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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hellinger, Bert .
Love' s Own Truths : bonding and balancing in close relationships / by Ber t
Hellinger ; translated from the German by Maureen Oberl i -Turner and Hunt er
Beaumont .
p. cm.
Includes index.
I SBN 1- 891944- 48- 7 (alk. paper)
1. Family Psychotherapy. 2. Family Psychological aspects. 3. Conduct of life.
I. Title.
R C4 8 8 . 5 . H434 2001
6 16 . 89' 15 6 dc 21 20 0 10 2375 5
Copyright 2001 by Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any process
whatsoever without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Published by
36 14 Nort h 24t h Street
Phoeni x, AZ 85 0 16
Manufactured in the Uni t ed States of America
1 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Cont ent s
Preface xvii
Acknowledgments xx
Insight Through Restraint
Ex c e r p t s f r om a Le c t ur e on
Al t ernat i ve Ap p r oac he s t o Heal i ng
Story: Helping revelations 1
Scientific and phenomenological paths of discovery 2
The procedure 2
Restraint 3
Courage 3
Story: Resonance 3
Philosophical phenomenol ogy and conscience 4
Psychotherapeutic phenomenol ogy 5
The soul 6
Rel i gi ous phenomenol ogy 6
Story: Turning back 7
Entanglements and Their Resolution
F r o m an Advanc e d Trai ni ng Cours e f or Hel pi ng Prof essi onal s
The opening round 11
Adoption is risky 11
Rul es of involvement 12
Story: More or less 13
The double displacement 13
The first woman 15
Happiness needs courage 16
A son' s unc ons c i ous i denti f i cati on wi t h his mot he r ' s
f avori t e brot her 16
VI Contents
The difference bet ween following someone' s example and
bei ng identified with a person 26
The principle of minimalism 27
Individuation detracts from the intensity of a relationship 27
Love follows predetermined laws 28
Rul es of priority 29
The priority of the fi rst close relationship 30
The hierarchy in the family 30
The exclusive status of the intimate sphere 31
Priorities in divorce 31
The obj ection 33
Hierarchy in organizations 33
The decision not to have children 35
" To be or not to be" 36
The consequences of such a decision for the couple' s relationship 36
At loggerheads 37
Children who get bad grades 38
Transferred grief 38
A daught er represent s her f ather' s dec eased sister 39
Compensat i on through suffering 43
Compensat i on on a higher level 44
Compensation through acknowledgment and respect 45
Ac c e p t i ng one' s life even at the c ost of ma ny ot hers 45
Story: They're here 48
Acknowl edged personal guilt as a source of strength 56
Saving face for one' s father 57
It is easier to suffer than to accept the solution 58
The humbl e solution hurts 58
A child' s interrupted movement toward his mot her or father 59
Shoulder pains 62
A flea in his ear 62
The mo t he r t hreat ened t o kill hersel f and her c hi l dren 6 3
The consequences of murder and threats of murder within
the family 71
People who have forfeited their right to belong must leave 72
Questions that help and questions that don' t 73
The therapist's responsibility when working with family
constellations 74
Observing process rather than content 75
Becomi ng entangled in other people' s confusion and other
people' s feelings in a family constellation 76
The mother' s threat of suicide 77
Story: The end 78
A matter of life and death 80
The grave 81
Two great - unc l es were ex c l uded, and an unc l e
was despi sed 81
The members of the family system 88
Uni t ed in a common fate: survivors and the deceased and
victims and perpetrators 89
A wife threatened to commi t suicide 90
The daught er represent s her f ather' s f or me r f i anc ee 91
The best place for children 96
Unconsci ous identification with a parent' s former partner 97
Preoccupation with God 99
Who should have custody of the child of an addicted mother? 100
What leads to addiction? 101
Addiction as a means of atonement 104
Intuition is dependent on love 105
Addiction as attempted suicide 105
The healing movement toward the mot her 105
Wha t shoul d be c onsi dered when a chi l d' s i nt errupt ed
mo v e me n t t owar d its mo t he r or f at her i s r e s ume d
and c omp l e t e d 106
The parents 106
Representatives of the parents 107
The deep bow 108
The movement toward the parents must reach beyond t hem 109
Vl l l Conten ts
Adopting the role of victim as a means of revenge 110
The reassurance 111
The compensation 111
A surprising recovery 111
Amicable feelings 112
Identifying a double shift 112
Resolving a double shift 113
The wrong kind of forgiveness 119
The consequences 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
Taki ng on someone else's sadness makes one weak 132
Psychological hygiene in constellations 132
The stress of being happy 133
Di vorce and guilt 134
Children frequently atone for irresponsible separations 134
Compulsive compensation through atonement 135
Feelings of guilt as a denial of reality 136
The bond created by the consummation of love 136
Wi t hi n the mother' s sphere of influence 137
Different ways of giving and taking in the family 138
Bel oved burden 140
The father was illegitimate, the father's father was
excluded from the family 141
Whe n a child takes on the role of a parent 147
At onement for the death of a woman in childbirth 147
Story: The illusion 150
Father and son 154
Unknown grandfather 154
Honori ng one' s mot her 155
Displaced enthusiasm 155
Contents ix
The daught er i s i denti f i ed wi t h her f ather' s f or me r f i anc ee 156
Obj ect i ve and subjective presumptuousness 161
Longi ng for one' s father 162
Priority of the husband or wife in the family 163
The woman follows the man, and the man is in the
service of womanhood 164
Hopeless love 165
What wrong must I have done to you to make me feel so
angry with you? 166
Anger as a defense against pain 167
Controlled anger 167
Different kinds of anger 167
Caution and courage 169
A son represent s his mot he r ' s f or me r f i ance 170
The systemic sense of balance 172
Different kinds of conscience 173
Story: Innocence 174
Consci ence and compensation 175
Constructive and destructive equilibrium 175
The limits of compensation 176
Bal ance through gratitude and humility 177
Lasting clarity 177
Leaving the past in peace 178
All that remains of fire is ashes 179
No more back pains 180
Inequal i t y i n a c oupl e' s rel ati onshi p and t he l aw of
c omp e ns at i on 180
Jealousy and compensation 185
Innocence and guilt 186
Unfaithfulness and faithfulness 186
Assumed feelings of revenge 188
Refl ect i ons on i nnocence 188
Gifts for one' s mot her 188
Crises are most easily resolved after they peak 189
The ot her i mage 189
X Contents
The round 193
Assumed symptoms 194
The appropriate measure 196
Exonerat ed 197
The high price 197
The base feeling, and how to change it 198
Peace through love 20 0
Secret happiness 20 0
A different kind of knowledge 201
Giving without taking 20 2
Ne w perspectives 20 2
Futile fantasies about relationships 20 2
Giving and taking in a partnership 20 3
Letting pressure flow away 20 4
The question of religion 20 5
Sadness about aunts who died in a concentration camp 20 5
Respect i ng the parents of handicapped children 20 6
Presumption and its consequences 20 6
Halfway there 20 8
Yes and no to having a child of one' s own 20 9
Yes and no t o smoking 210
Rel i ef for headaches 210
Honori ng one' s father and behind him, God 211
Refusal to accept atonement 212
Th e younges t daught er' s i denti f i cati on wi t h her mo t he r 212
Inheritances with and without a price 217
I n t he gri p of f ate 219
A short round 229
Standing firmly on bot h feet 230
Want i ng to escape from emotional fullness 230
Fullness and completeness 230
Story: Reunion 231
Liking and respecting 231
Equals among equals 232
Reconci l i at i on through clarity 233
Contents X I
Remai ni ng attentive 233
Self-restraint, wi t h attentiveness and energy 234
The limits of i nnocence 234
The rel i ef of living i n the present 235
Paying attention to the inner process 235
Hel pi ng victims of incest 236
Ho w t o help perpetrators of incest 241
Story: The stillness 242
About moral indignation 242
Story: Tlxe adulteress 243
Wh a t reduc es wo m e n t o si ze af t er t hey as s ume t he
rol e o f Go d 245
Story: Mercy does not last forever 245
Wo me n and men 25 4
The break wi t h God 25 4
Story: Greater faith 25 5
Th e f at her' s p arent s we r e ki l l ed i n a c onc e nt r at i on c a mp ;
t he mo t he r ' s p arent s survi ved by hi di ng 25 6
Life' s grace 26 2
Re gai ni ng and ac c e p t i ng a f at her who di ed whe n
hi s son was still yo ung 26 3
Ap p r op r i at e s eparat i on 26 8
The blessing conceal ed i n things that went wrong 272
The next step 273
Closeness and restriction 273
Mot her and child 274
Doi ng the right thing for one' s aging parents 274
The courage to do what is appropriate 274
Perspectives 275
Story: The way of the world 276
Honor i ng what has been 276
Laws of Belonging
From a Workshop for Family Therapists
The solution as a religious act 279
A woman who cannot have children of her own
adopted a child 280
The price 286
The hierarchy of bel ongi ng 287
Obj ect i ons 287
A child' s right to his or her parents 289
The focus is on the victim, the child, and not on the
perpetrators 289
The next step 291
The solution through dissolution 292
Shock and dread 293
Pity and forgetting 294
Seei ng and hearing 295
Identical guilt has identical consequences 296
Obj ect i ons i mpede the solution 296
Insight and action 296
Inherited children 298
A father agreed to the adoption of his illegitimate
daughter by her mother's second husband 299
Story: Heaven and earth 30 6
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
I N T R O D U C T O R Y L E C T U R E :
The fellowship of fate
Family loyalty and its consequences
Contents X l l l
The longing for balance 312
Illness follows the desires of the heart 312
"Bet t er me than you" 313
Enlightened love 316
"I will go instead of you" 317
"Even if you go, I will stay" 317
"I will follow you" 318
"I will go on living for a little whi l e" 318
Beliefs that cause illness 319
Love that heals 320
Story: Faith and love 320
Illness as atonement 321
Compensat i on through atonement is misfortune doubled 321
Healing ways of compensation 322
Reconci l i at i on is better than atonement 323
Illness as an attempt to atone for someone else 323
Illness as a result of refusing to honor one' s parents 324
To honor one' s parents is to honor the earth 324
Story: Absence and presence 324
"I will f ol l ow yo u" 327
A mo t he r f ol l ows her handi c ap p ed chi l d i nt o deat h 337
Dyi ng i s pref erabl e t o bowi ng t o one' s f at her 349
Lat e r c ons equenc es of pol i omyel i t i s and a difficult
p r e gnanc y and bi rt h 357
Ident i f i c at i on wi t h a me mb e r of t he opposi t e sex 36 6
Identification with a person of the opposite sex in homosexual
love and psychosis 370
Deci di ng in favor of the father over the mother' s lover 371
Knowl edge must engender action 372
"Be t t e r me t han yo u" 372
Family constellations work through the inner picture 383
X I V Contents
" The right thing" 383
Family constellations using symbols 384
On e br ot he r di ed s oon af t er bi rt h, and t he ot he r
c o mmi t t e d sui c i de 385
Suicide out of motives of love 392
Bl ami ng someone else as a defense against pain 392
Refusal to answer a question 392
Procedure in family constellations
Wh e n a mot her has commi t t ed suicide 393
Wh e n does the client enter the group? 393
Ho w close may dead people stand t o living persons? 394
He r oi n- addi c t e d daught er: t he mal e e l e me nt i s mi s s i ng
i n t he f ami l y 394
Chi l dren follow their father j ust as their mot her follows
her husband 40 1
No c ons i derat i on f or m e n 40 6
The priority of the present over the past 411
For mer partners are represented later on by children 411
Illegitimate children born in a marriage 412
Abort i on i s none of the children' s business 413
Wha t happens when there i s no solution? 414
A s on has a seri ous ac c i dent : "I will go i nst ead of you,
D a ddy de a r " 415
An anor e c t i c gi rl : "I'll go i nst ead of yo u, D a ddy de a r " 420
Bout s of overeating wi t h subsequent vomi t i ng 425
In harmony with a hi gher provi dence and grace 426
Story: Knowledge and wisdom 427
Answers to Questions from a Friend
The systemic dimension of problems and destinies 433
Teachers and influences 435
Fami l y constellations 438
Seei ng 440
Reservat i ons about "seei ng" 440
The hypnotherapy of Mi l t on Eri ckson 441
Stories 441
Personal experi ence 442
Insights 443
Love 443
Bal ance and compensat i on 444
The equal right t o bel ong 445
Causes of illness and healing in families 446
Important procedures 446
Taki ng the lead 447
Goi ng t o the limits 447
Trust i ng reality, even when it is shocking 448
St oppi ng clients from describing problems 45 0
Goi ng wi t h the energy 45 1
Wor ki ng wi t h a mi ni mum 45 1
Interruptions i n the wor k 45 2
Guarding against curiosity 45 2
No verification of success 45 3
The present moment counts 45 4
Index 45 7
Pr e f ac e
This book is about the natural laws constraining love in human relation-
ships. The blind, innocent love of children is more instructive and often
leads us astray. Love succeeds only when we understand these natural laws
and align ourselves with them. When love comes to understand and follow
these laws, it becomes the fulfillment of our longing. This knowing love
has a healing and gratifying effect on us, and on those around us.
This book consists of verbatim transcripts of three therapeutic workshops,
parts of whi ch have been 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.
This workshop introduces the reader to the technique of setting up fami-
ly constellations, illustrates how people sometimes become entangled in the
fates of other members of their family, and describes the consequences of
such entanglements.
It documents how the fate of an excluded family member can be un-
knowingly taken over and continued by a later member of the family. Thi s
unknowing repetition of another' s fate is what is meant by entanglement.
This workshop also documents some possibilities for the resolution of
entanglements. It shows how, when the excluded member is accorded due
honor 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 member
of the family. This is what is meant by the resolution.
Readers will find here evidence for the natural laws of love operating in
human relationship systems. Entanglements arise when we love innocently
and are blindly obedient to these laws. Then it can happen that innocent
"children" must atone for the guilt of "adults." Resol ut i on is possible when
our love becomes "knowing, " when we align ourselves with the natural
laws of love with wisdom. Then our need for loyalty and the equality of
all family members brings healing and fulfillment.
The second workshop was for family therapists. A selection from this work-
shop demonstrates where abandoned and adopted children belong, what
happens when parents give a child up for adoption frivolously, or when a
child is adopted by strangers acting in their own self-interest.
The third workshop was for seriously ill people and their doctors and thera-
pists. It took place at a large conference on religion and medicine. The
constellations from this workshop shed light on systemic dynamics associ-
ated with illness, serious accidents, and suicide in the fellowship of fate
among members of the family. It shows how resources for healing can be
mobilized, how irreversible fate can be faced and accepted, and how such
destinies can sometimes be changed for the better.
Thi s book 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 prob-
lems. Hopefully, this participation by proxy may also help the reader to
find ways of overcoming personal crises and of obtaining healing in the
case of systemic and psychologically caused illness.
Second, the book contains demonstrations and explanations of important
therapeutic procedures, mainly in the context of family constellations, and
also in connection with the resumption and completion of a previously in-
terrupted movement by a young child toward the mother or father.
Third, readers interested in understanding the inner posture that underlies
this work may experience how liberating and healing insights are the result
of a specific focused approach to knowing, which I have called phenome-
nological psychotherapy. This posture is described in detail.
The names of the participants and places have been changed and their
identities concealed. The text is accompanied by diagrams of all the stages
of the family constellations. The therapeutic procedures and recurring pat-
terns are described and explained in intermediary chapters, and stories rele-
vant to the therapeutic process are interspersed.
The interview at the end of the book ("Answers to Questions from a
Friend") is included in the hope that it will enhance the understanding of
my work. It includes information about the different stages of my thera-
peutic development and helps to explain the insights and intentions behind
important procedures.
Love's Own Truths has become a fundamental statement of my approach,
whi ch goes far beyond conventional psychotherapy and which has proved
to be of practical help to many different people in their daily lives.
I hope that you enjoy reading this material, and that you gain helpful
xi x
insights i nt o "Love' s Own Trut hs. " I wish, t oo, that you will come to trust
your own percept i on of your alignment wi t h these natural laws of l ove
wi t h understanding so that you may fulfill your heart' s desire.
Bert Hellinger
Thi s book has taken a long and arduous j ourney from its inception to its
publication in English. I should like to thank my many friends for their
help and advice. Dr. Gunthard Weber and Dr. Norbert Linz accompani ed
me through all the stages of writing this book and were not cont ent until
I had arranged and presented the abundant data in a clear form.
I am grateful to Professor Mi chael Angermaier and Hei nri ch Br euer for
their help in collecting the data. They also organized the first course
described in this book and recorded it on video. The second course was
recorded by Friedrich Fehlinger, and the third by Verena Ni t schke.
The final editing of the German edition was carried out by Dr. Norbert
Linz. He also conduct ed the interview "Answers to Questions from a
Fri end, " whi ch appears at the end of the book. My sincere thanks go to all
these helpers.
The English translation was the work of Maureen Oberl i -Turner, a diffi-
cult task because there were no English equivalents for many of the con-
cepts described in the German text. Maureen Ober l i - Tur ner nevertheless
managed to produce a clear, readable English text, and I thank her warmly
for her valuable work.
Suzi Tucker , my editor at Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, painstakingly worked
her way through the manuscript, making countless suggestions for i m-
provement and correction. Her clear eye and deft editorial hand brought
new life to a dangerously mori bund project.
Hunt er Beaumont has been closely involved with the transition of my
wor k into English from the beginning. Our discussions have brought clari-
ty, differentiation, and greater precision to my writing, and have proved a
valuable impetus for the further development of my work. He has also
given generously of his own insights and formulations. In a sense, he has
collaborated with me in presenting my work in English. He has completely
reworked this manuscript, and it has gained much from his efforts.
Excerpts from a Lecture on
Alternative Approaches to Healing
I' ll start by telling you a story.
Helping revelations
A young man seeking further knowledge sets out on his bicycle into the country-
side. He is driven by the joy of exploration, and his enthusiasm knows no
bounds. Far beyond his usual territory, he finds 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 measure. Now what was only an intuition becomes experience.
His path ends at a wide river and he gets off his bicycle. He sees that pro-
ceeding will require leaving everything he has on the riverbank, quitting the
safety of solid ground, putting himself in the hands of a force that is stronger
than he is and allowing himself to be overpowered and swept along. He hesi-
tates, and then retreats.
This is his first revelation.
Riding home, he admits to himself that he understands very little that could
be helpful to others, and even that little he knows, he could scarcely communi-
cate. He imagines himself to be a bicycle rider following another whose fender
is rattling. He imagines calling out, "Hey, your fender's rattling!" The other
answers "What?" He imagines yelling louder, "Your fender's rattling!" The
other answers, "I can't hear you. My fender's rattling."
He realizes, "He didn't need my help at all!"
This is his second revelation.
A short time later, he asks an old teacher, "How do you manage to help
others? Many come to you asking for advice, and they leave feeling better even
though you know little of their affairs?"
The teacher answers, "When someone loses courage and doesn't want to go
on, the problem is seldom lack of knowledge but rather wanting safety when
courage is called for and seeking freedom where necessity leaves no choice. And
so he goes in circles. A teacher resists appearance and illusion. He finds his cen-
ter and waits for a helpful word, as a ship with sails raised waits to catch the
wind. When someone comes seeking help, the teacher is waiting where the visi-
tor himself must go, and if an answer comes, it comes for both of them, for both
are 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 prob-
lem, 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 active-
ly 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 ac-
tion. 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.
Res t rai nt
The first condition for insight experienced in this way is the absence of i n-
tention. Our intentions force our personal views onto reality, perhaps seek-
ing to change it according to our preconcei ved concepts, or to influence
others or to convi nce them. Having intentions, we act as if we were su-
perior to reality, as if reality were an obj ect of our scrutiny, rather than the
reverse, that reality scrutinizes us. Thi s makes clear what we restrain when
we forego intentions, even good intentions. As if we had a choi ce, for ex-
perience shows that what we do with the best of intentions often goes
amiss. Intent is no substitute for insight.
Co ur a g e
The second condition for insight experienced in this way is the absence of
fear. We wear blinders when we fear what reality may bring to light.
When we fear what others may think or say when we report what we see,
we close ourselves to further observation. And a therapist who is afraid to
confront a client' s reality, for example, the fact that the client does not
have long to live, is not up to dealing with his client' s reality and is appro-
priately mistrusted or even feared by his client.
Re s o na nc e
Freedom from fear and from intention make possible resonance wi t h reality
as it is, even with its fearful, overwhelming, and terrible side. Thi s freedom
allows a therapist to be in harmony with good and ill fortune, guilt and
i nnocence, illness and health, life and death. And precisely through this
resonance, the therapist gains insight and strength to face difficulties, and
occasionally to bring adversity into harmony with reality. Here is another
A disciple asked his teacher, "Tell me what freedom is."
"Which freedom?" asked the teacher.
"The first freedom is foolishness. That's like a horse that throws its rider
with a triumphant whinny, only to feel the saddle girth pulled tighter.
"The second freedom is remorse. Remorse is like the helmsman who goes
down with the ship after he has sailed it onto a reef, rather than seek safety in
the lifeboat with the others.
"The third freedom is insight. Insight comes, alas, only after foolishness and
remorse. It's like a shaft of wheat that bends in the wind, and because it bends
where it's weak, endures."
The disciple asked, "Is that all?"
The teacher said, "Many think they're seeking the truth of their own soul,
but it's the Greater Soul that thinks and seeks in them. Like nature, it toler-
ates many deviations, but replaces with ease those who dare to violate its truth.
But to those who allow it to think in them, it allows in turn a little freedom,
helping them like a river helps a swimmer cross to the other shore if he sur-
renders to the current, and allows himself to be swept along."
Philosophical phenomenology and conscience
Phi l osophi cal phenomenol ogy is concer ned with knowi ng the essential in
t he fullness of the phenomenal world. I may know the essential by c om-
pletely and fully openi ng my bei ng and exposi ng i t t o the abundance of the
phenomenal world. Then, what is essential eventually flashes out of t he
unknown like a lightning bolt, and it illuminates far beyond what I coul d
have logically deduced from known premises and concept s. Nevert hel ess,
such insights are never compl et e. The y remai n swathed i n the unknown,
j ust as every Is by Not - I s.
I gained insight into the essential aspects of consci ence t hrough phe-
nomenol ogi cal inquiry. For exampl e, I had the insight that a family system
has a sense of balance, whi ch helps me to feel whet her or not I am in har-
mony wi t h it, and if what I do endangers my membershi p. Thus, in this
cont ext , "good consci ence" onl y means that I still remai n a member of my
group, and "bad consci ence" onl y means that my membershi p is endan-
gered. If we l ook phenomenol ogi cal l y, we see that consci ence has little t o
do wi t h universal laws and truths, but rather is relative and changes from
group to group.
In a similar way, I came to understand that consci ence reacts in a very
different way when it has to do, not with bel ongi ng, but wi t h a bal ance of
giving and taking, and differently yet again when it guards the roles and
functions that shape my life t oget her wi t h others.
But even mor e important i s the difference bet ween the consci ence we
feel and the consci ence that works in our lives even t hough we are un-
aware of it. Thi s consci ence reveals itself i n the fact that when we obey the
consci ence we feel, we injure the consci ence we do not feel, and although
we feel guilt-free, the unfelt consci ence sets consequences upon our ac-
tions. The tension between these two forms of conscience is the basis of
every tragedy, especially in families. It is behind painful entanglements,
whi ch sometimes lead to illness, accidents, and suicide. This tension is also
the force behind many painful failures of relationship, when partnerships
end in acrimony in spite of deep love.
Ps yc hot herapeut i c p he nome nol ogy
These insights were not achieved through philosophical perception and the
application of phenomenological epistemology alone. They required an-
other approach, which I call understanding through participation. This path
to insight is possible in family constellations when they are held with a
phenomenological attitude.
In a family constellation, a client chooses participants in the group at
random to represent important family members, for example, for mother,
father, and siblings. The client then places the representatives in spatial rela-
tionship to one another. Through the constellation, hidden and surprising
family dynamics suddenly may come to light. This means that the process
of setting up a family constellation brings clients into contact with infor-
mation that was previously hidden. For example, a colleague recently told
about a constellation in which a representative's reaction clearly suggested
that the client was identified with her father's early lover. The client asked
her father and other relatives, but no one remembered a lover. Several
weeks later, the client's father received a letter from Russia. A woman
there who, during the war, had been the love of his life, had searched for
his address for years, and finally with the new openness bet ween Russia
and Europe, had succeeded in finding him.
But that is only one side of the story, the client's side. The other side is
that, as soon as they are placed in a constellation, representatives feel as the
persons they represent felt. Sometimes, they even feel their physical symp-
toms. Some representatives have even known the person' s name. Such
things happen, even when the representatives know nothing about the per-
sons they represent except their relationship to the client. These experi-
ences in family constellations suggest that clients and their family members
are connected to one another within a field of information that affects
them by virtue of their presence in the field. And what is even more extra-
ordinary, strangers who are placed as representatives in this field can also
be connected to the family's reality.
This is also true for therapists. The proviso is that therapists, representa-
tives, and clients be prepared to expose themselves to this knowi ng field
wi t hout intention, without fear, and without the need to interpret their
experiences in terms of previous theories and beliefs, and to consent to
whatever emerges j ust as it is. Thi s is the phenomenol ogi cal posture applied
to psychotherapy. Here, too, insight is won through restraint, through re-
straining intention and fear, and through consenting to reality as it is.
Wi t hout this phenomenol ogi cal posture, that is, wi t hout consenting to
whatever emerges, without exaggeration, cosmetic minimalization, or inter-
pretation, family constellations remain superficial and can easily lead to false
conclusions. At best, they have little power.
The soul
Even mor e astonishing than the understanding that comes through partici-
pation in the knowi ng field, or what I prefer to call the soul that extends
beyond and guides the individual, is the observation that this field actively
seeks and finds resolutions. These resolutions go far beyond what we could
achieve with analytic thought, and they have effects far beyond what we
coul d achieve with well-planned action. Thi s becomes clear in those con-
stellations in whi ch the therapist practices utmost restraint For example,
when a therapist places the essential persons in the constellation, and then,
wi t hout giving t hem any instructions, entrusts t hem to an irresistible force,
whi ch moves t hem as if from outside, and whi ch leads to insights and ex-
periences that otherwise woul d have been impossible.
For example, at the end of a recent constellation in Switzerland, a man
told that he was Jewish. I added seven representatives for victims of the
Holocaust to the constellation, with seven representatives for their murder-
ers standing behind them. For the next quarter of an hour, in compl et e si-
lence, an unbelievable process developed bet ween the victims and the mur-
derers that made clear that dying is a process that seeks compl et i on long
after physical death. Dyi ng is complete when victims and perpetrators j oi n
in death and know themselves to be equally vulnerable to forces beyond
their control, and when, in the end, they experience themselves at rest in
the care of those forces.
Rel i gi ous p he nome nol ogy
Her e the levels of philosophic and psychotherapeutic phenomenol ogy are
replaced by a more encompassing one in whi ch we experi ence ourselves
to be at the mercy of a greater whol e. We recognize this greater whol e as
being ultimate and final. We could call this level religious or spiritual, but
even here, I remain in the phenomenol ogi cal posture, wi t hout intention,
without fear, wi t hout preferences, pure in the presence of whatever comes.
I will describe what 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 their prophet and lord, and
he deeply longs to become like his ideal. He enters a long period of training
until he is fully identified with his ideal, until he thinks and speaks and acts
like 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 final barrier.
On his way, he passes old gardens, long abandoned. 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 is surrounded by an unknown emptiness. He realizes that in this
desert, he could choose any direction he might wish the emptiness remains
the same. He sees that the great loneliness of this place has emptied all illusions
in his mind's eye that would have led him onto any particular path.
And so he wanders on just where chance takes him, until one day, long after
he has stopped trusting his senses, he is surprised to see water in front of him,
bubbling out of the earth. He watches it flow a little way until the desert sands
soak it up again, but as far as the water reaches, the desert blooms like
Still deep in wonder, he looks around and sees afar two strangers drawing
near. They too have done what he had done. Each of them had followed his
prophet and lord until he had become almost identical with him. They too set
cut 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 the same water, and
each feels his goal to be within his reach. Then they reveal their names, "I have
become Gautama, the Buddha." "I have become Jesus, the Christ." "I have
become Mohammed, the 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 home-
ward, 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
The wanderer replies, "Now I follow the laws of the earth." Then he begins
to husband his garden with care.
From an Advanced Training Course
for Helping Professionals
Th e op eni ng r ound
HELLINGER: Wel come to the workshop. I' d like to begin by asking each
of you in turn to introduce yourself by telling me and the group:
your name
your profession
your family situation
and something about the problem you want to work on during this
We will start looking for solutions to problems as soon as they present
themselves, and we will witness the effects of each step on the persons
concerned. If you have any questions about the procedure, the results,
or the basic principles of the work, I will do my best to answer them.
Adop t i on i s ri sky
CARL: My name is Carl. I live with my wife and our young adopted son.
We have t wo children of our own, 26 and 32 years old, who no longer
live at home. We also have three foster daughters who are now in their
late 20s or early 30s. Our adopted son is the son of one of our foster
daughters. I' m a pastoral counselor, and I work with handicapped chi l -
dren and their families. Last year you made me aware that my work, up
until then, had not been particularly effective because I had tended to see
the young people primarily either in terms of their handicaps or as i so-
lated individuals. I now realize that it is virtually impossible to help a
child unless the family is aware of the problem and you wor k with the
family as well.
HELLINGER: Maybe you should annul the adoption. Have you considered
CARL: Annul the adoption?
HELLINGER: Maybe that's what you need to do.
CARL: I can' t imagine doing that.
HELLINGER: You have no right to claim the child as your own. Adopt i on
is a dangerous business. I' ve often seen that people who adopt a child
without a really pressing reason pay dearly for it, either by losing a child
of their own or by losing the partner. It's as if they sacrifice t hem as
Wh o wanted the adoption?
CARL: My wife and I bot h did.
HELLINGER: Wh y isn' t the child with his mot her?
CARL: His mot her came to us with her 4-mont h-ol d child and left hi m in
our care because she wanted to live with some friends.
HELLINGER: That' s peculiar. It would have been a service to take on the
child as a foster son, but I' m not sure whose needs are met by the
adoption. The child' s needs woul d have been met with a good foster
home, so maybe the adoption is carrying things t oo far.
CARL: I find that difficult to understand at the moment , particularly since
the child can continue his relationship with his mot her j ust as it was
before the adoption.
HELLINGER: His relationship with his mot her can' t be the same as it was
before you adopted hi m because you' ve relieved his mot her of her re-
sponsibilities, and his father too. What about him, by the way?
CARL: His father is Turkish and is now living with his second wife, who
is also Turkish. He has other children with her and has broken off the
relationship with this child.
HELLINGER: Why can' t the child go to his father? Are you afraid he will
become a Muslim? He should!
CARL: He can as far as I am concerned.
HELLINGER: That definitely needs to be cleared up, why he can' t go to his
father. A good place for a boy is with his father.
CARL: I must think about it.
HELLINGER: Do you know what happens when you "t hi nk about it"? It's
like the priest who said when he had finished his spiritual exercises:
"Damn it, after these exercises, it always takes me six weeks to get back
into the rut."*
Rul es of i nvol vement
BRIGITTE: My name is Brigitte. I am a psychologist in private practice. I
have four daughters from my first marriage. I divorced 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.
who later died. I married again, and I have t wo stepdaughters from this
marriage even t hough I keep my husband at a distance because I feel he
drains my energy. I ' m here to learn wi t hout exert i ng mysel f unduly.
