLINGER: W h a t has changed?


F I R S T CHILD: I ' m rather relieved.
T H I R D CHILD: I d o n ' t k n o w w h a t she's d o i n g there, and apart f r o m that,
she's n o t l o o k i n g at m e .
HELLINGER: B u t the e n e r g y level has risen. H o w is the father feeling?
F A T H E R : I d o n ' t w a n t to have anything to do w i t h this G o d .
HELLINGER: Y e s , p e o p l e often d o n ' t w a n t anything t o d o w i t h h i m w h e n
t h e y e n c o u n t e r h i m in the family.
F A T H E R : T h i s is m a k i n g me depressed and restless. I w a n t to go away.
M O T H E R : I could wring her neck.
R E P R E S E N T A T I V E OF G O D (Thea): I k n e w T h o m a s w o u l d c h o o s e me for
the part b e c a u s e p e o p l e often feel t h r e a t e n e d by m e .
HELLINGER: Y o u d o n ' t have t o apologize. H o w d o y o u feel i n this role?
REPRESENTATIVE OF GOD: N o t good.
HELLINGER: T o w h e r e i s y o u r e n e r g y flowing?
R E P R E S E N T A T I V E OF G O D : I n t o emptiness, straight ahead.
HELLINGER to Thomas: W h i c h w o m a n is it really, and w h a t is she gazing
at?

248

THOMAS: I've just thought of my other grandmother (my mother's mother), who lived with us.
HELLINGER: What happened to her?
THOMAS: She had a stillborn child and nearly died. Then she had my
mother.
HELLINGER: We'll add her to the constellation. Put her next to your
mother. Now we'll make the representative of God represent your father's mother. She's probably the one who plays the role of God.

Diagram 3
FM(G) Father's mother (God)
MM
Mother's mother

SECOND CHILD: The energy level is rising incredibly.


FIRST CHILD: I feel that a little bit, too, but it's not right.
HELLINGER to Thomas: How can the woman who represents God be deprived of her power? Through her husband. Shall we add the two grandfathers? Put each of them next to his wife.

249

Diagram 4
FF
MF

Father's father
Mother's father

F I R S T CHILD: It's getting b e t t e r and better.


F A T H E R : It is m u c h lighter.
SECOND CHILD: It's m u c h less dangerous.
HELLINGER: T h a t makes sense. Usually, it's the w o m e n w h o are e x p e r i e n c e d as dangerous. T h e m e n stand for life and the earth.
SECOND CHILD: F o r the earth?
HELLINGER: F o r the earth, strangely e n o u g h . W h e n children are i n danger,
for e x a m p l e , w h e n t h e y ' r e suicidal, they are almost always safer w i t h
t h e i r fathers than w i t h their m o t h e r s .
F A T H E R : I ' v e b e e n feeling very relieved since the grandfathers c a m e .
HELLINGER: N o w fetch y o u r wife!
He claps his hands, goes to his wife, puts his arm around her,
and places
while,

250

her by his side.

She goes with

him,

smiling.

Mean-

the oldest daughter has moved to the left of her brother.

Diagram 5

H E L L I N G E R to the parents of the father and mother. H o w are y o u feeling?


F A T H E R ' S M O T H E R : I feel o k a y n o w .
F A T H E R ' S F A T H E R : I feel neutral, okay.
M O T H E R ' S M O T H E R : N O W I feel g o o d .
M O T H E R ' S F A T H E R : T h e y have m y blessing.
M O T H E R : W h e n the grandfathers appeared o n the scene, m y hands stopped
shaking, and n o w t h e y are w a r m .
H E L L I N G E R : I o n c e set up the constellation w i t h a w o m a n w h o s e father
was a minister. In ministers' families, G o d often has to be i n c l u d e d in t h e
constellation. W h e n she arranged the p e o p l e i n the constellation, the wife
s t o o d on o n e side w i t h the children and the children's nannies, and the
father s t o o d alone.

251

Diagram 1
F

Father

Mother

F i r s t c h i l d , a d a u g h t e r (= c l i e n t )

S e c o n d child, a daughter

CN

Children's nannies

Then I asked her: In this family, is God a man or a woman


She said it was a woman. We added this female God, and everyone im
mediately felt as though they had been visited by an evil old woman.

HELLINGER:

252

Diagram 2
G

God

HELLINGER: It is always terrible w h e n G o d appears in a family like this. In


these families, G o d is experienced as an e n e m y of life, and is almost always represented by a w o m a n . W h e n G o d is male in a constellation, he's
usually n o t experienced as threatening to life.

(continuation of

Thomas'

constellation)

FATHER'S MOTHER (GOD): W h e n I was standing alone here, I suddenly had


the feeling that I was concentrating all the aggression in the r o o m in m e .
HELLINGER: S o m e t i m e s it's a g o o d thing that there are m e n around!
to Thomas: I think it's clear enough. W o u l d y o u like to go and stand in
y o u r place?
Thomas stands

in his place and looks around him

approvingly.

HELLINGER: We kept to essentials with this constellation because we have


seen all we need. O k a y ?
Thomas

nods.

HELLINGER: O k a y . T h a t ' s all, then.

253

Women and men


H E L L I N G E R to the group: A r e there any questions a b o u t this w o r k ?
A N N E : Y e s , I have a question. W h y is the earth masculine? I ' v e always
heard t h e opposite.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u ' r e right, the earth is f e m i n i n e .
A N N E : T h e earth is f e m i n i n e ? B u t y o u said that w o m e n . . . ? I d o n ' t u n derstand.
H E L L I N G E R : T h e earth is f e m i n i n e . B u t t h e images are c o m p l e x . W o m e n
often have m o r e difficulty in considering their children as separate from
t h e m s e l v e s . M e n usually find it easier to m a k e a distinction b e t w e e n
themselves and their children, e x c e p t w h e n they are seriously disturbed.
T h a t ' s w h y children, as a rule, are safer w i t h their fathers in terms of
t h e i r individuality.
A N N E : I understand that.
H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e ' s n o t h i n g w r o n g w i t h it, it's j u s t the nature o f things.
T h a t ' s w h y m e n still have a definite role to play.
T H O M A S : I ' v e b e e n w o n d e r i n g w h a t I should do a b o u t the destructive e l e m e n t i n m e , m y destructive restlessness.
H E L L I N G E R : YOU must go to the m e n . I ' v e already told y o u that. M e n
w h o h a v e beards, like y o u , have t o g o t o the m e n , a b o v e all t o their
fathers. T h e y must leave their m o t h e r ' s sphere o f influence and enter
t h e i r father's. Y o u k n o w m y observations a b o u t m e n w i t h full beards?
T h e y c o m e from families i n w h i c h the m e n w e r e belittled and w e r e
emasculated, b o t h in their o w n families and in their father's line o v e r
several generations.

The break with God


H E L L I N G E R to Thomas: H a v e y o u g o t all y o u w a n t ?
T H O M A S : T h e question o f identification still interests m e . W i t h w h o m was
I identified?
H E L L I N G E R : I d o n ' t t h i n k identification is the right w o r d in y o u r case. In
y o u r family, a m o r a l o b l i g a t i o n was h a n d e d d o w n , and w i t h it the inj u n c t i o n n o t to fulfill it.
T H O M A S : T h a t ' s j u s t h o w I e x p e r i e n c e it.
H E L L I N G E R : Y O U are b o u n d b o t h to fulfill and to reject the o b l i g a t i o n .
T H O M A S : Yes. Exactly.
H E L L I N G E R : A n d w h a t is the solution? A b r e a k w i t h G o d . B e c a u s e this
G o d i s a very small god. T a k e y o u r leave o f h e r w i t h dignity, and g o o n

254

t o s o m e t h i n g greater. T h e n y o u will b e i n the right place. T h e greater


G o d sent y o u r father his nervous b r e a k d o w n . B u t y o u r father didn't r e c o g n i z e G o d ' s blessing.
T H O M A S : T h e question is: H o w can I r e c o g n i z e h i m ?
HELLINGER: Y o u can't. L o v e the earth. T h e G o d that plays such a role i n
y o u r family appears a s a n e n e m y o f the earth and o f life. B u t the earth
is the o n l y reality that we k n o w . E a r t h contains the greatest mystery, n o t
heaven.
T H O M A S : I have t u r n e d t o w a r d the earth.
HELLINGER: As an adult, b u t it's also i m p o r t a n t that the child in y o u turn
t o w a r d the earth. T h a t will b e possible w h e n y o u stand n e x t t o t h e m e n ,
o r w h e n y o u feel t h e y are standing b e h i n d y o u . T h a t ' s all. O k a y ?
I w o u l d like to add s o m e t h i n g a b o u t v o c a t i o n s , so-called divine v o c a tions. T h e y usually are handed d o w n from the G o d o p e r a t i n g i n the
family, and that's usually the m o t h e r .
S o m e o n e w h o refuses to follow such a v o c a t i o n , for e x a m p l e , a v o c a t i o n to be a priest, must also b r e a k w i t h the particular faith and religion
o f the family. O t h e r w i s e , h e m a y live a n e v e n m o r e restricted life than
h e w o u l d have had h e f o l l o w e d the v o c a t i o n . T h e o n l y w a y t o escape
from such a v o c a t i o n is to b r e a k w i t h the family G o d . A n d this can o n l y
b e d o n e b y s o m e o n e w i t h great faith and great strength. P e o p l e w h o are
n o t capable o f this c a n n o t leave their v o c a t i o n s either. I'll give y o u a n
e x a m p l e i n the form o f a story.

I t c o u l d b e called " D e s e r t i o n , " o r

" F a i t h , " or " L o v e . " In this story, t h e y are all the same.

Greater

faith

Once upon a time, a man dreamed in the night that he heard the voice of God
saying,

"Rise up,

take your son,

your only and beloved son,

and go with him

to the top of the mountain I will show to you and make a sacrifice of him to
me

there."
The next morning,

the man arose, and looked at his son,

son; looked at his wife,

his only and beloved

the mother of his son; and then he looked at his God.

He took his son and went with him to the top of the mountain God showed him
and he build an altar there.

There he heard another voice,

and instead of his son,

he sacrificed a sheep.
How does

the son

How does

the father look

look

at his father?
at his son?

255

How does

the wife

How does

the husband look

How do

they

look

And how does


Another man
your son,

look
at

at

her husband?
at his

wife?

God?

God

if there

is

God look

The next morning,


He

God in

the face and answered,

How

does

the son

How

does

the father look

at his son?

How

does

the wife

at her husband?

How does
How do

the
they

And how does

at

look

husband

look

look

God?

at

God

if

up,

take

to me there."

and looked at his son,

the mother of his son,

look

"Rise

and go with him to the top of the mountain

the man arose,

looked at his wife,


looked his

them?

dreamed that he heard the voice of God saying,

your only and beloved son,

I will show to you and make a sacrifice of him


son;

at

and then
"I will not

his only and beloved

he looked at his
do

God.

that."

his father?

at

his

wife?

there is a

God look at them?

H a v e I made my point?
H A R R Y : YOU certainly have.
H E L L I N G E R : I t h i n k t h e story m a k e s it clear w h a t it m e a n s to b r e a k w i t h
t h e family G o d , a n d w h a t a t r e m e n d o u s l y s t r o n g faith a n d l o v e i t r e quires. A n d h o w w e a k i n c o m p a r i s o n i s t h e faith o f t h o s e w h o are p r e p a r e d t o sacrifice t h e i r c h i l d r e n t o this G o d .

T H E FATHER'S PARENTS WERE KILLED IN


A CONCENTRATION CAMP;
THE MOTHER'S PARENTS SURVIVED BY HIDING
A N N E : I w o u l d l i k e t o set u p m y family o f o r i g i n .
HELLINGER: Okay.
A N N E : T h e m e m b e r s o f m y family are m y father, m y m o t h e r , m y sister.
w h o i s t w o years older, a n d myself.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t h a p p e n e d t o y o u r father's parents a n d y o u r father's
family?
A N N E : T h e y w e r e seized i n t h e early 1 9 3 0 s a n d m u r d e r e d i n a c o n c e n t r a t i o n c a m p . M y father a n d his sister w e r e separated f r o m t h e m a n d survived. T h e y w e n t to England in 1 9 3 7 .

256

HELLINGER: W h a t about y o u r mother's parents?


ANNE: My m o t h e r ' s father was a Christian w h o b e c a m e J e w i s h in order to
marry m y grandmother.

M y grandmother,

m y grandfather,

and m y

m o t h e r w e r e hidden b y o n e o f m y grandfather's sisters. S o they survived.


HELLINGER: T h e grandfather w h o b e c a m e J e w i s h is very important. He
m i g h t m a k e it possible for y o u r marriage to a G e r m a n to s u c c e e d in spite
of what we discussed before. Y e s , it feels to me like he could m a k e a
great difference.
to the group: Do y o u feel that that w o u l d act as compensation?
I'll give y o u an example:
A m a n related that his grandfather had c o m e to a small village as a
b a c h e l o r and had married the richest farmer's daughter, an only child.
S h e was Protestant and he was C a t h o l i c , but her parents didn't k n o w
that. T h e y w e r e horrified w h e n the bells on the C a t h o l i c c h u r c h rang
out on the wedding day. T h e y o u n g couple hadn't told her parents what
they w e r e planning and they had a C a t h o l i c wedding, and all their c h i l dren grew up C a t h o l i c . O n e day the m a n asked his sister, " W h y did y o u
call y o u r daughter K a r e n ? " " O h , " she said, " W e w e r e going to call her
Katharine, but we decided that K a r e n is m o r e m o d e r n . " T h e m a n said,
" O u r Protestant grandmother was n a m e d K a t h a r i n e . " His sister hadn't r e alized the c o n n e c t i o n . S h e herself had married a Protestant in a C a t h o l i c
church, and they had agreed that all their children w o u l d be Catholics.
B u t in s o m e mysterious way that no o n e quite understood, this child,
Karen, was baptized in the Protestant c h u r c h and raised as a Protestant.
T h a t was the compensation.
ANNE: My husband, from w h o m I ' m separated, is C a t h o l i c , and my c h i l dren have b e e n baptized.
HELLINGER: T h a t is appropriate. O k a y . N o w set up y o u r parents, yourself,
and y o u r sister, and then the other important persons: y o u r father's parents and y o u r mother's parents, with the sister w h o hid t h e m .

257

Diagram 1
F

Father

Mother

First child, a daughter

S e c o n d child, a daughter (= A n n e )

FFf

Father's father, murdered in a concentration camp

FMt
MF

Father's mother, murdered in a concentration camp


M o t h e r ' s father, w h o converted

MM

M o t h e r ' s mother, w h o survived

MFS

M o t h e r ' s father's sister, w h o hid M F and M M

How is the mother feeling?


Now I feel all right. While Anne was setting up the constellation, I lost sight of my two daughters and felt their loss very keenly.
H E L L I N G E R : How is the father feeling?
F A T H E R : There's a lot of energy around, and it's rather oppressive. When
I heard that my parents had died in a concentration camp, I thought, "I
didn't take enough care." But I felt quite objective about it. I saw what
happened to them. It was awful, and at the same time, I thought, "I
didn't take enough care." I can accept it like that.
H E L L I N G E R : How is the older sister feeling?

HELLINGER:
MOTHER:

258

FIRST CHILD: W h e n I was standing here alone, I had a warm feeling toward my parents. Then I was moved around and it got cooler. W h e n my
father's parents came onto the scene, I felt drawn to them, but this felt
threatening. I get on quite well with my sister. I experience the other
grandparents as supportive. I can stand here quite well.
HELLINGER: H O W is the younger sister feeling?
SECOND CHILD: I feel absolutely terrible. I could scream with rage. They
are all so mild and friendly, it's unbearable. My only slight connection is
with my grandfather's sister. I think she's super. But everyone else is far
too friendly. She gives herself a shake.
HELLINGER: Freaking out is the easiest way.
SECOND CHILD: Y O U mean, easier than facing them?
HELLINGER: Exactly.
SECOND CHILD: Yes, I'm aware that it's easier.
FATHER'S FATHER: Strange. I feel as if my legs were growing into the
floor, and at the same time, I feel as if I were taking off into the air.
There's a warm current flowing toward my son and his family, and some
very friendly energy is flowing toward the other grandparents and the sister. They look like a group of people I know only vaguely. It's mixed
with a feeling of wishing them well.
FATHER'S MOTHER: I feel strangely uninvolved, as if none of them interest
me.
Hellinger changes the constellation so
their parents. He moves the father's
the background.

that the children are facing


murdered parents further into

259

Diagram 2

FATHER'S MOTHER: That's much better.


HELLINGER to the father. How's that for you?
FATHER: I have more strength.
HELLINGER: T h e dead must also make room.
MOTHER'S FATHER: N o w I feel good. Before, when the other two grandparents were standing opposite me, there was a strong feeling of strength
between us, which did me good; I felt strong. W h e n they went away,
the strength went too. My two granddaughters were too far away. It's
better n o w that they are standing in front of me.
M O T H E R ' S MOTHER: Before I felt as if I were the mother of the whole
company. N o w I can turn toward my husband more easily.
M O T H E R ' S FATHER'S SISTER: I have strong palpitations, but I k n o w that
it is okay like this.
Hellinger now moves the mother's parents and the aunt further
into the background.

260

Diagram 3

MOTHER'S FATHER'S SISTER: It's better like this. This is the calmest place.
SECOND CHILD: My parents are in a secure position now. I can see them
and give them my attention. My grandparents are in a good position
now, too. But I can't see my great-aunt very well.
HELLINGER to the mother. How do you feel with your parents and your
aunt standing behind you?
MOTHER: Good.
HELLINGER: It makes a big difference whether we're dealing with people
who have been excluded or with people who have power. T h e powerful
ones may stand in the background, and the ones who have been excluded need to stand in the foreground. But in this family, all the deceased
members are acknowledged and honored, and so for the others, life may
continue unimpeded by the past.
to Anne: Okay, go and stand in your place.
She goes to her place in the constellation and begins to weep.
HELLINGER: Keep your eyes open and look at them all with love.
She nods and looks at them.
HELLINGER: Okay, that's all.

261

Life's g r a c e
IDA: I feel g o o d , and I feel a k i n d of b u r n i n g in m e .
She is moved and on the verge of tears.
I w o u l d like to listen to my i n n e r v o i c e m o r e often. It's t h e r e , I feel that
s o m e t i m e s , and m o r e and m o r e frequently. B u t I w o u l d l i k e to trust it
more.
HELLINGER: T h e r e was o n c e a pious J e w w h o prayed t o G o d every night
t o let h i m w i n the lottery. O n e evening, after m a n y years, h e heard
G o d ' s v o i c e saying, "Please give me a c h a n c e to help y o u at last. B u y a
ticket."
IDA: W e l l , I have e x p e r i e n c e d life's grace m a n y times. She is still close to
tears.
HELLINGER: L o o k at y o u r father and leave h i m there in the distance. L o o k
at h i m w i t h l o v e and at his family. J u s t leave t h e m there, w h e r e they
are, and l o o k at t h e m w i t h l o v e . A n d take his blessing, and take y o u r
father's sibling w h o was m u r d e r e d i n t o y o u r heart. D i d t h e y m a n a g e t o
dispose o f the child altogether?
IDA: N o .

She gives a sigh of relief.

HELLINGER: T h a t w o u l d have b e e n impossible. It still exists s o m e w h e r e ,


in safekeeping. L e a v e it w h e r e it is kept and h e l d n o w . C a n y o u leave it
there?
She

nods.

T h e r e is a g o o d G e r m a n w o r d for c e m e t e r y , Friedhof w h i c h means


" p l a c e o f p e a c e . " I t i s a place w h e r e there should b e p e a c e . T h e dead
must also be a l l o w e d to rest in p e a c e . Is that o k a y for y o u n o w ?
She

nods.

HELLINGER: N o w w e ' v e found a b e t t e r guide for y o u .


WILLIAM: I h a v e n ' t m u c h to say. I ' m very m o v e d .
S O P H I E : I feel g o o d . I ' m calm. My energy level has risen again, a bit
h i g h e r than this m o r n i n g . A n d there's n o t h i n g else I want.
CLARA: I feel g o o d t o o . I feel very full and rich.

262

REGAINING AND ACCEPTING A FATHER WHO DIED


WHEN HIS SON WAS STILL YOUNG
J A Y : I w o u l d like to set up my family constellation.
HELLINGER: G o o d .
J A Y : M y father was married and d i v o r c e d before h e m a r r i e d m y m o t h e r .
He had a son from this first marriage.
HELLINGER: W i t h w h o m did the son g r o w up?
J A Y : He lived w i t h us for the first t w o years b e f o r e my father died, and
t h e n he w e n t to live w i t h his paternal g r a n d m o t h e r . F o u r years after that,
his b i o l o g i c a l m o t h e r sent for h i m and he w e n t to live w i t h h e r in Italy,
w h e r e h e subsequently stayed. M y father was addicted t o pills and died
o f k i d n e y failure.
HELLINGER: D o y o u k n o w w h y y o u r father's first marriage b r o k e up?
J A Y : Apparently it was because of his addiction. My parents didn't get along.
HELLINGER: D i d anything special happen in y o u r father's family?
J A Y : M y father's father was a n a l c o h o l i c .
Jay sets

up

his family of origin.

Diagram 1
F
M
F1W
1
2
FF

Father
Mother, father's second wife
Father's first wife, mother of 1
First child, a son, from the father's first marriage
S e c o n d child, a son, f r o m the father's second m a r r i a g e (= J a y )
Father's father

263

H E L L I N G E R : H O W is t h e father feeling?
F A T H E R : V e r y sad.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w a b o u t t h e first w i f e ?
F A T H E R ' S F I R S T W I F E : I ' m n o t at all h a p p y a b o u t m y p o s i t i o n h e r e . I
k n o w that I h a v e a son, b u t I h a v e no r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h a n y o n e , a n d that
m a k e s m e angry. I ' m c o m p l e t e l y o n m y o w n , and I w a n t t o b e w i t h m y
s o n . I s h o u l d be able to do at least that o n e t h i n g .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w ' s t h e o l d e r s o n feeling?
F I R S T C H I L D : It's all so unreal. I feel l i k e p h i l o s o p h i z i n g .
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , it c e r t a i n l y is unreal.
Hellinger places
him;

the

backward,

men

the father's father


smile

Hellinger

in front

at

each

other,

and

turns

the

first

wife's

of

the father,

the father takes


son

to face

facing
a

step

the family,

and when he places the first wife next to her son, she gives a sigh
of relief.

Diagram 2

H E L L I N G E R to the father. H o w ' s that?


FATHER: Wonderful.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w does t h e m o t h e r feel?
M O T H E R : B e f o r e m y h u s b a n d ' s father c a m e i n t o t h e s c e n e , I was t h i n k i n g
that I ' d l i k e t o turn a r o u n d and take m y s o n and l e a v e . B u t w h e n his
father c a m e , m y h u s b a n d suddenly s e e m e d i n t e r e s t i n g a n d attractive again.

264

SECOND CHILD: At the beginning, w h e n he was standing there alone, I


thought, " T h a t must be an interesting man. I w o u l d like to see his face
m o r e clearly. T h e m o t h e r is the mainstay. I ' m glad she's there." W h e n my
father's father came into the scene, I was aware that my father was feeling
better, and that did me good. I feel better than I did at the beginning.
Hellinger changes

the

constellation.

Diagram 3

FATHER: N o w I have a wide view. B o t h w o m e n seem friendly and p o s i tive. I can see my sons, and the w h o l e constellation seems settled and
stable.
F I R S T CHILD: It seems to be b l o w i n g hot and cold. I like b e i n g n e x t to my
brother, but I k n o w that we c o m e from different mothers.
SECOND CHILD: T h e r e was a cold draft around my left hand, but that w e n t
w h e n m y grandfather arrived. T h a t ' s g o o d .
HELLINGER to Jay: Go and stand in y o u r place.
Jay goes to his place in
nods

the constellation,

looks around him,

and

approvingly.

HELLINGER: I'd like to do a little experiment w i t h you, to s h o w y o u what


m e n can m e a n .

265

Hellinger places him in front of his father,

with his back to him.

Diagram 4

J A Y after a pause: T h i s frightens me a little.


HELLINGER: Stay there for a little while.
after a long pause: Go with your feelings. T u r n around and face y o u r father.
Jay

turns

embrace,

266

around and

throws

and Jay sobs

loudly.

his

arms

around his father.

They

Diagram 5

HELLINGER to Jay: B r e a t h e deeply, t h r o u g h y o u r m o u t h . D o n ' t m a k e a


sound, j u s t b r e a t h e deeply. B r e a t h e deeply, i n and out. P o w e r f u l l y . D o n ' t
give in to weakness!
HELLINGER to the father's father. Y o u can e m b r a c e t h e m if y o u w a n t to.
He

embraces

them

both.