HELLINGER: Th e t wo aims are mutually exclusive. Wha t do you really
BRI GI TTE: I don' t feel I coul d bear to get t oo deeply i nvol ved at t he
moment .
HELLINGER: It' s dangerous for anyone to take part in a workshop like this
who is not ready to face up to the risk of personal i nvol vement . It also
inhibits i nt i macy for the others in the group. So I must warn you, it' s
not possible to take part in the wor k we do here merel y as an observer.
BRI GI TTE: That ' s not what I meant. But it's a very bi g group, and some
of my students are among the participants. That ' s why I woul d like t o
keep a rather l ow profile. But I ' m prepared to do what' s required in
order to participate.
HELLINGER: I' ve told you the conditions for bei ng here, and you have
underst ood t hem. But I woul d still like to tell you a story.
More or less
A professor of psychology in America sent for one of his students, gave him a
dollar bill and a hundred dollar bill, and said: "Go into the waiting room. You
will see two men sitting there. Give one of them the dollar and the other the
hundred dollars." The student thought to himself, "Another of his crazy
ideas!," but he took the money, went into the waiting room, and gave one of
the men sitting there the dollar bill and the other the hundred. What he didn't
know, however, was that the professor had already secretly told one of the men:
"In a few minutes, someone will come and give you a hundred dollars," and
the other: "In a few minutes, someone will come and give you one dollar." As
luck would have it, the student gave the dollar bill to the man who had ex-
pected a dollar, and the hundred dollar bill to the man who had expected a
HELLINGER with a grin: Strange. No w I' m wonderi ng why I told that story.
Th e doubl e di s p l ac e me nt
CLAUDIA: My name is Claudia. I ' m a psychologist, and I wor k as a psy-
chotherapist and as an expert witness on family affairs in legal cases. I also
give courses for people whose driving licenses have been revoked and
who have been ordered by the courts to undergo counseling in order to
get t hem back. I' m divorced, and I' m rather embarrassed about this be-
cause I was married for only six months. I don' t really consider mysel f
to have been either married or divorced.
HELLINGER: Yo u were married, you can' t escape that fact. Have you any
CLAUDIA: No, no children.
HELLINGER: Why did you get divorced?
CLAUDIA: Because it was dreadful. We hadn' t known each ot her very
long, and we decided comparatively quickly to get married, and then I
felt it was terrible.
HELLINGER: You felt it was terrible? What about your husband?
CLAUDIA: I did my best to make it terrible for hi m t oo.
HELLINGER: And whi ch angry woman from your family system were you
CLAUDIA: My mot her, definitely.
HELLINGER: Let' s look for someone else. The question is: Whi ch woman
in your family of origin was justifiably angry with a man? Whe n some-
thing like you have described happens, the dynamics of a double dis-
placement are often at the bot t om of it. Do you know what that is?
HELLINGER: I'll give you an example. Duri ng a course given by Jirina
Prekop in whi ch she was demonstrating "holding therapy," a woman felt
an irrational hatred of her husband. Jirina instructed the couple to hold
each ot her closely. Suddenly the woman' s face changed and she became
furious with her husband.
I said to Jirina: "Look how her face has changed. You can tell with
whom she is identified from her expression." She had suddenly taken on
the appearance of an 80-year-ol d woman (she herself was only 35 ) . Then
I said to the woman: "Pay attention to the expression on your face! Wh o
had a face like that?" She replied: " My grandmother. " "What happened
to your grandmother?" I asked. "She ran a restaurant, and my grandfather
used to drag her around by her hair in front of all the patrons. And she
put up with it."
Can you imagine how the grandmother really felt? She was furious
with her husband but she didn' t express it, and now her granddaughter
had taken over her repressed anger. That was a displacement of the sub-
j ect , from the grandmother to the granddaughter. But instead of maki ng
her grandfather the target of her anger, she t ook it out on her husband.
This was a displacement of the object, from the grandfather to the hus-
band. 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 dis-
placement. 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 hus-
band a lot.
Claudia laughs.
HELLINGER: Did that strike home?
CLAUDIA: Not really. But I was just thinking that I' m glad my husband's
HELLINGER: That's what happens when you feel guilty. But 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.
Th e f i r s t wo m a n
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. They 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. The second time he married as a favor, to make it
possible for the woman to get out of Hungary. Then he divorced her
and married for the third time.
HELLINGER: You 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?
G E R T R U D E : Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : The n you are his first woman. Yo u have priority over all t he
others. Isn' t that a good feeling?
G E R T R U D E : Yes , but it' s difficult.
HE L L I NGE R : What ' s so difficult about it?
G E R T R U D E : I don' t care about it. Not any mor e.
HE L L I NGE R : Bei ng the first doesn' t depend on feelings.
G E R T R U D E : Oh?
HE L L I NGE R : It' s a fact that exists independently of feelings.
Happiness needs courage
HE L L I NGE R : I' ll tell you somet hi ng about happiness. Oft en, happiness
seems dangerous because it tends to make peopl e lonely. The same is
true of solutions to probl ems. Solutions are often experi enced as danger-
ous because they may make peopl e lonely, whereas probl ems and unhap-
piness seem to attract company. Probl ems and unhappiness often attach
themselves t o feelings of i nnocence and loyalty, whereas solutions and
happiness are often associated wi t h feelings of betrayal and guilt. Not that
such feelings of guilt are reasonable, but they are experi enced as betrayal
and guilt all the same. That ' s why the transition from the pr obl em to t he
solution is so difficult. But if what I' ve said to you j ust now is true, and
if you accept it as such, you' l l have to change your whol e orientation.
H A R R Y : I am trying to get used to this concent rat i on on family relation-
ships. My name is Harry. I am a management consultant, and I ' m also
wor ki ng on a dissertation on the philosophy of religion. I live alone. I
have t wo daughters from my first marriage. I did marry a second t i me,
but I' ve been separated from my second wife for the past seven years.
We ' r e still married and my wife and I meet once a year. My daughters
are 30 and 27 years old.
HE L L I NGE R : And what do you want to achieve here?
H A R R Y : I' d like to gain some insight into how i nvol ved I should get in
human relationships of any kind. I have become very much of a loner,
and I have t he feeling that I am missing somet hi ng because of it. I have
a great surplus of l ove and I don' t know what to do wi t h it.
HELLINGER: We' l l set up your family of origin. Have you ever set up a
family constellation, and do you know how it is done?
HARRY: Not accordi ng to any particular scheme, but I' ve t hought out a
sort of framework.
HELLINGER: Wh e n peopl e think out a framework like you have, it onl y
serves as a defense, and so does most of what they tell a therapist about
their probl ems. It onl y starts to be serious when t hey actually set up t hei r
constellation. Okay, who coul d represent your father?
HARRY: Robe r t could, because . . .
HELLINGER: Yo u don' t have t o explain your reasons for choosi ng s ome-
one. Ho w many siblings have you?
HARRY: Two, and one hal f sister. But I didn' t gr ow up wi t h my hal f
HELLINGER: Whos e child was she?
HARRY: My father' s.
HELLINGER: Was he marri ed before?
HARRY: No, afterward. He marri ed again after the divorce, and t hen my
half sister was born. My mot her did not marry again.
HELLINGER: Wh o is your parents' first child?
HARRY: I am.
HELLINGER: Was either of your parents previously marri ed or engaged or
involved in a close relationship?
HARRY: No. But my mot her woul d have preferred anot her man, who
then became my godfather.
HELLINGER: We' l l need hi m. Is there anyone else important?
HARRY: My mot her' s brot her i s ext remel y important.
HELLINGER: Wha t happened wi t h hi m?
HARRY: My mot her really want ed t o live wi t h hi m, and she tried t o
model me after him.
HELLINGER: Is he a minister or somet hi ng of that sort?
HARRY: No. He was a famous actor.
HELLINGER: Yo u r mot her want ed t o live wi t h hi m?
HARRY: Yes . She really preferred hi m t o my father.
HELLINGER: We' l l go i nt o that later on. First of all, we' l l set up a family
constellation wi t h your father, your mot her, your siblings, your father' s
second wife, your hal f sister, and the man whom your mot her woul d
have preferred. Choose someone from the group to represent each per-
son: men for men or boys, women for wome n or girls. The n place t hem
in relationship to each ot her accordi ng to what feels right to you at t he
moment . Put your mot her at the correct distance from your father, for
exampl e, and turn her to face the way you feel is right. Do it wi t hout
talking, from your cent er and i n cont act wi t h your feelings at t he mo -
ment , ot herwi se i t won' t work.
Harry sets up the constellation of his family of origin.
HELLINGER: No w wal k around the constellation and make any correct i ons
that may be necessary. The n sit down wher e you have a good vi ew of
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 up the constellation or for whom
the constellation is being set up are shaded, and their identifications in the leg-
end are printed in hold type. The notches show the directions in which the per-
sons are facing.
Where not otherwise noted, the subsequent questions are addressed to the rep-
resentatives of the persons in the constellations, who also answer in the roles of
the persons they are representing.
For unknown reasons, representatives often experience strong physical and
emotional reactions in constellations that they feel to be connected to the persons
they represent. Tliose reactions guide the work, and when they lead to good
resolutions for the client, we assume that the reactions do reflect to some degree
the hidden family dynamics. It is important not to make assumptions about the
reactions beyond their ability to facilitate resolution.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son (= Harry)
2 Second child, a daughter
3 Third child, a son
2W Father's second wife
4 Fourth child, daughter of the husband's second marriage
MPP Mother's preferred partner
HELLINGER: Ho w is the father feeling?
FATHER: I feel very isolated here. My previous family is far away, and
there is somet hi ng behi nd me that I can' t see.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I have cont act with my former husband. Bef or e that I felt para-
lyzed, turned in on myself.
HELLINGER: Ho w are you feeling now?
MOTHER: I feel helpless. Incapable of action.
HELLINGER: And what do you feel about the ot her man, Harry' s god-
MOTHER: He i s standing behi nd me, but he' s also breat hi ng down my
neck. I have mi xed feelings about him.
MOTHER' S PREFERRED PARTNER: I also have mi xed feelings. I am at-
tracted to her and I like her, and I have a relationship wi t h her. But I
don' t feel it's good wi t hi n this framework. I feel rigid and incapable of
movi ng.
HELLINGER: Ho w do the others feel?
FI RST CHILD: Wh e n I was put here, I had the feeling that someone was
goi ng to grab me, strangely enough, by my calves. Ther e was a feeling
of warmt h. It also feels as if a dog mi ght be goi ng to bi t e me. It' s a warm
feeling, but dangerous as well. Ther e' s a certain warmt h goi ng out from
me t oward my father, but it doesn' t seem to reach hi m. I have virtually
no cont act wi t h my siblings behi nd me. My father' s second wife and my
hal f sister don' t seem important.
SECOND CHILD: I felt fine when my mot her was standing next to me as
t he constellation was bei ng set up. No w I don' t feel so good.
THI RD CHILD: I can see my parents, but I can' t make up my mi nd what
to do. I feel drawn t oward my father, but I can' t leave my present
SECOND WIFE: I am wonderi ng why my husband doesn' t turn round and
face me.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the hal f sister feeling?
FOURTH CHILD: At first I felt excl uded, and I experi enced my father as
threatening. I' ve been feeling bet t er since my mot her came and st ood be-
hi nd me. But my father i s standing i n my way.
FI RST CHILD: Si nce I' ve been standing here, the front part of my body has
gr own quite warm, as if my batteries had been recharged, and I feel I' d
like to grab at somet hi ng.
HELLINGER t o Harry: No w add your mot her' s brot her to the constellation.
Diagram 2
MB Mother's brother
HE LLI NGE R : What has changed?
F I R S T CHI LD: I am drawn to the left, toward my mother' s brother, and I
am wonderi ng what he' s doing there. What does he want?
HE LLI NGE R : Do you feel better or worse?
F I R S T CHI LD: The energy I had before is draining off toward the left. I feel
torn. It' s not good. There' s still some energy going toward my father.
Everything behi nd me seems to be highly charged, and some energy is
going off toward the left.
MO T H E R ' S B R O T H E R : I don' t really know what I am supposed to be
doing here.
. MOTHE R : I feel enclosed.
HE LLI NGE R : And how!
MO T H E R : Yes. She laughs.
HE LLI NGE R to Harry: Was he married, the actor?
H A R R Y : NO. And he' s been dead for some time.
Hellinger rearranges the constellation.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: What has changed for the second wife?
SECOND WIFE: I like seeing them all standing there. I have the feeling it
right like this.
FIRST CHILD: Suddenly, everything seems clear. This is a good place to be
FATHER: I can now turn toward my present family more 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.
Diagram 4
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w is that for the father?
FATHER: I feel fine like this. I can l ook at my first wife. My marriage wi t h
her was an unsuccessful attempt. My new relationship feels right to me,
and it feels good to have my children so close.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w do the others feel?
THIRD CHILD: I woul d like to have mor e cont act wi t h my mot her.
SECOND CHILD: Her e in the circle it' s okay.
F I R S T CHILD: I feel fine. Suddenly my hal f sister and her mot her seem to
belong. I don' t mi nd my mot her' s goi ng away.
MOTHER: I woul d like to be able to see my children.
MOTHER' S BROTHER: I feel fine here. I' d like to do somet hi ng, somet hi ng
HE L L I NGE R to Harry: What do you t hi nk about this constellation?
H A R R Y : Wel l , I can' t recogni ze the actual situation in it at all. But that' s
probably not the point. It coul d have been a good solution if everyone
had agreed to it. But it never happened, so it seems Utopian to me.
HE L L I NGE R : Comment ar i es like this often serve onl y to t hr ow doubt on
the solution. All I want ed to know was how you feel when you l ook at
the constellation.
H A R R Y : I am not very enthusiastic about it. But I can' t help feeling:
"What a pity it wasn' t like that." Perhaps I really shouldn' t say anything
at all.
Hellinger turns the mother and her brother around so that they are
facing the family, and places the mother on the left of her brother
so that she is standing closer to her children.
Diagram 5
H E L L I N G E R to the people in the constellation: Is that bet t er or worse?
F I R S T CHI LD: War mer .
S E C OND CHILD. - Wor se.
M O T H E R : It' s bet t er for me.
MO T H E R ' S B R O T H E R : For me t oo.
H E L L I N G E R to the group: Wel l , this woman certainly t ook her husband for
a ride. She never really want ed hi m. That ' s why she ought to turn
around and face the ot her way. She has forfeited her chance of facing i n
his direction.
Hellinger turns the mother and her brother around again and
places the mother behind her brother.
Diagram 6
HELLINGER to the people in the constellation: How' s that?
MOTHER: It feels right like this.
to the group: Now you can see with whom Harry is identified. Now his
mother is standing in exactly the same relationship to her brother as she
was standing to her oldest son in the first constellation. Harry is identified
with her brother.
F I R S T CHILD: I feel a shudder running up and down my spine, and the
words "Poor Mot her!" came into my mind.
HELLINGER to the group: There is a drama being acted out in this family
that neither the husband nor the children can influence. We don' t know
why it's happening, but there' s nothing we can do about it either. The
only solution for Harry is to stand next to his father.
HELLINGER to Harry: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Harry stands in his place in the family constellation.
HELLINGER to the group: Here we see that love follows set laws to whi ch
relationships must conform if they are to succeed. Any deviation causes
disorder and problems that can only be overcome by compliance, and
not, for example, by love alone.
t o Harry: Thi s constellation offers an image of resolution to what' s going on
in your family. No w I will tell you what to do with this image. The
image of your family you' ve been carrying around in your mi nd up until
now was an image that caused disorder and pain. We have rearranged it
and shown you a good solution for all concerned. No w you have the
chance to superimpose the new image ont o the old one. If you manage
to do this, you will be a changed person, without anyone else having to
change. Yo u will be different because you will be carrying an image of
your family in your mi nd and heart that will enable you to relate to the
members of your family quite differently. In the position that you were
in at the start, identified with someone your mot her loved more than
your father, no woman could ever hold you, and you could never hold
a woman. Do you understand? Bot h your parents loved people they
couldn' t have, and your child' s soul wants to be like them both. In your
family, love meant unfulfilled loving. Okay, that's all.
Th e di f f erenc e bet ween f ol l owi ng s omeone' s e x amp l e and
bei ng i denti f i ed wi t h a p ers on
IDA: How did Harry's identification with his uncle come about in his
HELLINGER: My guess is that subconsciously his mot her l ooked for some-
one to represent her favorite brot her in her family. Harry coul d intui-
tively feel how he needed to be so that his mot her woul d love him.
That ' s why he t ook on the role of this brother wi t hout bei ng aware of
it and wi t hout his mot her or anyone else bei ng aware of it.
HARRY: But surely my mother' s modeling me on her favorite brot her and
my taking my uncle as a role model are t wo different things. Woul d you
consider t hem to be t wo different kinds of identification?
HELLINGER: No. What you describe is more or less conscious. Identifica-
tion is deeper and more subtle. A role model is someone separate from
me whom I have before me in my mind' s eye, and whom I can follow
or not as I please. I am free to choose. But when I am identified with
someone, I am not free, and often I don' t even know that I am identi-
fied with that person. I feel estranged from mysel f when I am identifying
with someone. That doesn' t happen when I follow and emulate a role
model .
HARRY: That ' s it exactly. So you use the word "identification" as an ob-
j ect i ve description of a process that no one started consciously?
HELLINGER: Yes. And no one is guilty. Your mot her didn' t consciously
choose you for the identification. There' s no blame attached to her.
These are dynamics that emerge from a situation without anyone wanting
t hem and without anyone, and least of all the child, bei ng able to do
anything about them. Nevertheless, we have to live with the conse-
quences for ourselves and others.
HARRY: Then everybody involved is a victim?
HELLINGER: Yes. Everyone is caught up in an entanglement, each in a dif-
ferent way. That' s why the question of guilt or culpability does not arise
in this context.
The pri nc i pl e of mi ni mal i s m
DAGMAR: Then we don' t need to set up the constellation of the mother' s
side of the family to find out what went wrong there as well?
HELLINGER: What woul d that accomplish? Harry doesn' t need that. The
solution is quite clear to him now. We can' t possibly reconstruct all the
other dynamics in the family. If we try to do that, then we enter the
realm of fantasy. That' s why big family constellations so often end up
being so confusing and rarely lead to a solution. Harry has all he needs
to enable hi m to act. You must never do more than the person con-
cerned needs for a solution. I don' t seek solutions for people who are not
immediately involved.
I act on the principle of minimalism, that is, I limit mysel f to the reso-
lution for the person I' m worki ng with at present, and that's the end of
it. Then I go on to the next person, so I don' t dwell on what has hap-
rened. It' s only because this is a training seminar for therapists that I' m
talking to you about it now. Otherwise, we wouldn' t talk about what has
taken place. It's also important not to ask questions about the success of
the work, or anything like that. That j ust saps energy.
Indi vi duat i on det rac t s f r o m t he i nt ensi t y of a rel at i onshi p
- What about the children in this confused system? What negative i n-
fluence has it had on them? Surely they must have gained something
positive from the constellation as well?
-HELLINGER: Of course, however troubled a family system may be, the fact
remains that the children were born into it. It gives them the chance to love. but it also influences their development. The first son, for example,
t ook on something that shaped his development. Nevertheless, he now
has the chance to move through its negative aspects.
Devel opment in families of origin and in present relationships tends
toward individuation. Thi s means that we become less and less bound by
our relationships. Individuation leads to detachment on a l ower level and,
paradoxically, to attachment on a higher level. In this broader context,
we are bot h close and detached at the same time.
Thi s can be compared to someone who leaves a village in whi ch
everything is crowded and confined and climbs up ont o a mountain,
higher and higher, the vi ew becomi ng wider all the time. The higher the
person climbs, the lonelier the person becomes, but he or she is also
aware of entering a broader context. Thus, loss of closeness brings us into
t ouch with something greater, and the price we pay is loneliness. That ' s
why many people find it so difficult to take the step away from a close
relationship and develop in the direction of new and broader perspec-
tives. But every close bond strives to develop in the direction of some-
thing greater and broader, and this is also one of the reasons that the
relationship bet ween a man and a woman loses something of its intensity
when it has reached its peak (the peak is the birth of the first child) and
develops in the direction of something greater and broader. And whereas
this adds a new, deeper dimension to the relationship, it detracts it
must detract from its intensity.
Some people believe that when they enter into a relationship, they
will stay close forever, but relationship is also part of the process of dy-
ing. Every crisis in a relationship is experienced like dying and is a part
of dying. And whereas some of the intensity is lost, the relationship ac-
quires a new quality and grows deeper on a new level. It is different than
it was before, more relaxed and broader.
IDA: Then it's not love that gets lost?
HELLINGER: No. Love may grow deeper, much deeper. But it has a
different quality.
L o v e f ol l ows p r e de t e r mi ne d l aws
HELLINGER: Many problems arise because people think they can ignore
the predetermined laws of couples and family relationships if they love
selflessly enough. However, these laws are not influenced by love. If
we are honest, we know that there are many problems in relationships
that love alone cannot solve. To think that it can is an illusion. It is only
when we meet the preconditions love requires that we can find a
H A R R Y : That sounds terribly hard. I realize that this is what I have been
trying to do, in all sorts of ways. And I failed. It's a terrible insight.
HE L L I NGE R : Love develops within a cont ext and is subject to the condi -
tions of that context. The laws of love precede love, and love can only
develop within their limits.
H A R R Y : I' ve really been on the wrong track.
HE LLI NGE R : Yes. But now you have the chance to get back on the right
track and put things in order. Somet i mes people manage to change things
for the better very quickly once they start acting according to new i n-
sights. But self-recriminations and guilt trips are substitutes for action.
They prevent us from acting and leave us weak.
Rul es of pri ori t y
DAGMAR : YOU set up Harry' s system in a hierarchical order. What kind o f
order was it?
HE LLI NGE R : Ther e is a hierarchy that follows the chronological order in
whi ch the members of a family or extended family entered the system.
Thi s is the hierarchy according to origin. That' s why, in Harry' s system,
I gave the first wife priority over the second and the oldest son priority
over his younger siblings. Whe n you set up a family constellation accord-
ing to this hierarchy, the persons l ower down in the hierarchy stand to
the left of persons higher up.
Everyt hi ng that exists is structured by time. Those who came first in
the family have priority over those who came later. The first child has
priority over the second, for example, and the relationship bet ween a
husband and wife as a couple has priority over their relationship to their
children as parents. Thi s applies within a family system.
But bet ween the systems, the opposite rule applies. The new system
has priority over the old. The present family, for instance, has priority
over the family of origin. Whe n this priority is not respected, things go
wrong. For Harry' s mother, for example, her family of origin t ook pri-
ority over her present system. That' s why it went wrong.
DAGMAR : Yo u said that, on the one hand, the past has priority over the
present, and, on the other hand, the present has priority over the past. I
don' t think I quite understand.
HE LLI NGE R : Wi t hi n a single system, those who came first have priority
over those who came later. But between two systems, the new system
has priority over the old.
The pri ori t y of the f i rs t cl ose rel ati onshi p
FRANK: Surely there must also be a hierarchy based on the quality of the
systems, for example, bet ween systems that are healthy and systems that
lead to illness.
HELLINGER: No, we can' t make this sort of distinction. The first close
relationship, regardless of its quality, comes before the second. The bond
that exists between the partners of a second relationship is weaker than
that whi ch exists between those of the first. Thus, the strength of the
bond decreases with every successive relationship. Even though the love
in a second relationship may be greater, the bond is nevertheless weaker.
The depth and strength of the bond can be seen from the intensity of the
guilt that is experienced when it is dissolved. Someone who leaves a sec-
ond relationship feels less guilty than when leaving the first. Nevertheless,
as a rule, a later relationship takes precedence over a previous one, and
this is definitely the case if a child is born of the later relationship.
HARRY: I feel very refreshed and full of energy. It reminds me of the
words: "The truth shall make you free."
The hi erarc hy i n the f ami l y
Most tragedies in a family are caused by the violation of the principles of
priority by someone in a subordinate position, that is, by someone taking
upon himself or herself, either consciously or unconsciously, something
that is properly the business of someone higher up in the hierarchy.
For example, children often try to atone for their parents' actions or
to bear the consequences 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 of love. Thei r conscience does not warn
them. That' s why the great tragic heroes are all blind. They think they' re
doing something great and noble, but this conviction doesn' t protect
them from downfall. To maintain that we acted in good conscience and
with the best of intentions does not change the results of our presump-
tion and its consequences.
When children assume inappropriate positions in families, they become
estranged from themselves and their centers. Obviously, children cannot
stop themselves from acting presumptuously because they are driven by
love and the best of intentions. It is only when they become adults and
gain an understanding of the real situation that they can prevail over their
presumption and take up their appropriate positions in the family. Thi s
is the only place where a child can be in contact wi t h his or her center.
That ' s why it's of primary importance in family therapy to find out
whet her a member of the family has taken something upon hi msel f or
herself that is properly the business of someone higher up in the
hierarchy. Thi s is the first thing that has to be put right.
Th e exc l usi ve status of t he i nt i mat e sphere
A common example of presumptiousness is when children are told the
details of their parents' intimate life. It hurts a child to have knowl edge
of the parents' intimate relationship. It is none of the child' s business. It' s
not the business of anyone except the couple themselves. Whe n people
tell someone else about aspects of their intimate relationship, they break
trust and it has grave consequences for love. It breaks the relationship.
The intimate sphere is the exclusive property of the people who have
entered into the relationship and must always remain protected and hid-
den from outsiders. It breaks the trust when a man tells his second wife
the details of his intimate relations with his first wife, and his new wife
loses trust in him, too. Everything to do with the couple' s intimate realm
must remain a carefully guarded secret bet ween them. Whe n parents tell
their children secrets, they put the children in a terrible position. As a
rule, children must not even be told when their parents have aborted a
child. Thi s t oo belongs to the intimate relationship bet ween husband and
wife. Even in therapy, men and women may only talk to their therapist
about these things if they can do so in such a way that their partners
remain protected. Otherwise, the relationship will suffer.
Pri ori t i es i n di vorc e
PARTICIPANT: What happens when the parents separate and the children
ask why?
HELINGER: It's generally best to tell t hem that it's none of their business.
But they also need to know that the separation will not sever the rela-
tionship bet ween the parents and the children. " We are separating, but
your father is still your father, and your mot her is still your mot her. "
Frequently, the children are taken away from one parent and given into
the custody of the other. In fact, however, they always remain the chil-
dren of bot h of their parents, and both parents retain their full rights and
their full responsibility for them even after the divorce. It's easier for the
children when they know that the only thing that is severed is the coup-
le' s relationship. Furthermore, the children should not be asked with
whi ch parent they want to live. That puts them in the position of having
to choose between their parents, in favor of one and against the other.
That' s a terrible thing to do to children, and they should never be asked
to do this. It's the parents' responsibility to decide between themselves
where the children are to go and then to tell the children what they have
decided. Even if the children protest, they are inwardly free and feel
relieved that they did not have to choose between their parents.
PARTICIPANT: Surely many parents try to justify themselves to their chil-
dren by telling them what went wrong between them as a couple?
HELLINGER: Yes, but here we work on the assumption that many separa-
tions happen with no guilt involved. In fact, separations are usually in-
evitable. If you look for guilt, either in yourself or in your partner, you
are refusing to face up to the inevitable. You are behaving as if the pain
of separation could have been avoided if only you or your partner had
been different. That' s too easy. The pain has to be faced. Separations re-
sult from entanglements. Each of the partners is entangled in a different
way. That' s why, as a therapist, I never look for a guilty party. When
people separate, I try to help them realize that their couple relationship
is now over, however 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 them is free to face his or
her future. This way of working brings relief to all concerned.
PARTICIPANT: I took part in a study on the consequences of divorce for
the children, and I would be interested to hear what you have to say
about this. When a couple tells their children they are getting divorced,
the children' s first impulse always seems to be that they must have done
something wrong to make their parents want to get divorced.
HELLINGER: When something goes wrong between the parents, children
l ook for the guilt in themselves. It's easier for them to feel guilty t hem-
selves than to see their parents' entanglements clearly. It's a great relief
to them when their parents say: ' We have decided to separate from each
other as a couple, but we will still be your parents, and you will still be
our beloved children."
PARTICIPANT: I can accept that. But children often question this because
they see how upset their parents are. What does one do then?
HELLINGER: I' ve already told you that. Parents get upset and resort to
blaming one another when they don' t face up to the pain of the separa-
tion and to their shared responsibility. Getting the children involved in
that avoidance makes it worse for the children. But there' s another i m-
portant aspect to consider. When parents divorce, their children are safest
with the parent who most respects his or her partner in them. Strangely,
this is usually the husband. The husband is more likely to respect his wife
in his children than the other way around. I don' t know why this is so,
but it is something that I' ve often observed. When you counsel a man
and a woman who want to get divorced, you can tell them that the best
thing for their children is if both partners continue the love they origi-
nally had for each other in their love for their children, regardless of
what happened afterward. Most couples start out with intense love and
happiness, and it's a help for their children when parents remember that
happiness and see the children as the expression of that happiness, even
after a divorce.
The objec t i on
GERTRUDE: I' m very interested in these rules of priority. I immediately
had the feeling which I can' t reconstruct or explain that the father
of my son might have married me after all if I had known about those
rules and followed them. They affected me strongly and I felt good about
it. But I destroyed the good feeling at once.
HELLINGER: Once upon a time there was a man who was hungry. Then
he came across a table laden with good, tasty food. But instead of sitting
down and tucking in, he said: "I don' t believe it. It's too good to be
true" and stayed hungry.
Hi erarc hy i n organi zat i ons
Organizations have a hierarchy of groups according to function and
achievement. For example, the hospital administration has priority over
the other departments because it safeguards the basic conditions that ena-
ble the others to carry out their functions. The doctors follow, even
though they are more important in terms of the hospital's purpose and
objectives, just as the wife is more important than the husband in terms
of the family's goals. The doctors as a group come second in the hierar-
chy, followed by the nurses and the auxiliary staff. They all form a hier-
archy of groups based on function.
In addition to the hierarchy involving the various groups of an organi-
zation 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
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 with-
in an organization arise when these various hierarchies conflict with one
another. For example, when an organization hires a new head from out-
side, the newcomer is on the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of seni-
ority but has the highest rank in terms of function. In order to be suc-
cessful, 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 depart-
ments, except in cases where the new department is sufficiently important
to make the other departments dependent on it.
PAR TI CI PANT: I S it possible for the head of an organization to dismiss
someone who came to the system earlier although the head himself or
herself is lower in the hierarchy of origin?
HE LLI NGE R : That's a commonsense situation. If a new head of an organi-
zation 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 in-
competent or who fails to live up to his or her responsibilities. However,
it is important that the person concerned still retain his or her position
i n the hierarchy of origin. The hierachy of origin and the hierarchy of
function are separate.
An organization will fall apart if a subordinate group takes something
upon itself that is properly the business of a superordinate group, for
example, when doctors in a hospital try to control its administration i n-
stead of cooperating with it. The same thing applies when a subordinate
member of a group tries to do something that is appropriate only for
someone higher up in the group. It is natural for there to be a certain
amount of competition among the members of a group for the leading
positions, and this is healthy for the organization if the aspirations are
based on compet ence and performance in the interest of the group as a
whol e, and the hierarchy of origin is respected at the same time. Thi s can
be compared to fights bet ween stags for the hinds. Interestingly enough,
the hinds remain when one stag has ousted the other, and the same phe-
nomenon can be observed in organizations. Whe n the leading stag is
ousted by its successor, the hinds stay on. I don' t want to go into this in
detail, but anyone who observes what goes on within an organization
will know what I mean.
Th e dec i si on not t o have c hi l dren
SOPHIE: My name is Sophie, and I am 37. I' m a psychologist, and I started
my own practice six months ago. I' ve been married for 10 years.
HELLINGER: Have you any children?
SOPHIE: No. I was j ust comi ng to that. It is an issue that is becomi ng ur-
gent because we are now at an age when we must decide one way or the
HELLINGER: Yo u have already decided.
SOPHIE: Already decided? Not to have children, you mean?
SOPHIE: Hmm. Why do you say that?
HELLINGER: One can see it.
SOPHIE: I' ve been wondering about that for some time.
HELLINGER: You have made your decision, and now you must stick to it,
and that's that. Otherwise, you won' t be able to move forward.
"To be or not t o be "
HE LLI NGE R to the group: I' d like to say something in general about
decisions of this kind.
Anyone who makes a decision in favor of something usually has to
forgo something else. What we decide in favor of leads to action and be-
comes reality, and that which we forgo remains inactive and unrealized.
Thus everything that is real and existent, everything that has been
translated into action, is surrounded by that which remains inactive and
unrealized, and it is inconceivable without it. But that which is not active
and not realized also has an effect. It is not nonexistent; it is only un-
realized. If I disdain or demean the part of my existence that remains
unrealized, it takes something away from my reality.
When, for example, a woman decides against having children in favor
of a career and combines this decision with demeaning and belittling the
whol e institution of husband, children, and family, the part of her exis-
tence that has remained unrealized, she takes something away from her
chosen path. That which she has chosen becomes less because of her de-
valuing what she has foregone. Conversely, if she respects and values that
whi ch 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: Can you follow this?
HE LLI NGE R : This is something you can use in your present situation, i f
you like.
(See also the story "Absence and presence," page 324.)
The c onsequenc es of suc h a deci si on f or
t he c oupl e' s rel ati onshi p
SOPHI E : Actually, I don' t think I have decided in favor of a career, but in
favor of my relationship with my husband. I seem to have the idea that
the relationship will be destroyed when a child comes onto the scene.
And when you said that we had decided against having children, I sud-
denly realized that I had decided against it. But now I feel I have no
right to deny my husband a child.
HE LLI NGE R : I f your husband wants a child and you choose not to have
one, that means that your togetherness is over. Unless you are aware that
this will be the consequence of your decision, you will be making a
grave mistake. If, on the other hand, your husband decides to stay wi t h
you in spite of your decision, this is something that you need to ac-
knowl edge as a special favor.
At l oggerheads
IDA: My name is Ida, and I' m here with Wi l l i am, my husband. We' r e un-
der great pressure in our business and I have a great deal of responsibility.
I woul d really like to work in psychology. I trained to be a psychologist,
but it seems the time is not yet ripe. And there' s something I' d like to
ask you. The last time I worked with you I was aware that I was at
loggerheads with you.
HELLINGER: You always have been a little bit.
IDA: A little bit, yes. But now I have lost something. It seems that I had
somehow integrated you into my life, and when I had a problem, I used
to say to myself: "I' l l write to Bert about it, " and start writing you a
letter. I kept on formulating the problem and changing and correcting
the letter, and then at some point I woul d find the solution wi t hout hav-
ing to bot her you. But I haven' t been able to do it for t wo years.
HELLINGER: Ther e is something unresolved here. You want ed something
from me, something to do with bei ng at loggerheads with me.
IDA: I want to recover what I have lost. It was valuable to me.
HELLINGER: Whe n something stops working, it's time to replace it with
something better.
IDA: Oh Bert! Ther e isn' t anything.
HELLINGER: We could l ook for someone who woul d be of greater help
to you than me.
IDA: It is a loss to me personally . . .
HELLINGER: I made you an offer. Do you accept?
IDA: Yes. But there' s something else. Yesterday I cut my bangs.
HELLINGER: But not short enough.
Laughter in the group. Hellinger had remarked in a previous work-
shop that women who have hair falling into their eyes are con-
fused, and the longer the hair, the greater the confusion.
HE LLI NGE R : Anything else?
IDA: Yes. In spite of my life being so hectic, I feel good.
Chi l dren who get bad grades
WALTER: My name is Wal t er. I work at the university, and I also do a
certain amount of psychotherapy. I am married and have t wo children.
I didn' t realize that there woul d be so much opportunity to wor k on
personal issues here. Somet hi ng that has worried me for some time is the
fact that I become so upset when my children get bad grades at school.
At the moment , it's my son who' s the problem.
HELLINGER: What were you like as a child? Di d you get good grades at
WALTER: I was very good when I was in elementary school, but when I
went to secondary school, I suffered a setback from whi ch I never really
HELLINGER: Yo u could try saying to your children: "I was just like you;
when I went to secondary school, I suffered a setback from whi ch I
never really recovered. "
WALTER: I'll have to think about it.
HELLINGER: Yo u must say it to them, not j ust think about it. Just say it.
t o the group: Wi l l he say it to t hem? He won' t . He is avoiding the solution.
t o Walter. A woman once told me that she was very worried about her
daughter, who was in love with Mi chael Jackson. She erected an altar to
him, and when he coughed, she coughed too. "What shall I do?" the
woman asked. I told her: "Tel l her, ' I was j ust like you. ' " Do you
know what the dilemma is with medicine? You can swallow it right
away, and let it work. Or you can cut it to bits in order to exami ne it,
but you may never get around to swallowing it.
Trans f erred gri ef
ROBERT: My name is Rober t and I am a management consultant. I have
three grown-up children and I live with my younger son.
HELLINGER: Are you divorced?
ROBERT: Separated.
HELLINGER: Si nce when?
Robert begins to sob.
HELLINGER: Keep your eyes open! Don' t give in to this feeling, it makes
you weak. It doesn' t do any good. Look at me! Can you see me? Can
you see what color my eyes are?
to the group: I have to try and draw his attention to somet hi ng else to help
keep hi m from getting sucked into this feeling.
t o Robert: How l ong have you been separated?
ROBE RT: For six mont hs.
HELLINGER: Wh o left the marriage, you or your wife?
ROBE RT: She did.
HELLINGER: And what happened?
ROBERT: She j ust didn' t want t o stay wi t h me any mor e.
HELLINGER: Concent r at e on what you are feeling at the moment . Ho w
old is the feeling?
ROBE RT: Ver y old, I think.
HELLINGER: Ho w old is the child who has this feeling?
ROBERT: He i s 3.
HELLINGER: That seems mor e like it. What happened when you were 3?
ROBERT: My younger sister died.
HELLINGER: Your sister? That ' s it.
the group: Thi s is a transference of an old situation and an old feeling into
the present. Yo u can' t wor k wi t h these feelings i n the present. The y
have to stay wher e they bel ong, and that' s wher e you must wor k wi t h
t hem.
t o Robert: No w we' l l set up your present family.
ROBERT: No, not now.
He sobs.
HELLINGER: I' ll give you one mor e chance.
Robert sets up the constellation of his present family.
HELLINGER: We r e either of you previously married or engaged, you or
your wife?
Diagram 1
Hb Husband ( = Robert )
W Wife
1 First child, a daughter
2 Second child, a son
3 Third child, a son
HELLINGER: Ho w is the husband feeling?
HUSBAND: I feel lost even t hough I ' m standing in the row.
HELLINGER: Ho w do the others feel?
WI FE: I feel as if I am facing the wr ong way. I ' m l ooki ng at my older son,
and I' d like to turn around.
HELLINGER: And how do you actually feel?
WI FE: Not good.
FIRST CHILD: I ' m standing in a good position, but I can only see my father.
SECOND CHILD: I like bei ng able to see everyone, but I l ack cont act .
THI RD CHILD: I feel strongly confront ed by my ol der brot her, and it
doesn' t feel at all good. On the ot her hand, I like bei ng t ucked in be-
t ween my parents.
HUSBAND: I woul d like to add that I can' t see my wife but onl y my
daughter. The lost feeling I had seemed to come from somewher e l ow
in my body. I feel close to my younger son.
HELLINGER t o Robert: What happened to your younger sister?
R OBE R T: She died when I was 3 years old.
R OBE R T: Pneumoni a.
HELLINGER: Now add your sister to the group.
Diagram 2
HbS+ Husband's sister who died young
HELLINGER to the group: You can see from the constellation that the
daughter is identified with his younger sister. She represents the deceased
sister for her father.
What has changed for the husband?
HUSBAND: There was a feeling of dread everywhere.
HELLINGER: How is the daughter feeling, better or worse?
FIRST CHILD: Mor e agitated.
HELLINGER: How does the wife feel now?
WIFE: Something has become clear, something important. It has made me
reel different, better.
HELLINGER to the group: The sister is the most important person here. A
system becomes disturbed when an important person is missing, regardless
what the reason. It is often a sibling of the father or mother who died youung. As soon as the person in question reenters the group, new energy
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.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: How is the wife feeling now?
WIFE: It' s crazy, but I now feel I can turn toward my husband.
Hellinger rearranges the constellation.
HELLINGER: How is that for the husband?
HUSBAND: It felt wonderful when my sister came, and when my wife
came, it was good too. But perhaps they should change places.
HELLINGER: That ' s possible.
HUSBAND: That' s good.
WIFE: It' s different, better.
HELLINGER: How is the dead sister feeling?
HELLINGER: How are the children feeling?
HELLINGER TO THE WIFE: How do you feel with your children standing
opposite you like this?
WIFE: Good, yes.
HELLINGER to Robert: Go and stand in your place in the constellation.
Robert goes to his place.
ROBERT: I don' t understand.
HELLINGER: You don' t have to understand, you only have to stand in
your place.
Robert shakes his head.
HELLINGER to the group: You see how hard the solution is for him?
HELLINGER: The question now is, what can he do to give his sister her
rightful place?
It looks like Rober t has a feeling of guilt toward his younger sister be-
Comp e ns at i on t hr ough suf f eri ng
cause he' s alive and she's dead. He has an advantage and she has a dis-
advantage. That' s how Robert ' s child-soul sees it. When there' s such a
difference in destinies, the one who has the advantage often refuses to ac-
cept his or her good fortune in order to reduce the discrepancy. Rober t
is refusing to accept his life, and may actually be refusing to accept his
wife, in an attempt to make his loss more equal to his sister's. But this is
a blind reaction. It works like a compulsion that is impossible to resist.
He acts in the superstitious belief that his sister will be happier if he suf-
fers, and that she will live if he dies.
Comp ens at i on on a hi gher level
HELLINGER: We can, however, overcome blind compulsions to compen-
sate through suffering by acknowledging that our own fate and the fate
of a deceased or handicapped person are not bound together, and by
bowi ng humbly to both our own fate and that of the other person as
two separate destinies. This would be a solution on a higher level. What ,
then, could Rober t do to become free of his impulse to compensate for
his sister's loss through his own suffering? First, he would need to take
his grief and his feelings of guilt seriously, and then he could say some
healing words to his dead sister.
to Robert: What was your sister's name?
ROBERT: Adelaide.
HELLINGER: Say "Dear Adelaide." Say it after me: "Dear Adelaide." Say
Robert sobs.
HELLINGER: That kind of grief is bad for your sister.
to the group: When he makes himself 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 would gain something from his death. But if we assume that his sister
loves him as much as he loves her, think how she must feel if she sees
her brother suffering like this because of her.
I'll tell you the solution anyway, even though Robert ' s at a different
place. The words he would have to say to his sister are: "Dear Adelaide,
you are dead. I shall go on living for a little while, and then I, too, shall
die." Those are liberating words. They hold compensation and freedom,
and also humility. The arrogance has gone. He is acting in solidarity with
the dead person and he is going on living.
Second, there is an exercise he can do to help bot h himself and his
dead sister: for one year, he can show his little sister the world. He can
imagine he is leading her by the hand and showing her the fine and
lovely things of this world. Among other things, he can show her his
wife and children. In this way, he could truly compensate her for what
she has lost.
t o Robert: Whe n you have something difficult to do, do it with your sister
beside you. Take strength from her fate to enable you to do something
that you couldn' t do otherwise: to do something difficult, and to do it
well. If you do this, her early death will have a positive effect in the
present, even though she is no longer here. Then she will live on
through you, in a good and positive way. Thi s woul d be another means
of compensating for her loss.
Comp e ns at i on t hr ough ac knowl e dgme nt
and res pec t
IDA: All the time I' ve been worki ng on myself, there has been one person
I have forgotten to honor and respect, and that is my sister.
HELLINGER: What happened to her?
IDA: She is the oldest child. She bl ocked my way to my mot her, and so far
I have only seen her negative side. Of course, there really were some
negative aspects, but she also gave me a lot, and I owe her a great deal.
HELLINGER: Yo u could tell her that openly.
IDA: I always wanted to do something good for her, but I never managed
HELLINGER: It doesn' t work like that. The only thing one can and should
do in a situation like this is to give the person in question the respect
that is due to that person. Thi s is, first of all, an inner process, and then
one can say the relevant words, for example: "I know what you have
done for me. I treasure it, and it gives me strength." Thi s will be mor e
precious to her than anything else you could do.
CLARA: My name is Clara. I' m a teacher, and I' m also studying psychol o-
gy. What I woul d like to do in this workshop is solve something con-
cerning my family.
HE L L I NGE R : What ?
CL AR A: The situation with my siblings. I have two older hal f sisters. The
first one, Barbara, is my mother' s child, and the second one, Francesca,
is my father's. But I don' t know her.
HE L L I NGE R : Wh o is her mother?
CL AR A: My father was still married when he met her mot her, and shortly
afterward, he met my mot her. He only had a short relationship with
Francesca' s mot her.
HE L L I NGE R : Your father was married before?
CL AR A: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : What happened to his wife? Wh y did he leave her?
CL AR A: The war came. He told me they grew apart.
HE L L I NGE R : Wer e there any children from this marriage?
HE L L I NGE R : And then he met the woman?
CL AR A: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : And he had a daughter with her?
CL AR A: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : Why didn' t he marry her?
CL AR A: I think it was because he met my mot her shortly afterward.
HE L L I NGE R : Was your mot her also married when they met ?
HE L L I NGE R : But she had a child?
CL AR A: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : What happened to the father of that child?
CL AR A: She told me that at first he didn' t want to marry her, and in the
end, she didn' t want to marry him.
HE L L I NGE R to the group: We must try and get a mental picture o f what we
have j ust heard in order to understand what it means in systemic terms.
Clara gained her life at the cost of many people who made r oom for her.
How many? Her father's first wife, his first daughter and this daughter' s
mot her, her mot her' s first husband and their daughter. How many people
is that? Five. In a situation like this, a child naturally tries to compensate
for her gain at the cost of so many others by becomi ng a loser herself.
Qui t e a complicated case. There' s probably not much that can be done.
The compulsion to compensate is t oo strong. Anyone woul d find it hard
to accept his or her life if it were gained at the cost of so many others.
HE L L I NGE R to Clara: Have you ever tried to commi t suicide?
CL AR A: No.
HE L L I NGE R : Have you ever thought about it?
HELLINGER: Tha nk goodness.
Clara is handicapped as a result of an automobile accident.
Partners and children in Clara's family
F Father, mother's second partner (M2P)
M Mother, father's third partner (F3P)
M1P Mother' s first partner, father of 1
1 Mother' s child by her first partner, a daughter
F1W Father's first wife, childless
F2P Father's second partner, mother of 2
2 Father's child with his second partner, a daughter
3 Child of the mot her and f ather, a daughter (= Cl ara)
HELLINGER: Okay, t hen we' l l set up your family of ori gi n. Wh o bel ongs
t o it?
CLARA: My father, my mot her , me, my father' s fi rst wi fe, and his second
part ner wi t h wh o m he had a daught er wh o m I' ve never met . But he was
not marri ed t o t he mot her of this child. Th e n t he man wi t h wh o m my
mot her had a daught er before she marri ed my father, and this daught er
HELLINGER: In what order wer e t he siblings bor n?
CLARA: First came my mot her ' s fi rst child, t hen my father' s fi rst chi l d, and
t hen me as t he youngest . Wh e n my father' s f i r st chi l d was bor n, my
father was still marri ed to his first wi fe.
HELLINGER: Wh y didn' t your mot her marry t he father of her f i r st child?
C L AR A: He was engaged to someone else when he met my mot her, and
he ret urned t o East Ger many i mmedi at el y after the birth of the child.
HE L L I NGE R : IS he married now?
CLAR A: I t hi nk so.
HE L L I NGE R : Has he any ot her children?
C L AR A: I t hi nk so.
HE L L I NGE R : The n your older sister has siblings she doesn' t know. It is
i mport ant for her to meet bot h her father and these siblings.
C L AR A: She doesn' t want to.
HE L L I NGE R : Your mot her coul d arrange it for her.
C L AR A: She won' t do that.
HE L L I NGE R : I' ll tell you a story.
They're here
In one of my courses, there was a young man who had never seen his father.
When his mother was a young woman, she met a Frenchman in Paris and be-
came pregnant by him. The man's family immediately arranged for him to mar-
ry another woman because under French law a married man did not have to
pay alimony. He then went into hiding somewhere, and the young woman lost
track of him completely. He left no address or any clue to his whereabouts.
When her son was 20, they drove together to France to find him. She had
inwardly allied herself with the boy's grandfather, his father's father, and she
trusted that he would lead them. One day when they were driving through a
village, they saw the family name of the boy's father on a door, and they went
in and asked a woman there if she knew a man called so-and-so. "Wait a
minute," she said, went to the telephone, dialed a number, and said: "They're
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, now set up your constellation.
P AR T I C I P ANT to Clara: What happened to your father' s first wife? Is she
still alive, and has she got a family?
HE L L I NGE R : That is not i mport ant here. We have enough information.
To o much makes i t difficult t o feel properly.
to Clara, who is placing her representative between her father and mother: Ar e
your parents divorced?
C L AR A: No.
Diagram 1
F Father, mother' s second partner
M Mother, father's third partner
F1W Father's first wife, childless
F2P Father's second partner, mother of 2
M1P Mother' s first partner, father of 1
1 First child, daughter of the mother and M1P
2 Second child, daughter of the father and F2P
3 Thi rd child, daught er, only joi nt child of the mot he r and f ather
( = Cl ara)
HELLI NGER: I ' m goi ng t o put s ome or der i nt o t he const el l at i on.
Diagram 2
HE L L I NGE R : How is that for the second child?
S E COND CHI LD: Bet t er.
HE L L I NGE R : Change places with your mother!
Diagram 3
SECOND CHILD: That' s better still.
HELLINGER: How is the father's second partner feeling?
FATHER' S SECOND PARTNER: It's okay like this.
MOTHER: For me t oo.
HELLINGER to the mother. Your husband' s second partner has to stand there,
otherwise you will have to go.
HELLINGER to Clara's representative: How is the youngest daughter feeling?
THIRD CHILD: I was feeling a bit strange when I was still standing next to
my father. My mot her was on my left. I not i ced myself turning away
from her and toward my father, and then I couldn' t see her at all. And
when my second sister was still standing in front of me, I felt she was a
protection, that she woul d prevent people from seeing what my inten-
tions toward my father were. No w there' s a certain amount of tension
bet ween me and my mother, but otherwise it's okay.
HELLINGER: How is the oldest daughter feeling?
FIRST CHILD: Whe n I was standing behi nd my mother, I was feeling pow-
erful. I felt I had influence over my mot her and my sisters. But I also felt
strange, as if I didn' t belong. Now I feel that I am in my right place, and
that I' m not so powerful anymore.
HELLINGER: How is the father of the oldest daughter feeling?
MOTHER' S FIRST PARTNER: Whe n I was still standing behi nd my former
partner, there was a feeling of warmth to my right, and I was drawn t o-
ward her. Whe n you put me facing her, there was a feeling of equality
and balance. But I miss something on my left.
HELLINGER: There' s where your present family belongs.
HELLINGER: How is the father's first wife feeling?
FATHER' S FIRST WIFE: I feel as if I were nailed to the floor, and I keep on
wonderi ng what it's all about. I don' t understand.
HELLINGER: The bond bet wen the husband and his second partner and her
child has priority over his first relationship. It has annulled the first rela-
FIRST CHILD: Whe n I was standing behind my mot her I was feeling pow-
erful, but also angry. I don' t know why. Now I' m still feeling strong, but
angry, t oo. It has something to do with all these women. I feel stronger
than any of them, but it annoys me that there are so many women
HELLINGER: I' m going to try something out. I' m going to add your fath-
er's fiancee to the constellation.
First, Hellinger places the fiancee on the left of the husband, then
on his right, and then a little further back.
Diagram 4
M1PFF Mother's first partner's former fiancee
HELLINGER: How does the fiancee feel?
ce's left I felt giddy, and when I was on his right, I found it difficult to
breathe. Here, further back, I feel better.
HELLINGER TO THE OLDEST DAUGHTER: Do you feel any connect i on to
this woman?
FIRST CHILD: At the moment , I feel I want to go away, further back.
HELLINGER: Go and stand next to your father's former fiancee. How is
FIRST CHILD: Bet t er.
HELLINGER: You are identified wi t h her.
FIRST CHILD: I simpy feel bet t er here.
HELLINGER: That ' s the effect of the identification. You have her feelings.
She was bet rayed by the relationship bet ween your father and your
mot her. Now, in this constellation, you are feeling her anger. Thos e are
her feelings, not yours.
t o Clara: Does that make sense to you?
CLAR A: Yes.
H E L L I N G E R to the oldest daughter. No w go back to your former place. Thi s
was j ust an experi ment to see whet her you are identified wi t h her.
to the representative of Clara: Ho w are you feeling?
T H I R D CHI LD: Just now I had a strange feeling in my back, first quite hi gh
up, and t hen as if I were going to bend over backward and snap. It had
somet hi ng to do wi t h my oldest sister's leaving, but it' s not as strong
since she came back.
HE L L I NGE R : Tr y changi ng places wi t h your mot her!
Diagram 5
THI RD CHILD: I feel much bet t er here.
FATHER: I have an image of a pair of scales, and its axis is here, wher e my
daughter is. Wh e n she was standing on the ot her side of her mot her, t he
axis was wher e I am. I was actually swaying to the right and left.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I feel very strange. I am not interested in any of t hem. I don' t
feel anything. But here next to my oldest daughter, I feel rather bet t er.
FIRST CHILD: I feel responsible for my mother, and I don' t want to be.
HELLINGER: Your mother 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
him fully.
to the oldest daughter. Go and stand next to your youngest sister.
FIRST CHILD: I can' t breathe here. Otherwise I feel good in this position.
But I can' t breathe.
HELLINGER to Clara: Go and stand in your place in the constellation.
CLARA standing in her place: I feel strongly drawn to my oldest sister.
HELLINGER: That' s understandable. After all, neither of you could really
rely on your parents.
Clara begins to weep.
HELLINGER: There' s something I' d like to do with you:
Go to your father's first wife and bow to her. Not a very deep bow, but
with respect.
Diagram 6
No w go t o his second partner and bow t o her.
No w go t o your second sister and embrace her.
Clara embraces her and sobs violently for a long time.
No w go t o the former fiancee of your oldest sister's father and bow t o
And now go t o your oldest sister's father and bow t o hi m t oo.
No w go back t o your place and l ook around you. Look at t hem all!
Her father puts his arm round her.
No w go t o your mot her!
Clara embraces her mother and sobs.
No w go back t o your place and l ook around you. Look at t hem all once
mor e!
Is it okay now?
Clara nods.
Acknowledged personal guilt as a source of strength
HARRY: Rober t ' s constellation and his gri ef over his dead sister have made
me t hi nk about the probl em of guilt and its accept ance. I j ust realized
that all my life I' ve been programmi ng mysel f to atone for guilt accord-
i ng t o Christian concept s.
HELLINGER: Peopl e who fol l ow Christian teachings t hi nk they have t o
at one for guilt. Wor s e still, they even t hi nk t hey can.
As soon as someone who has become personally guilty admits to and
acknowl edges guilt, the guilt becomes a source of strength and the guilty
feeling disappears. As soon as one admits to one' s guilt, one has no guilty
feelings. Feelings of guilt result when someone denies true guilt, but one
who faces up to it becomes strong. Guilt t hen manifests as strength. Any-
one who denies guilt and tries to avoid its consequences feels guilty and
weak. Guilt gives peopl e the strength to do good in a way that t hey
wer e unable to before, but onl y if they acknowl edge and face up to it.
On the ot her hand, taking on guilt and its consequences vicariously
for someone else leaves you weak and incapable of doing good. In fact,
you actually make things even worse because you relieve a guilty person
of the guilt and the strength it brings to do good when it is acknowl edged.
Thus, the effects of taking on guilt for someone else are harmful in all
respects. For exampl e, i f your parents are guilty of somet hi ng i n relation
t o one another, you can say t o t hem: " No matter what guilt there may
have been in your relationship, I honor you as my parents. I accept and
honor what you have given me, and now I leave you in peace. " Then
you are leaving the guilt and its consequences with your parents. The
moment you do this, it will have a good effect on them, even if you do
not say it out loud. They will have to face up to their guilt and its conse-
quences, and you will be free to face up to your own guilt. It that clear?
HELLINGER: Are there any questions?
CLAUDIA: I don' t quite understand yet. You said that if someone takes on
someone else's guilt, he makes himself weak.
HELLINGER: He makes himself and the other person weak.
CLAUDIA: The ot her person I can understand, but himself?
HELLINGER: He makes himself weak as well. Taki ng on guilt for someone
else always makes us weak. Anyone who carries someone else's cross be-
comes weak. But people who carry their own cross and their own guilt
and their own fate are strong. They carry t hem with head held high, and
they have the strength to do great things.
Savi ng f ac e f or one' s f at her
HELLINGER: I' ll give you an example of trying to take on the conse-
quences of guilt for someone else.
A woman had the idea that she had to save face; she was afraid of los-
ing face. She tried to do it superficially, through changing her hairstyle,
for example. She suspected that her father was a war criminal. Thus he was
the one who really should have been afraid of losing face, and he should
have been the one trying to save face. As a solution, I suggested to her
that she should imagine herself standing next to her father as a child and
looking up to hi m and saying: "Dear Father, I will save face for you. "
That was exactly what she was doing. But she couldn' t find the courage
to say out loud what she already was doing, not even as an exercise. It
woul d have been a solution, however, because then her father woul d
have been forced to recognize his guilt and fear; his guilt and fear woul d
have returned to where they bel onged and left her free. But it woul d
have been a humbling process as well. She woul d have had no standing
left, except her own. A child with a fate of this kind rarely has the cour-
age and the strength to do what is necessary. All one can do as an outsid-
er is let things take their course, for anyone trying to intervene woul d be
doing exactly the same thing as the child. They woul d be taking on
something that they cannot and must not take on.
It i s easi er t o suf f er t han t o a c c e p t t he s ol ut i on
UNA: My name is Una. A year and a hal f ago I slipped a disk and I have
had a perpetual backache ever since. In spite of bei ng a therapist, I still
find it hard not to get t oo deeply i nvol ved wi t h my clients. I bel i eve that
one of my parents never l oved me, and still doesn' t l ove me. Perhaps that
is why I have had a succession of intense but short-lived relationships
over the past fifteen years.
HELLINGER: Psychologically, backache can always be traced to t he same
cause, and it can be cured quite simply by bowi ng l ow. Wh o is it you
have t o bow to?
UNA: Bo w to?
HELLINGER: Yes , exactly. Look at the way you are sitting; it' s t he exact
opposite of a bow. You must bow down l ow, right t o the ground, proba-
bly t o your mot her. Translated into words, what you must say is: "I bow
to you wi t h deep respect. " That is a demandi ng sent ence, and a liberat-
ing one.
UNA: Ther e' s somet hi ng in me that woul d enable me to bow, but I doubt
i f i t woul d be l ow enough.
HELLINGER: If you bow at all, you have t o bow right down t o the
ground. But it' s easier for you t o bear your backache than t o bow down
l ow. Yo u find it easier to suffer than to take action. So we needn' t feel
sorry for you.
UNA: I' d like to do it, but I am aware that I still have some resent ment .
HELLINGER: It' s a great mistake to think that clients want to get rid of their
probl ems. The y often onl y want t o have t hem confi rmed. Di d you not -
i ce how your attention automatically goes t o your obj ect i ons rather than
to interest and exci t ement in experi ment i ng wi t h a possible solution?
Th e humbl e s ol ut i on hurt s
LEO: My name is Leo. I' ve been a psychiatrist and psychotherapist for the
past 16 years. I ' m very happy wi t h my wor k but not at all happy wi t h
my family of origin. I have a good relationship wi t h my wife and have
t wo children ages 6 and 9, but I have the feeling whi ch I am sure is
justified that I have t wo mor e children in the persons of my parents.
My father has somet hi ng like premature dementia.
HELLINGER: Pret t y arrogant, the way you are talking.
LEO: Wel l , perhaps I am.
HELLINGER: That ' s obvious.
LEO: Actually, I sometimes think my family has made me like this to a
great extent. My parents have quarreled for as long as I have known
them, although the word "quarrel" is taboo. They must have been fond
of each ot her at some point, but I' ve been the mediator bet ween t hem
ever since I can remember.
HELLINGER: Yo u are trying to seduce me into accepting your interpreta-
tion and adopting your point of view. If your interpretation were cor -
rect, the probl em woul d have been solved already. The fact that it has
not been solved shows that your interpretation is wrong. The further
away such an interpretation is from reality, the more often you have to
repeat it. So what woul d you like to do now? Do you want to find a
to the group: Do you see his expression? He isn' t really interested in finding
a solution, so I' m not going to discuss it any further now.
t o Leo: Solutions hurt, even good ones. They call for humility. That ' s the
trouble, (pause) Are you angry with me?
LEO: In my family, the standard reaction is to take offense, but I know
there wouldn' t be any point in that. But what I have said about my par-
ents is important to me because it has recently become acute. I can also
be quite stubborn when I want to, and I don' t intend to give up on this.
HELLINGER: Okay. Agreed.
A chi l d' s i nt errupt ed mo v e me n t t o wa r d
his mo t he r or f at her
JOHN: My name is John. I trained as a teacher, but I have been worki ng
for three years as an environmental educator and landscaping consultant
I design gardens. I woul d like to work here on my physical symp-
toms. I have constant pain in my shoulders, I get frequent headaches, and
I also have a feeling of discomfort in my abdomen.
HELLINGER: Here' s a wild guess: The headaches are caused by love that is
unable to flow because a movement you made toward someone as a
child was interrupted and stopped before it reached its goal. Usually, it
is a movement toward the mot her. That ' s also the impression I get when
I l ook at your face. You l ook like someone who was interrupted when
vou were making a movement toward someone. Wer e you ever in the
hospital as a child?
JOHN: Twi ce. Once for an operation, that was quite early in my life, and
then later with mumps.
HELLINGER: That could be the explanation. When a child's movement to-
ward someone it loves is interrupted, it causes feelings of despair and sad-
ness, 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.
The healing process is to go back to the situation in the past and ena-
ble the child to complete the movement. This can be done through
hypnotherapy or through holding therapy. Do you know what holding
therapy is?
JOHN: 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.