HELLINGER to Jay, as he grows calmer. Go b a c k to y o u r place, and l o o k at


t h e m all.

Diagram 6

267

HELLINGER to Jay. Is it o k a y like that?


JAY: Y e s .

APPROPRIATE SEPARATION
HELLINGER: Harry, I'll work with you next.
HARRY: I have realized something. I've taken a hammering, and I'm glad
I have because now I know that those old things can't hurt me any
more.
Laughter in the group.
I'm now wondering about the significance of my present family, the secondary family I founded, because almost all the constellations here had
to do with the families of origin. I ask this because I married a woman
who . . .
HELLINGER: What is it you want?
HARRY: I would like to become inwardly free of this family, which I
started and which split up 20 years ago, because up until now I . . .
HELLINGER: Let's set up the constellation, then we'll soon see what it's all
about.
HARRY: I think we can do it with just a few words.
HELLINGER: Set up the constellation.
PARTICIPANT: Yes, do!
HELLINGER: N o , don't press him.
HARRY: I would like to do it, it's just that I'm afraid that we haven't got
much time left. And you sometimes solve things with just a few words.
HELLINGER: W h o belongs to your family?
HARRY: My first wife, myself, and our two daughters. Then my second
wife. I have no children with her.
HELLINGER: W h y did you separate from your first wife?
HARRY: She wanted to leave me.
Harry sets

268

up

the constellation of his current family.

Diagram 1
Hb
1W
1
2
2W

Husband (= Harry)
First wife, mother of 1 and 2
First child, a daughter
Second child, a daughter
Second wife

HELLINGER: How's the husband feeling?


HUSBAND: At first I had a strong sexual feeling toward my daughters. I
asked Harry to correct my position because this seemed odd and I
wanted to know if it would change when I changed my position, but it's
still there. I hardly notice the other members of the family at all.
HELLINGER: How is the first wife feeling?
FIRST WIFE: I'm very angry, especially when my younger daughter smiles
at me. I have the feeling she's standing between me and my husband.
She doesn't belong here.
The father smiles at his younger daughter.
HELLINGER: HOW'S the older daughter feeling?
FIRST CHILD: I'm more aware of my father than of anyone else. I have a
bone to pick with him. I also have the feeling that I represent my mother. I really must give my father a piece of my mind.
SECOND CHILD: I feel completely out of place. If my father comes an inch
nearer, I will lash out. I'm not sure if I'm angrier with my mother or my
father.
FIRST CHILD: I'm wondering what my sister is doing here.
SECOND WIFE: I'm so angry with him that I'm getting a cramp in my
throat. I feel as if I'd been kicked out. Used and then kicked out.

269

Hettinger changes

the

constellation.

Diagram 2

HELLINGER to the husband: How's that?


HUSBAND: I can see the cathedral through the window.
HELLINGER: And how do you feel?
HUSBAND: It attracts me. I really mean it, I'm not talking nonsense. It is
good. I want go there. I don't really feel anything for the people behind
me.
HELLINGER: H o w does the first wife feel?
FIRST WIFE: I feel okay. But I must talk to the children and get things
cleared up.
FIRST CHILD: I'm a bit cross. I had a bone to pick with my father, and
now he's going to withdraw and leave. I feel I'd like to strangle him
from behind.
Hettinger changes

270

the

constellation

again.

Diagram 3

Hellinger: How's that?


Mother and daughters smile at each other.
SECOND CHILD: I started to feel better when my father went further away,
and when my mother said she had something to talk to us about.
SECOND WIFE: I feel free again, and I'd like to leave.
HELLINGER to Harry: The separations in your family are appropriate.
HUSBAND: I have another feeling, which came after the first one. I felt as
if I were paralyzed, rooted to the spot.
HELLINGER to Harry: Did anything special happen in your family o f origin?
HARRY: My father's mother married my grandfather without loving him,
and I'm identified with my uncle, with whom she really wanted to live.
This woman (he points at his first wife) did not really want to marry me
and have children. It took me a long time to persuade her.
HELLINGER: Y o u should not have done that, because of your entanglement with your family of origin. That's why it's appropriate that you
should leave your family.
HARRY: And what would be appropriate and permissible for me?
HELLINGER: I can only show you what is evident from the constellation.
It is not for me to express an opinion about anything else.
Hellinger sets

up

the solution.

271

Diagram 4
HbF

Husband's father

HELLINGER to Harry: W o u l d y o u like to go and stand in y o u r place?


Harry goes to his place in

the constellation,

and Hellinger places

his father next to him.


H A R R Y : I feel free, and I like b e i n g close to my father. I feel r e c o n c i l e d
w i t h him. His fate was also my fate.
HELLINGER: O k a y , that's all.

T h e blessing c o n c e a l e d i n things t h a t w e n t w r o n g
FRANK: I have a feeling of unease w h e n I think about h o w I began my
marriage. I k n e w perfectly well that if I married my wife, it w o u l d be
w r o n g because I didn't love her enough. T h a t ' s what I felt, b u t that if
I didn't marry her, things w o u l d go on in the same old destructive way.
T h e n we b o t h said, "Let's get married, and if it doesn't w o r k , we can
always separate." Of course, it couldn't w o r k like that. T h e n I wanted
to get away, I w a n t e d my freedom. A n d it couldn't w o r k like that either.
I did the w r o n g thing again and again without b e i n g aware of it. I ranted
and raved and made the most awful things happen. T h a t ' s w h y I have always felt guilty.
HELLINGER: T h e r e is a simple solution. T h e r e was a certain Le B o n w h o
wrote a book.

272

FRANK:

Tfie Psychology of the Masses.

HELLINGER: E x a c t l y . He w r o t e The Psychology of the Masses. A n d t h e same


L e B o n , o r s o I ' m told, also w r o t e a n o t h e r b o o k , a b o u t the p s y c h o l o g y
of the elite. I h a v e n ' t read it, b u t I read a b o o k r e v i e w that said that Le
B o n f o u n d o u t that the elite differ from the masses in o n e respect.
FRANK: In that t h e y b e l i e v e t h e y are the elite?
HELLINGER: N o , in that t h e y do n o t l o o k for a guilty party outside t h e m selves, b u t a c c e p t responsibility for their o w n actions i m m e d i a t e l y . T h u s
t h e y are always able to act. B u t unfortunately o n l y a few p e o p l e b e l o n g
to the elite.
Laughter

in

the group.

FRANK: B u t y o u always say that the highest state we can reach is the ordinary.
HELLINGER: Y o u r solution is to say: " W h a t I did was w r o n g , and I a c c e p t
t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s . " T h e n y o u ' l l b e able t o act i m m e d i a t e l y . Q u i t e apart
from the fact that y o u have c o l l e c t e d e x p e r i e n c e t h r o u g h d o i n g w r o n g
things. T h a t i s the o t h e r side o f the c o i n . T h e r e i s n o t h i n g , h o w e v e r
hard, that does n o t also c o n t a i n a blessing.

T h e n e x t step
U N A : I feel t o r n apart, pulled in different directions, b u t I d o n ' t k n o w
exactly w h y . I w o u l d like t o give w h a t I ' v e learned the t i m e t o w o r k ,
b u t I ' m so restless. I d o n ' t k n o w w h y .
HELLINGER: Perhaps b e c a u s e it's t i m e t o take the n e x t step. I f y o u take it,
m a y b e y o u r feeling o f restlessness will disappear.

Closeness and restriction


U N A : I t has o c c u r r e d t o m e that i n m o s t o f the constellations I ' v e seen, the
m e m b e r s o f t h e family stand c o m p a r a t i v e l y far away f r o m e a c h o t h e r . F o r
m e , it was very i m p o r t a n t to put t h e m all very close t o g e t h e r . D o e s this
m e a n that t h e r e are t o o m u c h closeness and restriction in these families?
HELLINGER: Y e s . E a c h m e m b e r o f the family needs space.
U N A : A n d this space was missing?
HELLINGER: Y e s . T o o m u c h closeness i s a r e j e c t i o n o f d e v e l o p m e n t .

273

M o t h e r a n d child
J O H N : I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g that I o u g h t t o g o t o m y m o t h e r and e m b r a c e
her.
HELLINGER: N o , that w o u l d b e p r e s u m p t u o u s . L e a v e y o u r m o t h e r i n
p e a c e . B u t w h a t y o u can d o i s ask h e r for h e r blessing. A n d y o u can tell
h e r that y o u understand h o w hard i t was for h e r w h e n y o u w e r e i n t h e
hospital. If y o u do m o r e than this, y o u ' l l start all o v e r again, trying to
give instead of staying on the level of r e c e i v i n g and a c c e p t i n g as a child.
T e l l y o u r m o t h e r that y o u realize w h a t she has d o n e for y o u , and that
y o u h o n o r it and appreciate it.

D o i n g the right thing for one's aging parents


L E O : I ' v e b e e n feeling w e a k again, b u t n o w I ' m ready t o e x e r c i s e s o m e
self-restraint. I was w o n d e r i n g w h a t I ' d do if my father w e r e to start a c t ing like a child again, b e c a u s e that m a k e s e v e r y t h i n g s e e m different. B u t
t h e n I t h o u g h t that it's really up to my m o t h e r to see that h e r husband
agrees t o t r e a t m e n t i f necessary.
HELLINGER: Y e s , that's h e r j o b , n o t yours. It is only appropriate for y o u
t o l o o k after y o u r father i f y o u r m o t h e r i s unable t o .
T h e difficulty i s that w h e n c h i l d r e n l o o k a t their parents, t h e y i m m e diately feel like 5 - o r 7 - y e a r - o l d c h i l d r e n again, and that w h e n parents
l o o k a t their children, n o m a t t e r h o w old t h e y are, t h e y treat t h e m a s i f
t h e y w e r e still 5 or 7 years old. T h a t ' s w h y m a n y adults have difficulty
in l o o k i n g after their aging parents, b e c a u s e in their p r e s e n c e t h e y still
feel like children.
T h e s o l u t i o n for t h e m i s t o say t o their parents, " I f y o u n e e d m e , I
will take care o f y o u a s i s appropriate." T h a t i s the k e y s e n t e n c e . W h e n
t h e y say this, t h e y are speaking as adults, and on this level, t h e y can r e spect their parents as children and still do w h a t is appropriate.
T h e adult child does n o t exist o n l y for t h e parents. T h u s children
c a n n o t always do w h a t their parents w a n t , b u t it is usually possible to do
w h a t is right.

T h e courage to do what is appropriate


R O L P H : I feel c e n t e r e d , and e v e r y t h i n g is b u b b l i n g and f l o w i n g I d o n ' t
quite k n o w w h e r e t o . I ' m l o o k i n g for m y happiness, and I see s o m u c h
ahead o f m e .

274

HELLINGER: T h e n e x t step is to s u m m o n up the c o u r a g e to do w h a t is a p propriate.


R O L P H : I k n e w y o u w e r e g o i n g to tell m e s o m e t h i n g g o o d .

Perspectives
M A R T H A : I feel fine. I feel I ' m on the right path, b u t I k n o w I must go
w i t h the process until it reaches its goal.
HELLINGER: Y o u ' v e m a d e a start, and the course has b e e n set. After that,
it usually takes a year or t w o b e f o r e the seeds start to sprout and the
rosebush begins t o b l o o m .
T H E A : W h a t y o u said about a process taking t w o years t o develop c o r r e s ponds exactly to my e x p e r i e n c e . I was at o n e of y o u r w o r k s h o p s a y e a r
ago, and w h a t h a p p e n e d there has b e e n w o r k i n g i n m e e v e r since.
D A G M A R : At the m o m e n t , I j u s t feel very, v e r y grateful. I ' m very full.
S o m e seeds n e e d t i m e to sprout. Self-restraint is very i m p o r t a n t in my
profession, n o t to try and pack t o o m u c h in, and to pay attention to t h e
b a l a n c e b e t w e e n giving and taking. T h a t ' s beautiful, and I ' m taking a l o t
w i t h m e from this w o r k s h o p . T h e r e ' s j u s t o n e m o r e thing I w o u l d like.
It sounds a bit odd, b u t I have a deep l o n g i n g for t h o r o u g h n e s s . I t e n d
to start s o m e t h i n g w i t h lots of enthusiasm, and t h e n I give up and do
s o m e t h i n g else.
HELLINGER: I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g a b o u t t h o r o u g h n e s s in p s y c h o t h e r a p y .
It's n e v e r m o r e than 2 0 p e r c e n t o f the w h o l e . E v e r y t h i n g that goes b e y o n d 2 0 p e r c e n t i s t o o t h o r o u g h and o n l y causes t r o u b l e .
C A R L : W h e n I t h i n k about the goal I had w h e n I arrived, I h a v e a w o n derful feeling o f freedom. A t the m o m e n t , I ' m t h i n k i n g mainly a b o u t the
p o w e r o f restraint. T h a t ' s w h a t I'll take w i t h m e .
ELLA: I ' m full of energy, and my hands are hot. I liked it w h e n L e o told
us that he first of all discussed things inwardly and t h e n was able to b o w
to his m o t h e r . I think I ' m in a similar situation, b u t I c o u l d n ' t do it as
h e did.
HELLINGER: Y o u can d o i t secretly. T h a t ' s h o w i t w o r k s best.
ELLA laughs: Y e s ? I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g that I ' v e n e v e r really h o n o r e d and r e spected my m o t h e r . I always put m y s e l f a little a b o v e her. I w o u l d like
t o h o n o r her.
HELLINGER: Y e s , and h o w can y o u d o that? T h e best t h i n g i s i f I tell y o u
a story.

275

The way of the world


A

bumblebee flew to a cluster of cherry blossoms,

nectar,
science.

and flew away contented.

But

then

drank her fill of a blossom's

she started suffering pangs

of con-

"There's something wrong here," she thought, for she felt as if she had

dined at a richly decked table and had forgotten to bring the host a gift that
would give pleasure.

She wondered what she could do to make amends,

couldn't make up her mind,


She did not forget,

but she

and the weeks and the months went by.

however, and one day she said to herself,

"I must go back

to the cherry blossom and say thank you." So she set off on her flight and found
the cherry tree. But alas, where the blossoms had been there was only a cluster of
dark red fruit,

and the bumblebee was very sad.

say thank you," she thought.


me a

"Now I shall never be able to

"I have lost my chance forever.

But it has taught

lesson."

And then,

while she was still thinking about it,

a sweet fragrance assailed her

nostrils, the pink chalice of a flower beckoned, and she threw herself joyously into
a

new

adventure.

H o n o r i n g w h a t has been
MARCUS: I always feel confused about my roles at the end of your workshops, for at least a week. Have you another story that will help?
HELLINGER: I can tell you a story about myself. I was trained as a family
therapist, and when my training was over, I thought, "That's the right
thing for me to practice." But then I took a look at what I had done so
far and realized that it was also good. So I decided to carry on with the
same kind of therapy. But strangely enough, after a year, it had developed into family therapy.
End

276

of the

workshop

LAWS
OF
BELONGING

From a Workshop
for Family Therapists

T h e solution as a religious a c t
R I T A : I ' v e b e e n feeling entangled i n s o m e t h i n g for years. I ' v e tried t o f i n d
o u t w h y , b u t every t i m e I think I ' m b e c o m i n g clear a b o u t o n e aspect,
I s e e m to get drawn in again from a n o t h e r angle.
HELLINGER: V e r y few p e o p l e s u c c e e d in resolving an e n t a n g l e m e n t . I really m e a n that. It's o n e t h i n g to gain an insight, b u t w h e n it c o m e s to
m a k i n g a decision, the b a c k w a r d pull is so strong that m o s t p e o p l e stay
entangled. T h e transition f r o m an e n t a n g l e m e n t to its solution is a spiritual act. T h i s means that y o u have to m o v e o n t o a different, h i g h e r
level, and this is c o n n e c t e d w i t h a p r o f o u n d and far-reaching l e a v e - t a k i n g
o f w h a t w e n t b e f o r e . T h i s m o v e makes p e o p l e l o n e l y .
If y o u live in a small village in a m o u n t a i n valley, for e x a m p l e , y o u r
life is closely b o u n d up w i t h e v e r y o n e else's. If y o u leave the village and
c l i m b a h i g h m o u n t a i n , y o u gain a m u c h w i d e r v i e w than y o u had b e fore. Y o u can feel allied to different things and different p e o p l e , b u t y o u
d o n ' t feel c o n n e c t e d to things and p e o p l e in the same close, safe w a y that
y o u did in the valley. T h a t ' s w h y a w i d e h o r i z o n m a k e s p e o p l e l o n e l y .
A n d apart from that, the transition from closeness to freedom is e x p e r i e n c e d by t h e child as guilt, as a leaving b e h i n d of s o m e f o r m e r i n n o c e n c e
and a c c e p t a n c e , and as the violation of a deep original loyalty. In t h e
same way, w e can o n l y s u c c e e d i n m a k i n g the transition from the p r o b l e m to the solution if we put o u r trust in the u n k n o w n , w h i c h is dark
and unpredictable, rather than in the familiar. T h i s is essentially a r e ligious act. T h u s , a therapist must n e v e r fall prey to the illusion that t h e
solution can be arranged or manipulated. A l t h o u g h t h e r e is quite a lot we
can do to m a k e the path easier, in really deep e n t a n g l e m e n t s , solutions
and healing, w h e n t h e y s u c c e e d , are e x p e r i e n c e d as grace by b o t h t h e
therapist and the client.
R I T A : I ' m t h i n k i n g a lot a b o u t the t h e m e o f sisters. She starts to cry.
HELLINGER: W h a t d o sisters m e a n t o y o u ?
R l T A : M y sister was m u r d e r e d . H e r boyfriend stabbed h e r b e c a u s e she
w a n t e d t o leave h i m , and n o w the b u r d e n has fallen o n m e .
HELLINGER: D o e s i t help y o u r sister i f y o u carry this b u r d e n ?
R l T A : N o . L o g i c a l l y , I k n o w i t doesn't.
HELLINGER: Y e t y o u feel the powerful pull t o b u r d e n y o u r s e l f i n spite o f
w h a t ' s logical. T h a t ' s exactly the d i l e m m a I was describing. It's so m u c h

279

easier for us all to stay in o u r familiar village than to b r e a t h e the clear


m o u n t a i n air and to allow the vistas of the h i g h e r realms to t o u c h our
hearts. Y o u can feel h o w painful it will be for y o u to m a k e the transition.

A WOMAN WHO CANNOT HAVE CHILDREN OF H E R OWN


A D O P T E D A CHILD
HELLINGER to Rita, after a break: W e ' l l set up y o u r family of origin.
to the group: G r o u p s have the m o s t intensity w h e n we w o r k w h e r e the
e n e r g y is. B e f o r e the break, R i t a was the o n e w i t h the m o s t energy.
T h a t ' s w h y I ' m starting w i t h her.
HELLINGER to Rita: A r e y o u married?
RITA:

Yes.

HELLINGER: H a v e y o u any children?


R I T A : A n adopted child.
HELLINGER: A n adopted child? W h y ?
R l T A : B e c a u s e I can't have children, and my husband and I b o t h w a n t e d
to adopt a child.
HELLINGER: D i d the child w a n t it t o o ?
R l T A : I think so.

HELLINGER: H o w old was the child w h e n y o u adopted her?


R l T A : S h e was 5 days o l d .

HELLINGER: H O W did she c o m e t o y o u ?


R l T A : T h e child's m o t h e r had offered h e r u p for adoption. S h e was i n the
hospital, and she w a i t e d for me there.
HELLINGER: A n d the child's father?
R l T A : T h e m o t h e r did n o t m e n t i o n h i m , n o r i s h e m e n t i o n e d i n the
child's papers.
HELLINGER to the group: Strange! M e n d o n ' t c o u n t for m u c h in o u r s o c i ety. A n d t h e y call that patriarchy!
to Rita: D i d y o u k n o w b e f o r e y o u married that y o u c o u l d n ' t h a v e children?
RlTA:

No.

HELLINGER: SO y o u o n l y found o u t after y o u married?


R l T A : Yes.

HELLINGER: H O W did y o u r husband react?


R l T A : H e didn't regard it as a p r o b l e m . H e n e v e r q u e s t i o n e d o u r relationship b e c a u s e o f it.
HELLINGER to the group: W h e n o n e partner is unable to have children, he
or she has no right to insist that the o t h e r partner c o n t i n u e the relation-

280

ship. H o w e v e r , i f the o t h e r partner decides t o stay, that d e c i s i o n m u s t b e


h o n o r e d . T h i s is i m p o r t a n t . T h e n it is clear and o k a y .
R l T A : I ' m v e r y grateful t o h i m for it.
HELLINGER: " G r a t e f u l " is an a m b i g u o u s w o r d .
R l T A : Y e s . I realize that.
HELLINGER: " H o n o r " i s the m o r e accurate w o r d . T h e n i t i s o k a y . B u t i t
m e a n s y o u have f e w e r rights than he has.
A N O T H E R PARTICIPANT: If, as y o u have told us, the c o u p l e ' s relationship
has priority o v e r the relationship b e t w e e n the parents and their children,
t h e n I d o n ' t understand w h a t y o u h a v e j u s t said. After all, it's t h e l o v i n g
relationship b e t w e e n R i t a and h e r husband that's at stake.
HELLINGER: D o e s y o u r o b j e c t i o n c o n t r i b u t e anything?
PARTICIPANT: Y e s , I t h i n k it does.
HELLINGER: N o , it o n l y takes s o m e t h i n g away.
to the group: Has w h a t she said h e l p e d R i t a ? S h e has taken the seriousness
o f the t h e m e away from R i t a b y shifting the discussion t o a t h e o r e t i c a l
level. T h a t ' s the effect o f such interventions. T h e y are very risky. S o m e
therapists w o r k primarily w i t h such o b j e c t i o n s . W h e n s o m e o n e c o m e s i n
w i t h a p r o b l e m , the therapist starts by saying, for e x a m p l e , that it's n o t
s u c h a terrible p r o b l e m .
PARTICIPANT: I didn't o b j e c t to R i t a ' s questions or to w h a t she said, b u t
t o y o u r interpretation.
HELLINGER: Y o u have j u s t m a d e a n o t h e r o b j e c t i o n . S o n o w w e can discuss w h a t I m e a n t or w h a t y o u said, b u t t h e n we still w o u l d h a v e left
R i t a i n the lurch.
The

participant

laughs.

to Rita: First of all, w e ' l l set up y o u r present family. W e r e y o u or was y o u r


h u s b a n d previously married or engaged?
R I T A : M y h u s b a n d was married.
HELLINGER: D i d he have any children from the marriage?
RITA: No.
HELLINGER: W h y did he separate from his wife?
R l T A : All I k n o w is that t h e y didn't suit e a c h o t h e r . F r o m my husband's
p o i n t of v i e w and that's the o n l y o n e I k n o w he o n l y m a r r i e d h e r
o u t o f a sense o f duty.
HELLINGER: S o ?
R I T A : T h a t ' s w h a t h e says.
HELLINGER: Y e s , that's w h a t he says.
Laughter

in

the group.

W e ' l l n e e d the first wife, y o u r husband, y o u , the a d o p t e d child, and t h e

281

c h i l d ' s parents. T h a t ' s t h e system. H o w o l d i s t h e child?


R l T A : T h e c h i l d is 5 years old.
H E L L I N G E R : A b o y or a girl?
R I T A : A girl.
Rita

starts

setting

up

the

constellation.

H E L L I N G E R to the group: Y o u c a n pay a t t e n t i o n to w h e t h e r she is really


c e n t e r e d w h i l e she's p u t t i n g t h e persons i n t h e i r places o r w h e t h e r she's
f o l l o w i n g a c o n c e p t o f h e r family she t h o u g h t u p b e f o r e h a n d . It's i m p o r tant t o b e a w a r e o f w h e t h e r o r n o t s o m e o n e i s d o i n g this really seriously.
I f n o t , y o u h a v e t o i n t e r r u p t it. It's n o g o o d d o i n g things halfheartedly
in this w o r k . It's a v e r y serious m a t t e r , a n d it o n l y w o r k s w h e n it is tak e n seriously. I f y o u pay a t t e n t i o n , y o u c a n usually see w h e t h e r o r n o t
s o m e o n e is serious.

Diagram 1
Hb
1W
2W
C
F
M

282

Husband
First wife
S e c o n d wife ( = R i t a )
Child, a girl, adopted
Father of the child
Mother of the child

HELLINGER to the group: H a v e y o u n o t i c e d at w h o m e v e r y b o d y in the c o n stellation is l o o k i n g ? At the father, w h o has b e e n excluded. T h a t ' s w h e r e
the key to the solution lies.
HELLINGER: H o w is the husband feeling?
HUSBAND: T h e r e ' s a feeling of tension b e t w e e n me and my first wife. I
w o u l d like her to stand in front of m e .
HELLINGER: O k a y , follow y o u r impulse and stand n e x t to her.