JOHN: 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 move-
ment 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 move-
ment at exactly the same point at which it was interrupted as a child. In-
stead 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 neuro-
sis. Neurosis begins at the point that a movement toward someone, usu-
ally the mother, is interrupted, and neurotic behavior is simply a repeti-
tion of this circular movement.
The solution to the problem is implicit in its description. But the solu-
tion 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.
JOHN: My sister told me that my parents wanted to visit me in the hospi-
tal, 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: Now 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.
Br i ng your chair and come and sit i n front of me.
John takes his chair and sits down in front of Hellinger. Hettinger
eases John's head, which was thrown back, gently forward and
HELLINGER t o the group: Ther e was an interruption of the flow of energy
here in his neck. No w it can flow again.
t o John: Cl ose your eyes, breathe deeply, and go back, far back i nt o your
chi l dhood.
Br eat he deeply. Resi st your feelings of weakness and be i n cont act wi t h
your strength. Carry on breathing deeply and powerfully. No w say:
"Pl ease. "
JOHN: Please.
JOHN: Please.
HELLINGER: Yes , like that. Again, louder still.
JOHN: Please. Please.
HELLINGER: Stretch your arms out as you speak. You can hol d on to me.
"Pl ease. "*
JOHN: Please .. .
HELLINGER: Say: " Mummy, please. "
JOHN: Mummy, please.
HELLINGER: "Pl ease. "
IOHN: Please.
HELLINGER: Say it urgently.
JOHN: Please, Mummy.
IOHN: Please.
HELLINGER: Wi t h all your strength.
JOHN: Please. Please.
HELLINGER: And now say it quietly: "Please, Mummy. "
JOHN: Please, Mummy.
John opens his eyes.
HELLINGER: Hel l o, how are you feeling now?
* 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.
J OHN: Good.
HELLINGER to the group: Di d you see how bad he felt as a child? He was
desperate. It isn' t possible to recover what has been lost, but it is possible
to learn to compl et e a movement now that was interrupted and i ncom-
plete back then. In this exercise, inhaling is a taking-in and exhaling is
a movement toward someone. Bowi ng down is also a movement toward
Okay, that' s all.
S houl der pai ns
GERTRUDE: I want to talk about the pains in my shoulder. I have had t en-
sion pains in my right shoulder for a long time now, and every night I
wake up with a feeling of numbness in my right hand. I can' t get rid of
it. I do exercises for it, but it doesn' t get better.
HELLINGER: The next time your shoulder hurts, imagine that you are
stroking your husband' s right cheek with the same hand.
GERTRUDE: I haven' t got a husband.
HELLINGER: Stroke the man you loved once, the father of your child.
A flea in his ear
CARL: The words " You could annul the adoption" have sunk in deep and
are constantly worki ng in my mind. I have to make a big effort to con-
centrate on what' s going on here and not to think about those words all
the time.
HELLINGER: You could get rid of t hem easily enough. Do you know
CARL: By doing it.
He laughs.
I ' m hovering bet ween the opposite poles of "yes" and "no. " As far as the
"yes" is concerned, it struck a chord when you talked about letting love
flow again in connect i on with shoulder pains and headaches, and the
effects of bowi ng l ow and honori ng and respecting someone. I thought
about the father of my adopted child, and it occurred to me that the road
to "yes" may begin with honori ng and respecting this man.
HELLINGER: Good, very good. You learn quickly. That ' s where it begins.
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: How old was he?
THEA: He was 29.
HELLINGER: How 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 al-
ways 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 work-
ing 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 broth-
er felt that the other assistant wanted to eliminate him and he eliminated
himself instead.
HELLINGER: The next of kin often take suicide as a personal insult and be-
have as if they had the right to feel wronged when someone decides to
commit suicide. The 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
the fact that you had the right to decide what you wanted to do with
your life. "
HELLINGER: No, no, no. What I said and what you say are t wo compl et e-
ly different things. Accept ance is condescending. If, on the ot her hand,
you say, "I respect your decision, " it gives your brother stature. And
what about your sons? Do any of t hem take after your brother?
T HE A: Yes, the second one does.
HELLINGER: That' s a sure sign that the matter is not resolved. Has he al-
ready tried to commi t suicide?
HELLINGER: Has he ever talked about it?
HELLINGER: What does he do that worries you?
T HE A: It's not like that. I' m not worried about him. But he is very like my
brother, bot h in appearance and in the way he thinks.
HELLINGER: Are you programming him?
THEA: Hmm, I' m afraid so.
HELLINGER: You are programming him through your observations
your so-called observations. Wher e is the safe place for him?
THEA: Next to his father.
T HE A: I' ve wanted him to have a closer relationship with his father for
some time, but I haven' t succeeded up until now.
HELLINGER: No w we' ll set up your present family system. Wh o belongs
to it?
T HE A: My husband, me, and our four sons.
HELLINGER: Wer e you or your husband previously married or engaged or
involved in a close relationship?
T HE A: No.
HELLINGER: Is there anyone else who might be missing?
T HE A: My mot her lives with us, but I don' t know what part she plays.
HELLINGER: How long has she been living with you?
T HE A: Si nce our second son moved out about six years ago.
HELLINGER: Is your father dead?
T HE A: Yes. He was killed in the war when I was nearly 4 years old.
HELLINGER: Obviously you have to look after your mot her.
T HE A: Yes. That' s not the problem.
HELLINGER: Your father was killed when you were . . . ?
T HE A: I was not quite 4. I saw hi m for the last time when I was 3.
HELLINGER: How was he killed?
THEA: In Russia, at the battle of Stalingrad.
HELLINGER: That sounds like the reason for your brother' s suicide. He fol-
l owed his father. How old was your father when he died?
THEA: Thi rt y. My brother was almost 30 when he killed himself. It was
just a few days before his 30t h birthday.
HELLINGER: That is the reason. He wanted to follow his father.
THEA: I don' t understand.
HELLINGER: That' s how it is. That' s what children do. How did your
mot her react to your father's death?
THEA: She thought about commi t t i ng suicide, and she told us children
about it.
HELLINGER: That confirms it again. Di d she love him?
THEA: Yes.
HELLINGER: I' m not so sure about that.
THEA: I think she did.
HELLINGER: I' m not so sure. People who love do not react with thoughts
of suicide when their loved ones die.
THEA: At first she was desperate, and then she said: " I f we lose the war"
my father was already dead when she said this "we' l l all j ump into
the river. We' l l finish off the whol e family." I don' t know if her threats
of suicide were directly connect ed with my father.
HELLINGER: They were threats of murder.
THEA: Murder, yes.
HELLINGER: It gets more and more sinister. Okay, now we' ll set up your
family constellation.
Diagram 1
Hb Husband
W Wife (= Thea)
1 First child, a son
2 Second child, a son
3 Third child, a son
4 Fourth child, a son
HELLINGER: Ho w is the husband feeling?
HUSBAND: Not good at all. I can' t feel any closeness bet ween my wife and
me, and my sons are even further away. My cont act wi t h t hem i s
t hrough my wife, but there' s no sign that there will really be any contact,
and my sons standing opposite me are t oo far away to talk t o.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the oldest son feel?
FI RST CHILD: I feel furious. I ' m indignant. Wh e n my mot her came and
st ood bet ween my father and me, it was worse still. I ' m not part of this
setup, and I ' m angry.
HELLINGER: Wi t h good reason.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the second son feeling?
SECOND CHILD: I want to move further away from my mot her.
HELLINGER: Wha t about the third son?
THI RD CHILD: My first feeling was that this is an unnatural setup. My t wo
older brothers are so far away. My mot her is turned away from me. I feel
I can stand it best if I keep calm and refuse to be drawn i nt o this un-
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 hang-
ing 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: What has changed?
HUSBAND: I don' t really miss my wife. I am glad to see my sons standing
in a row like that.
FIRST CHILD: Everything feels fine like this. I don' t miss my mot her.
SECOND CHILD: I feel good. I woul d like to be in contact with my mot h-
er. But otherwise everything' s fine.
THI RD CHILD: I ' m not worri ed about my youngest brot her any mor e.
FOURTH CHILD: I feel much better standing like this in the circle. Ther e' s
a lot of strength here for me, and I feel safe. But it's a pity my mot her' s
not here.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the wife feeling?
WI FE: Bet t er. It' s okay for me like this.
HELLINGER t o Then: Of course, this is not a good solution, but it shows
the hidden dynamics. No w I ' m goi ng t o add your father and your
brot her.
Diagram 3
WF+ Wife's father, killed in the war
WB+ Wife's brother, committed suicide
HELLINGER: How' s that for the wife?
WI FE: I feel good here behi nd my father and my brot her.
HELLINGER to the group: That ' s loyalty. She is following her father and
brot her. That ' s mor e important t o her than her own life.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the husband feeling now?
HUSBAND: It' s okay like this.
HELLINGER: And the wife' s brot her?
WI FE' S BROTHER+: It' s okay for me t oo.
HELLINGER t o the group: No w I' ll try a less drastic solution. We have to
face the extremes of a situation and look honestly at the actual situation
before we can l ook for a less drastic solution. But the less drastic solution
is very often unattainable and the extreme situation often turns out to be
HE LLI NGE R : HOW IS the husband feeling now?
HU SBAND: It's a pity my sons are no longer standing in front of me.
HE LLI NGE R : And the wife?
WI F E : I' m committed to my family of origin. I would like to lean against
my husband, but I don' t want to see what' s going on.
HE LLI NGE R to Thea: Now we need your mother as well.
Hellinger adds the wife's mother to the constellation and places her
facing away from the family.
Diagram 4
Diagram 5
WM Wife's mother
HELLINGER: Ho w does the wife' s mot her feel standing there?
WI FE' S MOTHER: Not bad.
HELLINGER: What has changed for the wife?
WI FE: I ' m glad she' s there. No w I feel I can l ook around me.
HELLINGER t o the group: Th e wife' s mot her is the one who must go. She
has forfeited bel ongi ng to the family.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the wife' s father feeling?
WI FE' S FATHER+: It feels mor e compl et e since my wife came.
HELLINGER t o Thea: Go and stand in your place.
Thea goes to her place in the constellation.
THE A: I feel good in relation to my sons. But I ' m not sure about my
HUSBAND: She is avoiding all physical cont act .
HELLINGER: She needs t i me to get used to it.
Onc e I heard about an Eski mo who traveled to the Cari bbean for a sum-
mer vacation. It t ook hi m a fortnight to get used to it.
THE A: Ther e' s somet hi ng else worryi ng me. I ' m standing bet ween my hus-
band and my brot her.
HELLINGER: Move closer t o your husband so that you have physical con-
tact wi t h hi m.
HUSBAND: She's still 3 centimeters away.
HELLINGER to the group: It would be a serious betrayal if 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.
The c onsequenc es of mur de r and t hreat s of mur de r
wi thi n t he f ami l y
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 con-
demned 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 be-
came 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 be-
longing 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 conse-
quences, for example, for your brother. It is important that your sons with-
draw 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 ex-
ploding grenades. So she tried to save our lives many times. I looked on
this as compensation.
HELLINGER: It doesn' t annul the effect of her threat of murder. What she
did was good, and you must respect it, but it didn' t cancel out the effects
of her threat of murder, as you can see from your brother' s fate. We
often imagine we can compensate for something, for example, through
at onement . But if you observe what actually happens in families, you see
it doesn' t work. The only thing that works is a full acknowl edgment of
guilt. Guilt cannot be annulled and it cannot be compensated for, but it
can generate strength to do good. Ther e is greatness in doing good, and
it has a reconciling effect, but it does not annul the guilt. It is a far great-
er thing to face up to one' s guilt than to believe or act as if it could be
forgiven or compensated for. Such guilt cannot and may not be forgiven.
For how could anyone forgive something like that? Guilt remains, and
it generates strength to do good.
CARL: I was shocked when you said that Thea' s brother' s suicide was
something in the nature of a repetition of her father's death. I don' t
understand that.
HELLINGER: I interpret it differently now. Actually, Thea' s mot her is the
one who wanted to commi t suicide, and her son did it for her. Those
are the real dynamics.
to Thea: Does this ring true to you?
THEA: Yes.
CLAUDIA: Then the son' s suicide had nothing to do with the father's death
but was connect ed with the mother' s threat of murder?
HELLINGER: Yes. That is how I see it now. The other dynamics may also
be operating, that he followed his father out of loyalty, but the dynamics
resulting from the mother' s threat of murder were much stronger. The
weaker dynamics lose their significance when something stronger comes
ont o the scene. Somet hi ng that woul d be important in another system is
no longer important here because it is overshadowed by the force of the
other dynamics. In cases like this, you solve the important thing and ig-
nore the less important one. The mother' s threat of murder overshadows
everything else.
Peop l e who have f orf ei ted t hei r ri ght
t o bel ong mus t l eave
GEORGE: Yo u said that Thea' s mot her has forfeited her right to bel ong to
the system. I woul d be interested to know when this applies and when
it doesn' t, and how it should be handled.
HELLINGER: It is often only possible to decide this in a concret e situation.
Bel ongi ng and the right to bel ong are always forfeited when someone in
the family kills or threatens to kill another member of the family, or
when the person kills someone else. When this happens, the person must
leave or be excluded; otherwise an i nnocent person will leave or be ex-
cluded instead.
Some time ago, there was an Irish participant in a workshop whose
grandfather had been a freedom fighter and had shot his brother. But far
from bei ng excluded, he was regarded as a hero. One of his grandsons
went to live far away, like someone who no longer belonged, and this
grandson also had a serious quarrel with his brother. Whe n his family
constellation was set up, we sent the grandfather out of the room, and
immediately there was peace bet ween the brothers and all the ot her
members of the system.
In another workshop, one of the participants was a great-niece of Her -
mann Goeri ng, who ran the concentration camps in the Thi r d Rei ch.
Whe n her family constellation was set up, it immediately became clear
that he still haunted the family. They still kept some valuable pieces of
silver with his name engraved on them. Whe n we set up her family sys-
tem, the members of her family found peace only when he was sent out
of the r oom that is, excluded. I advised her to get rid of the silver
not to sell it or give it away or in any way exploit it, but to dispose of it
in such a way that there would be no trace of it left. A year later, she did.
GEORGE: What happens when a man marries his wife wi t hout really want -
ing her, or the other way around? Does he forfeit his right to bel ong?
HELLINGER: He may lose his right to bel ong to his present family, but his
right to bel ong to his family of origin remains intact.
Ques t i ons t hat hel p and quest i ons t hat don' t
FRANK: I can' t help wondering whet her in the case of Thea' s family one
shouldn' t pay mor e attention to the probability that Thea' s mot her was
a victim of a murderous suppressed anger.
HELLINGER: What you are doing now . . .
FRANK: I haven' t finished yet.
HELLINGER: But you' ve said enough to show the effect of this kind of
questioning. It is risky to question a solution. Let me tell you how I ex-
perience it. Whe n someone tells me something about problems, an image
of the system forms in my mind, and it suddenly becomes clear to me as
to whi ch probl em is most highly charged with energy. If I then begin to
doubt what I have seen and start asking hypothetical questions, the image
disappears and the energy that I and the client need for action dwindles.
Do you understand?
FRANK: Wel l , yes, I know that this sort of thing can happen, but what I
wanted to do now was to ask another question. I also work with situa-
tions like this, and I woul d be interested to know whet her one couldn' t
l ook at it the way I described.
HELLINGER: You can' t make comparisons like that. We know what we ac-
tually experienced in the constellation. If we start speculating about other
possible dynamics, the energy of the real situation gets lost. If you were
to describe a concrete case, we could work with it in a concret e way,
and it woul d have energy, but like this, the question remains hypothetical
and devoid of energy. There' s no need to ask what a mount ai n might
l ook like if you are actually l ooki ng at it.
DAGMAR: I have another question. Thea' s mot her lives in Thea' s house-
hold, and her father is dead. How should she behave toward her mot her
HELLINGER: If I were to answer your question, it woul d take energy away
from Thea. That concerns Thea, and she already knows what she has to
do. By asking this question as if it were something you needed to know,
you shift the focus from Thea to yourself; you shift the emphasis toward
speculation rather than concrete action. If you have a question of your
own, something that has to do with you and your needs, I' ll be happy
to explore it with you, but it must be a concret e question.
Th e t herapi st ' s responsi bi l i ty whe n wor ki ng wi t h
f ami l y c onst el l at i ons
Some therapists worki ng with family constellations prefer to have clients
l ook for the solution themselves, according to their feelings at the mo-
ment . But clients can' t find resolutions by themselves by l ooki ng for
t hem. Solutions require the courage to l ook truth in the eye, and the
therapist mor e often has this courage provided he or she remains in-
dependent and aware and in harmony with the laws that are at wor k in
the system. If those who participate in a family constellation are left to
their own devices, they tend to behave as if they had secretly conspired
to keep the problem intact. Therapists must not pretend that they haven' t
seen what they have seen, and they must not hide behi nd subjunctives.
If they do, they will be cheating the participants and taking part in their
conspiracy. If they understand the laws that are at work in systems,
they will see the solution, and although they may have to change things
around a bit before they find the exact solution, the essentials are usually
clear to t hem right from the start.
Thus, the procedure with family constellations is purely phenomeno-
logical. Yo u open yourself up to an obscure set of connect i ons until the
hidden dynamics of the situation suddenly become clear. You must ex-
pose yourself without reservations t o the unknown compl exi t y of the ac-
tual situation. Your concepts, theories, and techniques remove you and
reduce your full exposure and solutions can' t emerge out of the depth of
the situation. It is impossible to find the solution through deduction; it
has to be sought and found each time. That' s why every solution is new
and unique. I must even forget my previous experience. If I say that this,
that, or the other is likely to be the case in a new constellation because
I' ve seen it in another constellation, I' m not in contact with the reality
in front of me. The important thing in this work is to approach each
situation with a fresh, open mind. Thi s means that I really see and respect
all the participants, and above all, the one who bears the burden. It is
only when I see and recognize the actual person that I will be able to
find the solution. That person is the crucial figure.*
Obs ervi ng proc es s rat her t han c ont e nt
CARL: I ' m still thinking about Thea' s constellation. I know Thea' s family
quite well, and I not i ced that in some cases the people who t ook part in
the constellation said something quite different from what I woul d have
expected the actual members of the family to say. But I was struck by the
fact that the constellation you described as the more drastic solution cor -
responded clearly to my perception of the family. So the constellation
you set up was accurate for this family as I see it. I' ve been wonderi ng
how you manage not to be influenced by what these people said they
were feeling.
HELLINGER: I never am. I watch to see whet her someone is centered and
fully concentrated or whet her the person is distracted by something.
You will find more on the phenomenological method in the section "Answers to Questions
from a Friend."
CARL: That was certainly very clear here.
RAYMOND: I used to think that the aim was to find the final constellation
as quickly as possible. But now I see that the intermediate steps and
changes within the constellation are important for the final solution.
HELLINGER: The final constellation, whi ch represents the resolution, is
found through a number of steps. Frequently, one first shows the ex-
treme solutions toward whi ch the system is tending, and then goes on to
work toward a less ext reme solution. But you have to move quickly t o-
ward the solution because if the search takes t oo long, the energy dissi-
pates. Somet i mes you know what' s right immediately and a single step is
all that's necessary.
Be c o mi n g ent angl ed i n ot her peopl e' s c onf usi on and
ot he r peopl e' s f eel i ngs i n a f ami l y c onst el l at i on
JONAS: Whe n I was representing the third son in Thea' s constellation, I
was very confused, and in the break I tried to find out why. I think it
has a good deal to do with my own family. The confusion came from
the fact that although at the beginning, I listened carefully to who was
who, I nevertheless had the idea that the father in the constellation was
not Thea' s husband, but her father. I am now wonderi ng if this has
something to do with my family, since my mot her also lost her father
when she was very young.
HELLINGER: I woul d interpret this to mean that you were feeling what had
happened in Thea' s family. Don' t try to transfer it ont o your family. That
needs to be worked on separately. But it's a good thing you spoke about
it. It could be that there is a similar confusion in Thea' s relationship to
her husband and you have given her an important feedback.
LEO: I haven' t gotten out of my role as the brother who commi t t ed sui-
cide, although I feel that it has nothing to do with me as I am today.
HELLINGER: You have to make a conscious effort to come out of the role.
Whe n you take part in a constellation, you see how easy it is to become
entangled in an alien system. If it can happen to you, j ust think how
much mor e easily a child who lives in the system all the time can be-
come entangled in the feelings and dynamics of other members of the
family. Yo u also experience how unreliable our feelings are and how
quickly they change if the constellation alters only slightly.
to the group: Can we close this subject now?
Th e mot he r ' s t hreat of sui c i de
HARRY: I have been living with threats of suicide by women almost all my
life. I was the oldest child, and after the breakup of her marriage, my
mot her frequently said to me: "I' ll kill mysel f on such and such a day."
She never did, but her threats imposed an enormous burden on me. I re-
member it well. It was terrible. It began when I was 14.
HELLINGER: What would have been the solution? Is your mot her still alive?
HELLINGER: Is she still saying it?
HARRY: No, no. Now she is trying to prolong her own life and the lives
of others.
HELLINGER: What woul d have been the right answer, the redeemi ng an-
swer? I' ll tell you. That' s what I' m here for. Do you want to hear it?
HARRY: Certainly.
HELLINGER: It woul d have been: "Dear Mummy, don' t worry. Whe n the
time comes, I'll do it for you. "
HELLINGER t o the group: Do you see the effect? What chance woul d she
have had of killing herself after that? And he woul d have been free. The
words may seem strange, but the effects are good. It' s okay to use tricks
in this work, provided they are helpful.
HARRY: The same thing happened with my first wife, the mot her of my
HELLINGER: I don' t want to hear about that now.
to the group: What is he doing now?
WILLIAM: Harping on the problem?
HELLINGER: He knows the solution. He could do exactly the same thing
with his wife as he could have done with his mot her, but he' d rather stay
stuck with the problem.
JOHN: But the words only work if he uses t hem as a trick and doesn' t be-
lieve that in the end he will really have to kill himself?
HELLINGER: If they are to work, then he has to say t hem ambiguously,
and this takes a lot of strength. Anyone can say t hem seriously, but to say
t hem ambiguously so that the other person remains in doubt is an art. It
is a trick, but it requires strength. Just imagine his going to his mot her
and saying these words to her. He woul d be scared stiff.
JOHN: What I mean is that when he says these words, he mi ght believe
that he will have to do what he says. Perhaps he doesn' t think of the
words as bei ng ambiguous.
HELLINGER: My suspicion is that he has often thought seriously about
having to kill himself. But the words woul d save him.
GERTRUDE: I didn' t quite understand the words, I didn' t quite hear them.
Wi l l you say t hem again?
HELLINGER: No. I don' t repeat things like that.
HARRY: No w I am really frustrated. You stopped my saying that my sec-
ond wife . . .
HELLINGER: I don' t want to know that now, you can' t force me to listen.
You' l l have to win me over if you want me to listen to what you have
to say.

Perhaps it will help you to understand the secret dynamics of suicide bet -
ter if I tell you a story. It is the sort of story that touches a sentimental
chord, and when we hear it, it may seem as if the threat of death and
separation has lost its power. To some it brings relief, like a glass of
wi ne at sundown. They sleep better. The next day, however, they get
up again and go to work.
But others, when they have tasted this wi ne, sleep on, and they need
someone who knows how to waken them. Thi s person will tell the story
with a slightly different slant and change its sweet poison into an antidote
that will help t hem wake up again and escape the power 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, told a friend about his girlfriend, the 80-year-old
Maude, and that, in the middle of festivities to celebrate her 80th birthday
along with their engagement, she revealed to him that she had swallowed poison
and would breathe her last breath at midnight. For a little while, his friend said
nothing, and then he told the following story.*
Once upon a time, on a tiny planet, there lived a little man, and because
he was the only person on the planet, he called himself Prince, which means the
First and Best. But he was not quite alone, for he shared his planet with a
rose. Once she had exuded the most beautiful scent, but now she seemed to do
nothing but wilt, 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, and at night
he provided her with shelter from the cold. But when he wanted something from
her for himself, as had been possible in the past, she showed him her thorns. No
wonder he grew weary as the years went by, and one day he decided to leave.
First of all, he visited some planets in the neighborhood. They were as tiny as
his own, and their princes were as curious as he was. There was nothing there to
make him want to stay.
So he continued on, and finally he arrived on the lovely planet Earth, where
he awakened in a dazzlingly beautiful rose garden. There must have been thous-
ands of roses, all vying to outdo each other in beauty, and the air was sweet and
heavy with their scent. He had never even dreamed that there could be so many
roses, for up until then he had known but one, and he was enraptured by their
opulence and splendor.
But while he stood there lost in wonder, he was seen by a fox. The fox pre-
tended to be shy, and when he noticed that the little stranger was easily deceived,
he said: "Maybe you think these roses here are beautiful. But they are nothing
special. They grow almost by themselves and need little care. But your rose, which
is so far away, is special and unique because she makes such great demands upon
you. You must go home to her!"
The little prince became confused and sad and set off along a track that led him
to the desert. When he had been walking for some hours, he came across a pilot
who had been forced to crash-land, and he hoped that he could stay with him.
But the pilot turned out to be a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow, and when the little
prince became aware that the pilot would not take care of him, he told him that
he would be leaving and returning to his rose.
When night fell, he crept away to meet a snake. He pretended that he was go-
ing to tread on it, and the snake bit him on the ankle. He twitched once or twice,
then he lay still. That's how the little prince died.
The following morning, the pilot found his body. "Clever fellow," he thought,
and he covered his remains with sand.
Harold as was later revealed did not attend Maude's funeral. Instead,
for the first time in years, he laid some roses on his father's grave.
Perhaps I shoul d add that many peopl e who are fond of Sai nt - Exuper y' s
story of t he little pri nce harbor t hought s of suicide, and somet i mes act u-
ally kill t hemsel ves. Th e story of t he little pri nce provi des t hem wi t h a
pret ext of i nnocence because i t gives suicide t he appearance of a game
t hrough whi ch a childish dream comes true. The y dream that t hei r l ong-
i ng and their hope can conquer death, and that death removes separation
rather than sealing it. And they forget that what we call i mmort al is that
whi ch we know t o be past and lost.
A ma t t e r of life and deat h
LEO: I have been thinking a lot about the fact that peopl e in my family
frequently say that life stops bei ng fun once you are over 30. My mot her
said it to me again j ust recently on the t el ephone.
HELLINGER: That somet i mes happens in Christian families. Peopl e die with
LEO: All the same, it' s hard to let my parents die like that. What I want ed
to say this mor ni ng was that my father recently tried to start driving the
car again. He' s very stubborn, but he has premature dementia, and some-
times he can' t find the controls, for exampl e, the switch for the lights.
Wh e n he tried to drive, I said to my mot her, and I t hi nk this may have
had a doubl e meani ng: "Okay, then we can bury hi m bet ween Giessen
and Fulda the next time we drive along that road. " But there was an el e-
ment of seriousness in what I said. Thi s is a new situation for me. Some-
times I don' t know whet her to make j okes about it or j ust let my parents
get on wi t h it.
HELLINGER: Your behavi or i s typical of someone who refuses t o take
death seriously. That ' s how you were talking this morni ng, t oo, and
that' s why I interrupted you. Ther e was somet hi ng destructive about the
way you talked about your parents. I consider peopl e who talk like that
to be basically suicide-prone. Behi nd their cheerful and somet i mes very
friendly facades there is a quite different set of dynamics at wor k. Yo u
can tell from the way t hey talk that there is somet hi ng dreadful goi ng on
in their system. What you have j ust said showed this very clearly.
No w you are bei ng serious. Do you see the difference compared with
this morni ng? Ho w serious you are now? And how cent ered?
to the group: It is important that the therapist refuse to let the client drift off
into flippancy about matters like this. Th e therapist must lead the group
back to seriousness immediately. After all, what we are talking about is
a mat t er of life and death.
LEO: What I said this morni ng wasn' t meant to be flippant.
Leo laughs as he speaks.
HELLINGER t o the group: Ther e he goes again. He' s j ust done it again. Di d
you not i ce? That ' s exactly what I mean, and it's very dangerous. I con-
sider people who do this to be in danger because they are up to some-
thing, and they may not even be aware of what they are up to. It is as
if they were driven by an alien force.
t o Leo: You can' t stop yourself from laughing. You are driven to it. Ther e-
fore, we have to get to the root of the matter. Di d anything special
happen in your parents' families?
LEO: My mother' s father was a mi ner and he died very young of black
lung disease.
HELLINGER: Whe n a child in your mother' s situation reaches the age at
whi ch her father died, it often happens that she feels she has no right to
live l onger than her father did, and she may even want to follow hi m
into death. And i f one of her children notices or suspects something of
this kind, he or she may want to die instead of her. Children in this situ-
ation laugh when they think about dying and death.
Th e grave
UNA: I' ve been thinking about what you said during the past hal f hour,
and I' m in a turmoil. It has something to do with guilt and suicide, but
I don' t know exactly what. It also has something to do wi t h the deep
bow I ought to make to my mot her. There' s something stopping me
from doing it, but I don' t know what.
HELLINGER: The deep bow woul d liberate you from the grave.
Anyt hi ng else?
UNA: I don' t know. I' m sad that you should say something like that to me.
I don' t know whet her it's true or not. There' s nothing I can say about
it, except that it makes me sad. Because it has to do with death.
Una weeps.
HELLINGER: I' ll leave it like that for the moment .
FRANK: My name is Frank, and I have known Ber t for quite a long time.
I' m divorced and I have t wo children, ages 21 and 14, with whom I' m
lucky enough to have a very good relationship. I live with Dagmar in
our own house, and after some rather stormy years, our relationship has
finally become much more harmonious. I ' m a psychotherapist and I do
a lot of systemic work. I' m aware that I become very involved emot i on-
ally wi t h what is goi ng on when I ' m worki ng with people, and I t hi nk
I need to do some wor k on this for myself. Some things that have hap-
pened here have also moved me deeply: first of all, the fate of Rober t ' s
sister, who died so young, and then the business wi t h the suspected war
criminal. A little whi l e ago, my body was vibrating so hard that I
coul dn' t go on writing, and I badly want to find out what these dynam-
ics are.
HELLINGER: Okay, we' l l set up your family constellation. Wh e n there are
such strong dynamics around, we must wor k wi t h t hem at once.
FRANK: I t hi nk I should set up my family of origin.
HELLINGER: Okay. Wh o belongs t o it?
FRANK: My father, my mot her, my sister, me (I' m the second child), my
younger brot her, and anot her sister.
HELLINGER: Was either of your parents previously married or i nvol ved i n
a close relationship?
HELLINGER: Is there anyone missing?
FRANK: Wel l , there were some peopl e i n the family who wer e excl uded.
HELLINGER: We' l l begi n wi t h the nuclear family and add anyone who is
missing later on.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a daughter
2 Second child, a son (= Frank)
3 Third child, a son
4 Fourth child, a daughter
HELLINGER: Whe n all the participants are facing the same direction as they
are in this constellation, it means that there are people missing at the
front. Wh o are they all looking at? Wh o ought to be standing there at
the front? Di d anything particular happen in your mother' s family?
FRANK: Wel l , her grandfather was killed in the first war when my mot her
was 12. And her brot her was the black sheep of the family.
HELLINGER: What do you mean, the black sheep?
FRANK: First of all, he was homosexual, and that in itself was frowned
upon. And then he was considered to be a ne' er-do-well, and that was
considered to be even worse.
HELLINGER: We' l l add him to the constellation. What else happened in
your mother' s family?
FRANK: Two of her uncles were sent t o Ameri ca as failures. One of t hem
drank and the other was a rake.
HELLINGER: Those are the t wo missing persons. Your mot her' s brot her is
only representing them. We must put t hem i n front of the family. The
t wo uncles are important to the system because of their fate, not their
behavior. The fact that they were sent away to Ameri ca is what counts.
FRANK: My brot her also went to America, by the way.
Hellinger adds the excluded persons to the constellation.
Diagram 2
MB Mother's brother
MOU Mother's older uncle
MYU Mother's younger uncle
HELLINGER: What has changed for the father?
FATHER: In the first constellation, I was gazing at nothing, j ust drifting.
No w everything is calmer and stable and I can stay where I am.
HELLINGER: How is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I can see the three men with one eye only, but I woul d like to
be able to l ook at t hem properly.
HELLINGER: Move so that you can see them.
MOTHER: No w it's okay.
HELLINGER: How does the oldest child feel?
FIRST CHILD: Wel l , it's better than it was. Before, everything was so open
that it felt dangerous, and I felt as if I' d been sent on ahead by the others.
I had to stand at the front. Now I have a feeling of sympathy for the un-
cles there in front; I feel okay with t hem there.
HELLINGER to the representative of Frank: How does the second child feel,
the son?
SECOND CHILD: I' m not sure what to think about it. I don' t know whet h-
er I' m drawn toward them or repulsed by them.
HELLINGER: HOW do you feel? What has changed?
SECOND CHILD: It makes me feel more centered.
HELLINGER: What is your feeling? Is it better or worse?
HELLINGER: How about the younger brother who wanted to go to
Ameri ca?
THIRD CHILD: Before, I felt fine. I didn' t not i ce who was behi nd me. I
didn' t feel connect ed to them.
HELLINGER: We' l l send you to Ameri ca right away.
THIRD CHILD: I can' t wait to go. Whe n I saw t hem standing there, it was
absolutely clear that I must go.
FRANK: Incidentally, my brother is constantly visiting our relatives, and he
is always trying to make me do the same.
Hellinger places the younger brother in the group of excluded
Diagram 3
HE L L I NGE R : HOW does the younger sister feel?
F O U R T H CHI LD: I' m glad there' s someone standing there in front of me.
It felt awful before because I had no contact with the family behi nd me.
I felt lost. I am glad about the people standing in front of me now. I feel
sort of i n-bet ween, but it's okay.
HE L L I NGE R : Thi s constellation is only the beginning. We can wor k from
to Frank: Di d anything special happen in your father's family?
F R ANK : My father was a Nazi, and I have never known exactly what he
did. But he must have had an important position because he didn' t get
called up.
HE L L I NGE R : Was he interned after the war?
F R ANK : Yes, and he ranted and raved for years at the injustice that had
been done to hi m and Germany.
HE L L I NGE R : That doesn' t seem to influence the constellation at the mo-
ment . I' m going to change the constellation so that the excluded persons
are visible to the mot her but not to the children.
Diagram 4
HE LLI NGE R : HOW is the mother feeling?
MO T H E R : It feels good here beside my husband.
HE LLI NGE R : What about the father?
F ATHE R : It's much better than it was.
HE LLI NGE R : And the children?
HE LLI NGE R to Frank: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
How do you feel there?
F R ANK : It feels good.
HE LLI NGE R : That is how things should be. The excluded persons are re-
spected even though they are not in view.
FR ANK : What I don' t like about it is that my homosexual uncle is standing
next to the other excluded persons that the three of them are together.
HE LLI NGE R : One reason for becomi ng homosexual is that someone has to
represent a member of the family who is excluded. That' s the way it is
here. It's a hard fate, but you can' t interfere with it.*
* This subject is discussed in detail on page 370 under "Identification with a person of the oppo-
site sex in homosexual love and psychosis."
FRANK: Yes. Perhaps we children should leave the past behi nd and l ook
toward the future.
HELLINGER: Shall I show you how to l ook at the future? All four children
must turn around so that their parents are behi nd them. Then the parents
stay where they are, and the children are free to go. That' s the future.
HELLINGER: Good. That' s all, then.
t o Frank: But write the constellations down. It's sometimes helpful.
Wh o are the members of the family system? Wh o m must we consider
when we set up a family constellation?
The word "system" is used here in the sense of a fellowship of fate
extending over several generations. That means that its members may be-
come entangled in the fates of other members wi t hout being aware of it.
The following persons usually bel ong to this fellowship of fate:
Diagram 5
Th e me mbe r s of t he f ami l y s ys t em
The child and his siblings or half siblings, including those who have
died or who were stillborn. Thi s is the lowest level.
Then, on the next level, the parents and their siblings or hal f siblings,
including those who have died or who were stillborn.
After them, on the next level up, the grandparents. And sometimes
one or mor e of their siblings or half siblings, although this is rare.
One or more of the great-grandparents may also bel ong to the fellow-
ship of fate, although this is also rare.
Among the persons ment i oned so far, those whose fates were especial-
ly hard or who were wronged by other members of the system for
example, concerni ng an inheritance, or who were excluded or given
away occupy a particularly important place.
Then, and these are often the most important persons of all, come all
those who have given up their places in the system for others, even
if they were not related, for example, a former husband or a former
wife of the parents or grandparents, or a former fiancee, even if they
are dead.
The father or mot her of half siblings also belongs to the system. Fur-
t hermore, all those through whose disadvantage or loss someone else
in the system gained an advantage, for example, when someone comes
into an inheritance because someone else died young or was disin-
In addition, all those who have contributed to the well-being of some-
one in the system and who were subsequently wronged, for example,
an employee. It must, however, be a considerable wrong or a consid-
erable disadvantage.
Uncl es, aunts, and cousins by marriage do not bel ong to the system in
this sense.
Some people think that persons who have lived in the family, for
example, a grandmother or an aunt, are particularly important to the sys-
tem. In fact, however, closeness or distance in terms of space is not the
reason why they are important to the system. On the contrary, people
are often entangled in the fates of others of whom they know nothing.
Uni t ed i n a c o m m o n f ate: survi vors and t he dec eas ed
and vi c t i ms and p erp et rat ors
Experi ence in family constellations over the years has repeatedly made
clear how deep the bond is bet ween those who survive and those who
die, and bet ween perpetrators and their victims. It shows how far-reach-
ing the effects of such bonds are, t ouchi ng not only the first generations,
but also those that follow. For example, war veterans feel a profound af-
finity wi t h their deceased comrades and also to the enemy soldiers they
killed, and unexpect edl y, their children and grandchildren often feel it as
well. Thi s has been observed in constellations in the profound pull chi l -
dren feel to turn toward their fathers' and grandfathers' deceased friends
and enemi es, to stand or to lie down with t hem, and in the t ouchi ngl y
powerful l ongi ng they often feel to die with t hem, a l ongi ng that some-
times actually leads to suicide. Wh e n children act on such a longing, they
are not acting on their own feelings, but they take on the l ongi ng of
their fathers and grandfathers to be reunited wi t h the deceased.
In constellations, rel i ef comes when children allow their fathers and
grandfathers (who are often already deceased) to go to their deceased com-
rades and enemi es, to lie down wi t h t hem and to be dead wi t h t hem.
Wh e n children can allow this t o happen, an ext remel y movi ng comr ade-
ship often emerges bet ween those who survived and those who were the
victims of forces that are greater than our superficial beliefs and prejudices
are wont to admit. Bot h then understand themselves to be helplessly
exposed to somet hi ng higher and they j oi n together, surrendering to that
whi ch t hey cannot understand. The y then meet one anot her wi t h deep
l ove and respect. Fulfilled, in death, they leave the past behi nd and give
themselves over to what they, most intimately, share in common.
In constellations, somet hi ng similar happens bet ween victims and per-
petrators. For exampl e, bet ween radical Nat i onal Socialists and those they
ridiculed, persecuted, and murdered. In death, bot h victims and perpetra-
tors experi ence themselves as fingers of a single giant hand guiding his-
tory quite unt ouched by our concept s of j ust i ce and injustice, treating
our hopes and desires as irrelevant, and exposi ng our distinctions bet ween
good and evil as hopelessly superficial.
A wi f e t hr e at e ne d t o c o m m i t sui c i de
HARRY: My first wife often threatened to commi t suicide, and she also
want ed us to make a suicide pact. I still feel indignant when I think
about it. Her suicide threats and her idea that we should commi t suicide
t oget her made me make the most awful concessions, and compl i cat ed my
whol e life. I still haven' t gotten over my anger at the blackmail.
HELLINGER: Ther e' s a basic rule in family therapy that says that persons
who seem t o be "good" are usually "bad, " and the ot her way around.
You' r e indignant because your wife want ed t o kill herself. Th e question
is, who was suicidal, you or your wife? What i f i t wer e you? Such a
strong feeling of indignation makes me suspect that i t must be t he ot her
way around. Ot herwi se, you woul dn' t need to feel so strongly, but I' ll
give you some t i me to t hi nk about it before we set it up
ELLA: My name is Ella. I ' m married, and my t heme here is my unfulfilled
wi sh for children. I' ve been thinking about my father' s former fiancee to
whom he was engaged before he married my mot her. He br oke his
promi se to marry her, and she never married. She lives near my father' s
sister, in what used be East Germany, and I ' m goi ng to visit her there
soon for the first t i me.
HELLINGER: Thi s fiancee is your role model .
ELLA: I don' t know.
HELLINGER: What did I say?
ELLA: That this fiancee is my role model .
HELLINGER: Exact l y.
HELLINGER: Does your " no" change anything?
ELLA: Cert ai nl y it does.
HELLINGER: Okay, let' s set up your family constellation, and t hen you can
check it.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a daughter (= Ella)
2 Second child, a son
FFF Father's former fiancee
HELLINGER: Was your mot her previously married or engaged?
ELLA: No. But she had t wo miscarriages before I was born. She t hought
she woul dn' t be able t o have children. Then she t ook some medi ci ne,
and she has been a depressive ever since.
HELLINGER: But she had you?
ELLA: Yes , she had me right after taking the medi ci ne. The n she t ook
some mor e medi ci ne, and had my brot her.
HELLINGER t o the group: Wh e n the husband and wife stand opposite each
ot her like this it indicates that their intimate relationship is over.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the father feel?
FATHER: Terri bl e. I have no relationship wi t h the peopl e in front of me,
or wi t h anyone on my right or left. I ' m bei ng pi erced t hrough from be-
hi nd terrible. I ' m torn to bits, unloved, ignored.
HELLINGER: And rightly so.
t o the group: He has t hrown away his chances. Anyone who treats his fian-
cee as he did has no chances left. He has forfeited t hem.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the mot her feel?
MOTHER: I feel pushed out by my husband. I ' m glad that my son is here.
HE L L I NGE R : HOW i s the son feeling?
S E C OND CHI LD: Not bad at all. I' m rather surprised, but I feel okay here
as the son.
HE L L I NGE R to the representative of Etta: How about the daughter?
F I R S T CHI LD: Very odd indeed. I don' t want to have anything to do with
any of t hem.
HE L L I NGE R to the group: That could just as well be the fiancee' s feeling.
HE L L I NGE R : How does the former fiancee feel?
F AT HE R ' S F O R ME R FI ANCE E : Whe n you put me here I had the feeling that
I' d won.
Hellinger places the daughter next to the former fiancee.
Diagram 2
HE L L I NGE R to the representative of Ella: How' s that?
F I R S T CHI LD: Whe n you asked my father's fiancee how she was feeling,
that was the first thing that interested me. Then I l ooked at her. But
standing next to her like this is most unpleasant.
HE LLI NGE R : Move closer.
F I R S T CHI LD: I' ll try it out. It is very strange. It's as i f she were leaning
against me and I have to hold her. It's confusing. It's not good.
HE LLI NGE R : How does the mot her feel now?
MO T H E R : Bet t er. The aggression has gone.
HE L L I NGE R : Wh o should really be standing next to the father's fiancee?
MO T H E R : I don' t know.
HE L L I NGE R : You should. Go and stand next to her.
The mother stands next to her husband's former fiancee, and the
daughter returns to her place.
Diagram 3
MO T H E R : No w it's good.
HE L L I NGE R : Exactly. That' s the reason for the depression.
to the group: It' s only when she has feelings of solidarity with the fiancee
that she feels okay. That' s where she must go.
HE L L I NGE R : How does the former fiancee feel?
F AT HE R ' S F O R ME R FI ANCE E : Good.
Hellinger rearranges the constellation.
Diagram 4
HELLINGER: Ho w does the father feel?
FATHER: Excl uded, but the future' s open.
HELLINGER: Do you feel bet t er or worse?
FATHER: It' s very ambivalent.
HELLINGER: Ho w is it for the former fiancee?
FATHER' S FORMER FIANCEE: It feels good on my left. I like that. But I
feel sorry about my former fi ance.
HELLINGER: He' s no l onger available.
FATHER' S FORMER FIANCEE: I am l ooki ng mor e t oward my left than at
hi m.
HELLINGER: We can try out what woul d happen i f . . .
Hellinger places the father and his former fiancee as a couple oppo-
site the family.
Diagram 5
HELLINGER: HOW is that for the father?
FATHER: Now it's bearable for the first time.
HELLINGER: How is it for the mother?
MOTHER: Much better.
HELLINGER: How about the former fiancee?
F I R S T CHI LD: Thi s is the best constellation for me. But it's high time I left
here and started standing on my own feet.
HELLINGER to Ella: Go and stand in your place.
ELLA from her place in the constellation: That ' s good.
Th e best pl ac e f or c hi l dren
JAY: In a family constellation, when children are placed face-to-face with
their parents, I experience it as a confrontation.
HELLINGER: That ' s what your visual impression of the constellation makes
you think you "ought " to feel, but the representatives didn' t experience
it as a confrontation. Whe n a constellation is experienced as complete,
the parents usually form one group and the children another, and they
are placed in the order of the hierarchy of origin, in a clockwise circle,
even when they are opposite each other. Thi s was clear in Ella' s constel-
lation. The husband came first, then the former fiancee, then the wife
and the first child, and finally the second child. But their exact positions
within this hierarchical order depend on the circumstances. If the chil-
dren need to enter their father's sphere of influence, they move closer to
the father, and if they need to be in their mother' s sphere of influence,
they stand closer to her. In Ella' s constellation, they had to stand closer
to their mother, but not facing her directly. But children usually face
their parents unless there is some special reason why they shouldn' t.
J AY: I thought that in an ideal constellation it was okay for the children to
be placed clockwise in order of age, but that they should be in a half-
circle rather than face-to-face with their parents.
HE LLI NGE R : No. The circle is still complete even i f the parents are stand-
ing on one side and the children on the other. It is different if there are
persons missing. Such persons, for example, a mother' s dead twin sister,
sometimes stand between the parents and the children.
J AY: If the constellation appears so closed, how can the children gain their
freedom? Do they gain it when they turn around?
HE LLI NGE R : Exactly. When the time comes for the children to leave the
family, they simply turn around and walk away from their parents. And
the parents stay where they are and gaze after them, wishing them well.
That' s a good solution for everyone.
By the way, in everyday family life, it's a good idea for the parents to
sit on one side of the table with the children opposite them in order of
age, that is, the oldest on the right with the second child on his or her
left, and so on. Sitting like this at the table tends to create harmony in
the family.
Unc ons c i ous i denti f i cati on wi t h a
parent ' s f or me r part ner
PAR TI CI PANT: HOW is it possible for a daughter to identify with her fath-
er's former partner if she doesn' t actually know her?
HE LLI NGE R : You don' t have to know the persons with whom you identi-
fy. The compulsion to identify originates in the system, and it works
without your knowing the persons you are representing. Thus if some-
one' s father had an earlier close relationship with another woman, one
of his daughters often takes after this woman and represents her without
being aware of it. And if someone' s mother had an earlier close relation
ship with another man, one of her sons often takes after this man and
represents him without being aware of it. This hidden dynamic may
make a daughter become her mother' s rival, and a son may become his
father's rival, wi t hout any of the persons concerned being aware of what
is going on.
The pressure on the daughter to represent her father's former wife or
partner through identification with her is less strong if her mot her honors
and respects that woman, while at the same time, she makes a conscious
effort to take her place bet ween her husband and his former partner, and
she also takes hi m as her own husband. But regardless of how the mot her
behaves toward her husband' s former wife or partner, the daughter can
become free of her identification if she says to her mot her, even if it is
only in her heart: " You are my mother, and I am your daughter. You are
my real mother. I' m not related to the other woman. "And if she says to
her father, even if it is only in her heart: "Thi s is my mother, and I am her
daughter. She is my real mot her. I' m not related to the other woman. "
Thi s makes it possible for the daughter to love her mot her as her
mot her, and the mot her can love her daughter as her daughter without
fearing her as a rival. And the daughter can turn to her father and love
hi m as her father, and the father can turn to his daughter and love her
as his daughter without imagining in her his former wife or former partner.
The same thing applies to a son. The pressure on hi m to represent his
mot her' s former husband or partner through identification with hi m is
less strong if his father honors and respects this other, earlier partner,
while, at the same time, he makes a conscious effort to stand bet ween
hi m and his wife, and if he also takes her as his own wife. But regardless
of how the father behaves toward his wife' s former partner, the son can
become free of his identification if he says to his father, even if it is only
in his heart: " You are my father, and I am your son. You are my real
father. I ' m not related to the other man. " And if he says to his mother,
even if it is only in his heart: "Thi s is my father, and I am his son. He
is my real father. I' m not related to the other man. "
Thi s makes it possible for the son to love his father as his father, and
the father can love his son as his son without fearing hi m as a rival. And
the son can turn to his mot her and love her as his mot her, and the
mot her can turn to her son and love hi m as her son wi t hout imagining
in hi m her former husband or former partner.
Unconsci ous identification with parents' former partners sometimes
contributes to psychosis, especially when a son has to represent his fath-
er's former wife because there is no girl in the family to do it, or when
a daughter has to represent her mother' s former husband because there
is no boy in the family to do it.
Pr e oc c up at i on wi t h Go d
RUTH: My name is Rut h. I' m a minister by profession, but a lot has
changed in recent years. I' ve taken on more responsibility, and I was re-
cently elected a member of the church governing commi t t ee. I still have
to find my right place on this team, and I think about it so much that I
even dream about it.
HELLINGER: As the last person to be elected to the commi t t ee, you must
find your right position before you try to exercise any influence. For the
time being, you should let the others do the thinking and simply agree
wi t h their decisions.
RUTH: The whol e time I am sitting here in the group and listening to you
and the others, part of me is preoccupied with the church commi t t ee. It
is the background behi nd everything else.
HELLINGER: I'll tell you something about church governing commi t t ees.
Thei r most distinctive characteristic is that they have little faith in
God, but rely primarily on their own planning. If there is a God, they
shouldn' t have to worry so much.
Ther e once was a man called Peter. Ther e is a story about hi m in the
Acts of the Apostles. Whe n he was standing trial in Jerusalem, a certain
Gamaliel, who was some sort of high priest, said some wise words. Do
you remember them?
RUTH: I know what you mean.
HELLINGER: " I f this work be of God, no one can overt hrow it. But i f i t
be of men, it will come to naught, and you need do not hi ng. "
RUTH: But I haven' t finished yet.
HELLINGER: So I see. But once you really understand and absorb what I
have j ust said, you will be able to sit on this commi t t ee as if you were
not part of it, and your influence will be effective at the crucial moment
wi t hout your saying anything.
RUTH: That sounds good. But I feel there' s something that gets in the
way, and I want to understand what' s going on.
HELLINGER: You want to understand the ways of God? Perhaps it is pre-
cisely when things go wrong that God' s will is fulfilled. Wh o can tell?
RUTH: What you say touches me, but I don' t understand why.
HELLINGER: Ther e is something else worth considering: How is it possible
for anyone to put a spoke in God' s wheel? Speaking theologically or phi -
losophically, how can anyone, either good or evil, ever do anything a-
gainst God' s will, or prevent God from doing something?
RUTH: I don' t understand why I feel like crying now.
HELLINGER: I can tell you why. Do you remember the Primal Therapy
session we had some time ago?
RU T H: It's never far away from me.
HELLINGER: I remember your little girl's dream that your love could make
your father return safely from the war. The time has now come to say
goodbye to that beautiful dream. Do you understand the connect i on now?
RU T H: No, not quite. But there' s something else. Ever since you started
talking about inner pictures I have been driven back and forth bet ween
different feelings.
HELLINGER: In the past, I used to go to a lot of church conferences, and
sometimes I woul d make a remark about something that I had observed.
The ot her participants at the conference woul d shake their heads in dis-
approval, but one year later, one of t hem woul d say the same thing that
I had said and this time everyone woul d agree as if it were the most nat-
ural thing in the world. It's fun to see how a remark can work, quietly,
over a year. That' s how you can influence committees wi t hout anyone' s
noticing it. But it has to be the right remark!
Wh o shoul d have c us t ody of t he c hi l d
of an addi c t ed mot he r ?
CLAUDIA: I am looking for the right formulation for a report I' m writing
about the four-year-old child of an addicted mot her.
HELLINGER: What about the father?
CLAUDIA: The parents live apart. The father l ooked after the child when
the mot her was in various clinics, and when they separated, he got t o-
gether wi t h another woman. That' s going moderately well. She also has
t wo children.
HELLINGER: What ' s the purpose of the report?
CLAUDIA: To decide who should have custody of the child.
HELLINGER: It sounds like the child should go to the father. He seems to
be acting more in the child' s interests.
CLAUDIA: Even if the child woul d be living with the father's parents most
of the time woul d that be okay?
HELLINGER: No, it woul d be better for hi m to take the child into his
family. His new partner brought t wo children into the relationship. If he
brings one as well, they will be more balanced, and that's good for their
relationship. Fr om that point of vi ew alone, it woul d be a good thing,
quite apart from the fact that it's good for the child.
CLAU DI A: SO we have to take the child away from the addicted mot her?
HE L L I NGE R : Yes.
CLAU DI A: And what do you suggest when the mot her is better, say in a
year or two?
HE L L I NGE R : The child must stay with her father.
CLAU DI A: Even if the child is a girl?
HE L L I NGE R : Even then.
CLAU DI A: What about visiting rights? May the mot her see her child?
HE L L I NGE R : AS a mot her, she has an incontestable right to see her child,
and that right must be respected. But the child' s well-being has prece-
dence over her rights. As long as she is addicted, there is a certain danger
for the child, so one has to consider what the most sensible solution
woul d be for the child. Whe n she's cured of her addiction, there' s no
l onger any obj ect i on to her visiting the child.
CLAU DI A: And how should I handle the husband' s family's lack o f under-
standing of her illness? I consider her addiction to be an illness, but her
husband' s family tends to condemn her as an irresponsible good-for-
Wh a t l eads t o addi c t i on?
HE L L I NGE R : One reason people become addicted is when a mot her says
to her child: "Everything that comes from your father is worthless. Yo u
must take only from me. " Then the child takes so much from the
mot her that it does harm. In this pattern, addiction is the child' s revenge
on the mot her because she prevented the child from taking from the
father. Do you understand?
CLAU DI A: Yes, although that was not really my question. But it is very i m-
portant for me. My original question was: What can I do for the child
or for the mot her when the mot her is given hardly any respect by the
family in whi ch the child grows up? How can I intervene?
HE LLI NGE R : I' m not sure that there' s anything you can do to intervene,
but you might try to explain to the husband what leads to addiction.
That might help hi m see her in a different light. And you coul d tell hi m
that it will be easier for the child to feel compl et e if he respects bot h her
mot her and himself in her.
I' ll give you an example. A woman came into psychotherapy with her
husband because she thought that he should be doing something positive
for himself. She herself had taken part in many groups and had been in
Primal Therapy, and I don' t know what else. The husband came to par-
ticipate in one of my groups, and when I saw him, I said to him: "What
are you doing here? You don' t look like you need therapy." He was de-
lighted. He was a craftsman, a simple man. A few days later, he said he
couldn' t really understand why he felt so good because his father had
been killed in the war five weeks before the man was born, so he' d
never known him. I said to him: "It' s possible that you never missed him
because your mother loved and respected him so much. " " Yes , " he said,
"she did." Later on we set up his family constellation, and this is how it
Hettinger chooses representatives and sets up the constellation.
Diagram 1
F+ Deceased father
M Mother
S So n ( = Cl i ent )
HELLINGER: That was the constellation. The wife said: "I feel as if I' m half
myself and half my husband." Then I put her husband right behind her
like this:
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: She said, " Now he and I are one. " The son felt very happy.
That' s what happens when the one partner really respects the other.
Then the one partner can represent the other as well.
to the son's representative: How are you feeling?
SON: I feel very warm.
HELLINGER: The father was not missed because he was honored and re-
to the group: Children thrive when their father respects and honors their
mother in them and when their mother honors and respects their father
in them as well. Then the children feel whole. That' s why when the
partners want a divorce, the parent who most honors and respects the
other parent in the children must be given custody. This is usually the
husband. But women can earn the right as well.
HELLINGER: By doing the same.
THE A: I have another question about addiction. You said that addiction is
loyalty toward the father. A child becomes addicted because the mot her
says that nothing good can come from the father. But you also said
something very important, and I don' t think I can quite remember it all,
about what happens in addiction.
HELLINGER: The child takes so much food and drink from the mother that
she harms herself. That' s addiction, when a person takes so much more
than is needed that he or she is harmed. That' s why addicts should be
treated only by men. Women are not capable of it, unless they really re-
spect the addict's father. If they do, they may be able to represent him,
as we have seen in this example.
D A G MA R : IS that a general rule, or does it make a difference whet her the
addicted person is male or female?
HE L L I NGE R : No, it' s a basic rule.
D A G MA R : SO the situation is always the same: The mot her says to the child,
who then becomes addicted: "Not hi ng that comes from your father is any
good. Don' t take anything from your father, take only from me. " But
what happens when the father is also addicted, an alcoholic, for example,
and the mot her says to her son: "What your father does is no good"?
HE L L I NGE R : I f the mot her wants to help her son, she can say to hi m, "I
l ove your father i n you, and it's okay wi t h me i f you are like hi m. " The
effect is strange. For if the father is respected in the son, the son doesn' t
need t o become an al cohol i c. Th e procedure i s directly contrary t o what
often happens in practice.
T H O MA S : IS the t remendous increase in addiction probl ems in the western
worl d connect ed wi t h this?
HE L L I NGE R : Yes . Me n are on the retreat. Wo me n are despising men mor e
and mor e, and addiction is increasing. But girls become prone to ad-
diction j ust as boys do.
Addi c t i on as a me a ns of a t o ne me nt
G E R T R U D E : Unt i l the wor d "addi ct i on" was ment i oned, I didn' t t hi nk I
had anything particular to say. My father was an al cohol i c, and my
mot her always used to say that I take after hi m. I t hi nk she said it mainly
because she was afraid of it. For a t i me I did have quite a pr obl em with
al cohol , and now I am addicted to ni cot i ne.
HE L L I NGE R : Thi s reminds me o f a woman who once came to me for help.
She had a strong personality, but later on she became psychot i c and start-
ed drinking. The n she want ed to come to me for a few sessions. I agreed
to see her, and the first thing that happened was that she saw her mot her
lying on the floor drunk and her father l ooki ng on helplessly. She was
angry wi t h her mot her, so I said to her, "Imagi ne that your mot her is ly-
i ng there on the floor, and go and lie down beside her and l ook at her
wi t h l ove. " She did what I suggested, and suddenly l ove flowed from her
to her mot her, and she was freed from the compul si on to at one. Yo u can
do somet hi ng similar wi t h your father. Yo u can i magi ne hi m standing,
sitting, or lying there drunk, and you can go and stand or sit or lie beside
hi m, i n front of your mot her, and l ook at hi m wi t h l ove.
G E R T R U D E : My mot her has to be there t oo?
HELLINGER: Yes , in your mi nd' s eye. It is onl y a picture, don' t forget.
GERTRUDE: Yes. My father was always very aggressive . . .
HELLINGER: No, no. I don' t want t o hear about that. Yo u have the sol u-
tion. That i s enough. Wh e n you have the solution, you don' t need t o go
back t o the probl em.
I nt ui t i on i s de p e nde nt on l ove
HELLINGER t o Gertrude: Intuition onl y works when we are concent rat i ng
on the solution, because then we are concent rat i ng on l ove and respect.
The n we don' t need any stories about anyone. As soon as we start t o be -
come curious and want t o know mor e about the probl em, intuition ends.
It is dependent on respect and l ove.
Addi c t i on as a t t e mp t e d sui c i de
Li fe-endangeri ng addictions, for exampl e, heroi n addictions, are some-
times conceal ed attempts to commi t suicide. Such attempts often fol l ow
t he systemic dynami c, "I will follow you" or "Bet t er I than you, " or
somet i mes even, "Bet t er I die than you. " Her e is an exampl e:
A young heroi n addict said, " My mot her i s dying of cancer. " Wh e n
she placed representatives for herself and her mot her in a constellation,
t hey st ood facing one another, but at some distance. Th e depth of l ove
the daughter' s representative displayed toward the mot her was over-
whel mi ng. Wh e n she reached out her arms and said, "I' l l come wi t h
you, " it became quite clear that she want ed in some way to die wi t h her
mot her.
Th e heal i ng m o v e m e n t t o wa r d t he mo t h e r
UNA: I' ve been in a turmoil ever since you said that maki ng a deep bow
to my mot her woul d liberate me from the grave. At the moment , I feel
a bi t better, but I feel very weak, and I have pains in the area around my
pelvis and in my chest. It' s bet t er at the moment , but when I started
thinking about my mot her, whi ch I' ve been doi ng a lot, my i mage of
her was as a very . . .
HELLINGER: Your description of your parents doesn' t do any good at all.
The onl y thing that matters is what actually happened.
U N A : For the first time, i t occurred t o me that my mot her may have killed
herself, or at least that she considered it. That ' s new for me.
HE L L I NGE R : NOW we' re comi ng to the point.
Una sobs.
U N A : Especially as I experi enced it quite differently.
HE L L I NGE R : YOU see how much you love her?
to the group: It is a painful feeling, comi ng face-t o-face wi t h l ove.
U N A : It takes so much strength.
HE L L I NGE R : No, don' t say anything. It is a good feeling and it will do its
wor k by itself. I' ll leave you wi t h it.
Una stands up and prepares to leave the room.
HE L L I NGE R : NO, stay here. It' s much bet t er for you to stay here wi t h us.
Co me and sit next to me and lean against me.
Una sobs.
HE L L I NGE R : Breat he deeply, and keep your mout h open. Put your arms
around me, bot h arms. Yes , like that. Br eat he strongly, t hrough your
mout h. Say " Mummy. "
U N A : Mummy.
HE LLI NGE R : " Mummy. "
U N A : Mummy. Mummy.
HE L L I NGE R : "Dear Mummy. "
U N A : Dear Mummy.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w do you feel now?
U N A : I feel grateful.
H E L L I N G E R to the group: We have j ust witnessed how a child' s interrupted
movement t oward her mot her was resumed and finally brought to its
compl et i on. Di d you see how painful it was? Peopl e keep this feeling
deeply hidden and protected, and they are afraid to go back and resume
and compl et e the interrupted movement .