Diagram 2

HELLINGER to the husband: How's that?


HUSBAND: Better. I felt too confined before.
HELLINGER: How's the first wife feeling?
FIRST WIFE: Better. Before, I was feeling very angry with this family.
HELLINGER to the representative of Rita: How is the second wife feeling?
SECOND WIFE: I'm fascinated by that person over there. She points at the
child's father. There's something at the back o f me but I don't know what
it is. Strangely enough, it's not unpleasant to have my husband standing
back there.
HELLINGER: How is the adopted child feeling?
CHILD: Rather feeble and lacking in energy.
HELLINGER: How is the child's mother feeling?
MOTHER: I feel as if I would like to go away, but I can't. I feel bound to
stay.

283

Hettinger

changes

the

constellation.

Diagram 3

HELLINGER: T h a t ' s the solution.


to the father. H o w is the child's father feeling?
F A T H E R : R i g h t at the b e g i n n i n g , I felt that I didn't b e l o n g h e r e . T h e n
w h e n the o t h e r m a n w e n t t o the b a c k o f the constellation, I started t o
feel s o m e t h i n g for the w o m a n w h o adopted the child. N o w that the
child is standing n e x t to m e , I realize for the first t i m e that she's my
child.
HELLINGER: H o w is the child's m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : I feel m u c h better, and I'd like to m o v e away a bit.
HELLINGER: O k a y , do.
She

moves forward a

little,

away from

the others.

HELLINGER to the group: F r o m the representatives' reactions, y o u can see


that in putting the child up for adoption in the w a y she did, this w o m a n
has forfeited h e r rights as a m o t h e r . A m o t h e r w h o frivolously offers h e r
child for a d o p t i o n or w h o does it out of self-interest forfeits h e r rights to
h e r child. B u t y o u can see that the father and his family still have a c o n n e c t i o n t o this child. Y o u can see that the child b e l o n g s n o t o n l y t o h e r
father, b u t also w i t h his family, w i t h his parents, brothers, and sisters.
T h e child i s still a m e m b e r o f that family. N o t j u s t c o n n e c t e d t o h e r

284

father. T h i s c o n n e c t i o n must be taken i n t o consideration. I w o u l d n ' t be


surprised if the child later w e r e to feel a strong drive to find h e r father
and his family, and i f she does, y o u should help her find t h e m . T h e c h i l d
will be safe w h e n her b e l o n g i n g to that family is a c k n o w l e d g e d . W h e n
she is w i t h t h e m , she will b e l o n g to a system and n o t o n l y to h e r father.
B u t this system (he points at the mother), h e r m o t h e r ' s system, has forfeited
all its rights to her. Y o u can see that in the constellation; there's no pull
there at all. Y o u can see, t o o , that R i t a ' s husband is n o t really separated
from his first wife.
F I R S T WIFE: W h e n the s e c o n d wife turned away, I got the feeling that I
d o n ' t b e l o n g h e r e any m o r e . It's n o t the right place for m e .
HELLINGER to the husband: H o w do y o u feel there?
HUSBAND: Of all three places, this is the best for m e . I feel v e r y g o o d . In
my first place, I had very little c o n t a c t w i t h my s e c o n d wife. H e r e , n e x t
to my first wife, it was a lot better. N o w that she has turned around, I ' m
in direct c o n t a c t w i t h her. T h a t ' s a g o o d feeling. B u t a b o v e all, I feel
g o o d a b o u t the child. T h e fact that she is standing n e x t to h e r father is
a t r e m e n d o u s relief.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s w h e r e she b e l o n g s . N o w w e ' l l put y o u n e x t t o y o u r
s e c o n d wife.

Diagram 4

HELLINGER

to Rita's representative:

H o w are y o u feeling?

SECOND WIFE: M u c h b e t t e r since m y husband c a m e and s t o o d n e x t t o m e .

285

I felt v e r y a l o n e b e f o r e . B u t his first w i f e r a t h e r a n n o y s m e .


H E L L I N G E R to the first wife: W h e n he w e n t to his s e c o n d wife, y o u m o v e d
a w a y . N o w f i n d o u t w h e r e y o u r right p l a c e is.
F I R S T WIFE: I w o u l d like to go further away.
H E L L I N G E R to the group: W h e n , as in this case, t h e h u s b a n d has a s e c o n d
w i f e , t h e n , as a rule, t h e s e c o n d w i f e m u s t stand b e t w e e n h i m a n d his
f i r s t w i f e . I t takes c o u r a g e t o really assume that p o s i t i o n , b u t it's o n l y
w h e n t h e s e c o n d w i f e stands b e t w e e n h e r h u s b a n d a n d his f i r s t w i f e that
t h e f i r s t w i f e c a n let g o o f h e r e x - h u s b a n d . I f t h e m a n i s standing b e t w e e n his t w o w i v e s , h e ' s d r a w n t o t h e f i r s t o n e .
HELLINGER: H o w is the child feeling n o w ?
C H I L D : G o o d . I ' m surprised that I ' m n o t a t all w o r r i e d a b o u t b e i n g s o far
away. I feel b e t t e r h e r e t h a n I did b e f o r e .
H E L L I N G E R to Rita: So t h e a d o p t i o n w a s n ' t s u c h a g o o d idea.
R l T A : W h a t d o e s that m e a n ?
H E L L I N G E R : W e ' v e s e e n w h a t i t m e a n s . T h e w a y t o p u t things right i s t o
d o e x a c t l y w h a t y o u see h e r e i n t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n . N o w y o u c a n stand i n
y o u r place i f y o u like.
R l T A from her place in the constellation: I d o n ' t feel g o o d h e r e .
HELLINGER: N o ?
R l T A : N o , b e c a u s e I have n o c o n t a c t w i t h t h e child.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u ' r e past r e d e m p t i o n .
Long

pause.

T h a t ' s j u s t h o w i t is.
R l T A : H o w w h a t is?
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u r a t t e n t i o n i s g o i n g t o w h a t y o u t h i n k i s g o o d for y o u ,
t o y o u r n e e d s , n o t t o t h e n e e d s o f t h e child. A s l o n g a s y o u r n e e d s are
m o r e i m p o r t a n t t o y o u t h a n t h e c h i l d ' s , y o u ' r e past r e d e m p t i o n .

T h e price
H E L L I N G E R to the group: I ' v e w o r k e d w i t h a n u m b e r of social a g e n c i e s
trying to understand w h y s o m e adoptions go so w r o n g , and o n e thing
w e ' v e s e e n o v e r a n d o v e r i s h o w i m p o r t a n t t h e natural father a n d his
family are t o t h e child's sense o f w e l l - b e i n g . W h e n a c h i l d i s a d o p t e d i r r e s p o n s i b l y , w i t h o u t a n a t t e m p t b e i n g m a d e t o f i n d t h e father, let a l o n e
to r e c o g n i z e his rights, t h e r e ' s always a h i g h p r i c e to pay. T h i s was v e r y
c l e a r f r o m t h e w a y R i t a set u p h e r family system. S h e sacrificed h e r h u s b a n d f o r t h e child. T h a t ' s t h e p r i c e she has t o pay. H e r h u s b a n d d o e s n ' t

286

stand a c h a n c e in this family, and we c o u l d see the systemic pressure h e ' s


u n d e r to leave. A d o p t i v e parents pay for an irresponsible a d o p t i o n either
w i t h o n e o f the marriage partners o r w i t h o n e o f their o w n children. I ' v e
seen quite a few families in w h i c h a w o m a n w h o has adopted a child b e c a m e pregnant and a b o r t e d the baby, o r o n e o f the c o u p l e ' s o w n c h i l dren died o r c o m m i t t e d suicide. T h e s e are ways o f a t o n i n g for a n i r r e sponsible adoption.

T h e hierarchy of belonging
HELLINGER: A d o p t i o n w o r k s w h e n a child really needs t o b e a d o p t e d b e cause it truly has no o n e else. It's dangerous to forget that every child has
m o r e than j u s t a father and m o t h e r . R i t a , for e x a m p l e , is acting as
t h o u g h the child she adopted o n l y had a m o t h e r . In fact, the c h i l d also
has a father, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, and we c o u l d see that the
c h i l d is still c o n n e c t e d to those p e o p l e in s o m e mysterious systemic way.
W h e n t h e r e is really no o n e else, t h e n a stranger m a y stand in for b l o o d
relatives, b u t e v e n then m a n y adopted children still u n c o n s c i o u s l y feel
c o n n e c t e d t o their natural parents and their families. W h e n that's t h e
case, it's b e t t e r if the child is taken i n t o foster care and n o t actually
adopted.
A d o p t i o n usually goes m u c h t o o far. T h e child d o e s n ' t n e e d it. W h a t
does a child really gain t h r o u g h adoption, c o m p a r e d w i t h b e i n g t a k e n
i n t o foster care? T h e latter i s m u c h m o r e modest, and w h e n difficulties
arise, t h e y can b e resolved b y m o r e m o d e s t m e a n s .

Objections
HELLINGER: W h e n the child grows up, she will a v e n g e h e r s e l f o n h e r
adoptive parents for taking h e r away from h e r parents and family, and
rightly so.
PARTICIPANT (angrily): I can't stand listening to y o u r prophesies. T h e y are
o n l y y o u r personal o p i n i o n , and t h e y ' r e very dangerous.
HELLINGER: I'll tell y o u a story.
Two people entered a
One of them said,

room

in

which

ture is crooked because you say it is."


it's crooked,

there was a picture hanging crookedly.

"The picture is crooked," and the other one said,


The first person replied:

"The pic-

"If that's why

you can easily put it straight."

287

That's a rather confusing story, but never mind.


THE SAME PARTICIPANT: T h e mother forfeited her right to her child. I
can understand that. But why hasn't the father forfeited his right to her
as well? He didn't stand by her, and he abandoned her mother without
even leaving his name. In my opinion, from a systemic point of view,
the father has also forfeited his right to the child. T h e child had no one.
T h e n R i t a came along and took her.
HELLINGER to the group: She's working with information we don't have.
This wasn't the information Rita gave us, so I don't want to get into a
discussion about it. What she is saying about the father is purely hypothetical; she's made up a story about him. R i t a said that the child's mother had not divulged the father's name. That's all we really know, and
that's a completely different thing than his abandoning her without even
leaving his name. I could, of course, pretend that I didn't see the representatives' reactions. T h e n I would be cheating Rita's genuine desire to
understand the hidden dynamics she already feels operating in her family,
and I would be treating her as if I believed she was more interested in
keeping things pleasant than in understanding what's really going on. If
that's what someone wants, it's not hard to do. If I want to cheat someone, I go along with their objections.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: But even if the system is not in order, surely it
doesn't have to stay like that for ever. What are the possibilities of reestablishing order in the system?
HELLINGER: W e ' v e already seen how the child's representative felt good
when her connection and belonging to her father's family was allowed
to come to light. That's the way.
THE SAME PARTICIPANT: There must be other possibilities.
HELLINGER: N o . Y o u cannot manipulate the system.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: I didn't understand what you said about cheating
someone. If you go along with their objections . . . ?
HELLINGER: If I give in to someone who makes these sorts of objections,
I am cheating the person. J u s t like the valiant little tailor in the fairy tale
cheated the unicorn by stepping aside when it charged him.
PARTICIPANT: Do you think it's possible that the child will try to find her
father when she is old enough?
HELLINGER: She may, but it will be difficult if her adoptive parents are against it.
PARTICIPANT: Even when she is 15 or 20?
HELLINGER: Yes. That's putting the child in a conflict that should be dealt
with by the adults.

288

P A R T I C I P A N T : YOU m e a n that it is the duty o f the adoptive parents to find


the father?
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s . N o t only to find him, but to take the child to h i m and
his family.
P A R T I C I P A N T : W h a t i f the child doesn't want to go?
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s what the w h o l e constellation was about. A t the b e g i n ning, R i t a didn't even consider the father and his family, hadn't e v e n
t h o u g h t about them. If the child doesn't want to m e e t h e r natural father
and his family, it'll be hard to k n o w if that's her true wish or h e r u n c o n scious a c c o m m o d a t i o n to her adoptive m o t h e r ' s wishes. It all has to do
w i t h helping the child distinguish b e t w e e n h e r o w n truth and the needs
of the adults around her. It's the adults' responsibility to a c k n o w l e d g e
their position in the w h o l e system, and what we do k n o w is that the
father has b e e n ignored, that people want h i m out o f the way. W e ' v e
seen that.

A c h i l d ' s r i g h t t o his o r h e r p a r e n t s
A T H I R D P A R T I C I P A N T : S o it makes n o difference w h a t the m o t h e r ' s
reasons w e r e for n o t divulging the father's n a m e ?
H E L L I N G E R : It makes n o difference to the child's n e e d to k n o w h e r father.
If there are such things as basic h u m a n rights, then o n e of t h e m is
certainly a child's right to his or her parents, family, and e x t e n d e d family.
W h a t sort of law is it that allows people to act as if a child w e r e n o t
c o n n e c t e d to his or her biological parents, to k e e p the child away from
t h e m , and to put themselves in their place? W h a t k i n d of l a w allows a
m o t h e r in distress to offer h e r child up for adoption as if the father w e r e
extraneous and irrelevant? It's n o t h i n g short of perverse, but m a n y people
regard it as normal. A child is c o n n e c t e d to his or her family and e x tended family and has a right to t h e m , just as he or she has a right to
b o t h parents.

T h e focus is on the v i c t i m , the child,


and not on the perpetrators
P A R T I C I P A N T : T h e way I see it, R i t a ' s constellation was the first step in
h e r w o r k , and whatever results from it is the n e x t step. T h e information
we r e c e i v e d was that the m o t h e r did not want to divulge the father's

289

n a m e , and I t h i n k t h e r e must be s o m e t h i n g b e h i n d that. S i n c e then,


things have developed, and w h o k n o w s w i t h w h a t t h e child will b e faced
i f and w h e n she f i n d s h e r father?
HELLINGER: Again, y o u ' r e trying t o s o o t h e R i t a a t t h e cost o f t h e child.
T h e danger w i t h such deliberations is that we spare the adults and b u r d e n
t h e w e a k e s t person, the child. W h a t ' s w r o n g w i t h leaving t h e b u r d e n
w i t h t h e persons w h o are really responsible, the adults?
W h e n y o u try t o find excuses for the m o t h e r , y o u c h e a t h e r o u t o f
t h e c o n f r o n t a t i o n w i t h the full seriousness o f h e r actions. I f w e b e h a v e
a s i f h e r actions w e r e free o f c o n s e q u e n c e s , t h e n w e cut o f f t h e possibility
o f finding any real solution. W h e n she confronts t h e full force o f h e r r e sponsibility, she can see w h a t has to be d o n e , and t h e n it's possible that
she will d o s o m e t h i n g about it. W h e n y o u ' r e really serious a b o u t s o m e thing, y o u can leave the b u r d e n o f the responsibility w i t h t h e p e o p l e
w h o have the strength to b e a r it instead of b u r d e n i n g t h e child, as m a n y
therapists and a d o p t i o n authorities do.
R e m e m b e r , R i t a set u p the constellation w i t h e v e r y o n e l o o k i n g a t the
child's father. I didn't do that, I o n l y l o o k e d for the solution. If y o u n o w
say that t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s c o u l d have b e e n different, y o u detract from the
seriousness and p o w e r o f w h a t y o u saw and y o u p r e s u m e t o k n o w b e t t e r
than R i t a what's g o i n g o n .
It's o n l y w h e n y o u take seriously w h a t t h e constellation s h o w e d that
t h e necessary steps for the appropriate solution e m e r g e . T h a t ' s w h y I ' m not
shy a b o u t c o n f r o n t i n g p e o p l e w i t h t h e m o s t serious c o n s e q u e n c e s o f their
actions w h e n w o r k i n g w i t h their constellations, b e c a u s e I trust that real
solutions can o n l y e m e r g e o u t o f l o o k i n g a t t h e truth o f w h a t ' s g o i n g o n .
T h e constellation s h o w e d R i t a t h e destructive forces a t w o r k i n her
present system, and that enables h e r to r e c o g n i z e t h e seriousness of her
situation. Y o u w o n ' t b e i n a p o s i t i o n t o help h e r later o n unless y o u ' r e
willing to see clearly the destructive forces at w o r k in h e r system. It's the
a c k n o w l e d g e d gravity o f the situation that gives h e r t h e strength t o d o
s o m e t h i n g about it.
F r o m t h e v e r y b e g i n n i n g , m y a t t e n t i o n was focused o n t h e child, and
t h e w a y R i t a set the constellation up, e v e r y o n e in it was l o o k i n g at the
child's father. I ' m i n tune w i t h t h e m , for t h e y are t h e ones w h o b e a r the
burden. T h e y ' r e the victims, and w e can f i n d the solution only w h e n w e
k e e p t h e m b o t h i n view. I f w e are only c o n c e r n e d w i t h the feelings o f the
m o t h e r and t h e adoptive parents, w e d o n ' t n o t i c e that t h e father has b e e n
e x c l u d e d and that the child has a c o n n e c t i o n to h i m that is b e i n g i g n o r e d
b y t h e system. T h e n w e implicitly w o u l d b e j o i n i n g w i t h t h e perpetrators

290

against t h e victims, and all w e w o u l d b e d o i n g w o u l d b e justifying t h e


p r o b l e m s and e x c u s i n g the perpetrators instead o f helping the v i c t i m s .

T h e n e x t step
R l T A : W h e n the c h i l d c a m e to us, I w a n t e d to do s o m e t h i n g special (she
weeps). I t o o k a flowering plant to a c h u r c h , and I prayed t h e r e for the
child's m o t h e r . I n e v e r felt that t h e r e was anything w r o n g b e t w e e n us.
I n e v e r t h o u g h t a b o u t the father. B u t I k n e w that I had to do s o m e t h i n g .
HELLINGER: O n e o f the m a i n p r o b l e m s i n psychotherapy i s that w o m e n
often b e h a v e as if husbands and fathers w e r e irrelevant. T h e y ' r e n o t e v e n
t a k e n i n t o consideration, as if a w o m a n c o u l d claim sole responsibility for
a child. E v e n m a l e therapists hardly ever c o n s i d e r the rights of t h e m e n .
T h e y rely o n w h a t w o m e n say w h e n they c o n d e m n m e n and take t h e
w o m a n ' s part. T h a t makes it impossible to find a g o o d solution. T h e r a pists can o n l y b e strong w h e n they give those w h o have b e e n e x c l u d e d
a place in their hearts. I have the strength that enables me to find t h e
solution b e c a u s e the child's father has a place in my heart. He had it at
t h e very b e g i n n i n g . T h a t ' s w h y I k n o w the solution.
to Rita: Y o u can still m a k e things right. A g r e e d ?
Rita

nods.

HELLINGER: Y o u ' r e already starting t o l o o k m o r e cheerful.


R l T A : It's getting easier.
PARTICIPANT: I n o n e way, I ' m very impressed b y w h a t y o u say. I ' m
m o v e d b y the w i s d o m o f y o u r words, and t h e y fulfill a l o n g i n g i n m e .
I t h i n k m a n y of us feel the same, that here at last is s o m e o n e w h o tells
us w h a t ' s what, s o m e o n e w h o sees what's really g o i n g on and w h a t ' s i l l u sion. At the same t i m e , I ' m uneasy b e c a u s e I feel y o u get dangerously
close t o dogmatism. Y o u s o m e t i m e s m a k e s o m e very s w e e p i n g g e n e r a l i zations, and it's the m i x t u r e o f y o u r truths and y o u r d o g m a t i c generalizations that I feel can be destructive. F o r e x a m p l e , a c c o r d i n g to the p r o p h esy y o u m a d e a little w h i l e ago, everything in R i t a ' s family is confused
and b a d and h e r husband will leave. N o w y o u ' v e taken that b a c k to a
certain e x t e n t and given R i t a the c h a n c e o f f i n d i n g a solution.
HELLINGER: B y trusting R i t a ' s sincere interest t o c o m e t o terms w i t h
w h a t ' s really g o i n g o n , and b y b e i n g willing bluntly t o n a m e the destructive dynamics the constellation b r o u g h t to light, I gave h e r a c h a n c e to
c h a n g e . S h e grasped the c h a n c e b y o p e n i n g h e r s e l f t o the dynamics and
so we c o u l d take the n e x t step t o g e t h e r .

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PARTICIPANT: Y e s . I only w a n t e d to say that I was confused.


HELLINGER: Y o u c a n ' t take the s e c o n d step until y o u ' v e t a k e n t h e first.
O f t e n , t h e s h o c k of the c o n f r o n t a t i o n is helpful, and it o p e n s t h e w a y for
w h a t e v e r needs t o b e d o n e later.
I f y o u wish, I'll tell y o u h o w t o handle the c o n f u s i o n and t h e uneasiness. W h e n y o u feel like this, and are also aware o f y o u r resistance t o
y o u r feelings, l o o k a t w h a t i s actually h a p p e n i n g instead o f staying p r e o c c u p i e d w i t h y o u r thoughts. L o o k a t the issue and allow y o u r s e l f t o n o t i c e
w h a t i s right a b o u t i t and w h a t isn't. W h e n y o u ' v e d o n e this and y o u
still see things differently from t h e way I do and y o u tell me a b o u t it, I
take this as a valuable c o r r e c t i o n . I think: A h a , this is an aspect that I
h a v e n ' t seen. T h e n w e can talk a b o u t it. Y o u ' v e already seen h e r e that
w h e n s o m e o n e talks earnestly a b o u t s o m e t h i n g h e o r she has e x p e r i e n c e d , I take w h a t is said v e r y seriously. N o w R i t a has added s o m e t h i n g
i m p o r t a n t to t h e issue, s o m e t h i n g that she actually e x p e r i e n c e d . B u t so
far y o u r o b j e c t i o n s are h y p o t h e t i c a l , and it's impossible for us to e n t e r
i n t o dialogue i f w e confuse h y p o t h e t i c a l possibilities and actual e x p e r i e n c e . H a d y o u b e e n w a t c h i n g R i t a t h e entire t i m e , y o u w o u l d h a v e seen
w h a t forces w e r e at w o r k and w h a t was changing.
W h e n y o u have a justified o b j e c t i o n , it's i m p o r t a n t that y o u l o o k a t
t h e p e r s o n w h o m i t c o n c e r n s . T h e n , f a c e - t o - f a c e w i t h this person, y o u
m u s t ask y o u r s e l f w h a t effect y o u r o b j e c t i o n w o u l d have i f y o u w e r e t o
express it. W o u l d i t m a k e t h e person stronger o r w e a k e r , w o u l d i t n o u r ish or h a r m t h e p e r s o n ? T h i s gives y o u an i m m e d i a t e yardstick, and y o u
k n o w w h e t h e r t h e i n t e r v e n t i o n w o u l d b e helpful o r destructive. O k a y ?
PARTICIPANT: Y e s .

T h e solution t h r o u g h dissolution
PARTICIPANT: T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g w o r k i n g i n m e . D u r i n g t h e constellation,
I was l o o k i n g at the representative of the child's m o t h e r and h o w she kept
smiling to herself, especially at the idea of g o i n g further away and leaving.
W h a t c o n c e r n s m e i s t h e b o n d w i t h t h e e x t e n d e d family that y o u
talked a b o u t , and t h e fact that an adopted child b e l o n g s to t h e child's
family regardless o f t h e legal situation. U p until n o w , I ' v e always regarded it as a great and n o b l e thing w h e n a c o u p l e adopts a child. I t h o u g h t
of it as a h u m a n e act, and it was o n l y w h e n I started trying to find my
father w h o has lived far away ever since my parents' d i v o r c e that I realized h o w i m p o r t a n t i t i s t o m e that I f i n d h i m , e v e n t h o u g h m y m o t h e r

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speaks v e r y disparagingly a b o u t h i m . I can well i m a g i n e that s o m e t h i n g


l i k e that m u s t be a r e l i e f to a child. B u t I ' m n o t y e t clear a b o u t all this,
b e c a u s e I d o n ' t b e l i e v e that it's t h e final solution for R i t a ' s daughter to
live w i t h h e r father.
HELLINGER: I d o n ' t quite understand w h a t y o u m e a n .
PARTICIPANT: I ' m n o t quite clear w h a t y o u m e a n b y a solution. T h i s s o l u t i o n , R i t a ' s solution, c a n n o t be a final solution.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s exactly w h a t it is, a final solution.
PARTICIPANT: W h a t ?
HELLINGER: T h e solution is final.
PARTICIPANT: R e a l l y ?
HELLINGER: T h e w o r d " s o l u t i o n " has a d o u b l e m e a n i n g . It is a solution
t h r o u g h dissolution.
PARTICIPANT: I n t h e sense o f dissolving?
HELLINGER: I m e a n t exactly w h a t I said. It was n o t a play on w o r d s or a
paradoxical intervention.