Th e p ar e nt s
Th e best person t o help the child compl et e an interrupted movement to-
ward a bel oved person is the mot her since the child' s natural movement
is usually t oward her. In the case of small children, this is easy enough
The mother simply holds the child tightly in her arms with love for as
long as it takes for the love and longing that have turned into anger and
sadness (because the movement toward the mother was interrupted) to
start flowing again and the child becomes relaxed in the mother' s arms.
A mot her can also help a grown-up child to complete an interrupted
movement toward her and reduce the consequences of the interruption
by holding the child. But the procedure must be resumed at the time in
the child's life when the movement 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 "back there" who wants to go to the mother, and
still wants to go to the mother "back there." So the mother and the
child must become the mother and the child "back there" for as long as
the mot her is holding her child. However, the question is how to reunite
the mother and child when they have been separated for so long.
Let me give you an example: A mother was worried about her
grown-up daughter. But her daughter avoided her mother and seldom
came home. I told the mother that she must hold her daughter in her
arms as a mother would hold a distressed child. But she shouldn' t do
anything now except keep this as an image in her heart and allow it to
take its effect. A year later, the mother told me that her daughter had
come home and cuddled up to her quietly and intimately, and the mot h-
er had held her for a long time without saying a word. Then the daugh-
ter got up and left. Neither mother nor daughter had said anything at all.
Represent at i ves of t he parent s
If neither the mother nor the father is available, helpers can represent
them. In the case of small children, the representatives may be relatives
or teachers; with adults it is usually a psychotherapist. The helper or
therapist must wait for the right moment, and then ally himself or herself
inwardly with the mother or father of the child and act as his or her rep-
resentative. The therapist loves the child as the parents and receives the
child's love, which on the surface is directed toward the therapist but 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 in-
wardly free despite the intimacy.
Th e deep bo w
It sometimes happens that the adult child is hampered in the movement
toward the parents by the fact that he or she despises or reproaches them,
for example, if he or she thinks he or she is better than the parents, or
if he or she wants from t hem something other than what they were pre-
pared or able to give. Whe n this is so, the movement toward the parents
must be preceded by a deep bow.
Thi s bow is really an inner process, but it gains in depth and power
when it is given a visible and audible form when, for example, the
constellation of the child' s family of origin is set up in a group and the
"chi l d" kneels before the representatives of the parents, and bows l ow
until touching the ground with arms stretched out toward t hem and
palms turned upward. The child remains in this position until ready to
say t o one or bot h of them: "I bow down t o you with respect," or "I
honor you as my mot her. I honor you as my father." Somet i mes the
child may add: "I am sorry," or "I did not know, " or "Please don' t be
angry wi t h me, " or "I have missed you so much, " or simply "Please. "
It is only then that the child can stand up and move toward t hem with
love, embrace them closely, and say: "Dear Mummy, " "Dear Daddy, "
or simply " Mummy" or "Daddy. "
It' s important for the representatives to remain silent during the whol e
procedure, and not to move toward the child when he or she bows
to them. They simply accept the child' s respect as representatives of
the child' s parents until the alienation dissolves. They can respond spon-
taneously after the child has done the work and found the movement
that heals.
The therapist in charge of the group directs the process, watching
closely for the right moment for the child to make the movement toward
the parent, and whet her this movement must be preceded by a deep
bow. The therapist may offer words for "the child" to repeat while bow-
ing to or embracing the parent, and also watches for signals of resistance
and helps to overcome them, for example, by telling "t he child" to
breathe deeply, to keep his or her mout h slightly open, and to allow his
or her head to fall forward. Feelings that make people weak are elements
of resistance, for example, moani ng or making i ncoherent sounds, and a
therapist can tell "the child" to resist the weakness, to concentrate on his
or her strength, and to breathe strongly without vocalizing. Everything
that makes the child weak merely repeats the interruption of the move-
ment instead of completing it. Somet i mes the therapist may place a hand
gently between the "child' s" shoulder blades to provide a feeling of safety
and to support the movement. Sometimes the therapist may discontinue
the process if "the child" is not prepared to show the parents the neces-
sary respect. Or he or she may interrupt after the bow and not follow it
up with anything else, for example, when "the child" has done his par-
ents some grievous wrong and owes them atonement.
If the bow and the movement toward the parent are clearly too much
for "the child" himself, his representative in the family constellation may
do and say what is necessary in the child's place. This can be even more
effective than when "the child" actually does it.
The mo v e me nt t oward t he parent s
mus t reac h beyond t he m
The movement toward our parents and the deep bow before them has
a profound significance which reaches beyond them as individual persons.
We experience the bow as a commi t ment to our origins and as the
deepest possible acceptance of our fate. Anyone who completes the bow
in this way and the movement toward the parents and beyond them will
then be able to stand erect beside them with dignity.
Adop t i ng t he rol e of vi c t i m as
a me ans of revenge
HARRY: I' ve been thinking about a remark you made yesterday. You said,
"Faithfulness conflicts with life."
HELLINGER: I don' t remember saying that. But I have another saying for
you that will help prevent things I say here from bei ng taken out of con-
text: "Pract i ce conflicts with theory. "
Laughter in the group.
HARRY: I don' t feel like laughing. Yesterday I talked about how my first
wife blackmailed me with threats of suicide, and you said that there' s a
basic rule in family therapy that says that persons who seem to be "good"
are usually "bad" and the other way around, and that perhaps I' m the
one who really wanted to commi t suicide. This was a completely new
idea for me, and at first it was totally unacceptable. I' ve been thinking
about it a lot, but I still haven' t come to any conclusion. I have never
consciously considered commi t t i ng suicide, on the contrary, I' ve always
been deeply shocked by other people' s suicides.
HELLINGER: Bei ng shocked by it is equivalent to considering it for your-
HARRY: That makes sense. After my divorce from my first wife, I had ter-
rible nightmares about suicide for about three years. I' ve killed mysel f in
all sorts of ways in my dreams, but I never really acknowl edged that I
was thinking seriously about it. My second daughter, with whom I' m
very close, always appeared in those dreams.
HELLINGER: Those dreams show clearly that you' ve been busy with the
possibility of commi t t i ng suicide. No w you have the chance to l ook at
it mor e clearly. Your family constellation shows that you have been se-
lected for the role of victim. Peopl e who study theology are you a
Cat hol i c or a Protestant . . . ?
HARRY: I' m a Protestant, but not a very strong one.
HELLINGER: It' s more pronounced with Catholics than with Protestants,
but I' ve observed something interesting: Peopl e who study theology are
often identified with the victim role, especially if they go on to become
priests or ministers. It has something to do with the biblical sacrifice of
the child for the good of the family.
HARRY: The sacrifice of the first-born. Yesterday I was struck by the fact
that I had assumed the role of victim, and that it is very hard to come
out of it. I realize that all my life I have interpreted everything that hap-
pened from the point of vi ew of the victim.
HELLINGER: I' ll tell you something: Playing victim is a very subtle form
of revenge.
Harry laughs.
No w you understand. In families, victims wi n the power struggles.
Anyt hi ng else, Harry?
HARRY: No. I' ll go on thinking about it.
Th e reas s uranc e
SOPHIE: I talked to my husband yesterday evening and told hi m what I' ve
experi enced and felt since I' ve been here. It was a very good talk. He
said I shouldn' t forget that he is my husband.
Th e c omp e ns at i on
BRIGITTE: Yesterday I was as exhausted as if I' d been running my own
workshop for seven days on end.
HELLINGER: That ' s what happens if you only want to be an observer.
BRIGITTE: I can' t stop thinking about my oldest daughter. As a protest
against me, she moved to another town, refused to go to college, and
was determined to have five children (I have four). She finally studied psy-
chology, but she is still not working. She is the only one of my daughters
with whom I don' t get along and with whom I can' t cope.
HELLINGER: Si nce you don' t want to work here, there' s nothing we can
do about it. (pause)
I was getting back at you.
BRIGITTE: So it seems. But , of course, I want to work on it.
HELLINGER: Real l y? Here?
HELLINGER: Okay, I'll work with you, but not j ust yet.
A surpri si ng r e c ove r y
GERTRUDE: For the first time in ages, my hand didn' t go numb during the
night. And I was able to think of the father of my son with love. I was
really surprised this morni ng when I realized I had slept through the
Ami c abl e f eelings
ROBERT: I feel fine, really good, and I can feel my sister Adelaide by my
side. It' s a wonderful feeling. I know that I can be more amicable toward
my wife now. It's really incredible, this connect i on bet ween my little
dead sister, Adelaide, and my feelings for my wife.
HELLINGER: The rules of logic are different from the rules of the soul or
the rules of reality. Yo u can see what is right and true by l ooki ng at how
things affect your soul.
ROBERT: The effects are certainly unexpected, but I think what' s hap-
pened is wonderful.
HELLINGER: Nevertheless, I'll tell you a cautionary story. In Col ogne,
there was once a time when everything was wonderful. Di d you know
that? The story goes that when people woke up in the morning, they
found that the elves had done all their work for them during the night.
Everyt hi ng was fine until one day someone wanted to know how and
why it happened . ..
Ident i f yi ng a doubl e shift
CLAUDIA: Ther e is some sort of dialogue going on inside me. Yesterday
I said that I did my best to make life difficult for my husband, but now
I' m starting to criticize hi m for some of the things he did. And so the
squabbling is beginning all over again.
HELLINGER: That' s what' s known as prolonging the process.
CLAUDIA: Ther e wasn' t time for me to work on this yesterday. Whe n I
was driving here this morning, I was angry at getting caught in a traffic
j am, and then I remembered that I had some aunts, older sisters of my
father, who were very angry with my grandfather because he had mis-
managed the family affairs so badly that it was impossible for t hem to get
married. They were forced to continue working on the farm and were
forbidden to marry. Under my grandfather's management the family,
whi ch had been very rich, became very poor.
HELLINGER: I wonder if you are taking the side of those women in your
battle against your own husband, even though he is completely innocent.
CLAUDIA: I' m not sure about that.
LAURA: I ' m very upset and angry, and I don' t know why.
HELLINGER: Upset and angry? Real l y angry?
LAURA: Yes. You' r e laughing?
HELLINGER: Woul d you prefer it if I cried? Okay, let' s set up your family
Laura sets up the constellation of her present family.
Diagram 1
Hb Husband
W Wife (= Laura)
D Daughter
HELLINGER: Thi s constellation suggests that there is a major systemic en-
tanglement. Even in one' s wildest dreams it's impossible to imagine such
a relationship bet ween a husband and wife.
t o Laura: Does anything occur to you?
LAURA: I' ve often had the feeling that someone is hiding something. I' m
on the track of a secret, but it always causes trouble if I ask a question
about it. But I have a strong feeling that my mot her is hiding something.
HELLINGER: Then the entanglement comes from her side of the family.
LAURA: My mother' s parents had seven children, all of t hem daughters.
Thi s seems to have annoyed her father very much. He wanted a son, and
he woul d have been delighted if all his daughters had had children wi t h-
out getting married in the hope that one of t hem woul d produce a son
who woul d carry on the family name. And all his daughters did exactly
that, except my mother. She got married, and she was the only one who
had sons. All the others only had daughters.
HELLINGER: So whom did your husband have to represent in your con-
stellation? Your grandfather. If that is so, then you owe your husband a
great deal.
t o the group: I' d like to say something about the dynamics of the double dis-
placement. The first question I ask Laura here is: What must the daugh-
ters have felt about their father? They were angry with him, and rightly
so. And who became the target of this anger?
LAURA: My divorced husband.
HELLINGER: Exactly. You have taken on the feelings of these aunts. Thi s
is displacement on the subject level, the shift of your aunts' feelings from
t hem t o you. But instead of being angry with your grandfather, you got
angry with your husband. On the obj ect level, this is a displacement of
their feelings toward your grandfather to your divorced husband. So you
see, you owe your husband a great deal. Whe n people feel the kind of
righteousness you felt when you were talking about your husband, it is
usually a sign of a double displacement. Whe n you want to settle a per-
sonal issue and fight for your own rights, you are not as involved and
convi nced as when you' re fighting for someone else's rights.
There' s something I' d like to do with you. I' d like you to set up a
constellation with all these aunts, and then enter it yourself.
Diagram 2
Al First aunt
A2 Second aunt, etc.
HELLINGER: N O W l ook at each aunt kindly, and say to each one in turn,
" My dear aunt," just as a young child might speak to a bel oved aunt.
LAURA: But I don' t feel particularly well disposed toward them.
HELLINGER: Then go on saying it until you do.
Laura repeats the wor&s until they come more easily.
HELLINGER: Now kneel down i n front of your aunts, bow l ow until you
are touching the floor, stretch your arms out in front of you wi t h your
palms turned upward, and say to your aunts, "I bow down to you with
Diagram 3
LAURA: I bow down t o you wi t h respect.
HELLINGER: " My dear aunts, I bow down t o you wi t h respect. "
LAURA: My dear aunts, I bow down t o you wi t h respect.
HELLINGER: No w stand next t o your aunts and say t o each of t hem
turn, " My dear aunt. "
LAURA: My dear aunt, my dear aunt, . . .
Laura is deeply moved. Her love and pain and sympathy flow
freely. After a little while, Hellinger brings her husband's repre-
sentative back into her fteld of vision.
Diagram 4
Laura goes to the person representing her husband and throws her
arms around his neck, sobbing.
LAURA: Please forgive me!
HELLINGER: Say only, " I ' m sorry. " Not hi ng else. " I ' m sorry. "
LAURA: I ' m sorry.
HELLINGER: Say, "I didn' t know. "
LAURA: I didn' t know.
HELLINGER: No w go and stand next t o hi m, and we' l l add your daughter
to the scene.
Diagram 5
H E L L I N G E R to the people in the constellation: Ho w are you all feeling now?
They all say they are feeling okay.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, that' s all.
to the group: I' d like to explain the wor k wi t h a doubl e shift. In a doubl e
shift, it can clearly be seen that the person affected is no l onger fully
hi msel f or hersel f but is identified wi t h someone else. Bei ng identified
means that you have the feelings of the person wi t h whom you are i den-
tified but you feel and act as if this person' s feelings were yours. Yo u
don' t regard hi m or her as bei ng a separate entity, and you don' t even
realize what' s goi ng on. That ' s why it was necessary to bri ng the aunts
ont o the scene so that Laura coul d experi ence t hem as separate from her-
self. Seei ng t hem physically represented made it possible for her to re-
solve the identification, especially when she said t o t hem, "I bow down
t o you wi t h respect. " Her aunts became her aunts once mor e, and she
became herself, and onl y herself. Her aunts were once again adult people
who bore the responsibility for their rights and their dignity themselves,
and Laura was once again a young child who coul d l ove her aunts as she
did as a child.
RE PRE S E NTATI VE OF ONE OF THE AUNTS : Wh e n I was representing her
aunt, I felt the importance of being shown this respect very strongly.
HELLINGER: It was clear how good the aunts felt when they suddenly
stood there in their full dignity. Wi t hout that, it wouldn' t have worked.
It woul dn' t have worked unless the love had been preceded by respect.
Thi s also applies when children reconcile with their parents; they often
have to bow down to their parents with respect first, particularly if they' ve
done their parents some wrong, or have felt condescending toward t hem.
A really loving encount er can develop when love is preceded by respect.
Ot herwi se, there' s something missing, and the encount er lacks energy.
Most serious difficulties bet ween marriage partners are based on a dou-
ble displacement. All efforts to find out what' s wrong will fail unless the
identification is recognized and resolved. It is only then that a new, posi-
tive relationship can begin. People who are identified with someone else
are living in an alien world and no longer are able to respond as t hem-
selves. They are strangers to themselves, and do not see their partners as
they really are, but as strangers. Everything is distorted.
LAURA: I' m absolutely amazed. For the first time in my life, the l ower part
of my back feels warm without anyone touching it. I have never felt that
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HUSBAND: I was very moved when she said,
"I ' m sorry, I didn' t know. "
Th e wr o ng ki nd of f orgi veness
HELLINGER t o Laura: I stopped you from saying "Please forgive me" be-
cause it wouldn' t have done any good. I' ve been interested in under-
standing forgiveness for a long time, and I' ve made some surprising ob-
servations and I' ve had some important insights. Contrary to what we
usually believe, we may not ask for forgiveness, and no one has the
power to forgive us even if we do ask for it. Wh e n someone asks me for
forgiveness, he or she puts the responsibility for the guilt on me, as if I
could limit the guilt or determine the consequences of what the person
has done. It' s exactly the same when someone confesses. Peopl e who
confess make the other person responsible for the consequences of their
behavior. A lot of people confess what they have done to their psycho-
therapists, but they don' t talk to the injured person. If the therapist per-
mits it, he or she takes on the responsibility for what was done and is
stuck wi t h it. One way for therapists to protect themselves is to say, "I
don' t want to hear about that."
Forgiveness creates an inequality bet ween the person who forgives and
t he person who i s forgiven. But when you express genui ne remorse, you
remai n on an equal footing. Yo u keep your dignity, and the ot her person
finds it much easier to approach and accept you than if you had asked
hi m or her t o forgive you.
L AU R A: I felt that. Ther e was a t remendous difference. That was the right
thing to say.
HELLINGER: Your pain was pr oof of your respect for your husband, and
that' s enough.
The consequences for the child
L A U R A the following day. I was goi ng to say this morni ng that I felt won-
derful, and I actually did for about ten minutes. But now somet hi ng else
has occurred to me, and I need your advice. I didn' t marry into my hus-
band' s family, he married into mi ne. After the divorce, I started using my
bi rt h name again, and my daughter uses i t t oo. My husband' s parents i n-
terfered a lot in our divorce, and we fought to the bitter end. Afterward
I forbade my daughter to have anything to do wi t h t hem, but I ' m now
begi nni ng to t hi nk that was a terrible mistake.
HELLINGER: Yes , it certainly was. But it can still be put right.
L AU R A: Ther e' s somet hi ng else I must tell you. Duri ng t he past six
mont hs, my daughter has had no cont act wi t h my husband because there
was a suspicion that he had sexually abused her, and I can' t trust hi m
wi t h her. But now I feel that she should have cont act wi t h her grand-
parents, and that she should visit t hem wi t h her father. If anybody had
told me yesterday that that' s how I' d feel today, I woul d have laughed
at the idea. But I still don' t trust him.
I always had the feeling that I had sacrificed my child. That ' s not a
new realization for me. It has been a favorite game in our family for gen-
erations and I didn' t want to do the same thing. But although I used
to be certain that I had given my daughter the prot ect i on she needed in
good t i me, I am no l onger so sure. And now I can' t muster up t he cour-
age and trust to say to my former husband, " Take your daughter and ac-
company her to your parents, that' s where she bel ongs. "
HELLINGER: Wel l , as far as resolving the sexual abuse is concerned, you
coul d say t o your daughter, " Yo u did somet hi ng for me. "
L AU R A: Is it really necessary to talk to her about it?
HELLINGER: Yes. Chi l dren feel the truth of the underlying dynamics and
they deserve to have the words that describe that clearly, but you can be
discreet. Yo u don' t need to bluntly name everything. Yo u can tell her,
" You did something for me, and now everything can come right again."
Yo u can also say to her, "Children are always i nnocent . " She needs to
know that. If you do that, you' ll be accepting responsibility for what
happened, together with your husband, and the child will be free.
UNA: Ever since you spoke about the grave, I have been thinking that I
have strong and compl ex feelings about death . . .
HELLINGER: I don' t want to hear about that.
UNA: That ' s not what I want to talk about, either. But something occurred
to me yesterday for the first time. In addition to my older brother, I also
had a hal f brother, an illegitimate child of my father. My older brot her
had severe brain damage and died six months after I was born, but I' ve
never thought much about my father's illegitimate son, who also died
young. And now the work that you have been doing here has brought
hi m closer to me for the first time.
HELLINGER: Was your half brother the oldest child?
UNA: No, he came bet ween me and my older brother. I am the youngest.
HELLINGER: What about your half brother' s mother?
UNA: I don' t know anything about her, except that she later married. She
was my father's secretary. I only know that she was okay afterward. I
learned that after my father's death.
HELLINGER: In situations like this, love follows orders that are very different
from our moral convictions of right and wrong. Love is best served in
situations like this when the man separates from his first wife and marries
the mot her of his new child. That would have been the correct thing for
him to have done. The fact that your mother was given priority, and that
her husband stayed with her means that the second woman was wronged.
UNA: My mot her wanted to take on the child.
HELLINGER: No, no, that woul d have been wrong too! She had no right
to the child.
UNA: No, she had no right to it.
HELLINGER: No w set up the constellation of your family of origin and
we' ll see what it looks like.
Una begins setting up her family of origin.
HE L L I NGE R : Was either of your parents previously married or engaged?
U NA: Yes, my father was. My father had a previous wife. I only learned
about this after my father's death.
HE L L I NGE R : Wer e there any children from the marriage?
U NA: NO. My mot her also had some sort of previous relationship that was
very important to her. The man was 25 years older than she was.
HE L L I NGE R : We need bot h o f t hem for the constellation.
Di d either of your parent criticize or blame themselves or their partner
for the child' s brain damage?
U NA: My mot her did, I think. She t ook pills during the birth. The mi d-
wife gave t hem to her. I think it was because she wanted to relax. I
think my mot her felt guilty about the pills.
HE L L I NGE R : What do the doctors here say about it? Is it possible that the
pills coul d have caused the child' s brain damage?
A D O C T O R : I f they prolonged the birth, yes.
U NA: The child got stuck, absolutely stuck, and my mot her later denied
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
l j - First child, a handicapped son, deceased
M2f Mother of the deceased illegitimate son, deceased
2f Father's second child, an illegitimate son, deceased
3 Third child, a daughter (= Una)
F1W Father's first wife
MFP Mother's former partner
UNA: Ther e suddenly seem to be so many people around, and yet I always
felt so alone.
HELLINGER: How is the father feeling?
FATHER: I don' t feel at all good. I am angry, but it's a confused situation.
I have the feeling that I can' t move either forward or backward.
HELLINGER: How is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: Terrible. Absolutely terrible. Absolutely terrible.
HELLINGER: What about the deceased older son?
FIRST CHILD+: I feel fine. I feel broad and heavy and warm bet ween these
t wo. There' s nothing else I need.
HELLINGER: How about the mot her of the illegitimate son?
MOTHER OF THE DECEASED SECOND CHILD+: I feel as if I had been left
alone with my child. I have a lot of responsibility.
HELLINGER: HOW is the deceased illegitimate son feeling?
SECOND CHILD+: Terribly sad. I have tears in my eyes. Not good at all.
HELLINGER: HOW about the father's first wife?
FATHER' S FIRST WIFE: Strange. On the one hand, I' d rather not have any-
thing to do with any of them. But on the other hand, if I am to be here
at all, then I want to be the grandmother of the whol e lot.
HELLINGER: How is the mother' s former partner feeling?
MOTHER' S FORMER PARTNER: There' s a lot of warmth here on my right,
as if I were bei ng gently stroked, or as if I were stroking someone. I feel
a sort of pull, but actually only toward this woman. The others are not
HELLINGER: How is the daughter feeling?
THI RD CHILD: It is as if I were split down the middle. One hal f of me, the
right half, is warm, at the back as well. The other half is i ce-col d, and I
feel helpless.
Hellinger places the father's first wife so that she is facing the
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: HOW is the father feeling now?
FATHER: It's better now that I can see her. When 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: HOW is the first wife feeling?
FATHER'S FIRST WIFE: It was very cold where I was standing before, and
here it's suddenly warm. Now I am beginning to feel interested. There' s
a connection there now.
Hellinger places the mother next to the father's first wife.
Diagram 3
FATHER: That' s better. Now I can see my second wife for the first time.
Before you moved her, I was wondering what on earth she was doing
here. I have nothing against her, but I haven' t much feeling for her
THIRD CHILD: I can breathe more easily.
FIRST CHILD+: It makes no difference to me.
Hellinger changes the constellation and places the older deceased
son on the floor in front of his parents with his back toward them,
leaning against them.
Diagram 4
HELLINGER: How does that feel to the older son?
FIRST CHILDf: Appropriate.
HELLINGER: How about the mother?
MOTHER: I am starting to feel sad.
Hellinger places the deceased illegitimate son next to his father.
Diagram 5
HE L L I NGE R : How does the father feel now?
F AT HE R : Strange. My illegitimate son standing next to me makes me rather
uneasy. My son down there on the floor is fine. The only reason for my
connect i on to my wife is so that we can l ook after our son. I have a feel-
ing of sympathy toward her, but I also have the feeling that there' s some-
thing not quite right with our partnership. I don' t know what it is.
HE L L I NGE R : Fr om a systemic point of view, the partnership is over.
And how is the daughter feeling?
T HI R D CHI LD: Not good.
Hellinger sets up the solution.
Diagram 6
HELLINGER: Ho w does the daughter feel in this position?
THI RD CHILD: Bet t er.
MOTHER: I feel better, t oo.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the deceased illegitimate son feel?
SECOND CHILD+: I am glad that I can stand next to my mot her again. I
felt very lonely when I was standing next to my father.
THI RD CHILD: I no l onger feel as if I were split down the middle.
HELLINGER: Ho w i s the mot her of the illegitimate child feeling?
MOTHER OF THE DECEASED SECOND CHILD+: Qui t e good. I was sad be-
cause my son was so far away. But it' s bet t er now. It is good.
MOTHER: It makes me feel sad.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the father' s first wife feeling?
FATHER' S FIRST WIFE: I no l onger have anything to do wi t h t hem.
HELLINGER: Th e later events were so powerful that the earlier relationship
is no l onger important.
to the mother's former partner. Is the relationship still i mport ant to you?
MOTHER' S FORMER PARTNER: I feel warm, and I like l ooki ng at t hem all,
but it is over.
HELLINGER t o Una: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Una goes to her place and stands looking at them all for a long
UNA: I like having this connect i on to the right and to the left. It makes
me feel good. It also feels good to be standing bet ween the men. I was
a mot her' s child. I also t hi nk my mot her woul d have been much better
of f standing next to my father than worryi ng about me. I was amazed
when my representative said she felt split. I have often felt split, very,
very often. Ei t her horizontally right t hrough the middle or vertically
from top to bot t om. I don' t feel that at the moment . And t here on my
left it' s new to me that I have this brot her. It' s the first t i me that I' ve
been aware of hi m. I still think it's sad, but it's not t roubl i ng me so
much at the moment .
HELLINGER: No w there' s peace.
Una gently strokes her father and her two brothers.
UNA: No w it' s good.
HELLINGER: I' ll tell you a story. It is called:
A youth asked an old man:
"What is the difference between you,
who are now almost part of what has been,
and me, who is still becoming?"
The old man replied:
"I have been more.
"The dawning day seems greater
than the one 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, too, grows more by fading.
"It climbs like yesterday
steeply toward the noon,
reaching zenith just before the greatest heat;
rests a while on high, or so it seems,
until, as if drawn by its own increasing weight,
which grows with the advancing hour,
it bows down deeply to the night.
"And, like the day that went before,
it reaches its completion when it, too, is fully past.
"But nothing that has been can ever really disappear.
It remains because it has existed.
Although it is now past, its effect continues
and becomes still more through the new that follows.
Like a round drop of rain falling from a passing cloud
dissolves in an ocean, which remains.
"Only what never could come into being
because we dreamed of it but did not act,
thought of it but failed to implement the thought
all that which remains unknown to our experience,
all that for which we feared to pay the price
all that is lost.
"Experience unlived is lost forever.
"Thus the god of the right and fitting moment
appears to us like a youth
with a lock of hair in front and a bald patch behind.
We grasp him by his curls in front
and from behind we clutch at emptiness."
The youth then asked, "What must I do
to become what you have been?"
The old man answered, "Be!"
UNA: Th e story said somet hi ng important t o me.
A hopel ess s t ruggl e
ELLA: I feel fine. Ever since I set up my family constellation I have been
feeling much mor e awake. But there' s somet hi ng I didn' t understand,
somet hi ng you said before I set up the constellation. Yo u said that it is
useless to fight against the fact that my father' s fiancee is my role model .
I didn' t understand that. But I did understand the i mage.
HELLINGER: That ' s enough. Some people think that when they deny some-
thing, it ceases to exist. That ' s what I meant .
ELLA: I feel good now that my father' s fiancee is in her right place.
HELLINGER: Ther e is a story in the Bi bl e about a certain J acob. He wrest-
led wi t h an angel by a river the whol e night long.
ELLA: Not the angel Gabriel?
HELLINGER: Not the angel Gabriel. The angel' s name isn' t ment i oned.
Actually, the angel in this story is a vision of God.
Th e angel said t o J acob, "Let me go!" and J acob said, "I will not let you
go until you bless me. " It was onl y then that t hey coul d part. Okay?
Ta ki ng on s o me o ne else's sadness ma ke s o ne we a k
ELLA: I feel I have been goi ng t hrough a peri od of change for some time,
and it is connect ed wi t h sadness. Today, after I started feeling so much
mor e awake, I felt full of energy. But whi l e Una was setting up her con-
stellation, in whi ch I represented her mot her, I started feeling very sad.
and I used this feeling as a means of worki ng on my own sadness. But
s omehow my energy seemed t o drain away. It' s back again now, though.
HELLINGER: Taki ng on someone else's sadness is the same as taking on
someone else' s guilt. Your own sadness, for whi ch there is a valid reason,
makes you strong. It is always powerful. But someone else' s sadness
doesn' t give you anything. Wh e n someone weeps and others weep i n
sympathy, onl y the person weepi ng for his or her own sadness becomes
strong. Th e others become weak.
Ps yc hol ogi c al hygi ene i n c ons t el l at i ons
FRANK: Wh e n I was representing the father in Una' s family constellation.
I started feeling dizzy it was most unpleasant. It is a feeling I ' m quite
familiar with.
HELLINGER: Yo u must leave that feeling entirely wi t h the person you were
representing. Thi s i s very important. One of the basic principles of this
wor k is that you don' t treat the feelings you experi ence in a constellation
as if they wer e your own. Even if there is a similarity to your own feel-
ings, the care of your own soul forbids your getting personally i nvol ved.
Wh e n a feeling comes t o you of its own accord outside of the fi el d of the
constellation, t hen you can accept it as your own, but never in connec-
t i on wi t h someone else's constellation. As a representative, you must re-
mai n entirely neutral and personally unt ouchabl e, ot herwi se you are lay-
i ng yoursel f open to fantasy and confusion. Thi s is an i mport ant warning.
F R ANK : Woul d you say, then, that I must not "try it on for size, " even i f
I experi ence it as resonance?
HE L L I NGE R : NO, whi l e you are in a constellation as a representative, and
i mmedi at el y afterward, resist the t empt at i on to try on the feelings for
size. Of course, all i mport ant human issues find a resonance in all of us,
and everything we do here i s l i nked t o i mport ant human issues. But i f
you allow yoursel f to become i nvol ved in a personal way whi l e you are
trying to serve as a representative, it's as if you are soaking things up i n-
discriminately, like a sponge. It' s bet t er to be rigorous in the assumption
that everyt hi ng you feel in the constellation has not hi ng to do wi t h you
even if it does.
F R A N K laughing: Thanks very much.
HE L L I NGE R : I ' m not trying to insinuate that this is what you do. I ' m onl y
ment i oni ng it as a warni ng not to get personally involved. It' s ext remel y
i mport ant to be able to draw the line.
F R ANK : In recent years, I have often suddenly started feeling so dizzy that
I have had to sit down. Ther e' s not hi ng organically wrong, but it worries
me and I woul d like to know what it is.
HE L L I NGE R : My suggestion is that when this happens again, you should
j ust relax and let go of the feeling. And apropos "letting go, " I have j ust
r emember ed a sent ence that is valuable because it t ouches the soul. Per -
haps i t will help you. The words are, " To let go means t o go on,
changed. "
Th e stress o f be i ng ha p p y
F R ANK : Ever since I wor ked with my family constellation yesterday, I' ve
been wor ki ng wi t h it inwardly. I haven' t been t hi nki ng consci ousl y
about i t very much because i t was somehow rather t oo much for me.
Wh e n I realized this, it occurred to me that I often feel that things are
t oo much for me. Thi s somet i mes makes me start reading compulsively.
HELLINGER: Perhaps you find bei ng happy t oo stressful.
FRANK laughing: That' s possible, of course. It's funny, when I' m sitting in
a circle like this, I find myself counting the people in it over and over
HELLINGER: That ' s a good way of distracting yourself from bei ng happy.
Let me tell you a short story.
A man called Nasrudin he was a mullah or something of the sort
dreamed that someone was counting out gold coins into his hand.
Whe n he had nine coins in his hand, the person counting out the money
suddenly stopped. Nasrudin shouted, "I must have all ten!" so loudly that
he woke up. Then he closed his eyes again and said, "All right, nine will
do. "
Anyt hi ng else, Frank?
Di vor c e and gui l t
FRANK: Yes. Whe n I was representing Una' s father in her family constella-
tion, it suddenly occurred to me that I don' t know exactly how my chil-
dren feel about my separation and divorce. I find it hard to talk to them
about it.
HELLINGER: It's none of your children' s business.
FRANK: But I woul d like to know how they feel.
HELLINGER: Yo u can ask t hem how they feel, but not how they feel about
the divorce. Yo u must not talk to t hem about it. Di vorce is a matter
bet ween the parents, and they do not have to justify their separation to
their children.
But there' s another important aspect to this. Ther e is always an ele-
ment of guilt in divorce divorce is invariably experi enced as guilt. It
you ask your children if they feel okay, expecting that they will say yes.
you are subconsciously wanting t hem to release you from something for
whi ch they are not responsible. Thi s places a heavy burden on them.
FRANK: I certainly don' t want to do that. But there' s something in all this
that is making me feel uneasy, and I don' t know exactly what it is.
Chi l dren f requent l y at one f or
i rresponsi bl e separat i ons
HELLINGER: Ther e is something else to consider in the case of separation.
If a partner leaves the marriage irresponsibly and without due considera-
tion, if, for example, he or she says, "I ' m leaving you because I want to
live my own life, and what you and the children do is your problem, " it
is not unusual for a child of the marriage to commi t suicide. The child ex-
periences irresponsible separation as a capital crime that must be atoned for.
FRANK: Yo u mean the child feels the irresponsible attitude must be atoned
HELLINGER: Yes. Thi s must be taken into consideration when a husband
and wife decide to separate. It is possible to relieve the children of their
burden if the marriage partners take each other seriously and succeed in
finding a good solution for the unfinished business bet ween t hem. They
can only find a good solution if both of t hem face up to their responsi-
bility for what went wrong, and if the children know that their parents
are serious about what they are doing. Then no at onement is necessary.
FRANK: I must do some more thinking about at onement and what it
Comp ul s i ve c omp e ns at i on t hr ough at one me nt
HELLINGER: At onement is a form of compensation, a blind urge toward
balance. Just as in nature we observe a tendency to keep systems in bal-
ance, we find the same urge in the psyche. At onement is an attempt by
the psyche to even out inequalities, but it is an instinctive attempt, and
it often takes its course wi t hout the person concerned bei ng able to wi t h-
stand it. We can raise the instinctive urge and achieve balance and com-
pensation on a higher level and according to a higher order. I call this
higher level the orders of love. Love operates on a higher level than the
blind instinctive urge that seeks compensation through atonement, and
it makes at onement unnecessary. For example, parents can raise the level
of their interaction when they acknowledge and face up to the fact that
things have gone wrong in their marriage, and each of t hem accepts re-
sponsibility for the consequences. If they do that, love is served. On the
other hand, if they cling to illusions of i nnocence and to blaming one
another, then the system seeks its balance blindly and i nnocent children
get recruited to atone. Rai si ng an interaction to the level of love requires
that we see clearly what' s really going on and accept our guilt. Guilt in
this cont ext isn' t a moral issue, it's a systemic dynamic. Whe n parents
carry their own guilt, when they bear the consequences of their own ac-
tions, their children no longer have the compulsive urge to atone.
Feel i ngs of gui l t as a deni al of real i t y
HELLINGER: In this context, feelings of guilt are a consequence of denying
reality. You deny reality when you behave as if you were free although
you are in fact bound by the bond and responsibilities of marriage; this
is a denial of reality.
FRANK: That ' s what I used to do. I remember angrily denying that I was
HELLINGER: Perhaps the time has come for you to correct that. That ' s an
inner process of acknowledging that the bond to your former partner
exists, and of knowi ng that you will be free to enter into a new relation-
ship only when you honor that previous bond.
GERTRUDE: Does the age of the children make any difference in the case
of divorce?
HELLINGER: Certainly it does. Whe n the children have already left home,
the parents are freer than when the children are still living at home or
when they are very young. That ' s quite clear.
THOMAS : Wh o decides whet her the parents are behaving irresponsibly?
HELLINGER: No one decides. It is something that is experienced. When
a couple separates, if they are honest, bot h partners know whet her or not
they are acting irresponsibly. It sounds as though there was an element
of irresponsibility in your case.
Long pause.
HELLINGER: Okay, that's not for to me to decide. That is how it sounds.
There' s a short poem by Holderlin about lovers. It says:
"Separate! It seemed so smart and good.
Why are we so shocked now, as if we'd murdered love?
Ah! We know so little of ourselves!
There's a hidden god in us who rules."
However we interpret this poem, it hints at the experience I was talking
Th e bo nd c reat ed by t he c o ns umma t i o n of l ove
The physical consummat i on of love creates a bond bet ween partners, and
its effects can be as strong as those of the bond bet ween children and
their parents. Separation from a partner, especially the mot her or father
of our children, can cause as much pain and even mor e guilt than the
separation from our parents. We tend t o underestimate the strength of
this bond, and many people enter and leave relationships as if they were
a club to be j oi ned or left on a whi m. But once the bond has been es-
tablished, we cannot leave a relationship without pain and wi t hout guilt.
Love does not respect our pretense of freedom. Some people close their
hearts in order not to feel the pain and guilt of separation, but having
done that, a new love eludes them. The strength of the bond is reflected
in the depth and intensity of the pain and the guilt.
Wi t hi n t he mot he r ' s sphere of i nf l uenc e
IDA: What is happening here is affecting me very deeply. Seei ng the influ-
ence of the siblings who died young in some of the constellations trig-
gered a strong reaction in me. I' m trying to get clear about some things
that are confusing me. My mot her always provided for us. She earned
the money for the family, and we lived on her earnings, so I don' t have
a very clear picture of the role of the wife and the role of the husband.
HELLINGER: What happened to your father?
IDA: My father was completely entangled with his family of origin. He
spent many years in prison, and he may still be there.
IDA: Because of his political views, although that' s not the real reason.
HELLINGER: What is the real reason?
IDA: The real reason is that my grandmother, his mot her, had a child by
her sister's husband, and this child was murdered.
HELLINGER: Murdered? By whom?
IDA: Probably by the mother. My grandmother had the child and then . . .
Wel l , some people say it died, and others say it was murdered. My
father was entangled in this.
HELLINGER: He' s paying for something others did. But that has not hi ng
to do with your question about the role of husband and wife. The solu-
tion for you is the following: In your heart, let your father go back to his
family, and you go and stand next to your mother. You' l l be safe there.
That ' s all you have to do.
IDA: Yes. Yesterday things seemed clearer, including the issue of the role
of a career woman. People say I am t oo ambitious.
HELLINGER: That' s good. You take after your mot her.
IDA: Yes, that' s true. That doesn' t come from my father.
HELLINGER: Many people woul d be happy to have a role model like you:
mot her.
IDA: Yes. That was what I was confused about. I thought I was still under
my father's influence and bound to him. But it's not his influence, it's
my mother' s.
HELLINGER: She has a good influence on you.
Di f f erent ways of gi vi ng and t aki ng i n t he f ami l y
IDA: I have another question. Children take from their parents. What hap-
pens if my sister gives me something as if she were my mot her? It' s nat-
ural to take from my parents, but what happens when it comes from my
HELLINGER: Parents give themselves as they are to their children, and they
can neither add to what they are nor take away from it. Children get their
parents only as they are, they can neither add to nor take away from what
their parents give them in this way. This is the way it is, and we may not
like it, but we can' t change it. It's quite a different thing to give someone
somet hi ng we' ve acquired. That' s the first thing. Whe n we understand
that the only possible parents for us are exactly the ones we have, it
becomes clear that there is no sense in wishing we had different parents.
Different parents woul d have had a different child, not us. If we recog-
nize this fundamental truth, we can "have" our parents in a deep sense
and feel complete. And we can forget about trying to change our parents
But in addition to what they are, parents also give their children wha:
they have acquired. They provide for t hem in all sorts of ways for many
years, and children accept this from their parents as well. The fact that
parents give so much more than children do creates a tremendous inequ-
ality bet ween children and their parents, an inequality that children can
never even out. Because children feel this, they often try to escape from
the obligation it imposes on t hem by demeaning and belittling their par-
ents. But children pass on what they have received from their parents tc
their own children or to other people through becomi ng involved in so-
cial work or communal affairs. In this way, they finally achieve balance
and compensation.
But parents also have personal guilt, entanglements, or merit, like your
father' s. These things bel ong to the parents alone and children cannot
and must not take t hem from their parents. If they do, they harm love
They may not take on their parents' guilt or its consequences, nor may
they take on their parents' merits. They may feel entitled to their parents'
merits and they may feel responsible for their parents' guilt, but they
harm themselves and their parents when they try to take t hem on. Of
course, children whose parents have achieved a respected position have
a big advantage, and this is something that parents give to their children
as well. But a child is silly who says, "I am a great painter because my
father was a great painter," or "I am a great politician because my father
was a great politician," or anything of that sort. Here a child must draw
a line out of respect for the parents. But children who use what they
have received from their parents to do something on their own can then
claim their accomplishments as their own, and if children do something
that makes t hem guilty, they must acknowledge this t oo as their own
Ther e are some issues and duties, however, that are common to bot h
parents and children. A family is a group united by a common need to
survive and sharing a common destiny. Each individual member has his
or her own duties and responsibilities. Thus children must also give when
it is necessary, and parents can demand that their children make a cont ri -
but i on to the well-being of the family as a whol e. Your sister probably
t ook on the task of looking after you when your mot her was not present,
and it was all right for you to take what she gave you in fact, you had
no other choi ce.
Parents go t oo far when they make demands on their children that ex-
ceed the needs of the well-being of the greater whol e. For example, par-
ents sometimes demand that their children comfort them. Then the chi l -
dren have to behave as if they were the parents of their parents, and their
parents behave as if they were the children of their children. Thi s is a
perversion of the relationship bet ween parents and children. Children
cannot protect themselves against such demands by their parents. They
become entangled in something against whi ch they have no defense and
are forced to presume to something for whi ch they later punish t hem-
selves. For example, children who were forced to take on inappropriate
responsibility often later suffer illness or misfortune, or failure or early
death. It is only when children have become adult and are able to see
how they were entangled that they can correct it, although they may
need some help, for example, the help of psychotherapy. Is that clear?
IDA: Yes.
Be l o v e d bur de n
WI L L I AM: My name is Wi l l i am. I ' m married to Ida, and we have a small
daughter. I ' m an engi neer by profession, and Ida and I own a company
that makes measuring instruments for comput ers. At the moment , I work
bet ween t wel ve and fourteen hours a day. I don' t really want to wor k so
hard but it seems unavoidable. I t hi nk I have to. I can' t j ust let things
slide, even t hough I ' m my own boss.
HE L L I NGE R : It' s not quite as simple as that. Ther e is a right way o f doing
things, and you cannot deviate from i t wi t hout harmi ng yourself. No one
is free in terms of this right way. Wh e n you have a responsible position
in a firm, even if it is your own, you are not free.
WI L L I AM: But I started my own business so that I woul d be free to organ-
ize my wor k as I liked.
HE L L I NGE R : No w you have discovered that was an illusion. Sel f-empl oyed
peopl e are no freer than anyone else. Yo u have a responsibility to your
firm, you have a responsibility to your family, and you have a responsi-
bility to yourself. Wha t you need to do now is to strike a bal ance among
the different areas. That is the difficult thing .. .
WI L L I AM: Al t hough I' ve had t oo much to do for a l ong t i me now, I mi ght
be able t o divide the wor k into smaller units . . .
HE L L I NGE R : Yo u j ust cut me off from showi ng you the solution. I was j us:
goi ng to tell you the answer to your probl em when you repeated the
probl em. I see you are happy wi t h it in some way and I must not pre-
sume to interfere wi t h such happiness.
WI L L I AM: NOW I feel bad.
He sighs and is close to tears.
HE L L I NGE R : Look at me in a friendly way. Wi l l i am, you' re not really with
us. Can you feel that? Wh e n you' re preoccupi ed wi t h such feelings, you
can' t l ook at the person you' re talking to. That shows that your feelings
have not hi ng to do wi t h the present.
WI L L I AM: That ' s true.
HE L L I NGE R : I f you woul d l ook at me and see me, your feelings woul d
change at once.
(pause) You' r e still not l ooki ng at me. Can you feel that? And even it
you do l ook at me, you can' t see me.
WI L L I AM: NOW I can see you.
HE L L I NGE R : No you can' t, not yet.
WI LLI AM: Yes I can!
He moves his hand as if he were trying to brush the mist away from before his eyes.
HE L L I NGE R : Yo u still can' t see me. Do you not i ce that? You' r e still pr eoc-
cupi ed wi t h your inner i mage. Ida can see me (Ida is sitting next to Wil-
liam), but you can' t.
WI L L I AM: I was feeling pretty good when I came here this morni ng. But
what has happened in the group since then, wi t h Harry, for exampl e, has
hit me hard, especially the wor d "vi ct i m. "
Long pause.
HE L L I NGE R : Are you a vi ct i m?
WI L L I AM: Yes .
HE L L I NGE R : O f whom or o f what?
WI L L I AM: I bel i eve I have a t echni que for arranging things so that I be-
come a vi ct i m.
HE L L I NGE R : Th e vi ct i m has to atone. The question is, for whom are you
atoning, for someone i n your system or for your own guilt? Have you
ever been guilty of anything? Have you caused anyone' s death, for exam-
ple, in a road accident?
WI L L I AM: No. But my father was illegitimate, and it was t aboo to ment i on
my grandfather. I never even met hi m. I recently learned that he had a
family and that one of his sons, who was one of my uncles, killed himself.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, so there' s somet hi ng sinister in your system. Let ' s take
a l ook at it together.
WI L L I AM: Wh o m do I need?
HE L L I NGE R : Your father and mot her and their children. Was either o f
your parents previously married or engaged, or was there a child who
died young?
WI L L I AM: No.
HE L L I NGE R : IS there anyone missing?
WI L L I AM: AS I said, my father' s father was t aboo.
HE L L I NGE R : We' l l wait a bit before we bring hi m in. First o f all, we' l l set
up the nucl ear family.
When William set up his family constellation, he started by plac-
ing his own representative facing his father, and subsequently
moved him further away.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a daughter
2 Se c o n d chi l d, a s on (= Wi l l i am)
HELLINGER: Are your parents divorced?
HELLINGER: What happened in your mother' s family? Di d anyone die?
WILLIAM: My grandfather's first wife died giving birth to her first child, a
son. My grandfather remarried and had three children with his second
wife, my mother and two aunts.
HELLINGER: Your grandfather's first wife is the important person. We' ll
add her to the constellation.
Diagram 2
MFl Wf 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.
How 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 WI F E 7 : I'm angry, and I feel like grabbing the
woman in front of me. I feel important.
FATHER: At the begi nni ng, when I was standing here and the rest of the
constellation was bei ng set up, my lips felt warm and I want ed to go to
my wife. But the feeling dwindled, and now it's gone altogether.
HELLINGER t o William: I ' m goi ng to add your grandfather to t he constel-
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 better. It feels rounder.
HELLINGER: Yes, it is rounder.
to the daughter. Has anything changed for you?
FI RST CHILD: Yes . It' s better.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: As if I had come back from the dead.
HELLINGER to the representative of William: Ho w are you feeling?
MOTHER' S FATHER' S FIRST WIFEf: Wh e n Wi l l i am' s mot her turned a-
round, I thought: that' s the most I will tolerate. I ' m not putting up with
anything else. She laughs. I feel fine. Thi s woman is important to me.
The others are not so important.
HELLINGER: How is the mot her feeling now?
MOTHER: Much better than I was, but I still feel far away and alone.
FATHER: The distance bet ween me and my wife is good. And it's i mpor-
tant that she's now facing the right way.
FATHER' S FATHER: I feel a liking for these t wo in front of me, my son and
my grandson. And I like my granddaughter, t oo, there on my left. But
I ' m mainly interested in my son and my grandson.
SECOND CHILD: I don' t need to be quite as close to my father as I am
now. My grandfather is very important to me. Whe n he appeared on the
scene, I suddenly found a point of orientation.
HELLINGER to William: He is a good role model for you.
IDA (William's wife): He was a businessman.
HELLINGER: A businessman? That too?
Laughter in the group.
FATHER: I felt warmer before. No w my son is standing opposite me, and
further away, but I have to accept it. I have lost something.
Diagram 4
S E C O N D CHI LD: Agai n I felt a shudder run t hrough me, but I t hi nk it's
good like this. It' s much bet t er than it was when I was standing next to
my father.
HE L L I NGE R : TO your father, you represent his father. That ' s why your po-
sitions were interchangeable.
H E L L I N G E R to the mother. Has anything changed for you?
M O T H E R : I like bei ng able to l ook at my children.
F A T H E R : I ' m not used to having my wife so close. But I can accept it.
Hellinger adds representatives.
MF Mother's father
MM Mother's mother
H E L L I N G E R to the people in the constellation: Ho w are you feeling now?
M O T H E R : Good.
F AT HE R : Good. Compl et e. No w things are balanced. I feel okay wi t h my
wife standing next to me. Somet hi ng was not quite right before.
S E C O N D CHI LD: It' s very strange seeing my parents so close t oget her. I
don' t quite trust it.
Diagram 5
F AT HE R ' S F ATHE R : It feels good having nothing bet ween me and my
grandchildren, and I like being able to see my son clearly. But the wom-
en don' t seem to have much to do with me. I start to feel frightened
when I l ook at them.
HE L L I NGE R to William: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
WI L L I AM: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R to the group: I' d like to say something about these dynamics.
Whe n a woman dies in childbirth, it has the same effect on the system
as a murder and, like a murder, it demands atonement. Usually, one of
the sons comes under pressure to compensate in some way, even to die.
That woul d be William. That' s why he felt he was a victim. He woul d
have been in danger had this woman not been accorded the respect due
to her.
t o William: You' l l be much safer if you move closer to your father and fur-
ther away from your mot her. Your father's father can free you from the
entanglement and make you safe. Good, that's all, then.
Wh e n a chi l d t akes on t he rol e of a p ar e nt
IDA: You told Wi l l i am that for his father he represents his father's father.
What does that mean?
HE L L I NGE R : Wi l l i am' s father was missing his father. Wi l l i am t ook on the
function of being his father's father. He assumed the function of bei ng
a parent to his own father. Whe n a parent didn' t have a good relation-
ship wi t h one of his or her parents, then one of the children assumes the
function of being the missing parent for his or her own father or mot her.
Thi s is sometimes called the parentification of a child, and the reason for
the broken relationship doesn' t matter.
At o ne me nt f or t he deat h of a wo ma n i n c hi l dbi rt h
F R ANK : IS the child who was born when the mot her died important for
Wi l l i am?
HE L L I NGE R : No, not here. The dead woman is t oo powerful.
G E O R G E : But what i f the child had died?
HE L L I NGE R : Even then it probably woul d not be as important as the dead
mot her.
to William: Di d the child die?
WI LLI AM: NO. He' s my oldest uncle on my mother' s side.
FRANK to William: And how is he doing?
WILLIAM: He' s fine.
FRANK: It amazes me that he' s fine and someone else has to carry the burden.
WILLIAM: Yes. He' s done some crazy things, but he' s fine in spite of them.
He' s in the best of health.
HELLINGER t o the group: Doi ng crazy things means, of course, that he was
doing something that endangered his life. That' s what people in his situ-
ation often do. Wi l l i am has given us the clue.
Ther e' s a crazy fantasy prevalent in our society that' s bot h hostile and
degrading to women: In a system like this, husbands and sons often feel
they have to atone for the death of the woman who died at childbirth. It
may have something to do with the fact that, in our society, the act of
procreation is still so often regarded as bei ng indecent, even t hough it is,
in fact, the greatest human act of all. Ther e is nothing greater and more
human than this, and there is nothing that entails a greater risk. Parents
know this. They are aware of the risk, and they act in full knowl edge of
the risk involved when they have a child. Thi s is what gives the act of
procreation its greatness.
Bot h the man and the woman are aware of the risk, but when the
worst does happen, the consequences for the woman are graver than for
the man because she loses her life. Whe n this is interpreted as if the man
had murdered the woman and sacrificed her to his base instincts, this is
a grave injustice to the woman. It demeans her willingness to risk her life
for her children and it is an insult to her dignity quite apart from the
dignity of the man.
Whe n women die in childbirth their husbands are often treated as
murderers, but in family constellations, it invariably becomes clear that
the dead women do not condemn or blame their husbands, that they
were well aware of the risk, and of their dignity and value. They do con-
demn those who do not respect and honor t hem because they may be
frightened by the death of a woman in childbirth. Thi s fear can be mai n-
tained over many generations, and the death of a woman in childbirth is
sometimes atoned for over many generations. Thi s at onement sometimes
takes some strange forms.
I'll give you an example. A participant in a workshop once set up the
constellation of his family of origin: father, mot her, and three brothers.
The three brothers were very restless and upset, and after experimenting
for quite a time, we eventually found out that the first wife of the partici-
pant' s great-grandfather had died in childbirth. Whe n I placed the dead
woman behi nd the three brothers, they suddenly started feeling quiet and
peaceful. All three were homosexual, and one of t hem had commi t t ed
suicide. It happens quite frequently that someone in a family system, some-
times even a grandchild or great-grandchild, commi t s suicide to atone for
the death of a woman in childbirth. By the way, this also demonstrates
a set of dynamics I' ve often observed: Many homosexual men have had
to represent a woman in their family because no girl was available.
t o William: If you are interested in a solution, you need to leave the sphere
of influence of your mot her and her family and enter that of your father
and your grandfather, the businessman. That woul d help you to free
yoursel f from the entanglement in your mother' s family, and be free of
the feeling that you are a victim or that you have to atone for something.
WILLIAM: But I didn' t find out until quite recently that my grandfather had
his own business.
HELLINGER: Entanglements are not passed on verbally. They wor k wi t hout
our conscious knowledge. Knowl edge of their cause is direct and i mme-
diate. If this were not so, we woul d not be able to do this work wi t h
family constellations.
FRANK: I have another question about guilt, real or imagined. As I under-
stand it, a descendant identifies, on the one hand, with the woman who
died, and on the other, with the presumed guilt of the ancestor. But
these are t wo different people.
HELLINGER: The number of actual persons involved isn' t so important.
The consci ence operating in the family system isn' t so discriminating, and
it tends to treat t hem all as one. The fantasy operating in the system
seems to be that the grandfather as murderer should commi t suicide, and
because he didn' t, someone else did instead. But the man whose wife
died in childbirth didn' t have this fantasy he knew better. His de-
scendants have the fantasy.
But there is also another idea behind this: Whe n someone in the
system dies, someone else must die as compensation. Thi s is an ancient,
primitive idea of compensation that works deep down in the soul. The
archaic urge for compensation can be transformed into love on a higher
level according to the orders of love. Whe n someone who has made
r oom for someone else in the system is accorded due respect and honor,
nothing else needs to be done. As soon as someone does more, tries to
atone in another way, takes on guilt, due respect for the deceased is di-
minished. It is the respect and the acknowl edgment of the deceased' s
sacrifice in the service of life that count. Not hi ng else is necessary. That ' s
why we all have it within our power to do what' s necessary.
FRANK: So all that's needed is acknowl edgment and respect?
HELLINGER: Yes. Respect and honori ng what serves life.
CARL: That ' s what I wanted to ask a little while ago. Whe n someone who
feels like a victim gives the person concerned the respect and honor due,
is that enough? Doesn' t someone else have to do it as well?
HELLINGER: Whe n it is done authentically, deep in the heart, it's enough.
Wi l l i am must honor his grandfather's first wife for making r oom for his
mot her' s mot her, and thus for his own mot her and for him. Her death
was a price paid for his life.
ANNE: Does it make any difference whet her the misfortune comes from
the mot her' s side or the father's side?
HELLINGER: No, it makes no difference.

In this context, I' m going to tell you a fairy tale that's a coded message,
and yet revealing. It leads us to believe that we can change the way
things are through our wishes, and it seduces us perhaps to actions that
lead to the very misfortune we fear, rather than to the good fortune we
Whe n such pictures are operating in the background, it helps to tell
the story slightly differently from the original. That makes it clear that
our wishes have their limitations and that our presumptuous actions are
doomed to failure. Then when we listen to the story, we come down to
earth and realize our 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, "I will
keep your secret and I will serve your son with fidelity even if it should cost me
my 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
riches of the kingdom. There was one door, however, that he passed by un-
opened, and the young king noticed and became impatient. When faithful John
told him that his father had forbidden him to open the door, the king tried to
break it open by force; and so, with a heavy heart, faithful John unlocked the
In the room was a picture, but faithful John went in first and stood in front
of the picture so that the king could not see it. It did no good, however. The
young king pushed him to one side, saw the picture, and fell into a deep
swoon. It was a portrait of the princess of the Golden Dwelling.
When he came to himself again, he was beside himself, for he could think
of nothing, 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 heads together and thought up a plan.
Their investigations revealed that the princess of the Golden Dwelling desired
gold more than anything else in the world. So they took all the golden jewelry
and all the golden tableware and services from the royal treasury, stowed it
onboard a ship, and sailed across the sea until they arrived at the town where
the princess of the Golden Dwelling lived. Then faithful John took some of the
gold and secretly went to the palace to offer it for sale, and when 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, after some resistance, she said, "Conduct me to your ship,
I will go there myself and behold the treasures of your master."
When the king, disguised as a merchant, saw her, he perceived that her
beauty was even greater than the picture had revealed to him, and he took her
into the hold of the ship and showed her all his golden treasures.
Meanwhile, faithful John had weighed anchor and put up sails, and the ship
sailed out once again to sea. The princess noticed, and at first she was bewil-
dered. But then she guessed what was going on, and since it complied perfectly
with her own secret desires, she pretended she was unaware of what had hap-
pened and played along with them. 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." She looked at him, decided that he had a kind face,
thought of the gold, 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. Suddenly he saw
three ravens flying toward him. Wlien they reached the ship, they perched on
a mast and began talking among themselves.
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 gar-
ment 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
1 5 2
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 inex-
perienced), he unfastened her bodice, drew out her right breast, sucked three
drops of blood from it, and spat them out again. Immediately, she opened
her eyes and recovered. But the king had seen what had happened and was
ashamed, and when he heard his 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, he had him condemned to death and thrown into
a dungeon.
The following morning, when he was being led to the gallows and was about
to be executed, faithful John tried to decide whether he should reveal what the
ravens had said. Whatever happened, he was doomed to die: if he kept silent,
he would be executed, and if he revealed what he knew, he would be turned to
stone. Then he decided that it would be better to speak out because, as he told
himself, "Perhaps the truth will make them free."
When he was standing before the executioner and, like all criminals, was
granted permission to make one last speech, 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. That is how he died.
All the people cried out in anguish, and the king and queen retired to their
chambers. Then the queen looked at the king and said, "I, too, heard what the
ravens said, but I said nothing for fear that I would be turned to stone." But
the king laid his finger on her lips and whispered to her, "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, he sighed and said, "Ah, my
faithful John!" Soon, however, he had other things to distract him, for the queen
became pregnant, and after a year, she bore him twins, two winsome boys.
When the children were 3 years old, the king could no longer remain silent,
and he said to his wife, "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 which we hold most dear?
That is our children!" And the king said, "Yes."
The following morning, he drew his sword, 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 is the end of everything!" She retired to
her chamber, packed her belongings, and returned home to her country. The
king, however, went to his mother's grave, knelt down, and wept.
Anyone who feels tempted to refer to the original story will discover, on
reading it carefully, the same message. In addition, however, the person
will find that the real fairy tale blunts and softens the terror of the unveiled
truth by suggesting that the fear that he or she will find the heavens empty
can be exorcised by a deceptive hope.
Fat he r and son
WALTER: I followed your advice and had a talk with my son last night. It
was surprisingly easy. He only said, "As a psychologist, you should have
known that yourself."
Then I said to him, "Somet i mes I need a push, t oo. " We talked a bit
mor e later in the evening, and he said, "Perhaps I will study psychology-
after all." Then my wife added, "But you' ll have to get good grades if
you want to study psychology, " and I said, "He' l l get good grades if he' s
really interested."
HELLINGER: That was a good move psychologically. I' ll give you another
example. A man taking part in a workshop once said, " My son does not
respect me. " I said to him, " You can solve that very easily. The next
time he behaves disrespectfully, you must thump the table with your fist
and say, ' Listen, my boy, I' m your father and you' re my son.' " The
participant went home that evening (he lived nearby), and the following
morni ng, he told the group, "Last night I had the best talk with my son
that I have ever had. I didn' t even have to thump the table. " What had
happened was that the father had changed inwardly, and this had made
it possible for the love and respect bet ween hi m and his son to start
flowing again.
Unkno wn grandf at her
WALTER: There' s something else worrying me that I can' t quite put my
finger on. My mot her was an illegitimate child, and I once asked her
what had happened to her father. She didn' t want to talk about it. But
then she said, " He died early on. " Whe n I was thinking about this, I re-
membered that my mot her once said that her father later married and that
the youngest son of this marriage was killed in the war at the age of 18.
HELLINGER: The grandfather is the important person for you. You must
give hi m a place in your heart.
WALTER: The trouble is, I don' t know him. I can' t reach him.
HE L L I NGE R : Yes, you can. Ther e was once a man called Konrad Lorenz. *
Have you heard of him? He had a dog with the omi nous name of Stasi,
although the name didn' t mean anything at the time.+ Then the dog
died, and Lorenz regretted that he hadn' t got one of its descendants. He
said to himself, "I certainly won' t let that happen again." Then he got
another dog, this time called Ti t o, and he made sure that he kept one of
Ti t o' s descendants, and then one of Ti t o' s descendant' s descendants. One
day, this young dog was playing in front of him, and Lorenz thought,
"Just like Ti t o. " But then he suddenly realized, "That ' s not true. It's not
j ust like Ti t o, it i s Ti t o. "
WA L T E R : That seems a bit exaggerated.
HE L L I NGE R : D O you really think so? Children always know their parents,
even if they have never seen them. They are their parents, and their
Honor i ng one' s mo t he r
WA L T E R : I' m beginning to realize how important it is for me to honor my
parents. Wi t h regard to my father, it's not so difficult I can do it. But
I can' t honor my mot her and I treat her disrespectfully.