Shock and dread


R A Y M O N D : I feel c a l m e r n o w . A little w h i l e ago, I was feeling awful. I felt
as if all sorts of things w e r e stuck t o g e t h e r in my s t o m a c h , and I still feel
t h e s h o c k I e x p e r i e n c e d w h e n y o u said t o R i t a : " Y o u are past r e d e m p t i o n . " I t h o u g h t it was terribly apodictic, and it s o u n d e d to me as if y o u
w e r e saying: " N o w y o u can g o . I d o n ' t w a n t any m o r e t o d o w i t h y o u . "
B u t that was resolved during the course o f t h e r o u n d .
HELLINGER: S h o c k can o n l y o v e r w h e l m y o u i f y o u l o o k away. I f y o u had
k e p t on l o o k i n g at R i t a , y o u w o u l d have e x p e r i e n c e d it differently. A l o t
of p e o p l e close their eyes as s o o n as t h e y hear anything that seems to be
s h o c k i n g and start m a k i n g their o w n i n n e r pictures. A n d these pictures
really are s h o c k i n g .
R A Y M O N D : I m a d e a n o t h e r s h o c k i n g picture. I i m a g i n e d . . .
HELLINGER: D i d y o u n o t i c e h o w y o u l o o k e d away j u s t t h e n ?
R A Y M O N D : Y e s , that's true.
HELLINGER: T r y and see i f y o u can say w h a t y o u w a n t e d t o w h e n y o u are
l o o k i n g straight a t m e . T h a t ' s very hard. Y o u see? Y o u can o n l y h a v e
s u c h " b i g " ideas w i t h y o u r eyes closed. It's easy t o see w h e t h e r o r n o t
y o u are i n c o n t a c t . Staying i n c o n t a c t and l i m i t i n g y o u r s e l f t o y o u r i m m e d i a t e p e r c e p t i o n is v e r y difficult. It m e a n s y o u have to g i v e up a lot
o f f r e e d o m i n favor o f s o m e t h i n g s h o c k i n g .

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R A Y M O N D : Y O U are so t e r r i b l y strong.
H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , I a m . A n d d o y o u k n o w w h y ? It's b e c a u s e I ' m i n
h a r m o n y w i t h t h e w o r l d as it is, e v e n w i t h t h e terrifying things in it that
w e dread a n d fear. I n m y life, I ' v e e n c o u n t e r e d really t e r r i b l e things a s
w e l l a s beautiful things, a n d I ' v e lost m y fear o f t h e w o r l d a s i t is. T h a t ' s
w h y I c a n say things l i k e that, b e c a u s e I ' m i n h a r m o n y w i t h e v e r y t h i n g .
A l l greatness takes its s t r e n g t h f r o m the t h i n g s w e dread, a n d t h o s e w h o
l o o k away from them end up in cloud-cuckoo-land.
R A Y M O N D : I t h o u g h t that i f I l o o k a w a y , I c a n g a t h e r i n n e r s t r e n g t h to
say s o m e t h i n g i m p o r t a n t .
HELLINGER: N o . It makes y o u weak, because y o u lose contact with the
o t h e r p e r s o n . Y o u are o n l y s t r o n g i n c o n n e c t i o n w i t h t h e p e r s o n i n
q u e s t i o n . H o w d o y o u feel n o w ?
R A Y M O N D : I have m o r e energy.
H E L L I N G E R : I'll tell y o u a n o t h e r s e c r e t . S o m e therapists are l i k e a g o o d
m o t h e r , a n d o t h e r s are warriors. T h e therapist w h o ' s a w a r r i o r n e e d s a
w a r r i o r ' s c o u r a g e . T h e w a r r i o r g o e s t o t h e u l t i m a t e limits b e c a u s e d e c i sive a c t i o n c a n o n l y b e t a k e n a t t h e absolute e x t r e m e s . A l t h o u g h t h e
c h a n c e s o f success and failure s e e m t o b e a b o u t 5 0 / 5 0 , t h o s e w h o h a v e
t h e c o u r a g e t o g o t o t h e limits find that t h e y ' r e m u c h s t r o n g e r . R e a l i t y ,
t a k e n seriously, is friendly, a n d it's w o r t h t a k i n g seriously. R e a l i t y takes
its r e v e n g e i f it's n o t t a k e n seriously o r i s trivialized.
T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f o u r a c t i o n s are a v e r y i m p o r t a n t part o f o u r r e ality. T h a t ' s w h y therapists help p e o p l e m o s t b y h e l p i n g t h e m a c c e p t t h e
c o n s e q u e n c e s o f their o w n actions, even w h e n the consequences demand
t h e u t m o s t f r o m t h e m , for g o o d u l t i m a t e l y c o m e s f r o m o u r b e i n g aligned
w i t h reality. A therapist w h o acts a s i f i t w e r e possible t o e s c a p e t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f o n e ' s a c t i o n s lightly feeds illusions, for c o n s e q u e n c e s that are
n o t b o r n e r e s p o n s i b l y h a v e b a d effects, a n d especially o n p e o p l e w h o are
entirely innocent.

Pity and forgetting


P A R T I C I P A N T : I ' v e b e e n t h i n k i n g a l o t a b o u t that, partly b e c a u s e I h a v e r e alized h o w t h o u g h t l e s s l y t h e issue o f a d o p t i n g c h i l d r e n i s h a n d l e d . T h a t
was o n e t h i n g . T h e o t h e r i s that I felt i n v o l v e d i n R i t a ' s r e a c t i o n s , and
I c a n ' t i m a g i n e that t h e s o l u t i o n is for h e r to g i v e up t h e c h i l d .
H E L L I N G E R : I'll tell y o u a story a b o u t pity.
T h e r e was o n c e a m a n called H i o b w h o lost e v e r y t h i n g h e h a d and
was c o v e r e d w i t h b o i l s f r o m h e a d t o f o o t . I n despair, h e sat d o w n o n a

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heap o f ashes. W h e n his friends heard about his plight, they c a m e t o c o m fort h i m . D o y o u k n o w w h a t t h e y did? T h e y sat d o w n o n t h e g r o u n d
a little w a y away from h i m , and n o n e of t h e m said a w o r d for seven
days. T h e y w e r e friends w i t h true p o w e r .
A therapist m i g h t have g o n e to h i m and said: " D o n ' t w o r r y , it's n o t
a s b a d a s i t seems, it'll s o o n b e b e t t e r , " o r s o m e t h i n g o f t h e k i n d . T h a t
w o u l d n o t have b e e n appropriate t o the e n o r m i t y o f his pain. A t t e m p t s
t o m a k e light o f i t are n e v e r appropriate t o t h e e n o r m i t y o f t h e pain.
A n d I'll tell y o u s o m e t h i n g else i m p o r t a n t . E v e r y o n e has the strength t o
face his o r h e r p r o b l e m s and solutions. O n l y t h e p e r s o n h i m s e l f o r h e r self, and no o n e else. All y o u r c o n c e r n about Rata o n l y makes h e r w e a k e r .
I'll give y o u a n e x a m p l e o f h o w t o deal w i t h issues like this. I ' v e already f o r g o t t e n a b o u t R i t a and h e r situation. I o n l y t h i n k a b o u t h e r
w h e n I ' m w o r k i n g w i t h h e r directly, n o t o t h e r w i s e .
A w o m a n w h o t o o k part i n o n e group was very suicidal, and o n t h e
s e c o n d day she s t o r m e d o u t o f t h e w o r k s h o p . Several p e o p l e w e r e w o r ried that she m i g h t kill herself. I forgot a b o u t her. I simply didn't t h i n k
any m o r e a b o u t her.
O n the last day o f t h e w o r k s h o p , s o m e o f the participants said that
t h e y had seen h e r g o i n g i n t o the w o o d s w i t h a b l a n k e t . S o m e o f t h e m
t h o u g h t that she was g o i n g to kill herself. B u t I forgot a b o u t her. In fact,
I didn't miss h e r i n the w o r k s h o p . T e n m i n u t e s b e f o r e t h e e n d she c a m e
i n and did e v e r y t h i n g that n e e d e d t o b e d o n e . S h e had the strength t o
do it b e c a u s e I had forgotten about her.
A n y w o r r y i n g I m i g h t have d o n e about h e r w o u l d have r o b b e d h e r
o f h e r strength. B u t I was i n h a r m o n y w i t h her. T o forget a b o u t h e r
s h o w e d t h e greatest possible respect for her. By forgetting her, I was e n trusting h e r to h e r soul. T h e r e ' s n o t h i n g b e t t e r than that, b u t it d e m a n d s
a l o t o f strength. It's m u c h easier t o w o r r y a b o u t p e o p l e . S o m e t i m e s p e o ple get quite inflated w i t h w o r r y , b u t that's w i t h n o t h i n g b u t air.

Seeing and hearing


A N O T H E R PARTICIPANT: I was t o r n b e t w e e n h o r r o r and a m a z e m e n t , a n d
I c o u l d n ' t m a k e any sense of it. I t h i n k it is a bit clearer n o w : t h e h o r r o r
has to do w i t h the actual words that I heard, and t h e a m a z e m e n t has to
do w i t h w h a t I saw. A n d I realize n o w that I have m o r e trust in w h a t I
see than in w h a t I hear.
HELLINGER: T h e right words further the process.

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Identical guilt has identical c o n s e q u e n c e s


P A R T I C I P A N T : Y o u said that w h e n a w o m a n gives h e r c h i l d r e n a w a y , she
loses h e r rights as a m o t h e r . I u n d e r s t a n d that. B u t w h a t h a p p e n s w h e n
a m a n gives his c h i l d r e n a w a y ? Is t h e r e a n y d i f f e r e n c e ?
H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e ' s n o d i f f e r e n c e for a m a n .

Objections i m p e d e the solution


P A R T I C I P A N T : I h a v e t h e i m a g e i n m y m i n d that R i t a ' s s o l u t i o n i s still
o p e n a n d that h e r c o n s t e l l a t i o n o n l y s h o w e d t h e n e x t step. I s n ' t i t p o s s i b l e that t h e father was j u s t a s guilty o f offering t h e c h i l d u p for a d o p t i o n
as t h e m o t h e r was?
H E L L I N G E R : O c c u p y i n g m y s e l f w i t h h y p o t h e t i c a l possibilities m a k e s m e
t o o w e a k t o act decisively. I d o n ' t d o that. W h e n I t o l d R i t a that she
w a s past r e d e m p t i o n , i t was a b s o l u t e l y clear t o m e that i t was t r u e i n that
m o m e n t . I w a s n ' t c r i t i c i z i n g h e r , I was j u s t b e i n g c o m p l e t e l y o p e n t o w a r d h e r a n d t o w a r d myself. I f m a t t e r s t h e n started t a k i n g a different
c o u r s e , i t i s b e c a u s e w e b o t h t o o k t h e real issue v e r y seriously. I f t h e
o u t c o m e h a d b e e n different, that t o o w o u l d h a v e b e e n all r i g h t w i t h m e .
T h a t ' s the difference b e t w e e n y o u r p r o c e d u r e and m i n e . R e f u s i n g to get
i n v o l v e d w i t h this h y p o t h e t i c a l sort o f t h i n k i n g i s a spiritual discipline.
It's l i k e t a k i n g a step i n t o t h e dark a n d trusting reality.
P A R T I C I P A N T : B u t this i m a g e still c a m e t o m e , and I w a n t e d t o tell y o u
a b o u t it.
H E L L I N G E R : T h e fact that a n i m a g e c a m e t o y o u d o e s n ' t m a k e i t right.
S o m e p e o p l e t h i n k that w h e n t h e y h a v e a n i m a g e , o r i f t h e y feel s o m e t h i n g , i t m u s t b e right, b u t that's absurd. T h e r e are i m a g e s that c o m e t o
y o u f r o m l o o k i n g i n t o t h e darkness f r o m y o u r c e n t e r , w i t h o u t a n y a i m ,
w i t h o u t a n y p r e f e r e n c e , a n d w i t h o u t any fear. T h e s e i m a g e s h a v e a diff e r e n t quality t h a n t h o s e y o u d r e a m u p o r that s i m p l y c o m e t o y o u .
W h e n a n i m a g e that e m e r g e s f r o m y o u r c e n t e r appears and i s passed o n ,
i t strikes h o m e .

Insight and action


R l T A : I h a v e l e a r n e d a l o t a b o u t s o m e issues that h a v e t r o u b l e d m e for
q u i t e a t i m e , a n d I w o u l d l i k e t o talk a b o u t this. I ' m n o w i n individual
t h e r a p y .. .
HELLINGER: I want to interrupt y o u before y o u c o n t i n u e .

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T a k e a m o m e n t and sense h o w m u c h stronger y o u ' v e b e c o m e . C a n y o u


feel it? H o w c e n t e r e d y o u are?
to the group: S h e ' s n o t w e e p i n g n o w , that's past. Y o u see, h e r strength
c o m e s f r o m the positive effects o f the earlier i n t e r v e n t i o n .
RlTA

laughs.

O k a y , g o on!
R l T A : W e l l , I k n o w from m y therapy that the t h e m e o f separation i s a
p r o b l e m for m e , and I interpret w h a t y o u have told me as b e i n g s y m b o l i c . T h e m o m e n t I turn away from the child and t o w a r d m y husband,
I give t h e child the c h a n c e to b e c o m e free of m e . I b e l i e v e that is o u r
conflict, and it weighs very heavily on m e . I can describe the solution by
the w o r d " c o - a u t h e n t i c . "
HELLINGER: F o r g e t a b o u t the w o r d . I t actually robs y o u o f strength. W h a t
y o u described was perfectly clear.
R l T A : I t h i n k the solution is to allow the child to be free. If I can do this
HELLINGER: N o , n o , it's n o t i n y o u r p o w e r t o a l l o w the child t o b e free.
T h e c h i l d b e l o n g s t o h e r parents, and she's free w h e r e she b e l o n g s . S h e
must b e taken t o w h e r e she belongs. Y o u must help h e r and see that she
goes to h e r father and his family. T h a t ' s w h e r e she can g r o w . As s o o n as
y o u do this, the child will turn to y o u in gratitude. T h a t ' s t h e o t h e r asp e c t . S h e will feel gratitude, b e c a u s e y o u respect her.
R l T A : I still have difficulty w i t h the idea of putting it i n t o practice. I really
d o n ' t k n o w h o w i t can b e d o n e .
HELLINGER: Y o u ' r e absolutely right, it's m u c h t o o s o o n t o start t h i n k i n g
a b o u t a c t i o n . Y o u n o w have a n i m a g e , and the i m a g e will w o r k for y o u .
Y o u must n o t act i m m e d i a t e l y . Y o u must wait until the i n n e r i m a g e
gives y o u strength. Suddenly, w h e n the t i m e is ripe, it will all h a p p e n
quite q u i c k l y and easily. Insight and a c t i o n must often be k e p t separate.
S o m e o n e w h o acts i m m e d i a t e l y after having an insight often does the
o p p o s i t e of w h a t is required. As a rule, y o u have to wait after having an
insight, h o w e v e r right it m a y b e . T h i s is a case in p o i n t . Y o u must h o l d
o n t o the i m a g e , b e pregnant w i t h the i m a g e , until its strength c o m e s t o
light and enables y o u to act. O k a y ?
R l T A : I ' m still n o t c o m f o r t a b l e w i t h w h a t y o u said a b o u t the d e c i s i o n t o
adopt this child b e i n g irresponsible. I ' m sorry, b u t I c a n ' t agree w i t h this.
I ' v e b e e n i n v o l v e d w i t h these questions for years, and I ' v e always l o o k e d
for the right way. I h a v e n ' t m a d e it easy for m y s e l f at all.
HELLINGER: T a k e my words as an o b j e c t i v e description. F r o m a s u b j e c t i v e
p o i n t o f v i e w , y o u carefully considered y o u r decision, b u t y o u still o v e r -

297

l o o k e d t h e c h i l d ' s father and h e r c o n n e c t i o n t o h i m . O f c o u r s e , y o u


d i d n ' t k n o w a n y b e t t e r a t t h e t i m e , and y o u d o n ' t h a v e t o r e g r e t that
n o w . T h a t was a n i m p o r t a n t o v e r s i g h t that has c o n s e q u e n c e s for e v e r y o n e . E v e n i f y o u m a d e a m i s t a k e i n fact,

because

it was a m i s t a k e

i t e n g e n d e r s a strength that was n o t t h e r e b e f o r e . T h e d e t o u r was n o t


really a d e t o u r . It was a path on w h i c h y o u g a t h e r e d e x p e r i e n c e that will
stand y o u i n g o o d stead. S o i t was n o t w a s t e d , n o t e v e n for t h e child.
O u r m i s t a k e s are often o u r greatest t e a c h e r s . C a n y o u a c c e p t this?
R l T A : Y e s , b u t I still c a n ' t f i n d t h e sense i n it. B u t that w i l l c o m e .
HELLINGER: I n o n e o f C a r l o s C a s t a n e d a ' s b o o k s a b o u t t h e s h a m a n D o n
J u a n , t h e r e ' s a w o n d e r f u l passage a b o u t t h e e n e m i e s o f k n o w l e d g e . T h e
f i r s t e n e m y o f k n o w l e d g e i s fear. H e w h o o v e r c o m e s fear gains clarity,
a n d clarity i s his n e x t e n e m y . H e w h o o v e r c o m e s clarity gains p o w e r ,
a n d p o w e r b e c o m e s his n e x t e n e m y . H e w h o also o v e r c o m e s p o w e r has
a l m o s t r e a c h e d his goal, and t h e n c o m e s t h e w o r s t e n e m y , a n d that i s t h e
n e e d for p e a c e . T h i s e n e m y c a n n e v e r b e c o m p l e t e l y o v e r c o m e . B u t a t
t h e e n d , t h e r e ' s a small g l i m p s e o f k n o w l e d g e , and this m o m e n t was
w o r t h everything. O k a y ?
RlTA: Yes.

Inherited children
ALBERT: I h a v e t h r e e c h i l d r e n o f m y o w n , I ' v e b e e n m a r r i e d for t h e past
20 years, a n d n o w I h a v e i n h e r i t e d four c h i l d r e n f r o m a family in w h i c h
t h e m o t h e r a n d father died. I ' m w o n d e r i n g w h a t t o d o a b o u t it.
HELLINGER: S o m e t h i n g d o e s n ' t s o u n d right a b o u t t h e situation. T h e i r relatives are r e s p o n s i b l e for t h e m . I t w o u l d b e w r o n g for y o u t o a c c e p t r e sponsibility for t h e s e c h i l d r e n i f t h e r e i s family available t o d o it. Y o u r
i n t e r v e n i n g w o u l d b e g o o d i f t h e r e w e r e n o o n e else, b u t i f t h e r e is.
y o u ' r e t a k i n g o n a responsibility inappropriately. W e c a n ' t i n h e r i t c h i l d r e n a s i f t h e y w e r e things. It's a n i m p o s s i b l e idea! D i d y o u a t least i n h e r i t s o m e m o n e y f r o m t h e parents?
ALBERT: NO.
HELLINGER: J u s t t h e c h i l d r e n ? T h e y m u s t h a v e t h o u g h t y o u w e r e a c o m plete fool.
ALBERT: T h a t ' s q u i t e possible.
HELLINGER: T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g strange g o i n g o n that w e d o n ' t y e t see.
Y o u m u s t n o t a c c e p t t h e m . Y o u o w e that t o y o u r dignity.
ALBERT: T h e r e are s o m e o t h e r issues i n v o l v e d a s w e l l . B e f o r e t h e relatives

298

k n e w that t h e will existed, t h e y divided u p t h e c h i l d r e n a m o n g t h e m selves, and t h e r e was s o m e t h i n g a b o u t this that w o r r i e d m e .


HELLINGER: L e t t h e m handle the situation i n their o w n w a y . Y o u n e e d t o
p r o t e c t y o u r soul f r o m any attempts to stick y o u w i t h unfinished business
from t h e o t h e r family. Y o u m u s t n ' t e v e n k n o w a b o u t it.

A FATHER AGREED TO THE ADOPTION OF


HIS I L L E G I T I M A T E D A U G H T E R B Y
H E R MOTHER'S SECOND HUSBAND
R A Y M O N D : I ' m a psychologist, married, w i t h t w o children. I h a v e an i l l e g i t i m a t e daughter from a f o r m e r relationship w h o ' s living on a n o t h e r
continent.
HELLINGER: S h e ' s g o n e a l o n g w a y away. H o w o l d is she?
R A Y M O N D : S h e i s 1 6 . H e r m o t h e r e m i g r a t e d w i t h a boyfriend.
HELLINGER: W h a t sort o f a relationship have y o u w i t h y o u r daughter?
R A Y M O N D : S h e c a m e b a c k t o G e r m a n y six years ago for t w o years, and
t h e n w e had a g o o d relationship. O u r relationship i s n o w appropriate t o
h e r age. I r e c e i v e a t h a n k - y o u letter for my C h r i s t m a s present and a l e t ter o n m y birthday. N o w and t h e n w e send e a c h o t h e r videos. I w o u l d
l i k e to set up my family constellation.
HELLINGER: O k a y , do.
R A Y M O N D : I'll start w i t h m y ex-girlfriend.
HELLINGER: W h a t ? W h o are y o u g o i n g t o start w i t h ?
R A Y M O N D : W i t h m y ex-girlfriend.
HELLINGER: Y o u must start w i t h y o u r first wife.
R A Y M O N D : W e w e r e n o t married.
HELLINGER: Y o u must start w i t h y o u r first wife.
R A Y M O N D : O k a y , I understand.
HELLINGER: I ' m defending t h e person w h o was deprecated. W h o else b e longs to t h e constellation?
R A Y M O N D : M y daughter w i t h m y first partner. T h e n m y s e c o n d partner,
my wife, w i t h w h o m I have t w o children, a daughter and a son.
HELLINGER: W a s a n y o n e previously married or i n v o l v e d in a close r e l a tionship?
R A Y M O N D : My first partner was. I was t h e reason for their separation.
HELLINGER: W e r e there any children from this marriage?
R A Y M O N D : N o . T h a t was o n e reason that t h e marriage b r o k e up. T h e
h u s b a n d c o u l d n o t have children.

299

H E L L I N G E R : T h a t i s i m p o r t a n t i n f o r m a t i o n b e c a u s e that m e a n s t h e b o n d
b e t w e e n t h e m was l i m i t e d . T h e legal aspect plays o n l y a small part.
R A Y M O N D : M y p r e s e n t w i f e was i n a c l o s e r e l a t i o n s h i p for t w o years b e fore we met. It ended in considerable chaos.
H E L L I N G E R : It's easier w h e n t h e s e c o n d p a r t n e r was also m a r r i e d p r e v i o u s l y t h a n i t w o u l d b e i f a used p a r t n e r w e r e t o t a k e a n u n u s e d o n e .
R A Y M O N D : M y first p a r t n e r has a n e w h u s b a n d .
HELLINGER: H a v e they any children?
R A Y M O N D : N o , b u t t h e h u s b a n d has a d o p t e d m y d a u g h t e r . D o e s that play
a part?
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t plays a part. S h e ' l l l i k e l y take h e r r e v e n g e o n h i m for
that. T h a t ' s s o m e t h i n g o n e s h o u l d n ' t d o . A n d y o u d i d n ' t p r o t e s t ?
R A Y M O N D : N o , I agreed to the adoption.
H E L L I N G E R : Y o u agreed? F o r h e a v e n s ' sake! Y o u r d a u g h t e r m u s t b e furious w i t h y o u . Y o u c a n ' t possibly g i v e h e r a w a y t o a n o t h e r m a n t o act
a s h e r father! T e l l h e r that y o u r e s c i n d y o u r d e c i s i o n a n d that she i s still
y o u r d a u g h t e r , w i t h all t h e rights that are entailed.

Diagram 1
Hb
IP
1
W
2
3
lPHb

300

Husband (= R a y m o n d )
His first partner, not married to Hb
Child with this woman, a daughter
Wife
First child with wife, a daughter
Second child with wife, a son
First partner's husband

H E L L I N G E R to Raymond: D i d y o u dream this m o r n i n g ?


R A Y M O N D : I d r e a m e d that m y son was standing outside the d o o r .
H E L L I N G E R : O f course, y o u ' r e the o n e standing outside the d o o r . T h a t ' s
clear from the constellation.
H o w does the first partner feel?
F I R S T P A R T N E R : I have a b a c k a c h e . T h e r e ' s a strange feeling b e h i n d m e ,
like a feeling of b e i n g pulled, b u t at the same t i m e , I c a n ' t m o v e in this
d i r e c t i o n . V e r y odd.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w is the first daughter feeling?
F I R S T C H I L D : W h e n I was standing alone w i t h m y m o t h e r , I felt g o o d .
N o w I have s t o m a c h pains. T h e r e ' s s o m e t h i n g g o i n g o n inside m e like
a tingling. U n p l e a s a n t , b u t n o t threatening.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t a b o u t the husband?
H U S B A N D : I feel g o o d w i t h m y present family, b u t those t w o o u t t h e r e ,
m y first partner and m y first child, m a k e m e feel u n c o m f o r t a b l e . T h e t w o
o t h e r children s e e m t o b e p r o t e c t i n g m e .
H E L L I N G E R : HOW is the wife feeling?
W I F E : N o t t o o well. S o m e h o w m y husband is n o t a real partner for m e .
It's m o r e like a confrontation.
H E L L I N G E R : It is a confrontation.
W I F E : Y e s , and there's s o m e t h i n g n o t right w i t h the children. I have t h e
feeling that my daughter shouldn't be standing so far to the side b e h i n d
m e . It's b e t t e r w i t h m y son b e c a u s e w e have eye c o n t a c t . B u t I w o u l d
have to turn to see my daughter.
H E L L I N G E R to Raymond's first partner,

whose backache is getting steadily worse:

T u r n a r o u n d until y o u feel better. I c a n ' t leave y o u t h e r e w i t h such a r e action.


Hellinger places

Raymond's

first

partner

next

to

the

woman's

daughter.

301

Diagram 2

HELLINGER: HOW is the s e c o n d daughter feeling?


SECOND CHILD: N o t g o o d . I feel helpless, unprotected, and unsafe.
HELLINGER to Raymond:

S h e has the feelings of y o u r first daughter.

R A Y M O N D : T h e y write t o each o t h e r frequently.


HELLINGER: S h e has her feelings.
HELLINGER: H o w is the son feeling?
T H I R D CHILD: I feel I must support my father. I feel used.
HELLINGER to Raymond: Y o u ' r e b o t h standing outside the d o o r , y o u and
y o u r son.
HELLINGER: N o w w e ' l l m a k e the f i r s t important c h a n g e .
Hellinger places

302

the

older daughter next

to

her father.

Diagram 3

F I R S T CHILD:

I don't like it here. I want to move further away.

HELLINGER:

Try

it

out.

She moves a little further away from her father.


F I R S T CHILD:

I don't like the way she is staring at me. It's threatening.

Hellinger adds the first partner's husband.

Diagram 4

303

HELLINGER: H o w ' s that for the first daughter?


FIRST CHILD: It's m u c h b e t t e r n o w that m y m o t h e r ' s standing n e x t t o m e .
HELLINGER: W h a t has c h a n g e d for the husband?
HUSBAND: I l i k e d it w h e n my first daughter c a m e . B u t t h e n my wife
s e e m e d threatening. I ' m drawn t o w a r d my first daughter, b u t I d o n ' t
w a n t t o leave m y present family. I ' m torn.
HELLINGER: W h a t has c h a n g e d for the s e c o n d daughter?
SECOND CHILD: I feel sort of in b e t w e e n . T h e r e ' s n o t h i n g b e t w e e n me
and my father. I d o n ' t feel any safety or p r o t e c t i o n w i t h h i m . I ' d rather
turn t o w a r d m y older sister. I d o n ' t k n o w w h e r e t o g o . T h e less there
is for me t h e r e (with her father), the m o r e drawn I feel t o w a r d my older
sister.
HELLINGER to Raymond: S h e feels like h e r older sister. S h e feels in b e t w e e n
as well.
Hellinger sets

up

the solution.

Diagram 5
The

two

children

of the

and then move nearer to

marriage first stand facing

their parents,

their mother.

HELLINGER: H o w is the wife feeling n o w ?


W I F E : I didn't like the children standing opposite m e . I feel b e t t e r n o w
that t h e y are by my side.
HELLINGER: H o w does the s e c o n d daughter feel n o w ?
SECOND CHILD: B e t t e r .
THIRD CHILD: It's g o o d for m e , t o o .

304

HELLINGER to Raymond: T h e children d o n ' t trust y o u . T h e y trust their


mother more.
T H I R D CHILD: W h e n the first daughter c a m e , I felt relieved. A feeling of
pressure suddenly disappeared. N o w it's very pleasant.
HELLINGER to the first daughter. N o w try out h o w close y o u w a n t to be to
y o u r father.
She goes closer to her father and then back

to her mother.

F I R S T CHILD: I didn't feel at all safe. I ' d rather stay h e r e w i t h my m o t h e r .


I like b e i n g able to see my siblings. It's funny, b u t w h e n my sister m o v e d
further away, I was sad b e c a u s e she was going, b u t also happy b e c a u s e I
c o u l d see my b r o t h e r . T h a t ' s s o m e t h i n g quite n e w . I d o n ' t feel b a d at all.
I must be able to see t h e m b o t h n e x t to my father. T h a t ' s important to m e .
HELLINGER: H o w ' s the first partner feeling n o w ?
F I R S T P A R T N E R : W o n d e r f u l . It's the first t i m e that I h a v e n ' t had to l o o k
at the o t h e r family. I was staring at his s e c o n d daughter m u c h m o r e than
at m y o w n .
HELLINGER: H o w is h e r husband feeling?
F I R S T P A R T N E R ' S HUSBAND: It seems right h e r e .
HELLINGER to Raymond: Y o u have forfeited y o u r rights c o n c e r n i n g y o u r
daughter by agreeing to h e r adoption. S h e is reacting a c c o r d i n g l y .
RAYMOND: Yes.
HELLINGER: C h i l d r e n from a f o r m e r marriage or a f o r m e r relationship of
o n e o f the partners shouldn't b e adopted b y the c o u p l e . I t usually can b e
v e r y b a d for b o t h the children and the system.
R A Y M O N D : I t h o u g h t it w o u l d be b e t t e r for her.
HELLINGER: T h a t was a rational consideration. Y o u can m a k e things b e t t e r
by telling h e r that y o u are sorry and that she can rely on y o u to be h e r
father w h a t e v e r happens. T e l l h e r that y o u will always be available to
her, and that she has the same rights as y o u r o t h e r children c o n c e r n i n g
i n h e r i t a n c e s and similar issues. T h e n things m a y c a l m d o w n . W o u l d y o u
like to stand in y o u r place?
Raymond goes

to

his place

and

looks

around

him.

R A Y M O N D : Peaceful, it's really peaceful.


HELLINGER: It's peaceful because the system i s i n order. E a c h m e m b e r o f
the family has his or h e r right place. M o v e a little closer to y o u r older
daughter and see w h a t it feels like.

305

HELLINGER to the older daughter.

Do y o u feel r e c o n c i l e d n o w that he's

standing closer to y o u ?
F I R S T CHILD: Oh yes! I can well imagine it (laughs).
HELLINGER to the group: I'll tell y o u a story on the t h e m e of adoption. It
is quite easy to understand.

Heaven
On

and

earth

the edge of a forest,

child,

there lived a woodcutter and his wife.

a 3-year-old daughter,

to give her to eat.

Tliey had one

but they were so poor that they often had nothing

One day,

the

Virgin Mary came to them and said,

are too poor to look after your daughter properly.

Bring her to me.

her to heaven with me and be her mother and look after her."

Tlie hearts of the

woodcutter and his wife were heavy,

but they said:

what the

they fetched the child and gave

Virgin Mary wants?"

Virgin Mary.

So

She took her to heaven with her,

milk

and played with

the

beautiful

the angels.

But

"You

I will take

"Wliat can we do

if that's

her to

the

and there the child drank sweet

in secret she

longed for her parents and

earth.

When the child was

14 years old,

the

Virgin Mary set off again on a jour-

ney, for she too often longed for the earth.


"Take the keys to the

She called the child to her and said:

13 doors of heaven and keep them safe.

12 doors and look at the marvelous things therein,


this little key belongs,

is forbidden to you.

but the

You may open

13th door,

to which

Woe betide you should you open it,

it will bring bad luck!" And the child promised,

"I shall never enter the

13th

chamber!"
When
ing.

the

Virgin Mary left,

the child looked all round the heavenly dwell-

Each day she opened one door,

sat a man,

an apostle,

radiant sight each

until all

12 were open.

surrounded by great glory,

time.

Then

only

the forbidden

Behind each door

and the child delighted in the


door remained locked,

child was assailed by a great desire to see what was behind it.
she

was

quite

alone,

she

thought,

"Now I'm

completely

and the

One day,

alone.

No

when

one will

know if I open the door." She took the little key, put it in the lock and turned
it.
It

The door sprang open,


must have been

the

and the child was drawn

inner sanctum,

the

holy

by a glowing golden light.

of holies.

The

child was

all

aglow with rapture; she entered the room, touched the gold with her finger, and
trembled with

delight.

Suddenly,

took her finger off the gold,


finger was completely golden.
And so

306

she

she remembered the

ran out of the room,


She tried to

waitedfeafully for the

Virgin

wash

Virgin Mary's

orders.

and closed the door.


the gold off,

Mary's

return.

She

But her

but to no

avail.

But the

Virgin Mary was in no hurry.

She liked it on the earth, and when

she returned to heaven, she was full of joy. She called the angels and the girl
and told them
she said.

the good news from

the earth.

They only had to press a button,

Human beings had strange boxes,


and they could see what was hap-

pening all over the world.


One day,

she related,

visit the

mountain gorillas.

to

she saw on one of these boxes a woman who dared


That was very

rillas are eight times stronger than

human

dangerous,

beings.

because mountain go-

But the gorillas allowed her

to come close to them, and one day a young male gorilla came so close that she
was able to stroke his back with her hand.
to

He was very gentle and allowed her

do whatever she liked.


Soon afterward a

native brought her a baby gorilla.

and was

already

She took

the baby gorilla

drink,

quite

weak
in

lack

It had lost its parents

and feeble

through

of care and nourishment.

her arms

like a mother, gave it sweet milk

and looked after it so well that it was soon healthy and strong.

to

But as

much as she loved the strange baby, she saw that it was missing the other gorillas.

So the next time she visited the mountain gorillas she took the baby with

her,

and when she reached the gorillas, she held the baby out to them. As soon

as

the

oldest gorilla saw the gorilla

snatched the baby out of her arms,


to one of the females,
the woman.
own

baby,

who immediately suckled it at her breast.

Virgin Mary told many more stories,


But the next morning,

the keys.

"Did you really not go into the

said the child,

a cry,

He did not hurt

hind your back?"

asked the

hand with

the golden

pose it had to

and she quite forgot to ask about

she summoned the child to

"you forbade me to."

child was very ashamed,

"No,"

"Then why are you hiding your hand be-

Virgin Mary.

finger.

her and asked for

13th chamber?" she inquired.


"Show me your other hand!"

but denials were to no avail,


Then the

The

and she held out her

Virgin Mary sighed and said,

happen some time." She drew off her white gloves,

"I sup-

and lo and

she too had a golden finger.

Then she said to the child,


know everything else as well.
and

men

and

thanked her profusely.

"Now that you know this much,

you will soon

Go back to the earth, where there are parents and

women
Tlie

when she took her leave,


a pair

her with

But she saw that the gorilla baby was happy and safe among its

the keys.

siblings

leaped upon

kind.

The

behold,

he

ran back to the others with it, and gave it

and

Virgin

children."

The

child

was

Mary helped her to pack

she gave her,

delighted

and

her things,

and

to protect the evidence of her knowledge,

of white gloves.

307

SYSTEMIC CONDITIONS
OF
ILLNESS AND H E A L T H

F r o m a Seminar
for People with Serious Illnesses,
and T h e i r Doctors and Therapists,
Held During an International Conference
on M e d i c i n e and R e l i g i o n

INTRODUCTORY

LECTURE

BELIEFS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO ILLNESS


AND DISENCHANTMENT THAT HEALS
W h e t h e r we recognize t h e m or not, we all hold magical beliefs that i n crease o u r susceptibility to illness and our proneness to accidents. T h e
following are observations from constellations about those beliefs and
about the disenchantment that sometimes makes it possible to activate
healing forces and bring about change for the better.
Fatal illnesses and accidents or suicide in a family and e x t e n d e d family
may be the result of a chain of events c o n n e c t e d with childlike religious
beliefs, for example, that it is possible to suffer vicariously in s o m e o n e
else's place, or to atone for s o m e o n e else's guilt, or to be reunited w i t h
loved ones after death, as if they were still alive.

T h e fellowship o f fate
W e hold these beliefs i n c o m m o n with the o t h e r m e m b e r s o f o u r family,
and together w i t h them, we are a fellowship of fate within w h i c h these
beliefs can result in disaster. T h e following persons b e l o n g to this fellowship: the parents and their siblings, the grandparents, o n e or m o r e of the
great-grandparents, and all those w h o have made r o o m for o n e of those
already m e n t i o n e d , for example, former marriage partners of parents or
grandparents, or former fiancees; also, all those whose departure or misfortune made it possible for s o m e o n e else to take their place in the family.

F a m i l y l o y a l t y a n d its c o n s e q u e n c e s
All the m e m b e r s o f this fellowship o f fate are inexorably b o u n d together
w i t h a deep loyalty. T h e fateful effects of their loyalty are strongest w h e n
it springs from the love of a child for his or her parents, or w h e n it is
loyalty b e t w e e n siblings or b e t w e e n a husband and wife, b u t a special
loyalty is also felt by those w h o gained an advantage from those w h o had
to leave. In this way, a husband's second wife often demonstrates an u n conscious loyalty to his first wife, or the children of a s e c o n d marriage
m a y be secretly loyal toward the children of their m o t h e r or father's first
marriage. T h e loyalty of parents to their children is less strong than that

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of children to their parents, but we also observe powerful and u n e x p e c t e d loyalties b e t w e e n perpetrators and their victims and b e t w e e n v e t e rans of war and their fallen comrades.

T h e longing for balance


T h i s loyalty results in the w e a k e r m e m b e r s of the group wanting to hold
on to the stronger ones to prevent t h e m from leaving or dying, or, if
they have already g o n e , in wanting to follow t h e m .
It also results in those w h o have an advantage sharing the fate of those
w i t h a disadvantage, and sharing responsibility for the health, happiness,
i n n o c e n c e , and life of the less fortunate m e m b e r s of their family; children, for example, may act this way toward their ill parents or siblings,
or i n n o c e n t children m a y try to bear their parent's guilt.
T h u s , those with an advantage often risk and lose their health,
i n n o c e n c e , and life for the health, i n n o c e n c e , and life of another, following the magical h o p e that by r e n o u n c i n g their o w n happiness and their
o w n lives they may save the lives and happiness of others.
T h i s loyalty a m o n g the m e m b e r s of a family and e x t e n d e d family
manifests as a n e e d for systemic balance b e t w e e n the benefits e n j o y e d by
o n e m e m b e r and the disadvantages suffered by another. It is this systemic
urge for balance that leads o n e m e m b e r of the group to court misfortune
w h e n another is suffering, or that tempts o n e person into illness or m i s fortune w h e n another is ill or guilty, or that makes s o m e o n e l o n g for
death w h e n another m e m b e r o f the system dies.
T h u s , within this confined fellowship of fate, loyalty and the need
for balance and c o m p e n s a t i o n assure that o n e m e m b e r participates in the
guilt and illness and fate and death of others; they lead to attempts to
bring about s o m e o n e ' s w e l l - b e i n g through one's o w n misfortune, s o m e o n e else's health through o n e ' s o w n illness, s o m e o n e else's guilt through
o n e ' s o w n i n n o c e n c e , o r s o m e o n e else's i n n o c e n c e through one's o w n
guilt, and s o m e o n e else's life through one's o w n death.

Illness f o l l o w s t h e d e s i r e s o f t h e h e a r t
S i n c e the systemic n e e d for balance and c o m p e n s a t i o n utilizes illness and
death, illness of this sort is the result of a heartfelt desire to b e l o n g to our
fellowship of fate. T h u s , in addition to medical help in the m o r e usual
sense, psychological help and care are also necessary to bring about

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healing. B u t whereas doctors actively do all they can to cure their patients' illnesses, psychotherapists, aware o f the systemic dimensions o f illness, are m o r e restrained since they understand that they are w o r k i n g
w i t h forces o f love and b e l o n g i n g with w h i c h i t w o u l d b e presumptuous
to c o m p e t e . T h e i r w o r k is limited to helping their clients and patients
align and h a r m o n i z e with these forces, as allies rather than as rivals.

"Better me than you"


D u r i n g a group hypnotherapy session, a w o m a n suffering from multiple
sclerosis saw herself kneeling b y the b e d o f h e r paralyzed m o t h e r and d e ciding in her heart: " B e t t e r me than y o u , M u m m y dear. I will suffer in
y o u r p l a c e . " E v e r y o n e in the group was m o v e d by the child's love, b u t
o n e participant, ignoring the depth and intensity of this l o v e , i m p l o r e d
the therapist, " Y o u ' v e got to get her out of that!"
B u t h o w can we presume to insult the child's l o v e by intervening in
that way? Surely, trying to get her to r e n o u n c e h e r c h i l d h o o d promise
can only increase her suffering, rather than alleviate it, forcing h e r to hide
her love and cling all the m o r e secretly to h e r determination to save h e r
m o t h e r t h o u g h h e r o w n suffering.
W h a t a d o c t o r or psychotherapist can do, and w h a t he or she must be
careful to avoid, may b e c o m e clear w i t h another example. A y o u n g
w o m a n , also suffering from multiple sclerosis, set up a family constellation
with the m o t h e r o n the right o f the father. O p p o s i t e t h e m stood the p a tient herself; on her left, her y o u n g e r brother, w h o died of heart failure
at the age of 1 4 ; and to his left, the youngest child, another b r o t h e r .

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Diagram 1
F
M
1

Father
Mother
First child, a daughter (= client)
Second child, a son, who died at 14
Third child, a son

2t
3

F o l l o w i n g the representatives' reports, the psychotherapist had t h e dead


b r o t h e r ' s representative leave the r o o m , w h i c h reflected the reality o f his
death. W h e n h e had left the r o o m , the face o f the client's representative
i m m e d i a t e l y b r i g h t e n e d , and it was o b v i o u s that h e r m o t h e r was also
feeling m u c h m o r e c o m f o r t a b l e . B e c a u s e h e had o b s e r v e d that the r e p r e sentatives of b o t h the father and the y o u n g e r b r o t h e r felt an urge to
leave, the psychotherapist had t h e m leave the r o o m , as w e l l . W h e n all
the

m e n had left the

room

(signifying that they

had died),

the m o t h e r

straightened up w i t h a relieved expression on h e r face, and it b e c a m e


clear to e v e r y o n e present that she was the o n e w h o was u n d e r systemic
pressure to die for w h a t e v e r reason and that she was t o u c h e d and
relieved that the m e n in h e r family w e r e ready to die in h e r place.

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Diagram 2

To m a k e the underlying dynamic clearer, the psychotherapist called the


m e n b a c k and had the m o t h e r leave the r o o m . Immediately, all the o t h e r
representatives felt liberated from the systemic pressure to take the m o t h er's fate on themselves, and they all felt m u c h better.

Diagram 3

To test the possibility that the daughter's multiple sclerosis was systemically c o n n e c t e d with the mother's hidden b e l i e f that she should die, the
therapist called the m o t h e r back into the r o o m , placed her to the left of
her husband, and placed the daughter n e x t to her m o t h e r .

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Diagram 4

He asked the daughter to l o o k straight i n t o h e r m o t h e r ' s eyes and say to


h e r w i t h l o v e : " M o t h e r , I will do it for y o u ! " As she said the w o r d s , h e r
face g r e w radiant, and the systemic m e a n i n g and o b j e c t i v e o f h e r illness
b e c a m e clear t o e v e r y o n e .

Enlightened love
O f t e n all a psychotherapist can do is to b r i n g the child's l o v e to light and
t o trust the d y n a m i c o f l o v e itself t o find w h a t i s truly n e e d e d . N o matter
w h a t t h e c h i l d t o o k u p o n h i m s e l f o r herself, i t was d o n e i n g o o d c o n s c i e n c e and w i t h the c o n v i c t i o n that it was the right and n o b l e t h i n g to
do. W h e n , h o w e v e r , this l o v e c o m e s t o light t h r o u g h the help o f a n u n derstanding psychotherapist, it also b e c o m e s clear to the child that blind
l o v e can n e v e r a c h i e v e its o b j e c t i v e .
C h i l d r e n cherish the magical h o p e that, t h r o u g h sacrifice, t h e y m a y
heal their l o v e d ones, p r o t e c t t h e m from harm, a t o n e for t h e i r guilt, and
snatch t h e m f r o m the j a w s o f death. B u t a s adults, w h e n t h e i r b l i n d l o v e
is b r o u g h t to light, and also their childlike hopes and desires, t h e y m a y
realize that their b l i n d l o v e and sacrifice inevitably must fail to o v e r c o m e
a l o v e d o n e ' s illness, suffering, and death.
W h e n the o b j e c t i v e s o f a child's l o v e and the m e a n s used t o achieve
t h e m are b r o u g h t to light, they lose their magical p o w e r b e c a u s e t h e y are
r o o t e d in m a g i c a l beliefs that c a n n o t survive in the adult w o r l d . T h e
l o v e , h o w e v e r , endures. M o r e discriminating w h e n c o m b i n e d w i t h reaso n , t h e very same l o v e that o n c e caused illness n o w seeks a different, e n -

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lightened solution, and, if it is still possible, to fulfill the true goals of


love, m a k i n g illness unnecessary. T h e d o c t o r and psychotherapist m a y
s h o w the direction, but the child-soul must rest assured that t h e y respect
his or her love, and that they only w o r k to help the l o v e achieve its goals
in a b e t t e r way.

" I will g o i n s t e a d o f y o u "


O n e o f the most c o m m o n magical beliefs a c c o m p a n y i n g life-threatening
disease is a child's decision: "I will go instead of y o u . " In the case of
anorexia, the child-soul often decides: "I will go instead of y o u , D a d d y
dear," and in the preceding example of multiple sclerosis, the child's d e cision was: " I will g o instead o f y o u , M u m m y dear." T h e s e dynamics
also are often found operating b e h i n d suicide and fatal accidents.

" E v e n i f y o u g o , I will s t a y "


W h a t is the helpful and healing solution w h e n these dynamics c o m e to
light? T h e solution emerges w h e n y o u stand face-to-face w i t h the b e l o v e d person, and w i t h all the p o w e r and c o n v i c t i o n of l o v e , speak the
sentences o f blind love, " I will g o instead o f y o u . " S o m e t i m e s y o u n e e d
to repeat the sentences a few times until y o u recognize the l o v e d o n e as
an individual person and, not withstanding the depth of l o v e , as separate
and apart. If this doesn't happen, the symbiosis and identification will r e main, b u t there is an unmistakable sweetness and i n n o c e n c e , an a t m o spheric gentleness and simplicity, w h e n the sentences are spoken from the
depth of the child's soul.
A person w h o succeeds in saying the words with the w h o l e force and
c o n v i c t i o n of l o v e affirms the child's love, but affirms it in a different
c o n t e x t , standing as an adult face-to-face w i t h the b e l o v e d person. T h i s
c o m b i n a t i o n o f affirmation o f the child's l o v e and adult c o n t a c t allows
the child-soul to realize that the o t h e r loves as well, that b o t h are adults,
l o v e r and b e l o v e d to each other. T h i s k n o w i n g l o v e draws a line b e t w e e n t h e m , and thus b e t w e e n their individual destinies. It makes possible the realization that the o t h e r gains n o t h i n g from my sacrifice; on the
contrary, my efforts to intervene in favor of the b e l o v e d person are m o r e
likely to burden than to help.
R a i s i n g l o v e from blind love to k n o w i n g love challenges o u r magical
beliefs and changes the sentences that describe the dynamics of l o v e :

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"Father dear,

Mother dear,

be even if you go,


dear,

my dear brother,

I will stay."

Bless me when I stay,

my dear sister or whoever it may

S o m e people add:

"Mother dear,

Father

and please wish me well even if you go."

L e t me illustrate this by an e x a m p l e . A w o m a n ' s father had t w o h a n d i c a p p e d b r o t h e r s , o n e o f w h o m was d e a f and the o t h e r p s y c h o t i c . H e was


systemically pulled to his brothers and to their fate, and o u t of loyalty to
t h e m , he c o u l d n o t b e a r to see their suffering in c o m p a r i s o n w i t h his
o w n w e l l - b e i n g . His daughter u n c o n s c i o u s l y r e c o g n i z e d his danger and
l e a p e d i n t o the b r e a c h . W h e n she set up h e r family constellation, her
representative rushed o v e r to h e r father's brothers and e m b r a c e d t h e m as
if she w e r e saying in h e r heart: " F a t h e r dear, I will leave so that y o u can
stay." T h e client had anorexia.
W h a t is the solution here? T h e daughter must first l o o k at h e r father's
b r o t h e r s as individuals and then say to t h e m in h e r heart: "Please love my
father if he stays with us,

and love me if I stay with my father."

" I will follow y o u "


A n o t h e r , earlier s e n t e n c e lies b e h i n d the parents' desire to leave or to
die, w h i c h the child tries t o p r e v e n t w i t h the words: " B e t t e r m e than
y o u . " It is a s e n t e n c e that the parents m a y w a n t to say to their o w n ill
o r dead parents o r siblings, " I will f o l l o w y o u , " or, m o r e precisely, " I
will f o l l o w y o u into y o u r illness," or: " I will f o l l o w y o u u n t o d e a t h . "
T h u s , in the family, the first s e n t e n c e to take its effect is: "I will foll o w y o u . " T h e s e are the words o f a child. A n d w h e n these children
g r o w up, their o w n children p r e v e n t t h e m from i m p l e m e n t i n g the words
b y saying: " B e t t e r m e than y o u . "

" I w i l l g o o n l i v i n g f o r a little w h i l e "


W h e n e v e r t h e d y n a m i c " I will follow y o u " i s operating i n the b a c k g r o u n d of fatal illness and accidents or suicide, the helpful and healing
solution is, first of all, to b r i n g the d y n a m i c to light by allowing the child
to speak the w o r d s aloud to the b e l o v e d person w i t h all the p o w e r and
c o n v i c t i o n o f the child's l o v e . Usually, the words that n a m e the d y n a m i c
are s o m e variation o f the s e n t e n c e , " F a t h e r dear, M o t h e r dear, dear
b r o t h e r , dear sister or w h o e v e r it m a y be I will f o l l o w y o u , even
into death."
H e r e , t o o , it is i m p o r t a n t that the words be repeated as often as it

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takes for the patient to recognize and perceive the loved ones as individual, separate beings. Publicly naming this dynamic allows the child to
realize that love cannot eliminate the separation b e t w e e n the living and
the dead, and that we all must recognize and accept these limits. As the
child's blind love develops into k n o w i n g love, it is easier for the child to
see that it is easier for the loved ones to fulfill their o w n destiny w h e n
no o n e interferes, especially not their o w n children.
M a n y people in constellations have found another sentence very freeing,

"Father dear,

Mother dear,

dear brother,

dear sister or whoever it may

be you are dead. I will go on living for a little while, and then I, too, will
die." O r : "I will live my life fully, as long as it lasts, and then I, too, will die."
W h e n children see that o n e of the parents is drawn to follow s o m e o n e
from their family of origin into illness and death, they can free t h e m selves w h e n they can authentically say, "Father dear, Mother dear, even if
you go, I stay" or "Even if you go,

I honor you as my father, and I honor you

as my mother." Or if o n e of the parents has c o m m i t t e d suicide: "I respect


your decision and bow to your fate,

and I honor you as my father,

and I honor

you as my mother."

B e l i e f s t h a t c a u s e illness
T h e t w o sentences, " B e t t e r m e than y o u " and " I will follow y o u , " are
secretly spoken by entangled children with the utterly i n n o c e n t c o n v i c tion. At the same time, they correspond to the Christian message and the
Christian example, for instance, to Christ's words in the G o s p e l of St.
J o h n , " G r e a t e r love hath no m a n than this, that a m a n lay d o w n his life
for his friends," and also to the Christian tradition that true believers
should be willing to follow him on the way of the cross and u n t o death.
T h e Christian teaching of redemption through suffering and death and
the example of Christian saints and heroes confirm children's magical
h o p e and magical b e l i e f that they can take on illness and suffering and
death in s o m e o n e else's place. By paying in the currency of suffering,
they hope to r e d e e m others from their suffering, and to rescue t h e m
from death by dying in their place. A n d they also h o p e that if r e d e m p tion is no longer possible on this earth, they will be reunited with the
departed loved ones if they, like them, lose their life and (so they
believe) find it again through death.

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L o v e that heals
W h e n such beliefs prevail, healing and r e d e m p t i o n are b e y o n d m e r e
m e d i c a l a n d therapeutic measures. T h e y call for a c h a n g e o f heart. S o m e t i m e s , it is possible for a d o c t o r or psychotherapist to pave the w a y for
s u c h a c h a n g e o f heart, but w h e n e v e r i t o c c u r s , i t i s b e y o n d h u m a n p o w er and is e x p e r i e n c e d as grace.
T h i s is illustrated by the f o l l o w i n g story.

Faith

and love

Once upon a time, a man dreamed in the night that he heard the voice of God
saying:

"Rise up,

take your son, your only and beloved son,

and got with him

to the top of the mountain I will show to you and sacrifice him to me there."
The next morning,
beloved son;

the man arose,

looked at his wife,

and looked at his son,

the mother of his son;

his only and

and then he looked at

his God. He took his son and went with him to the top of the mountain God
showed him

and he

instead of his son,

build an

altar there.

There he heard another voice,

and

he sacrificed a sheep.

How does

the son

How does

the father look

look

at his father?

How does

the wife

How does

the husband look

at his son?

look at her husband?


at his wife?

How do they look at God?


And how does
Another man

God if there is a

God look at them?

dreamed that he heard the voice of God saying:

"Rise up,

take

your son, your only and beloved son, and go with him to the top of the mountain
I will show to you and sacrifice him to me there."
The next morning, the man arose, and looked at his son, his only and beloved
son; looked at his wife,

the mother of his son; and then he looked at his God.

He looked his God in the face and answered:


How does

the son

How does

the father look

look

at

How does

the wife look at her husband?

How does

the husband look at his

"I will not do that."

his father?

at his son?
wife?

How do they look at God?


And how does

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God if there is a

God look at them?

Illness a s a t o n e m e n t
T h e n e e d to atone for guilt is another of the systemic forces that lead to
illness, accidents, suicide, and premature death. In m a n y cultures, a t o n e m e n t is seen as b e i n g s o m e t h i n g valuable and g o o d , b u t if we l o o k at it
systemically, we see that it is a cruel distortion that only perpetuates suffering. E v e n t s that w e r e unavoidable and d e t e r m i n e d by fate are s o m e times treated as if they carried a personal guilt and required a t o n e m e n t .
F o r example, a parent may b e c o m e ill or despondent following a miscarriage or the illness, handicap, or early death of a child. In such cases, it
is m o r e helpful for the parent to l o o k at the deceased child w i t h love, to
face the g r i e f the death entails, and to allow the past to be past.
Similarly, people may b e c o m e ill or harm themselves following events
that bring benefit, or even life, to o n e person while harming another. F o r
instance, w h e n a m o t h e r dies in childbirth, h e r child often has difficulty
fully claiming success in life, as if the child's failure c o u l d atone for the
m o t h e r ' s sacrifice.
T h e r e are o t h e r situations in w h i c h s o m e o n e is genuinely responsible
for causing harm. F o r example, w h e n s o m e o n e , w i t h o u t a pressing n e e d ,
aborts a child or gives the child away, or ruthlessly inflicts w r o n g on
s o m e o n e else. In this case, a t o n e m e n t for personal guilt frequently takes
place on a subconscious level and in direct opposition to the m o t h e r ' s
protestations o f i n n o c e n c e o r justification o f h e r actions.
In these situations t o o , the person c o m e s under systemic pressure to
atone for the guilt, w h e t h e r real or imagined, by compensating for the
suffering of others through his or h e r o w n suffering. O r , as we have seen
i n m a n y examples, o n e o f the children takes o n the burden. B u t w h e n
our guilt is real, what helps is to do good, n o t to add to the suffering by
suffering ourselves.
T h i s distorted h o p e o f achieving compensation through a t o n e m e n t i s
actually p r o m o t e d by religious teaching, by the b e l i e f in r e d e m p t i o n
through suffering and the cleansing of sin and guilt through self-inflicted
p u n i s h m e n t and pain.

Compensation through atonement is


misfortune doubled
A t o n e m e n t satisfies our blind n e e d for c o m p e n s a t i o n and balance. B u t
w h e n this c o m p e n s a t i o n is sought through illness, accidents, and death,
w h a t is really achieved? Instead of o n e injured person, there are t w o , and

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o n e death is f o l l o w e d by a s e c o n d . W o r s e still, a t o n e m e n t doubles the


d a m a g e d o n e t o the v i c t i m , because the v i c t i m ' s suffering b e c o m e s the
cause o f m o r e suffering, and his o r h e r o w n death results i n s o m e o n e
else's dying.
A t o n e m e n t is illusory, as if o n e ' s o w n suffering or death c o u l d really
b r i n g a b o u t s o m e o n e else's healing o r r e d e m p t i o n .
T h e wish to a t o n e for s o m e o n e else's guilt entails the w i s h to pay for
like w i t h like. Suffering takes the place o f constructive action, death the
place o f life, and a t o n e m e n t the place o f guilt.
A child w h o s e m o t h e r dies w h e n giving birth feels guilty b e c a u s e the
m o t h e r paid for the child's life w i t h h e r death. If the child tries to a t o n e
for h e r death by suffering or suicide, t h e n the disaster b e c o m e s e v e n
greater for t h e m o t h e r she loses h e r o w n life and h e r child dies. T h e n
the life she gave her child is n o t h o n o r e d , and h e r l o v e is n o t r e c o g n i z e d
and appreciated. H e r death will have b e e n in vain and, w o r s e still, it will
h a v e b r o u g h t suffering instead o f happiness, and instead o f o n e death
t h e r e are t w o .
If we w a n t to help a child in this situation, we must l o o k clearly at
w h a t a t o n e m e n t really achieves, we must penetrate its illusion and distortion, and we must r e m e m b e r that, in addition to the desire for systemic
b a l a n c e t h r o u g h a t o n e m e n t , the child also has the wish, " B e t t e r me than
y o u , " and " I will follow y o u . " W e can abandon o u r ill-fated l o n g i n g for
a t o n e m e n t o n l y i f w e leave b e h i n d the words, " B e t t e r m e than y o u , " and
" I will f o l l o w y o u . "

Healing ways of compensation


W h a t , then, is the appropriate solution for b o t h the child and the m o t h er? T h e child can say,
vain:

"Mother dear,

I will make something of my life,

the price you paid for my life is not in


in

memory of you

and in your honor."

T h i s m e a n s that the child acts constructively instead o f suffering,


achieves g o o d instead of failing, and lives fully instead of dying. In so
doing, the child b e c o m e s m u c h m o r e deeply united w i t h the m o t h e r
than b y f o l l o w i n g h e r i n t o suffering and death. B y a c c e p t i n g and living
life fully, children e m b r a c e their m o t h e r in their heart, and strength and
grace f l o w f r o m h e r to t h e m .
U n l i k e c o m p e n s a t i o n t h r o u g h a t o n e m e n t , w h i c h increases suffering
and death, this c o m p e n s a t i o n leads to happiness and health. C o m p e n s a t i o n t h r o u g h a t o n e m e n t is c h e a p , harmful, and grasping, and fails to

322

achieve reconciliation; compensation through positive action is costly and


bestows blessings. T h e n b o t h the m o t h e r and the child b e c o m e r e c o n ciled to their fates, for the m o t h e r participates in the life and a c h i e v e ments o f her child.

Reconciliation is better than a t o n e m e n t


By believing that guilt can be exonerated by suffering, we avoid facing
u p t o the fullness o f human relationship. W e only attempt a t o n e m e n t
through suffering i f w e lose sight o f the person w e have w r o n g e d , but i f
we see t h e m truly as fully human persons, we are b o u n d to realize that
the damage already suffered cannot be undone, no matter what we m a y
attempt.
T h i s is also true of guilt for w h i c h y o u are personally responsible.
E v e n a child w h o has died through a m o t h e r ' s guilt may have had the
hidden wish, " B e t t e r me than y o u . " So w h e n a m o t h e r tries to atone for
her child's death through her o w n illness and death, the child's love and
willingness to die for the m o t h e r are unrecognized and in vain.
T h e solution i s t o seek reconciliation instead o f a t o n e m e n t . R e c o n ciliation b e c o m e s possible w h e n y o u really l o o k at the person y o u have
w r o n g e d ; for example, w h e n a m o t h e r or father looks into the eyes of
an aborted or disowned or abandoned child and says, "I am sorry" and "I
now give you a place in my heart" and "You will participate in the good that I
do in your memory." T h e g o o d that the m o t h e r or father does in the child's
m e m o r y happens w i t h and through the child. T h e child participates and
remains, for a while, united with the parents and their actions, and his
or her suffering is not in vain.
On earth, everything is transitory, and, after a while, even guilt must
be allowed to pass.

Illness a s a n a t t e m p t t o a t o n e f o r s o m e o n e else
It often b e c o m e s clear in constellations that m e m b e r s of a family atone
for another m e m b e r ' s guilt by taking u p o n themselves the guilt and its
c o n s e q u e n c e s the others reject. T h e n a child or a partner may say, "I will
follow y o u and share y o u r guilt and its c o n s e q u e n c e s , " or " B e t t e r me
than y o u . I will bear y o u r guilt instead of y o u . "
An example: D u r i n g a group session a w o m a n related that she had r e fused her mother's request to live with the w o m a n ' s family and instead

323

sent h e r to an old people's h o m e . T h e same w e e k , o n e of her daughters


developed anorexia, started dressing entirely in black, and began visiting
various old people's h o m e s to care for the residents. No o n e , n o t even
the daughter, realized w h y she did this.

Illness a s a r e s u l t o f r e f u s i n g t o h o n o r o n e ' s p a r e n t s
A n o t h e r hidden family dynamic that leads to severe illness is the child's
refusal to h o n o r the parents. C a n c e r patients, for example, sometimes
w o u l d rather die than b o w d o w n before their m o t h e r or father.

To h o n o r one's parents is to h o n o r the earth


To h o n o r one's parents is to love and accept t h e m as they are, and to
h o n o r the earth is to love and accept the earth as it is, w i t h life and
death, health and illness, with a beginning and an end. T h i s is a deeply
religious act. In former times, we called this worship. It is the ultimate
religious act, and we e x p e r i e n c e it as c o m p l e t e surrender, costing n o t h i n g
less than everything. It is the surrender that gives all and takes all and
takes all and gives all with love.
In conclusion, let me tell y o u a philosophical story.

Absence
A

and presence

monk,

out seeking the Absolute,

approached a
and

merchant in

asked for

the marketplace

sustenance.

The merchant glanced at him,

and paused.

As he handed him what he could spare,


he addressed him with a question.
"What can it mean that you request of me
what you

require for your sustenance

and yet feel free to

think of me and of my trade

as something low
compared with you
The

324

monk

replied:

and yours?"

"Matched

with

the Absolute

that

I pursue

the rest seems low indeed."


The

merchant was

not satisfied

and tried him with a second question:


"If such

an

Absolute

exists,

it extends beyond our reach.


So how can anyone presume to seek it
as if it could be found
lying at the end of some long road?
How can

anyone

take possession

of it

or claim a greater share of it than others?


And how,
can

conversely,

if

this Absolute exists,

anyone stray far from

it

and be excluded from its will and care?"


The

monk

replied:

"Only those who are prepared to leave


all that is closest to them now
and willingly forego

what

is

chained

to Here and Now


will ever reach
Still

the Absolute."

unconvinced,

the merchant tested him


"Assuming

that

an

with yet another thought:

Absolute

exists,

it must be close to everyone,


although

concealed in

the

apparent and enduring,

just as Absence is concealed in Presence,


and Past and Future in
"Compared

with

what

the Here and Now.

is

Present

and appears to us as limited and fleeting,


the Absent seems

unlimited in space and time,

as do the Past and Future


compared

with

Here

and

Now.

"Yet what is Absent is revealed to us only in the Present

325

just as the Past and Future are revealed


only in the Here and Now.
"Like night and death
the Absent holds, unknown to us,
something that is yet to come.
But there are moments when,
in the twinkling of an eye,
the Absolute suddenly illuminates the Present,
as a flash of lightning illuminates the night.
"Thus, too, the Absolute draws close to us
at present Here
and illuminates the Now."
The monk then addressed the merchant
with a question of his own:
"If what you say is true,
what, then, remains
for me
and you?"
The merchant said:
"To us, there still remains,
but for a little while,
the Earth."

326

THE SEMINAR

" I WILL FOLLOW Y O U "


HELLINGER: In this seminar I will be demonstrating w h a t I talked a b o u t
i n m y l e c t u r e o n the systemic conditions o f illness and health. I , t h e r e fore, will be w o r k i n g m a i n l y w i t h participants suffering f r o m life-threate n i n g disease, such as c a n c e r , diabetes, or multiple sclerosis, or w h o are
suicidal.
to Astrid in a wheelchair. I ' d like to start w i t h y o u . C o m e here, to m e . Y o u
can c o m e i n y o u r w h e e l c h a i r . W h a t i s y o u r illness?
A S T R I D : I have diabetes. I had to u n d e r g o dialysis for a l o n g t i m e , and
since t h e n , I have had a k i d n e y transplant.
HELLINGER: I will place all my k n o w l e d g e at y o u r service. If y o u w o r k
w i t h m e and w i t h the positive impulses o f y o u r o w n heart and those o f
y o u r m o t h e r and father, perhaps we will find s o m e t h i n g useful to y o u .
O k a y ? G o o d . T e l l m e s o m e t h i n g about y o u r family. D i d a n y t h i n g drastic
happen i n y o u r family? D i d a n y o n e die y o u n g , for e x a m p l e , o r did a n y o n e c o m m i t suicide?
A S T R I D : T h e r e was a third child w h o c a m e after me and died three days
after h e r birth.
HELLINGER: T h a t is important. A dead child's siblings react v e r y strongly.
D i d anything else h a p p e n in y o u r family?
A S T R I D : M y diabetes b e g a n a t the same t i m e that m y grandfather died o f
c a n c e r . H e lived w i t h o u r family.
HELLINGER: W h o s e father was he?
ASTRID: M y mother's.
HELLINGER: D i d anything else o f i m p o r t a n c e happen i n y o u r m o t h e r ' s
family? D i d a n y o n e die y o u n g , for e x a m p l e ?
A S T R I D : M y m o t h e r ' s b r o t h e r died o f diphtheria during the war. H e was
14.
HELLINGER: W a s either o f y o u r parents o r any o f y o u r grandparents p r e viously married or i n v o l v e d in a close relationship?
ASTRID: N o .
HELLINGER: Let's set u p y o u family system w i t h the help o f m e m b e r s o f
t h e g r o u p . First o f all, c h o o s e the p e o p l e . W e n e e d s o m e o n e t o represent
y o u r father and s o m e o n e for y o u r m o t h e r . T h e first child?

327

ASTRID: M y brother.*
H E L L I N G E R : T h e s e c o n d child?
ASTRID: That's me.
H E L L I N G E R : W e also n e e d s o m e o n e t o r e p r e s e n t y o u . T h e d e a d c h i l d ?
A S T R I D : It was a girl.
H E L L I N G E R : W e n e e d s o m e o n e for h e r , t o o . O f w h a t did she die?
A S T R I D : T h a t ' s n o t clear.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t d o y o u m e a n , n o t clear?
A S T R I D : M y m o t h e r t o l d m e that t h e c h i l d refused t o drink. T h a t ' s all I
k n o w a b o u t t h e cause o f h e r death.
H E L L I N G E R : S h e starved t o death, t h e n ?
A S T R I D : T h a t ' s t h e o n l y e x p l a n a t i o n I e v e r heard. A p a r t f r o m that, t h e
c h i l d was n e v e r m e n t i o n e d .
H E L L I N G E R : D o e i t h e r o f y o u r parents b l a m e t h e o t h e r for t h e d e a t h o f
t h e child?
A S T R I D : N o o n e e v e r talks a b o u t h e r .
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y . N o w let's set u p t h e family c o n s t e l l a t i o n . C a n y o u
w a l k w e l l e n o u g h t o d o that?
ASTRID: Yes.
H E L L I N G E R : D o y o u k n o w h o w set u p a family c o n s t e l l a t i o n ?
ASTRID:

No.

H E L L I N G E R : T a k e t h e p e r s o n y o u ' v e c h o s e n f r o m t h e g r o u p a n d p u t that
p e r s o n i n t h e p l a c e that s e e m s right t o y o u i n relationship t o t h e o t h e r s .
W h e n y o u feel t h e y ' r e all i n t h e i r right p o s i t i o n s , y o u l e a v e t h e m s t a n d i n g t h e r e . P l a c e t h e m e n t i r e l y a c c o r d i n g t o y o u r feelings a t t h e m o m e n t ,
t h e w a y y o u feel i s right, a n d w h e n y o u h a v e f i n i s h e d , sit d o w n .

It was later revealed that Astrid's brother developed asthma at the same time that the child
died, although he didn't hear about her death until five years later.

328

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2
3j"

Father
Mother
First child, a son
S e c o n d child, a d a u g h t e r (= Astrid)
Third child, a daughter, who died soon after birth

H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e father feeling?
F A T H E R : I feel h e m m e d i n b e t w e e n t h e s e t w o a n d t h r e a t e n e d f r o m b e h i n d . T h e r e ' s a n u n c a n n y feeling b e h i n d m e . I h a v e a n i m p u l s e t o l o o k
around.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : T h e r e ' s a l o t b e h i n d m e that I c a n ' t see. T h e r e ' s t o o m u c h b e hind me.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e s o n feeling?
F I R S T CHILD: I feel v e r y c l o s e t o m y sister a n d v e r y far a w a y f r o m m y
parents.
H E L L I N G E R to the representative of Astrid: H o w is t h e o l d e r d a u g h t e r feeling?
S E C O N D CHILD: I feel that m y parents are w a t c h i n g m e t o o c l o s e l y . I ' m
glad I ' m n o t c l o s e r t o t h e m .
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e d e a d c h i l d feeling?
T H I R D C H I L D t : I c a n ' t r e c o g n i z e a n y o n e . I feel I d o n ' t b e l o n g h e r e .
H E L L I N G E R : I ' m g o i n g t o b r i n g t h e dead c h i l d i n t o v i e w o f t h e o t h e r s .

329

Diagram 2

H E L L I N G E R : W h a t has c h a n g e d for t h e parents?


F A T H E R : I feel m u c h freer, a l t h o u g h I still feel r a t h e r c o n f i n e d by my w i f e .
B u t I c a n b r e a t h e m o r e easily.
H E L L I N G E R : H o w i s t h e m o t h e r feeling n o w ?
M O T H E R : I feel r e l i e v e d .
S E C O N D CHILD: I feel b e t t e r t o o .

The two sisters smile at each other.

HELLINGER: W h a t happened b e t w e e n y o u two just n o w ?


S E C O N D CHILD: I t feels g o o d t o h a v e h e r a r o u n d .
H E L L I N G E R to the group: I h a v e several different ideas a b o u t this family.
T h e first i s that t h e m o t h e r w a n t s t o l e a v e t h e family a n d f o l l o w t h e dead
c h i l d . M y s e c o n d idea i s that t h e o l d e r d a u g h t e r w a n t s t o p r e v e n t h e r
m o t h e r f r o m l e a v i n g b y l e a v i n g herself. A n d m y third idea i s that t h e o l der d a u g h t e r w a n t s t o f o l l o w h e r dead sister b y dying.
D i d y o u see t h e u n d e r s t a n d i n g b e t w e e n t h e t w o sisters? T h e l o v e ?
The

two sisters smile at each

other again.

D i d y o u see that? T h e y c a n ' t hide it.


Laughter

in

the group.

E x a c t l y . N o w I ' m g o i n g t o p l a c e t h e m o t h e r n e x t t o t h e father.

330

Diagram 3

HELLINGER: H o w does that feel n o w ?


F A T H E R : I feel drawn t o w a r d the right, away from my wife.
HELLINGER to the father. It's possible that y o u feel the urge to leave. Go
and stand n e x t to the dead child. H o w does that feel?
F A T H E R : It feels g o o d .
HELLINGER to Astrid: W h a t h a p p e n e d in y o u r father's family?
A S T R I D : O n e o f m y father's y o u n g e r brothers died o f p n e u m o n i a during
the war, v e r y suddenly.
HELLINGER to the father. Go b a c k and stand beside y o u r wife. I ' m g o i n g to
add y o u r dead b r o t h e r to the group.

331

Diagram 4
FBy

Father's younger brother, deceased

F A T H E R : T h a t feels g o o d . T h e pull t o t h e right has g o n e .


Nothing

has

changed for

the

daughter

and

the

other

members

of the family.

H E L L I N G E R to the group: T h e father p r o b a b l y w a n t s to say to his dead


brother: "I will follow y o u . "
HELLINGER: H o w is the m o t h e r feeling n o w ?
M O T H E R : I think something changed w h e n the b r o t h e r j o i n e d the group.
B e f o r e that s o m e t h i n g d i d n ' t s e e m q u i t e right a b o u t m y r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h
m y h u s b a n d . T h a t ' s c h a n g e d n o w . B u t his b r o t h e r m u s t n ' t c o m e t o o
close.
H E L L I N G E R : N o ; i f h e does, y o u will lose y o u r h u s b a n d .
t o Astrid: W o u l d y o u l i k e t o g o a n d stand i n y o u r p l a c e n o w ?
Astrid goes

to

her place

in

the constellation.

H E L L I N G E R : W h a t was y o u r d e a d sister's n a m e ?
ASTRID: Maria.
H E L L I N G E R : L o o k a t h e r and say: " D e a r M a r i a . "
ASTRID: Dear Maria.
H E L L I N G E R : S a y it again.
ASTRID: Dear Maria.
Long

pause.

H E L L I N G E R : S a y t o her: " I will f o l l o w y o u . "

332

ASTRID: I will follow y o u .


HELLINGER: " W i t h l o v e . "
ASTRID: W i t h l o v e .
HELLINGER: Say it again.
ASTRID: I will f o l l o w y o u w i t h l o v e .
HELLINGER: Do the w o r d s feel right? A r e t h e y true?
ASTRID: Y e s .
HELLINGER: H o w is the dead sister feeling n o w ?
THIRD CHILD-J-: N o t so g o o d .
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y .
THIRD CHILD"]-: I d o n ' t n e e d her.
HELLINGER: T h i s is the disillusionment.
to Astrid: I ' m g o i n g to take y o u r sister away f r o m y o u and put h e r w h e r e
she b e l o n g s .
to the dead sister's representative: Sit d o w n on the floor in front of y o u r parents and lean against t h e m .

Diagram 5

HELLINGER to the parents: Put o n e h a n d lightly on h e r head. B o t h of y o u .


HELLINGER: H o w is the dead child feeling n o w ?
T H I R D CHILDy: B e t t e r .
HELLINGER: H o w are the parents feeling?
The parents nod and smile at each other.
HELLINGER to Astrid: Say to y o u r dead sister: " D e a r M a r i a . "

333

ASTRID: D e a r M a r i a .
HELLINGER: " T h i s i s y o u r right p l a c e . "
ASTRID: T h i s is y o u r right place.
HELLINGER: " A n d I stay h e r e . " O p e n y o u r eyes!
ASTRID: A n d I stay h e r e .
Long

pause.

HELLINGER: B r e a t h e deeply. L o o k a t y o u r m o t h e r a n d say t o h e r : " D e a r


Mummy."
ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y .
HELLINGER: " I ' l l stay."
ASTRID: I'll stay. She is crying.
HELLINGER: L o o k a t h e r and say t o her, w i t h l o v e : " D e a r M u m m y . "
She

hesitates.

ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y . She is sobbing.


HELLINGER: " I ' l l stay."
ASTRID: I .. I . . I ..
HELLINGER: " I ' l l stay."
ASTRID: I'll stay.
HELLINGER: S a y i t again, v e r y simply: " D e a r M u m m y . "
ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y , I'll stay.
HELLINGER: N o w l o o k a t y o u r father a n d say: " D e a r D a d d y . "
ASTRID: D e a r D a d d y .
HELLINGER: " I ' l l stay."
ASTRID: I'll stay.
HELLINGER: I t s e e m s easier for y o u t o say i t t o h i m . L o o k a t y o u r m o t h e r
again. I ' m g o i n g t o p u t y o u n e x t t o her. L i k e this, really c l o s e .

334

Diagram 6

HELLINGER: L o o k at her. L o o k i n t o her eyes and say: " D e a r M u m m y . "


ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y .
HELLINGER: " I ' l l stay."
ASTRID firmly. I'll stay.
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y . Say it again.
ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y , I'll stay.
HELLINGER to the mother. P u t y o u r arms a r o u n d her. B o t h arms.
to Astrid: Say: " D e a r M u m m y , I will stay."
ASTRID loudly. D e a r M u m m y , I will stay.
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y . " D e a r M u m m y , I will stay."
ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y , I will stay. She is sobbing.
HELLINGER: B r e a t h e deeply. In and out, deeply. T h r o u g h y o u r m o u t h .
B r e a t h e i n and out, deeply. Y e s . like that. A n d repeat, gently: " D e a r
Mummy."
ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y .
HELLINGER: "I will stay."
ASTRID: I will stay.
HELLINGER to the group: N o w she is speaking in h e r n o r m a l v o i c e . T h a t
shows she really means it. N o w h e r words have p o w e r .
to Astrid: " D e a r M u m m y , I will stay."
ASTRID: D e a r M u m m y , I will stay.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s g o o d . B u t will y o u really d o w h a t y o u said? L o o k a t
y o u r m o t h e r . L o o k i n t o h e r eyes and say: " Y e s , I really m e a n i t . "
ASTRID: Y e s , I really m e a n it.

335

HELLINGER: G o o d . T h a t ' s all, then.


Hellinger leads Astrid back

to her place.

The woman next to her

tries to put her arm round her.


HELLINGER: Y o u r offer o f c o m f o r t will interfere w i t h w h a t ' s g o i n g o n
deep d o w n inside her. S h e ' s in the best possible hands, in c o n t a c t w i t h
herself. Y o u r c o m f o r t w o u l d o n l y distract her.
to the group: T h i s was a v e r y intensive p i e c e of w o r k . I b e l i e v e we saw the
forces at w o r k that lead to illness, and also the strength necessary to find
the transition to healing. A n d we saw that the l o v e that leads to illness
is t h e same l o v e that leads to healing. O n l y the a i m is different, t h e l o v e
itself is u n c h a n g e d . A r e there any questions?
PARTICIPANT: W a s n ' t there s o m e t h i n g unresolved w i t h the father? H e
w a n t e d to die.
HELLINGER: O n e o f the i m p o r t a n t principles i n this w o r k i s n o t t o d o
m o r e than is necessary for the patient. Astrid didn't n e e d anything m o r e .
T h a t was quite clear. T h a t ' s the m o m e n t t o stop, o t h e r w i s e the energy
drains away. T h e t i m e t o stop i s a t the m o m e n t o f greatest intensity. N o
tidying u p o f details o r asking: " H o w d o y o u feel n o w ? " for e x a m p l e .
T h a t o n l y dissipates the energy. C a n y o u sense that?
PARTICIPANT: Y e s .

Addendum:
F o u r m o n t h s later, I r e c e i v e d the f o l l o w i n g letter from Astrid.
. . . for some months now, I have been torn between my very real desire to tell
you about the changes our encounter brought about in my life and a feeling of
shyness

that has prevented me from

The most tangible

writing

until now.

"proof of success" was that the constantly recurring infec-

tions of my kidneys and urinary tract I have had for the past three years suddenly

disappeared.

This means much more to me than may be evident at first sight.

The infec-

tion was not only threatening to endanger the success of my kidney transplant,
it was also forcing me to become reconciled to the idea of further surgery, which
would have been complicated by various circumstances,
was

336

extremely

doubtful.

and the success of which

The words,

"I'll stay" have in

defiance toward my mother,

the meantime lost their original accompanying

have become a liberating certainty that I am allowed

to live.
The awareness

of the words:

"I will follow you,"

and

which are prevalent among various members of my family,


of my relationship
and

a great feeling
Suddenly,

to

my

little dead sister,

"Better me than you,"


has,

resulted in a

at least in

terms

definite disentanglement

of relief.

I am free to put an end to an almost lifelong 'career of illness' and

escalation of symptoms,

and my indirect wish to commit suicide has lost its moti-

vating power and its legitimating . . .

A M O T H E R FOLLOWS H E R HANDICAPPED CHILD


INTO DEATH
HELLINGER to Bruno: W h a t ' s y o u r issue?
B R U N O : I feel uneasy and n o t free, and I d o n ' t k n o w w h a t to do or w h e r e
to turn.
HELLINGER: D i d anything special happen in y o u r family?
B R U N O : M y m o t h e r died four years ago. S h e was w i t h m y father i n the
mountains.
HELLINGER: W a s it an accident? A c l i m b i n g accident?
B R U N O : S h e slipped. S o m e t i m e later, and I t h i n k this has s o m e t h i n g to
do w i t h it, my father told me s o m e t h i n g . I should have k n o w n a l o n g
t i m e ago that he had a relationship w i t h a w o m a n w h o used to w o r k at
the same place as he did.
HELLINGER: H e shouldn't have told y o u that. C h i l d r e n shouldn't k n o w
things like that about their parents. S u c h things b e l o n g to a h i g h e r level
i n the family hierarchy, the parents' level. T h o s e o n the l o w e r level,
n a m e l y , t h e children, shouldn't k n o w about t h e m . T h e y shouldn't k n o w
their parents' secrets. I ' m always careful to p r o t e c t the parents' secrets
w h e n I ' m d o i n g therapy. T h i s i n f o r m a t i o n isn't i m p o r t a n t t o y o u . D i d
a n y o n e die earlier on in the family?
B R U N O : Y e s , m y sister.
HELLINGER: H o w old was she?
B R U N O : S h e was 1 8 , t w o years y o u n g e r than m e . S h e had D o w n ' s s y n drome.
HELLINGER: D o w n ' s s y n d r o m e ? T h a t ' s i m p o r t a n t i n f o r m a t i o n . W h e n a
c h i l d is handicapped, the healthy m e m b e r s of family t e n d to feel t h e y
have an advantage t h e y h a v e n ' t deserved, e v e n t h o u g h t h e y aren't r e s -

337

p o n s i b l e for the advantage any m o r e than t h e y ' r e responsible for the


o t h e r ' s disadvantage and t h e y often i m p o s e restrictions u p o n themselves
b e c a u s e t h e y c a n ' t a c c e p t their lives i n v i e w o f their sibling's handicap.
T h i s i s t h e f i r s t place w e must l o o k for what's t r o u b l i n g y o u .
to the group: W h e n w e ' r e e x p l o r i n g a systemic e n t a n g l e m e n t like this,
t h e r e ' s n o question o f a n y o n e ' s b e i n g b a d o r personally responsible. It's
simply a m a t t e r of fate. T h e r e are forces at w o r k that are b e y o n d i n n o c e n c e and guilt. W e ' r e n o t l o o k i n g for guilty persons, w e ' r e trying t o
o b s e r v e the systemic forces at w o r k and to find a solution in h a r m o n y
with them.
to Bruno: D i d anything else i m p o r t a n t h a p p e n in y o u r family? H o w many
c h i l d r e n w e r e there?
B R U N O : J u s t us t w o .
HELLINGER: O n l y y o u t w o ? T h a t makes i t e v e n m o r e intense. W a s either
of y o u r parents married b e f o r e or i n v o l v e d in a close relationship?
BRUNO: NO.
HELLINGER: D i d either o f y o u r parents b l a m e t h e o t h e r for y o u r sister's
handicap? D i d either o f t h e m think i t m i g h t h a v e b e e n the other's fault?
B R U N O : M y m o t h e r was comparatively old w h e n she had m y sister.
HELLINGER: H o w old was she?
B R U N O : S h e was 4 0 .
HELLINGER: D i d y o u r father b l a m e her, or did she b l a m e h i m ? W h a t is
y o u r impression?
B R U N O : My father didn't b l a m e my m o t h e r . B u t I think she felt guilty and
tried to find a reason for w h a t had happened.
HELLINGER: W e ' l l start b y setting u p y o u r family o f origin, b e g i n n i n g with
y o u r father, y o u r m o t h e r , y o u , and y o u r sister.

338

Diagram 1
F
Mt
1
2t

Father
Mother
First child, a son (= B r u n o )
Second child, a handicapped daughter, who died at 18

HELLINGER: H o w is the father feeling?


F A T H E R : S o r t o f heavy.
HELLINGER: H e a v y ? C a n y o u describe w h a t y o u m e a n b y that?
FATHER: I ' m facing away from the family. It's an unpleasant feeling.
HELLINGER: H o w is the m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R f : I feel very apprehensive. T h e r e ' s no w a y I can c o n t a c t my h u s b a n d or my son. I feel I d o n ' t stand a c h a n c e .
HELLINGER: Y e s , exactly. H o w is the son feeling?
F I R S T CHILD: I feel torn apart, drawn in different directions. My sister is
taking m y m o t h e r away from m e .
HELLINGER to the group: S o m e t i m e s w h e n we w o r k like this, the p e o p l e
standing in the constellation c o n c l u d e w h a t they are supposed to feel by
l o o k i n g at the w a y the p e o p l e are arranged instead of feeling it freely
from w i t h i n . T h a t ' s w h a t h a p p e n e d j u s t n o w . He said that a b o u t his sister, b e c a u s e it s e e m e d to be the w a y he o u g h t to feel.
to the representative of Bruno: It's b e t t e r if y o u c o n c e n t r a t e on w h a t y o u ' r e
actually feeling a t the m o m e n t , quite i n d e p e n d e n t l y o f h o w the c o n s t e l l a tion looks.
F I R S T CHILD: I feel torn in different directions.
HELLINGER: H o w is the sister feeling?

339

SECOND CHILDf: I feel very u n c o m f o r t a b l e and confined, and very dependent.


HELLINGER: G O o u t o f the r o o m and close the d o o r b e h i n d y o u .
to the group: W h e n s o m e o n e leaves the r o o m , it signifies that the p e r s o n has
died or c o m m i t t e d suicide. In this case, she died.

Diagram 2

HELLINGER: W h a t has c h a n g e d for the m o t h e r ? Is it b e t t e r or w o r s e ?


MOTHER")": I feel w o r s e rather than better. I feel very m u c h a l o n e .
HELLINGER: A n d the father? Is it b e t t e r or w o r s e ?
FATHER: W o r s e .
HELLINGER: W h a t a b o u t the b r o t h e r ? Is it b e t t e r or worse?
F I R S T CHILD: B o t h . O n the o n e hand, I can see m y m o t h e r b e t t e r , and
that's a relief.
HELLINGER: It's very hard to say that o n e is relieved w h e n s o m e o n e has
died, b u t it's often the case. W h e n he says he feels b e t t e r and w o r s e at
the s a m e t i m e , I interpret that to m e a n that he feels better.
F I R S T CHILD: Y e s , that's true.
HELLINGER: T h a t ' s the truth. T h a t ' s h o w it is, and there's n o t h i n g w r o n g
w i t h it. It d o e s n ' t m e a n that a n y o n e is b a d or w i c k e d .
t o the mother. G o o u t o f the r o o m . Y o u ' r e the o n e w h o died n e x t . G o out
and close the d o o r b e h i n d y o u .

340

Diagram 3

HELLINGER: H o w is the father feeling n o w ?


FATHER: Terrible.
HELLINGER: C h e c k o u t carefully w h a t the father is really feeling. D i d he
really m e a n that?
The father's

representative

laughs.

Y o u see? It's a forbidden feeling. T h e truth is that he feels b e t t e r . He


n e v e r had a c h a n c e in this family. W h a t c o u l d he do in this situation b u t
l o v e a n o t h e r w o m a n ? C a n y o u b l a m e h i m , w h e n y o u see the p o s i t i o n
he's in? N o , y o u can't.
to Bruno's representative: H o w are y o u feeling n o w ?
F I R S T CHILD: B a d . I feel terribly alone.
HELLINGER to the group: It's clear that w h a t we have h e r e is n o t a g o o d
solution, b u t it's the o n e that this particular family found. N o w let's see
i f w e can find a b e t t e r o n e .
to

the daughter and the mother outside

the room:

You

can

come back now.

S t a n d w h e r e y o u w e r e standing b e f o r e .

341

Diagram 4

HELLINGER to the daughter. H o w did y o u feel outside the r o o m ? B e t t e r or


worse?
SECOND CHILD+: I t o o k a deep breath, and t h e n I felt b e t t e r .
HELLINGER to the mother. A n d h o w did y o u feel outside the r o o m ? B e t t e r
or worse?
M O T H E R + : B e t t e r . I was pleased to see my daughter. Mother and daughter
smile at each

other.

HELLINGER to Bruno: S h e was pleased to see her. N o w do y o u see t h e h i d d e n dynamics b e h i n d y o u r m o t h e r ' s death? S h e f o l l o w e d h e r daughter.
It was an h o n o r a b l e m o t i v e , b u t an unsatisfactory solution.

Diagram 5

342

HELLINGER to the father. H o w are y o u feeling n o w ?


FATHER: B e t t e r .
HELLINGER to Bruno: Y o u r parents b r o k e o f f their intimate relationship
w h e n their daughter was born. W h o s e idea was that? W h i c h o f t h e m
b r o k e it off?
BRUNO: M y mother.
HELLINGER: Y o u r m o t h e r b r o k e it off, and that's w h y she was the o n e
w h o possessed the k e y that could have brought about a c h a n g e for the
better. N o w let's see what happens if we put her n e x t to y o u r father, her
husband.

Diagram 6

HELLINGER to the father. H o w ' s that? H o w do y o u feel n o w ?


FATHER: Q u i t e g o o d , really. Y e s .
HELLINGER to the daughter. H o w do you feel? B e t t e r or worse?
SECOND CHILD+: B e t t e r . T h e r e ' s a feeling of air and life around m e .
HELLINGER to the group: Isn't that strange? As soon as the parents are a real
couple and stop worrying so m u c h about the children, the children start
feeling better. E v e n handicapped children.
HELLINGER to the son: H o w do y o u feel?
FIRST CHILD: I feel fine.
HELLINGER: A n d h o w does the daughter feel?
SECOND CHILD+: I feel fine t o o .
HELLINGER: A n d h o w about the m o t h e r ?
M O T H E R + : I feel very relieved.

343

HELLINGER: T h a t w o u l d have b e e n a m u c h b e t t e r solution. It often happens that m o d e r n parents m i n i m i z e the risk i n v o l v e d w h e n t h e y c o n c e i v e


a child. M a y b e that's w h a t h a p p e n e d here. If t h e y had fully a c c e p t e d the
risk of having a handicapped child, they c o u l d also have admitted h o w
difficult it was for t h e m that their daughter was handicapped. If, instead
o f b r e a k i n g o f f their intimate relationship, t h e y had stuck t o g e t h e r , everyo n e m i g h t have found a b e t t e r solution.
HELLINGER to Bruno: H o w do y o u feel w h e n y o u see y o u r parents standing t o g e t h e r like this? Go and stand in y o u r place and see h o w it feels.
Bruno goes

to his place in

the constellation.

HELLINGER: N o w l o o k at y o u r sister and say: " D e a r sister, I ' m y o u r


b r o t h e r . " Say i t t o her. W h a t was h e r n a m e ?
BRUNO: Maria.
HELLINGER: Say: " D e a r M a r i a , I ' m y o u r b r o t h e r . " Say it.
BRUNO: Dear Maria. I'm your brother.
SECOND CHILDJ: I l o v e y o u .
HELLINGER to Bruno: A n d say: "I respect y o u r fate."
B R U N O : I respect y o u r fate.
HELLINGER: " A n d I will stand by y o u w h a t e v e r happens to y o u . "
B R U N O : A n d I will stand by y o u w h a t e v e r happens to y o u .
HELLINGER: " A n d I a c c e p t my o w n fate."
B R U N O : A n d I a c c e p t my o w n fate.
HELLINGER: N o w there's s o m e t h i n g else I ' d like to offer y o u . It m a y n o t
be easy, b u t it will have a healing effect. C o m e forward a f e w steps, y o u
and y o u r sister, a little closer, and b o w to y o u r parents. Go w i t h y o u r
feelings, w i t h l o v e . B o w t o y o u r parents, and t o all t h e y have d o n e for
you. B o w !
They bow,

and Bruno begins to sob.

HELLINGER: T h a t is the feeling that heals. Say: " D e a r Daddy, dear M u m m y . "
BRUNO: Dear Daddy.
HELLINGER: " I h o n o r y o u . "
Bruno

hesitates.

HELLINGER: Say it.


BRUNO: I h o n o r you.
HELLINGER: A n d say: " D e a r M u m m y . "
BRUNO: D e a r M u m m y .
HELLINGER: " I h o n o r y o u a s m y m o t h e r . "
B R U N O : I h o n o r y o u as my m o t h e r .

344

HELLINGER: N o w stand up straight and l o o k at y o u r parents, straight in


the eyes, y o u r m o t h e r and father.
to the parents: H o w are y o u feeling?
Both parents

nod

contentedly.

HELLINGER: E x a c t l y . N o w y o u can feel y o u r dignity.


to Bruno: N o w y o u can feel y o u r dignity as well. A n d y o u c a n feel y o u r
dignity as a father to y o u r o w n children.
to the participants in the constellation: Y o u can go b a c k to y o u r places n o w .
to the group: D i d y o u n o t i c e the deep respect w i t h w h i c h this w o r k is d o n e ,
w i t h respect for e v e r y o n e involved? A n d all the t i m e w e w e r e w o r k i n g
t o w a r d a solution. T h e r e was no unnecessary r u m m a g i n g a b o u t in the
past, j u s t purposeful steps t o w a r d the solution that will give B r u n o the
strength to live his life fully, and that will n o w also have a positive effect
on his present family.
A r e t h e r e any questions?
PARTICIPANT: I am w o n d e r i n g w h y y o u structured his w o r k so tightly rather than letting h i m talk m o r e a b o u t his situation. D i d y o u start w i t h his
family of origin because it was all clear to y o u from t h e v e r y b e g i n n i n g ?
HELLINGER: N o . I w a n t e d to see if t h e r e was s o m e t h i n g in w h i c h he had
b e c o m e entangled. It b e c a m e clear to me as s o o n as he m e n t i o n e d his
sister.
It is usually significant w h e n there is a handicapped c h i l d in a family,
and its i m p o r t a n c e b e c a m e e v e n clearer w h e n he said that his sister died
y o u n g and his m o t h e r had a fatal a c c i d e n t s o m e t i m e afterward. T h a t was
i m p o r t a n t information, and I w o r k e d w i t h it. If it had b e e n s o m e t h i n g
else, we w o u l d have found it o u t later o n . I always start w i t h w h a t a p pears t o b e o b v i o u s , and this always consists o f events. B r u n o ' s m o t h e r
died, and that was an event. His sister died, and that was an event. S h e
had D o w n ' s s y n d r o m e , and that was also an event. T h a t ' s all we n e e d e d
for t h e solution.
I f y o u allow the patient t o talk a b o u t e v e r y t h i n g u n d e r t h e sun instead
o f w o r k i n g t o w a r d the solution, the issue b e c o m e s confused. B u t i f y o u
a l l o w t h e events t o have their effect o n y o u , y o u can feel the e n e r g y
t h e r e at o n c e . T h e r e ' s no n e e d to ask any m o r e questions, y o u j u s t have
t o feel the presence o r lack o f energy. W h e n B r u n o told u s w h a t had h a p p e n e d in his family, we c o u l d feel the energy. I w o r k e d w i t h this e n e r g y .
PARTICIPANT W H O REPRESENTED THE SISTER: I was a m a z e d by the i n t e n sity o f the w o r k .
HELLINGER: O f course, y o u w e r e part o f the constellation, y o u e x p e r i e n c e d h o w i t w o r k s a t first hand. Y o u e x p e r i e n c e d y o u r feelings c h a n g -

345

ing a s y o u r position i n the constellation c h a n g e d . W e d o n ' t k n o w exactly


h o w this happens. In these constellations, e v e r y b o d y taking part participates in o t h e r people's fates and o t h e r p e o p l e ' s feelings, and we don't
k n o w w h y . A n d i f w e can d o this, j u s t t h i n k h o w m u c h m o r e strongly
a c h i l d is entangled in the family's feelings and fate.
A N O T H E R PARTICIPANT: I was a m a z e d at h o w assured and definite y o u
are in y o u r w o r k , h o w y o u go straight to essentials and refuse to be sidet r a c k e d b y inessentials.
HELLINGER: I can tell y o u h o w y o u can learn to do that. W o u l d y o u like
to know?
PARTICIPANT: I certainly w o u l d .
HELLINGER: Y o u must forget all that y o u have learned. T h a t ' s the first
thing. T h e n y o u observe e v e r y o n e i n the constellation w i t h l o v e and r e spect. In this case, it was l o v e and respect for B r u n o , his m o t h e r , and his
sister. T h e y w e r e the three m a i n characters. T h e n y o u wait and see i f a
s o l u t i o n suggests itself. W i t h this basic attitude, the solution often e m e r ges quite quickly. O f course, there are s o m e t e c h n i q u e s that can b e
learned. F o r e x a m p l e , an i m p o r t a n t test in this sort of situation is to see
w h a t happens in a system w h e n s o m e o n e dies, and y o u do this by sending the dead person o u t o f the r o o m . T h e deaths o f m e m b e r s o f the
family represented this family's attempt at a solution. B u t it was n o t a
g o o d solution, so we l o o k e d for a b e t t e r o n e .
B r u n o s h o w e d us his family's attempts at finding a solution. He had
an i n n e r picture of their relationships. B u t it was a disastrous solution that
led t o the deaths o f t w o m e m b e r s o f the family, his sister and his m o t h e r .
W h e n he set up this i n n e r picture in the form of a family constellation
for e v e r y o n e to see, we w e r e able to c h a n g e it and w o r k t o w a r d a b e t t e r
solution. T h e solution will have a positive effect o n B r u n o w i t h o u t anyt h i n g having to c h a n g e in his family. His father does n o t have to c h a n g e ,
h e d o e s n ' t e v e n have t o k n o w a b o u t w h a t has h a p p e n e d here. B u t i f
B r u n o keeps this n e w picture i n his heart and m i n d , w i t h l o v e , e v e r y t h i n g can c h a n g e for the better.
t o Bruno: W h e n y o u g o h o m e w i t h this n e w picture, y o u will see that y o u r
c h i l d r e n are radiant. So that's w h a t this w o r k is about; it's quite simple
and fundamental.
PARTICIPANT: I have a practical question. If B r u n o c a m e to y o u privately,
w o u l d y o u w o r k like this w i t h h i m in the very first session, and if so,
w o u l d y o u w a n t to see h i m again for further sessions?
HELLINGER: N o . N o further sessions. E v e r y t h i n g o f i m p o r t a n c e has h a p p e n e d . H e must, h o w e v e r , b e aware o f o n e thing I told h i m this dur-

346

i n g t h e b r e a k . In a s y s t e m i c c o n t e x t , it is possible that his d a u g h t e r w i l l


i m i t a t e his sister, that she is e n t a n g l e d in his sister's fate b e c a u s e up u n t i l
n o w his sister has n o t b e e n g i v e n t h e r e s p e c t d u e h e r . N o w , w h e n h e
g o e s h o m e , h e will see t h e c h a n g e s that h a v e t a k e n p l a c e i n his family
b e c a u s e o f his r e c o g n i t i o n o f and respect for his dead sister. T h e v e r y fact
that h e n o w r e m e m b e r s his sister w i t h l o v e will h a v e a p o s i t i v e effect o n
his d a u g h t e r .
T h e t h e r a p e u t i c process m a y b e c o m p a r e d t o a ballistic c u r v e . A t t h e
b e g i n n i n g , t h e e n e r g y l e v e l rises q u i c k l y , a n d t h e n r e a c h e s its p e a k a n d
starts to fall. Y o u m u s t stop w h e n it is at its p e a k . E v e r y t h i n g that h a p p e n s afterward wastes e n e r g y . T h e n the e n e r g y i s used for e x p l a n a t i o n s
a n d analyses instead o f b e i n g c o n c e n t r a t e d o n t h e s o l u t i o n .
P A R T I C I P A N T : W o u l d y o u w o r k l i k e this i n t h e v e r y first session?
H E L L I N G E R : U s u a l l y , yes.
I w o u l d n ' t d o any m o r e w o r k w i t h B r u n o b e c a u s e all that i s n e c e s s a r y
has b e e n d o n e . O f c o u r s e , this i m p l i e s trust i n his s t r e n g t h a n d t h e s u p p o r t o f his parents. W i t h t h e m and his sister, h e i s i n t h e b e s t p o s s i b l e
hands.
A N O T H E R PARTICIPANT: W h e n I was t a l k i n g t o t h e o t h e r s d u r i n g t h e
b r e a k , I b e c a m e a w a r e o f h o w m u c h o f w h a t has h a p p e n e d loses its
p o w e r w h e n o n e talks a b o u t i t t o o m u c h .
HELLINGER: Exactly. T h a t ' s a g o o d example o f what happens i f y o u g o o n
t a l k i n g o r asking questions w h e n t h e w o r k i s finished. I n a n c i e n t C h i n a
a c e r t a i n L a o - t z e w r o t e a little b o o k called t h e Tao Te King. T h e r e ' s a
s e n t e n c e i n i t that i s l i k e a m o t t o for p e o p l e w h o w a n t t o h e l p o t h e r s .
L a o - t z e says: " W h e n a w i s e m a n has finished o n e task h e g o e s o n t o t h e
n e x t . " T h a t ' s w h a t I do as a therapist. No discussions or analyses after t h e
e v e n t . W h e n it's o v e r , it's o v e r .
P A R T I C I P A N T W H O R E P R E S E N T E D THE FATHER: It was q u i t e a strain f o r
m e , especially a t t h e e n d .
HELLINGER: T h a n k you. Y o u have reminded m e o f something important.
First, w h e n y o u r e p r e s e n t s o m e o n e in a family c o n s t e l l a t i o n , it's a s e r v i c e
y o u are d o i n g for t h e p e r s o n w h o i s setting i t up. T h a t ' s w h a t y o u did
j u s t n o w . Y o u did i t o u t o f l o v e for B r u n o , e v e n t h o u g h i t w a s a strain.
S e c o n d , w h e n y o u ' r e standing i n a c o n s t e l l a t i o n , y o u ' r e f e e l i n g s o m e o n e else's feelings. Y o u m u s t b e careful n o t t o t h i n k that w h a t y o u feel
d u r i n g t h e w o r k are y o u r o w n feelings. T h i s i s very i m p o r t a n t . Y o u m u s t
n o t say to yourself: " I f I c a n feel as I did j u s t n o w , it m u s t h a v e s o m e t h i n g t o d o w i t h m e . " I stress this b e c a u s e i f y o u a l l o w y o u r s e l f t o t h i n k
o f o t h e r p e o p l e ' s feelings a s y o u r o w n , t h e s i t u a t i o n c a n b e c o m e c o n -

347

fused and crazy. W h e n t h e w o r k i s finished, y o u m u s t l e a v e b e h i n d y o u


e v e r y t h i n g that y o u e x p e r i e n c e d i n t h e o t h e r p e r s o n ' s s y s t e m a n d return
t o y o u r o w n . I s that clear?
W h e n did y o u feel strained? W a s i t w h e n t h e s o n b o w e d t o y o u a s his
father?
PvEPRESENTATIVE OF THE FATHER: Y e s , I t h i n k SO.
H E L L I N G E R : I t h i n k I k n o w w h y that was so hard. It is s o m e t i m e s difficult
for people to accept the respect due to them, but it w o u l d have b e e n a
b i g m i s t a k e t o h a v e g o n e o v e r t o t h e s o n w h e n h e was b o w i n g t o y o u
a n d m a k e h i m stand u p straight. I t w o u l d h a v e b e e n t o o s o o n for h i m .
H e n e e d e d t o b e able t o h o n o r y o u : that was t h e o n l y w a y that t h e l o v e
b e t w e e n y o u c o u l d start t o f l o w again.
to Bruno: I t h i n k we m a y assume f r o m t h e w a y he felt that y o u r father in
real life finds it h a r d to a c c e p t r e s p e c t a n d l o v e . Is that true?
Bruno

nods.

H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , his r e p r e s e n t a t i v e felt that.


to the father's representative: B u t it was g o o d for y o u to h a v e to e n d u r e it. As
strange as it m a y s o u n d , it is h u m i l i t y that enables y o u to p e r m i t the
c h i l d t o h o n o r y o u a s his father. P e o p l e d o n o t b e c o m e fathers t h r o u g h
t h e i r o w n p e r s o n a l m e r i t b u t t h r o u g h a fitting a n d appropriate c o n s u m m a t i o n o f l o v e . O n e d o e s n o t b e c o m e a father b e c a u s e o n e i s a g o o d o r
a b a d p e r s o n , b u t b e c a u s e o n e a c c e p t s a n d agrees t o this c o n s u m m a t i o n
w i t h all of its risks. I treat that w i t h the u t m o s t r e s p e c t . Is t h e r e a n y t h i n g
else y o u w o u l d l i k e t o say?
REPRESENTATIVE O F THE FATHER: N o t a t t h e m o m e n t .
P A R T I C I P A N T : I was actually e x p e c t i n g y o u t o ask h i m w h a t his p r o b l e m
was. A n d t h e n I was surprised that it w a s n ' t e v e n necessary.
H E L L I N G E R : I'll tell y o u a secret. I n t u i t i o n o n l y w o r k s w h e n y o u are
w o r k i n g toward a solution. If y o u concentrate on the problem, y o u r pers p e c t i v e b e c o m e s n a r r o w and restricted. Y o u see t h e details b u t the
w h o l e escapes y o u y o u c a n ' t see t h e forest for t h e trees. B u t i f y o u
l o o k t o w a r d t h e s o l u t i o n , y o u ' r e always i n t o u c h w i t h t h e w h o l e , and
t h e n t h e right p a t h b e c k o n s , a n d y o u g o straight t o it. Y o u c a n forget
a b o u t e v e r y t h i n g else b e c a u s e y o u h a v e all y o u n e e d .
A N O T H E R PARTICIPANT: I t m a d e a great i m p r e s s i o n o n m e w h e n y o u said
that t h e parents h a d b r o k e n o f f t h e i r i n t i m a t e r e l a t i o n s h i p after t h e b i r t h
of t h e i r d a u g h t e r , a n d that t h e w i f e h a d sacrificed t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p as a
f o r m o f a t o n e m e n t . I w o n d e r e d i f that w o u l d h a v e o c c u r r e d t o m e , and
t h e n I w o n d e r e d i f i t w e r e j u s t a t h e o r y . B u t t h e n i t was c o n f i r m e d b y
w h a t h a p p e n e d i n t h e c o n s t e l l a t i o n and b y w h a t B r u n o said.

348

H E L L I N G E R : T h e r e was n o n e e d t o ask any q u e s t i o n s b e c a u s e w e s a w


c l e a r l y that t h e r e was n o r e l a t i o n s h i p left b e t w e e n t h e parents, a n d i t
must have had something to do with the birth of their daughter. B u t
w h a t e v e r m a d e t h e m o t h e r act t h e w a y she did, she k n e w o f n o b e t t e r
w a y . S h e l a c k e d h e l p , a n d t h e fact that she h a d risked g i v i n g b i r t h t o a
c h i l d at that age was n o t r e s p e c t e d .
P A R T I C I P A N T : I was d e e p l y i m p r e s s e d by that.

D Y I N G

I S

P R E F E R A B L E T O B O W I N G
O N E ' S
F A T H E R

T O

HELLINGER: Let's go on with the n e x t person. I'd like to w o r k with s o m e o n e w h o i s seriously ill b e c a u s e that's w h e r e w e c a n d o t h e m o s t g o o d ,
a n d it's also h o w w e c a n l e a r n t h e m o s t .
H E R M A N : I w o u l d like to w o r k . I have cancer of the b o n e m a r r o w .
H E L L I N G E R : O k a y , I'll w o r k w i t h y o u . C o m e a n d sit n e x t t o m e . T h a t ' s
a serious illness. H o w l o n g h a v e y o u b e e n ill?
HERMAN: A year.
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t t r e a t m e n t h a v e y o u had?
H E R M A N : I ' v e h a d c h e m o t h e r a p y , a n d I ' v e also t a k e n part i n v a r i o u s p s y c h o t h e r a p y groups.
HELLINGER: A r e y o u married?
HERMAN: Yes.
HELLINGER: A n y children?
HERMAN: N o .
H E L L I N G E R : I s t h e r e any particular reason w h y y o u h a v e n o c h i l d r e n ?
HERMAN: We wanted children, but it never happened.
H E L L I N G E R : W a s t h e r e a n y t h i n g special i n y o u r family o r o r i g i n ?
H E R M A N : T h e only thing I can think of is the bad relationship b e t w e e n
m y father a n d his b r o t h e r s . T h e y w e r e j o i n t o w n e r s o f a c o m p a n y , b u t
t h e n t h e y separated and b r o k e o f f all c o n t a c t w i t h o n e a n o t h e r .
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t a b o u t y o u r father's father?
H E R M A N : I n e v e r k n e w h i m . M y father n e v e r said m u c h a b o u t h i m . It's
n o t c l e a r t o m e a t all.
H E L L I N G E R : S t r a n g e , that h e d o e s n ' t talk a b o u t h i m . W e ' l l set u p y o u r
family o f o r i g i n : y o u r father, y o u r m o t h e r , yourself, a n d y o u r siblings.
H o w m a n y o f y o u are t h e r e ?
H E R M A N : I h a v e o n l y o n e sister, y o u n g e r t h a n m e .

349

HELLINGER: W a s either o f y o u r parents married before o r i n v o l v e d i n a


close relationship?
H E R M A N : N o t that I k n o w of. I d o n ' t t h i n k so.
HELLINGER: W a s there a stillborn c h i l d or a child w h o died y o u n g ?
HERMAN: N o .
Herman

sets

up

his family

of origin.

Diagram 1
F
M
1
2

Father
Mother
First child, a son (= H e r m a n )
Second child, a daughter

HELLINGER: H o w is the father feeling?


F A T H E R : P e o p l e say that I exist.
Laughter

in

the group.

HELLINGER: H o w d o y o u feel?
F A T H E R : I feel sort of u n c o m m i t t e d , very . . . He sighs.
HELLINGER to the group: T h e father is b e i n g pulled to g o . Do y o u see that?
H e has t o g o . T h e question is, w h o i s h e following?
H o w ' s the m o t h e r feeling?
M O T H E R : I ' m delighted t o see w h a t c h a r m i n g children I have. T h e only
t h i n g is, I ' m rather far away from t h e m . My husband c a n do as he
pleases. W h e t h e r he stays or goes, it m a k e s no difference.
HELLINGER to the group: H e r r e a c t i o n is very strange. T h e r e ' s no love

350

t h e r e , do y o u see that? No l o v e at all. I ' v e seen quite often that o n e p e r son was b e i n g pulled to leave and that the o t h e r left in h e r place. I susp e c t that's what's g o i n g on here, the wife is really the o n e w h o is pulled
to g o , b u t h e r husband does it for her. T h a t ' s called l o v e .
D o y o u see h e r expression? S h e l o o k s malicious. I f h e r h u s b a n d leaves,
she will be triumphant. W h e n y o u are a representative in a constellation
l i k e this, y o u have n o influence o v e r w h a t happens o r w h a t y o u feel. I f
y o u represent a person entangled in evil, y o u feel t h e w a y that p e r s o n
feels.
F A T H E R : W h y is it that I d o n ' t feel anything at all h e r e ?
HELLINGER: W e ' l l turn y o u around. W e ' l l put y o u s o that y o u are facing
the family and y o u r wife is facing away f r o m it and see w h a t happens.

Diagram 2

F A T H E R to his wife, flippantly: Let's turn around again (so that the husband is
looking

away from

the family

and

the wife

toward

it).

HELLINGER: Please b e serious, o t h e r w i s e w e w o n ' t b e able t o d o o u r best


for H e r m a n . H o w are the children feeling n o w ?
F I R S T CHILD: I'll be furious if he turns away again.
HELLINGER: E x a c t l y . H o w i s the daughter feeling?
SECOND CHILD: At first, I had the feeling that my b r o t h e r and I w e r e the
real m a r r i e d c o u p l e in the family.
HELLINGER: H o w ' s the wife feeling n o w ? B e t t e r o r w o r s e ?
M O T H E R : I d o n ' t w a n t to be sent away j u s t yet. I w a n t to be w i t h my
children, and I w a n t to turn around.

351

H E L L I N G E R : W h e r e were you looking just now?


M O T H E R : T o w a r d m y husband?
H E L L I N G E R : N O , s o m e o n e was j u s t in front o f y o u . W h o is there? W r .
are y o u l o o k i n g at?
>

M O T H E R : A t m y o w n life, m y o w n history?
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s a guess. It doesn't help.
to Herman: W h o is y o u r m o t h e r l o o k i n g at, w h o is m a k i n g h e r want
leave? W h o i s she following?
H E R M A N : H e r sister died three years ago, b u t . . .
H E L L I N G E R : N o , that's n o t it.
H E R M A N : H e r m o t h e r died a few years ago.
H E L L I N G E R : N o . It must b e s o m e t h i n g m u c h m o r e serious, and somethi'
m u c h earlier, b u t it's clear that y o u r family was forbidden to k n o w i:
to the group: T h e r e ' s a family secret h e r e . T h e children feel like the rec o u p l e , t h e y will be furious if the father turns away again, t h e m o t h
d o e s n ' t care if he goes or stays, and she's l o o k i n g at s o m e o n e else and r.
telling. W e h a v e t o respect h e r secret and f o l l o w the d y n a m i c . I'll h r
h e r representative leave the family and see w h a t effect that has.
Hellinger

leads

the

mother

away from

the family.

Diagram 3

H E L L I N G E R : H o w do y o u feel there? B e t t e r o r w o r s e ?
M O T H E R : Better.
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t fits. T h a t ' s the truth o f the matter. S o m e t h i n g w e do;
k n o w i s pulling y o u o u t o f the family. H o w i s the husband feeling?

352

F A T H E R : W h e n I turned to face my family, I suddenly felt a great load of


heaviness and s o r r o w .
HELLINGER: G o and stand i n front o f the children; children, turn and face
y o u r father.

Diagram 4

The father and children

smile warmly

at

one

another.

HELLINGER to Herman: Go and stand in y o u r place in the constellation.


H o w does that feel?
H E R M A N : Strange. V e r y unfamiliar.
HELLINGER: E v e r y o n e c o u l d see that the father's love was g o o d for the
children, b u t s o m e t h i n g m a k e s it hard for y o u to feel it. L e t ' s see if we
can find a healing m o v e m e n t for y o u . Go and stand to his left and l o o k
a t h i m w i t h l o v e . T u r n t o w a r d h i m and l o o k a t h i m . Say: " D a d d y . "
HERMAN: Daddy.
HELLINGER: "Please stay."
H E R M A N : Please stay.
HELLINGER: " A n d give m e y o u r blessing i f I stay t o o . "
H E R M A N : G i v e m e y o u r blessing i f I stay t o o .
Long

pause.

HELLINGER: W h a t are the right words?


H E R M A N : I ' m angry.
HELLINGER: O k a y , F o r s o m e reason, e v e n t h o u g h y o u are v e r y seriously
ill, y o u turn away from l o v e , b a c k to anger. Say to h i m : " I ' l l go instead
of you."

353

H E R M A N : I'll g o instead o f y o u .
H E L L I N G E R : Louder.
H E R M A N angrily: I'll g o instead o f y o u .
Long pause.

Herman

remains

angry.

H E L L I N G E R to the group: H e will die angry. H e c a n ' t escape from the e n tanglement.
to Herman: Y o u r anger is m o r e i m p o r t a n t to y o u than y o u r health. W h a t
did y o u do to y o u r father?
H E R M A N defiantly.

I don't know.

H E L L I N G E R : D i d y o u do h i m s o m e w r o n g ?
H E R M A N : I don't know.
H E L L I N G E R : D i d y o u despise h i m , for e x a m p l e ?
H E R M A N firmly. Y e s , I hated h i m .
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s it.
HERMAN:

He

...

H E L L I N G E R : K n o w i n g w h a t h e did w o n ' t help us n o w . T h e i m p o r t a n t


t h i n g is the effect y o u r anger has on y o u r health, no m a t t e r w h a t the
reason. G o and stand b y y o u r sister again.
to the group: R e c o n c i l i n g hate and restoring l o v e can influence the course
of a disease, and t h e y m a k e dying easier w h e n the disease i t s e l f c a n ' t be
healed. T h e best t h i n g for h i m t o d o n o w w o u l d b e t o k n e e l b e f o r e his
father and b o w t o h i m w i t h respect. B u t h e c a n ' t b r i n g h i m s e l f t o d o
that. He w o u l d rather die in anger.
to Herman: Is that true?
HERMAN:

No!

H E L L I N G E R : W i l l y o u d o it?
HERMAN:

I'll try.

H E L L I N G E R : N o trying! W i l l y o u do it?
H E R M A N f i r m l y : Yes.
H E L L I N G E R : G o o d , t h e n I'll help y o u . K n e e l d o w n and b o w l o w , until
y o u are t o u c h i n g the g r o u n d , and stretch y o u r hands o u t i n front o f y o u
w i t h y o u r palms turned upward. Y e s , like that. B r e a t h e deeply. Say:
"Dear Daddy."
H E R M A N : D e a r Daddy.
H E L L I N G E R : " I b o w d o w n to y o u w i t h r e s p e c t . "
H E R M A N : I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h respect.
H E L L I N G E R : Say it again, in a n o r m a l v o i c e .
H E R M A N : D e a r D a d d y , I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h respect.
H E L L I N G E R : E x a c t l y . T h o s e are the right words. B r e a t h e deeply. " D e a r
Daddy."

354

H E R M A N : Dear Daddy.
H E L L I N G E R : " I b o w d o w n to y o u with respect."
H E R M A N : I b o w d o w n t o y o u w i t h respect.
H E L L I N G E R : " I h o n o r y o u as m y f a t h e r , "
H E R M A N : I h o n o r y o u as m y father,
H E L L I N G E R : " a n d y o u m a y h a v e m e as y o u r s o n . "
H E R M A N : a n d y o u m a y h a v e m e as y o u r son.
H E L L I N G E R : " I b o w d o w n to y o u with respect."
H E R M A N : I b o w d o w n to y o u with respect.
H E L L I N G E R : S t a y l i k e that for a little w h i l e , q u i t e still a n d c a l m , a n d
b r e a t h e d e e p l y . R e l a x a n d let g o . W h e n i t feels right, g e t u p a n d g o b a c k
to y o u r place.
Long

pause.

B r e a t h e d e e p l y , t h r o u g h y o u r m o u t h . T h a t ' s t h e b e s t w a y t o let i t f l o w .
T a k e y o u r father i n a s y o u i n h a l e a n d let y o u r l o v e f l o w o u t t o h i m a s
y o u exhale.
Long

pause.

N o w g o b a c k a n d stand n e x t t o y o u r sister a n d l o o k a t y o u r father. I n c l i n e y o u r h e a d slightly, i n a gesture o f r e s p e c t . T h e n stand u p straight.


Herman

stands

beside

his

sister.

H E L L I N G E R : H o w does that feel t o t h e father?


F A T H E R : It's hard t o a c c e p t , it's h a r d t o b e l i e v e . . .
H E L L I N G E R : W h a t is hard t o believe? T h a t h e really respects and h o n o r s y o u ?
FATHER:

Yes.

H E L L I N G E R : Y e s , that's possible.
to the group: W h e n representatives r e p o r t a c c u r a t e l y w h a t t h e y e x p e r i e n c e ,
it's v e r y difficult t o c h e a t i n this w o r k . I ' v e often o b s e r v e d that p e o p l e
w i t h c a n c e r f i n d i t easier t o die than t o o p e n t h e i r hearts b y b o w i n g
d o w n b e f o r e t h e i r parents. T h e y w o u l d r a t h e r die i n a n g e r .
to Herman: L o o k at y o u r father again a n d say: " P l e a s e , "
H E R M A N : Please,
H E L L I N G E R : " g i v e m e a little m o r e t i m e . "
H E R M A N : give m e a little m o r e t i m e .
H E L L I N G E R : "Please,"
H E R M A N : Please,
H E L L I N G E R : " g i v e m e a little m o r e t i m e . "
H E R M A N : give m e a little m o r e t i m e .
H E L L I N G E R : T h a t ' s t h e m o v e m e n t w e ' v e b e e n l o o k i n g for. Y o u r h e a r t j u s t

355

o p e n e d u p a little. N o w y o u can put y o u r trust i n y o u r o w n heart.


to the group: He c a n ' t go to his father yet. He c a n ' t e m b r a c e h i m yet. It
w o u l d o n l y be a g a m e . It w o u l d n ' t do any g o o d .
to Herman: O k a y , w e ' l l leave it like that for the m o m e n t . I'll put my trust
i n y o u r heart t o o . M a y I ?
HERMAN: Y e s . He smiles insincerely as he speaks.
HELLINGER: NO, I m a y not. Y o u r smile tells me I m a y n o t .
H E R M A N : Y e s , y o u may!
HELLINGER: Be careful! W h a t y o u b e l i e v e is less i m p o r t a n t than w h a t is
really g o i n g o n . I d o n ' t w a n t to quarrel w i t h y o u , I w a n t to help you.
T h a t ' s w h y I take every signal seriously. Y o u r smile was insincere. Y o u r
heart o p e n e d , b u t t h e n y o u q u i c k l y c o v e r e d the o p e n i n g w i t h a n insinc e r e smile. If I p r e t e n d I didn't see that, I w o u l d o n l y be playing with
y o u , and we c a n ' t afford to play games w i t h an illness like y o u r s . C a n c e r
feeds on hate, but it shies away from l o v e .
O k a y , that's all.
H E R M A N : I can feel that. T h a n k y o u .
HELLINGER to the group: I w a n t to say a few w o r d s a b o u t the things that
terrify us and fill us w i t h dread and fear.
W e are i n h a r m o n y w i t h the earth o n l y w h e n w e are also i n h a r m o n y
w h a t appears dreadful and terrifying. W h e n we are in h a r m o