HE L L I NGE R to the group: No w he' s made it mor e difficult for himself to
solve the problem. He could have started honori ng his mot her straight
away instead of describing how hard it is.
t o Walter. I' ve told you the healing words. You just have to say t hem a few
times until they are authentic. Do you remember them?
Walter shakes his head.
HE L L I NGE R : I'll say t hem once more. They are, "I bow down to you with
respect." Ther e is nothing to stop your repeating these words until they
ring true.
Di s pl ac ed ent hus i as m
DAGMAR : There' s something that bothers me. I simply cannot bear it
when people ignore me.
* The ethologist Konrad Lorenz.
"1" Stasi is short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, the secret police in East Germany.
HE L L I NGE R : That ' s someone else's feeling. The question is, from whom
and for whom have you taken on this feeling?
DAGMAR : Yesterday, I t ook another l ook at the family tree that I painted
with loving care when I was training as a family therapist five genera-
tions of it. I became very involved with it again yesterday, and once or
t wi ce, when I thought I had found something important, I heard your
voi ce saying; "That ' s not it. " It sounded terribly strict and dismissive. Fi -
nally, I got stuck with my grandmother on my mother' s side; she only
decided to get married after going with my grandfather for fifteen years.
She left a secure situation to go to her husband on an impoverished farm.
He died quite soon afterward, and she ran the farm alone.
HE L L I NGE R : Was your grandmother married to anyone else before that?
DAGMAR : NO, she went into domestic service at the age o f 15, and her fu-
ture husband was employed as a chauffeur by the same employers. They
were together for fifteen years before they married.
HE L L I NGE R : What stood in the way of the marriage?
DAGMAR : I don' t know.
HE L L I NGE R : What do you think it might have been?
DAGMAR : The first thing that occurred to me was that my grandfather
might have been l ooki ng for someone else.
HE L L I NGE R : I have another idea, something to do with their employers.
DAGMAR : Wel l , I do know that they were very reluctant to let my grand-
mot her go.
HE L L I NGE R : Exactly.
DAGMAR : They valued her very highly.
HE L L I NGE R : Wi t h whom was your grandmother angry?
DAGMAR : Wel l , I know she was angry with her husband. Do you mean
that she was really angry with her employers?
HE L L I NGE R : Exactly.
DAGMAR : She always spoke very well of t hem. She felt they appreciated
her and genuinely wanted her to stay.
HE L L I NGE R : Perhaps she didn' t really want to marry her husband. I f so,
she really pulled the wool over his eyes.
F A T H E R ' S F O R M E R F I A N C E E
DAGMAR : I' d like see i f I have a role in my family o f origin or whet her I
am bei ng presumptuous. I woul d like to get rid of a burden.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, set up the constellation.
D A G MA R : Father, mot her, grandparents?
HE L L I NGE R : No, j ust your father, your mot her, and their children. That ' s
enough. Or was either of your parents previously married or engaged?
D A G MA R : My father was engaged, and later on, he had a relationship wi t h
anot her woman.
HE L L I NGE R : Di d any children result from this relationship?
D A G MA R : NO.
HE L L I NGE R : Wh y did they break of f the engagement ?
D A G MA R : My father got tired of the woman to whom he was engaged.
HE L L I NGE R : Th e way you say that, it sounds like you are identified wi t h
her. We can probably forget everyone else.
D A G MA R : That surprises me.
HE L L I NGE R : We' l l include the former fiancee in the constellation.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son
2 Second child, a daughter (= Dagmar)
FFF Father's former fiancee
HE L L I NGE R : H O W is the father feeling?
F A T H E R : Not good at all. Dagmar turned me t oward my former fiancee
mor e than I want ed. I felt I must resist. I can j ust see t wo peopl e to my
left and right, but onl y out of the corner of my eye, and there' s some-
thing unpleasant behi nd me.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the mot her feel?
MOTHER: I don' t feel t oo bad, but I have no feeling for my husband. I
can onl y see my son. I can j ust cat ch a glimpse of my daughter out of
the corner of my eye, but I ' m concent rat i ng mai nl y on my son. I don' t
feel anything behi nd me.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the son feeling?
FI RST CHILD: I ' m goi ng to run away any mi nut e (mother and son laugh).
HELLINGER to Dagmar's representative: Ho w is the daughter feeling?
SECOND CHILD: Sort of detached, and I feel I am bei ng wat ched.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the former fiancee feel?
FORMER FIANCEE: I can' t stop l ooki ng at my fiance.
HELLINGER t o Dagmar's representative: Move to the left of your father' s
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: Ho w are you feeling now?
SECOND CHILD: I feel mor e as if I bel onged.
HELLINGER t o Dagmar. That ' s the identification. No w j ust i magi ne how
this woman must have felt, the way your father talked about her. Yo u
have taken over this feeling of anger from her.
DAGMAR: My father hardly ever talked about her.
HELLINGER: Yo u said he got tired of her.
DAGMAR: Ah, yes. That ' s true.
HELLINGER: Ho w must she have felt?
DAGMAR: She must have been furious wi t h hi m.
HELLINGER: Exact l y. No w you see wher e your feelings come from when
you feel you are bei ng ignored. Fr om her. That ' s why all your quarrels
wi t h Frank have been in vain. Dagmar laughs. You' ve been vent i ng your
anger on t he wr ong person.
FATHER: I feel drawn to my fiancee. It' s not true that I got tired of her,
or that I don' t like her any mor e.
HELLINGER t o the mother. Ho w do you feel when you see your daughter
standing by your husband' s former fi ancee? Bet t er or worse?
MOTHER: Wor se. I miss her.
HELLINGER: Yes , you have a mot her' s heart.
Hettinger rearranges the constellation.
HELLINGER: Ho w does that feel?
MOTHER: Bet t er.
FATHER: That ' s good for me.
FI RST CHILD: I feel sorry for my mot her, she' s so alone.
HELLINGER to the former f iancee: Has anything changed for you?
FORMER FIANCEE: Yes . The man now has a face. No w I can l ook at hi m.
Diagram 3
SECOND CHILD: I feel a bit far away, but I realize that I ' m very i nvol ved
wi t h my father' s former fiancee standing here next t o me.
HELLINGER to the mother. Ho w does that feel?
FATHER: No w the family is united. I suddenly thought: now the whol e
business wi t h my fiancee is over.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the daughter feel?
SECOND CHILD looking at the floor. I don' t feel I bel ong here. I ' m here, but
I ' m s omehow a stranger.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the former fiancee feel?
FORMER FIANCEE: I feel fine. I ' m free.
HELLINGER t o Dagmar's representative: No w there' s somet hi ng I woul d like
to do wi t h you. It won' t be so hard for you because you are onl y repre-
senting Dagmar and it doesn' t concern you personally.
Kneel down i n front of your mot her, bow l ow until you are t ouchi ng
the ground, and stretch out your arms wi t h your palms t urned upward.
She bows in front of the mother. After a little while, she starts to
straighten up again.
Hellinger sets up the solution.
Diagram 4
HE L L I NGE R : It's not time to straighten up yet. Stay like that a little longer.
t o the mother. How do you feel? What effect is it having on you?
MO T H E R : It's as i f I didn' t deserve to have her bowi ng before me like this.
I ' m not wort hy of it.
HE L L I NGE R after a while to Dagmar's representative: You can straighten up
again now. How do you feel?
S E C OND CHI LD: Bet t er.
She smiles at her mother, and her mother returns the smile.
HE L L I NGE R to Dagmar. That' s your next step, to turn toward your mot her,
no matter what she feels about it. That will resolve your identification
with your father's fiancee. Your mot her doesn' t feel wort hy of it because
she' s standing bet ween her husband and his fiancee. But the child should
still bow down t o her. The act of bowi ng down i s an expression of re-
F O R M E R FI ANCE E : It was important for me t oo.
HE L L I NGE R : It gives you even more freedom.
HE L L I NGE R to Dagmar. Woul d you like to go and stand there yourself?
Dagmar goes to her place in the constellation and looks down at
the floor.
DAGMAR : I was very t ouched when my representative was bowi ng to my
mot her. But my mot her won' t accept it.
HE L L I NGE R : That' s not what she said.
DAGMAR : She said she didn' t feel wort hy o f it.
HE L L I NGE R : She had the right to say that.
t o the group: The positive effect of the bow doesn' t depend on what the
other person says. In this kind of therapy, we l ook for solutions that
don' t depend on what other people do. No one has to be any different
from the way he or she is. Parents do not need to change, and nobody
has to apologize. Each individual simply does what is necessary. For
example, bowi ng before the parents, regardless of what the others do.
The solution lies in what one does oneself.
Obj ec t i ve and subjec t i ve p res ump t uous nes s
HE L L I NGE R to Dagmar. I'll tell you something that may help you. Whe n
a child is representing someone else in a family system and finds herself
pointing an accusing finger at her parents, her presumptuousness is real,
but it doesn' t carry personal guilt. It is the result of dynamics the child
can neither understand nor resist. It's an entanglement even though the
presumptiousness has the same effect whet her or not the child does it on
purpose. On the other hand, if you carry on in the same old way after
this workshop, then you' ll be personally guilty of presumptuousness be-
cause now you have the choi ce not to repeat that.
Longi ng f or one' s f at her
GERTRUDE: I' m not feeling at all good. I have a queasy feeling in my
stomach, and I still have the symptoms I experienced when I was repre-
senting the mot her in Dagmar' s constellation j ust now. I can' t remember
ever feeling as weak as this before.
HELLINGER: But that has nothing to do with you.
GERTRUDE: NO, but it is affecting me. There' s something I wanted to ask
you I' ve been thinking about it during the break about my illegiti-
mate son. She sighs and is near to tears. Am I guilty?
HELLINGER: Bri ng your chair and come and sit in front of me. A bit clos-
er. No w close your eyes and open your mout h slightly. Carry on breath-
ing, and j ust relax and let things take their course.
Hellinger pulls her head forward gently.
Breat he faster. Go with the movement of your body.
Gertrude sobs.
Imagine you are holding on to something.
(After a pause) Shall we stop here?
She nods.
Okay. How are you feeling?
GERTRUDE: Bet t er. But I don' t understand.
HELLINGER: That doesn' t matter.
HELLINGER as Gertrude begins showing emotion again: Fol l ow the feeling, gc
wi t h the movement of your body.
She weeps.
HELLINGER in a whisper: Are you longing for someone?
GERTRUDE: I' m thinking about my father.
HELLINGER: Cl ose your eyes. Imagine you are going home to him.
She sobs.
Keep on breathing. Let it flow.
She breathes more easily.
Do you know the song about the t wo royal children?
G E R T R U D E : NO.
HE LLI NGE R : No? It goes like this, "They could never come together, for
the water between them was much too deep."
G E R T R U D E laughing: I got very close to him.
HE LLI NGE R : Okay. We' l l leave it like that.
Pri ori t y of the husband or wif e i n t he f ami l y
GE OR GE : In family constellations, when does the husband stand on the
right of his wife, and when does he stand on her left?
HE LLI NGE R : That varies. Basically, both parents are equal. They share the
highest position in the hierarchy. Then come the children, the first child,
second, third, fourth, etc. According to the hierarchy of origin, the father
and mother are on an equal footing. After all, they began the relationship
together. But there is also a hierarchy based on function, and in this, the
partner who is responsible for the safety of the family usually has priority
over the other one. This responsibility is usually taken on by the hus-
band. If this is so, he stands on the right of his wife. But there are fami-
lies, for example, Ida's family of origin, in which it is quite clear that the
wife has priority over the husband. If this is so, the wife stands on her
husband's left.
There are other situations in which the wife also has priority. The
hierarchy changes when important persons in the wife's family have been
excluded. For example, if her father was excluded because he didn' t mar-
ry her mother, or if her mother was excluded because she had a particular-
ly hard fate. Then the excluded persons come first, starting from the right,
then the wife, and after her, the husband. This has something to do with
the force of destiny. Thea, for instance, had priority in her present family
because the force of destiny in her family of origin gave her predominance.
So you have to find the right hierarchical order in each individual
If the husband was previously engaged, his wife usually stands between
him and his first partner. The same applies in reverse if the wife was
previously engaged. In Dagmar' s family of origin, her mother stood be-
tween her husband and his former fiancee, and thus on her husband's
right. This enabled her to show her husband and his former fiancee that
she claimed him as her husband. And the husband's former fiancee not
only was separated from him, she was also free. But there are cases in
whi ch the second partner might not stand between her husband and his
former wife. For example, if the former wife died, the husband still
mi ght need to stand bet ween her and his new partner; and also if she has
been done an injustice.
Th e wo ma n f ol l ows t he ma n , and t he ma n i s
i n t he servi c e of wo ma n h o o d
HELLINGER: One of the orders of love in the relationship bet ween a hus-
band and wife usually demands that the woman follow the man. By this
I mean that she must follow hi m into his country, his language, his cul-
ture, and his family, and that she must allow the children to follow him
as well. If the husband follows the wife without a supporting cause, ten-
sion and conflict result. For example, when a man marries into his wife' s
family and assumes privileges and advantages he did not earn by his own
efforts, he is following his wife, and that causes difficulties and gets in the
way of a fulfilling relationship. Whe n the wife follows the husband, it's
much easier for their relationship to be really fulfilling. The same orders
of love also demand that the masculine authentically serve the feminine.
That is the balance: the wife follows her husband into his language, cul-
ture, and family, and the masculine authentically serves the feminine. I
know this is stuff for controversy, but I' m only telling you what I' ve
observed. If anyone has an example to the contrary, I'll be glad to hear
it, but I' ve never seen one myself.
JONAS: That ' s patriarchy.
HELLINGER: No, it isn' t. It has nothing to do with patriarchy. It's the mas-
culine serving the feminine, and the feminine supporting that by following.
JONAS: A friend of mi ne, an American, lives with his Indian wife and her
family in India. He is now 60 years old and he' s very happy. It is one ot
the happiest relationships I have ever seen, and also very exceptional.
HELLINGER: Okay, I take back what I have just said.
Laughter in the group.
ANNE: I don' t think you should take it back. What you said had a definite
effect on me, and I woul d like to hear some mor e about it.
HELLINGER: Okay. I don' t really change my views so quickly, and I don' t
always say what I know.
t o Jonas: Thi s order of love, like all orders, also embraces dynamics that
point in the opposite direction. Every truth implies its negation. That is
always so. So it could well be that your friend acted exactly in alignment
with the orders of love. We need to guard against making the orders of
love into a moral system. They don' t work like that.
But I woul d like to add something about the children of such a rela-
tionship. Whe n the parents come from t wo different countries, the chi l -
dren must not be made to choose bet ween the countries as if they were
obliged to decide for one country at the expense of the other: they be-
long to both, but the father's country usually has priority.
GERTRUDE: Wher e did the term "mot her t ongue" come from, then? It' s
a contradiction in terms.
HELLINGER: The language a child learns as a mot her tongue is a different
thing. The child starts learning and absorbing language in the mother' s
womb. But this does not contradict the other issue.
THOMAS: I think this has some sort of bearing on my own personal his-
tory. It's got something to do with marrying into a family and the prem-
ise that the woman must follow the man.
HELLINGER: Please, not "must follow. " It isn' t a moral issue, but rather
that love is well served when the woman follows the man and when the
masculine serves the feminine. Your marrying into your wife' s family
places a burden on the relationship and imposes limitations. But "fol l ow-
i ng" is not the same as "obeyi ng. " It simply means, "I will follow you
into your family."
Hopel ess l ove
JOHN: I' m very interested in what you are saying. For the past t wo years,
I' ve had a girlfriend who lives in Switzerland, and up until now it has
been impossible for us to get together. Thi s makes me sad. Once I almost
went to live with her in Switzerland, but then I realized that something
wasn' t quite right about it and I felt that she must come to me. I want
very much to be with her, and I can' t understand why it doesn' t work.
Perhaps it has something to do with me.
HELLINGER: I' ll tell you something. A relationship bet ween a man and a
woman must function well in the first 15 minutes. If it doesn' t, you can
forget it.
WILLIAM: In the first 15 minutes?
HELLINGER: Yes, that's when all the rules are established. In the first 15
minutes. Basically, nothing changes after that.
JOHN: That makes it sound absolutely hopeless.
HELLINGER: Fi nd someone better. Ther e are people who keep on waving
at a departing train when the next train is already in the station. But
hopeless love lasts longer.
JOHN: I have the impression that I love this woman, whatever that means.
HELLINGER: Does she love you?
JOHN: I think so. But she seems to find it very difficult, and she is afraid
to show and live her love. The question I always ask mysel f is . . .
HELLINGER: No, no you can forget about that.
JOHN: What ?
HELLINGER: Ther e was once a man who had three girlfriends, and he
asked me whi ch of t hem he should keep. I asked hi m to tell me some-
thing about each one, and then I said, " You must keep the third one.' "
He asked, " How do you know?" and I said, " Your face lit up when you
talked about her. "
BRIGITTE: It' s easier when you have three.
HELLINGER to John: Your face did not light up.
JOHN: But I know it often does.
HELLINGER: Some people think they can overcome obstacles and change
things through love. They think that if only they can love intensely
enough, things will change for the better. But they don' t!
JOHN: I admit I am quite disappointed about what' s happened, but I know
my face can still light up.
HELLINGER: I didn' t see it. I woul d have not i ced if it had happened.
Wh a t wr o ng mus t I have done t o you t o ma ke
me f eel s o angr y wi t h you?
JAY: I ' m very upset and depressed. There' s something I' ve been wanting
to say since the workshop began. Four years ago, I started a relationship,
whi ch broke up t wo and a hal f years ago. It never really finished, just
sort of fizzled out. I think about this woman dozens of times a day, and
it gets in the way of my present relationship. I' m stuck, and I don' t
know why.
HELLINGER: Do you still owe her something?
Long pause.
What do you still owe her?
JAY: I don' t know. I j ust feel terribly angry with her.
HELLINGER: Do you know what has caused this anger? There' s a saying.
"What wrong have I done to you that makes me so angry with you?"
Anger sometimes serves as a defense against having to acknowl edge guilt.
Long pause.
What are you thinking now?
JAY: Perhaps I owe her respect.
HELLINGER: That ' s not enough. But I' ll give you a clue. A man who
stands next to his father is attractive to women. But if he stands next to
his mot her, they feel sorry for him.
Ang e r as a def ense agai nst pai n
ROB E RT : I ' m also angry in connect i on with my separation from my wife.
HELLINGER: In separations, anger frequently substitutes for the pain of
grieving. If bot h partners allow themselves to grieve, to weep and to feel
the depth of their pain, then they are able to talk amicably afterward.
Peopl e often l ook for guilt in the attempt to escape from this pain, but
they are only free when they have experienced the pain fully.
Cont rol l ed anger
HARRY: I' m torturing myself with the probl em of anger and rage and ag-
gression. I can' t remember ever having allowed myself to express these
HELLINGER: Very good! That' s called emotional cont i nence. It' s found in
alpha animals.
HARRY: I' m wondering (laughs) whether I'll have to express my anger, or
whether I can find a solution that will enable me to stay calm and peaceable.
HELLINGER: I have given you the answer.
HARRY: Then there must be something wrong with my hearing.
Di f f erent ki nds of ange r
HELLINGER: I' ve made some observations about anger. Ther e are several
different kinds of anger.
For example, if someone attacks me or does me an injustice and I re-
act with appropriate anger and rage, this anger enables me to defend and
assert mysel f energetically and effectively. It enables me to act. It is con-
structive and it makes me strong. Thi s kind of anger is to the point and
it dissolves when it has achieved its goal.
I may also become angry because I realize that I' ve not accepted what
I could, or that I' ve not demanded what I ought to have demanded, or
that I' ve not asked for what I could have asked for. Instead of asserting
mysel f and taking what I need, I become angry wi t h t he persons from
whom I have not taken or asked or demanded, although I coul d have or
ought to have taken or asked or demanded from t hem. Thi s anger is a
substitute for action and the result of inaction. It has a paralyzing and
weakeni ng effect and often lasts a l ong time.
Anger as a substitute for l ove works in a similar way. Instead of ex-
pressing my l ove, I become angry wi t h the person I l ove. Thi s sort of
anger goes back to chi l dhood when it was caused by a painful interrup-
tion of a movement t oward my mot her or father. It is repeated in similar
situations later in life and derives its power from the repetition of the
early experi ence.
I somet i mes become angry wi t h someone because I' ve wr onged that
person but don' t want to admit it. I use this anger as a defense against
the consequences of my actions, and I make the ot her person responsible
for my guilt. Thi s anger is also a substitute for action. It enables me to
remai n inactive. It paralyzes me and makes me weak.
I may become angry when someone gives me so much that I cannot
repay t he debt. That ' s hard to bear, getting t oo much that is good, and
I become angry wi t h the giver as a means of defending mysel f against the
obl i gat i on to compensat e. Thi s ki nd of anger is expressed in the form of
bl ame, for exampl e, when children bl ame their parents. It functions as a
substitute for taking, accepting indebtedness, thanking, and acting with
gratitude. It paralyzes those who experi ence it and leaves t hem empty.
Or it may take the form of depression, whi ch also serves as a substitute
for taking, accepting, thanking, and giving. It may also be expressed as
a long-lasting sadness after a separation, particularly if I still owe accep-
tance and gratitude, or fail to ackowl edge my own guilt and its conse-
quences to someone who has died or left.
Somet i mes peopl e are filled wi t h anger they have taken over from
someone else. For exampl e, when a participant in a group suppresses an-
ger, anot her member of the group (usually the weakest one) subsequently
becomes angry for no apparent reason. In families, the weakest member
is a child. Whe n, for exampl e, the mot her suppresses her anger towards
her husband, one of the children often becomes angry wi t h the father i n
her stead.
Th e weakest member of a group or a family often becomes not onlv
the instrument, but also the target, of anger. For exampl e, when people
suppress anger t oward a superior, they often take it out on a weaker per-
son in the company. Or when a husband suppresses his anger t oward his
wife, a child often becomes the target of his anger.
Or a daughter may vent her mother' s anger toward her husband, not
on her father, but on someone with whom she is on a more equal foot-
ing, such as her own husband. In groups, a weaker member of the group
becomes the scapegoat for this assumed anger rather than the stronger
person, the therapist or group leader, for whom it was originally i n-
tended. Those who have taken on anger have a specific quality of rage
and feel proud and righteous, but they are acting with alien energy and
alien righteousness and remain ineffective and weak. The victims of as-
sumed anger also feel strong in their righteous indignation, but, in fact,
they remain weak, and their suffering is pointless.
Finally, there is an anger that is virtuous and beneficial. It is strong,
wakeful, centered, and assertive, and is directed toward appropriate goals.
It is enlightened and courageous, and capable of facing up to hard and
powerful adversaries. But it is without emot i on. Persons experiencing this
kind of anger do not shrink from harming others when necessary, but
they are not angry with the person in question. Thi s aggression is pure
strength. It is the fruit of long discipline and practice, but it comes easily
to those capable of it.
Caut i on and c our age
JONAS: What concerns me at the moment is that I feel confused about my
family of origin. Whe n I was 18, I moved out of our home and settled
190 miles away. Then my mot her got cancer. I realized there was a con-
nection, but I didn' t react at all. The doctors said she was going to die,
but she recovered completely after three years. Just recently, this year, my
parents called to say that my brot her has become mentally ill. He' s 10
years younger than I am. I still don' t feel completely at ease here in this
workshop, and the way you tell people what' s true makes me cautious.
HELLINGER: I'll tell you something: Courage and caution are as far apart
as the t wo ends of a bow. Yet the bow is a single unit and the distance
bet ween the t wo ends is breached by the string. That ' s what creates the
tension that propels the arrow toward its target. But caution alone creates
no tension.
JONAS: I' m not clear about whet her I should try to help my family, even
though I' m afraid that by doing so, I may only succeed in destabilizing
the present system. I would like to take a closer l ook at my fear by set-
ting up my family constellation.
HELLINGER t o Jonas: Wh o bel ongs to your family?
JONAS: My father, my mot her, my younger brot her, and me.
HELLINGER: Is anyone missing in the nuclear family?
JONAS: Yes , there was a stillborn sister.
HELLINGER: She' s important. I hear it in your voi ce. Wh e n was she born
JONAS: Bet ween me and my brot her.
HELLINGER: Was either of your parents previously married or engaged?
JONAS: Yes. My mot her was engaged. Her fiance was killed i n the war.
HELLINGER: We need hi m i n the constellation.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son (= Jonas)
Second child, a daughter, stillborn
3 Third child, a son
Mother's former fiance, killed in the war
HELLINGER to Jonas, who is adding his mother's former fiance to the constellation.
We can see the identification already.
JONAS: My identification wi t h my mot her' s fiance?
I' ll set up the constellation for you. It's very simple.
Diagram 2
HE L L I NGE R : How is the father feeling?
F AT HE R : Okay, but my wife' s former fiance bothers me a bit.
HE L L I NGE R : It is important that he be respected.
Ho w is the mot her feeling?
MO T H E R : I woul d like to turn around a bit so that I can see my former
fiance (laughs).
HE L L I NGE R : Yes. That ' s what you should do. He belongs here. But your
husband must stand bet ween you, otherwise there will be trouble.
to Jonas' representative: How is the older son feeling?
F I R S T CHI LD: I feel fine.
HE L L I NGE R : How about the younger son?
T H I R D CHI LD: I feel very agitated, and I don' t know why.
HE L L I NGE R : How is the dead sister feeling?
S E C OND CHI LDJ - : Good.
MO T H E R ' S F O R ME R FI ANCE +: I woul d like to move closer, but I know
it woul dn' t be right.
HE L L I NGE R to Jonas: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
HE L L I NGE R when Jonas is standing in his place: No w you can say a few sim-
ple words to your mot her. Look at your father and then say to your
mot her, " He is my real father."
Jonas laughs and looks at the fiance.
to the group: He automatically competes with his father because he repre-
sents his mot her' s former fiance. The fiance is important to his mother,
and Jonas represents hi m for her.
t o Jonas: You told us about your going to live far away from home. That ' s
exactly the same thing your mother' s fiance did. But you can stay if you
stand next to your father. That ' s your right place, by your father. Say to
your mot her, "He is my real father."
JONAS to his mother. He is my real father.
HELLINGER: "Onl y hi m. "
JONAS: Onl y him.
HELLINGER: "I ' m not related to the other man. "
JONAS laughing: No, I have nothing to do with the other man. That ' s it.
HELLINGER: I will tell you something about seekers after God.
JONAS: Please do.
HELLINGER: They are seeking their father, and when they find him, they
stop seeking God. Or they do it differently.
Okay, that' s all.
to the group: Any questions?
FRANK: Somet i mes you start by placing the obj ect of the identification
next to the person who is identified with it before movi ng hi m or her
somewhere else. You didn' t do that here.
HELLINGER: No, Jonas' identification was so obvious that it wasn' t neces-
sary. As the workshop progresses, fewer steps are necessary for the solu-
tion because the participants are already familiar with the procedure.
Th e s ys t emi c sense of bal anc e
HELLINGER: Thi s might be a good place to say something about consci-
ence. We have a sense of belonging that binds us to people and groups.
It is constantly guiding and checki ng us, holding us firm in our relation-
ships, j ust as our physical sense of balance allows us to move safely within
the force of gravity. We can allow ourselves to fall forward or backward
or to the right or left, but a reflex action forces us to regain our balance
and get back on an even keel before we really fall.
Similarly, our sense of belonging keeps wat ch over our relationships.
Thi s sense also works like a reflex action that corrects and compensates
whenever we deviate from the conditions that maintain our relationships.
Li ke our physical sense of balance, our sense of bel ongi ng guards us in
the context of our surroundings, knows the extent and limits of our free-
dom, and guides us by means of our pain and our pleasure. We experi-
ence 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 priso-
ners or guests. The 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 differ-
ent groups react differently according to the different values of each dif-
ferent 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 comple-
ment and contradict each other, for example, love and justice, or free-
dom 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 experi-
ence 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.
Somet i mes we experi ence consci ence as simple and as serving a single
purpose, as when we hasten to help a child in need. Mor e usually, how-
ever, we experi ence it as multiple and multifaceted, and our experi ence
of guilt and i nnocence i s correspondingly compl ex. Al t hough we some-
times experi ence consci ence as a single unit, it mor e frequently resembles
a group in whi ch different members aspire t oward different goals wi t h
the help of different feelings of guilt and i nnocence. Somet i mes t hey are
mutually supportive, and somet i mes they keep each ot her in check for
the good of the whol e. Ye t even when they get i n each other' s way,
t hey still serve a c ommon purpose, j ust as a general fights on different
fronts wi t h different armies and different strategies for different goals, and
yet finally partially withdraws the troops on every front in the service of
I have a story for you in this cont ext .
A man who wanted to leave his worries behind plucked up his courage and set out
on a new path. When evening came, he stopped for a rest, and a little way away,
he saw a cave. "That's odd," he thought to himself. He approached the cave and
tried to enter, but the entrance was sealed by an iron door. "That's odd," he
thought to himself. "Perhaps something is going to happen." He sat down where
he could see the cave, and he kept on looking at it and looking away, looking at
it and looking away. And after three days, just as he was looking at it and look-
ing away, he suddenly saw that the door was open. He dashed into the cave at
top speed, and suddenly found himself outside again on the other side.
"That's odd," he thought to himself, and he rubbed his eyes and sat down.
A little way away, he saw a snow-white circle, and in the circle he saw himself,
crouched down and cramped and crooked and radiantly white. And all around the
little white circle huge fiery tongues of shadow licked at its edges as if they were
trying to enter it by force. "That's odd," he thought to himself. "Perhaps some-
thing's going to 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. After three days, just as he was
looking at it and looking away, he saw the little white circle open up. The huge
fiery tongues of shadow broke in, the circle expanded, and at last he had room to
stretch. But now the circle was gray.
Cons c i e nc e and c omp e ns at i on
IDA: I have been feeling freer and mentally mor e alert since Wi l l i am set up
his family constellation. But I' m wondering about something. Whe n the
solution has been found, is there still something that needs to be done?
HELLINGER: In a relationship or in a group, when there' s an inequality be-
t ween the advantage enjoyed by one person and the disadvantage suffered
by another, everyone concerned feels an urge for equilibrium. They ex-
perience this urge as a demand of conscience, and when they fail to fol-
l ow its dictates knowingly, they follow t hem instinctively. Thi s consci -
ence is experi enced as a sense of balance and a need for compensation.
We also feel this need for compensation with respect to fate when we
gain an advantage or have a piece of luck without having done anything
to earn it ourselves.
Whenever someone gives me something, I feel a certain unease even
though that whi ch I have received is pleasing to me. I experience an i n-
debtedness and an obligation that can' t be relieved until I' ve given some-
thing of equal value in return. Whe n the pressure of the obligation drives
me to give something of equal value, I' m liberated from my debt and
feel light and free. Some people try to maintain the feeling of lightness
and freedom by refusing to take something in order to avoid bei ng under
an obligation. Dropout s favor this form of freedom from debt, and so do
helpers who give without taking. But this kind of freedom leaves people
lonely and empty.
Cons t ruc t i ve and dest ruc t i ve equi l i bri um
In a relationship bet ween a man and a woman, when the woman gives
the man something as a way of showing her love, the man feels under
obligation to her until he has given her something in return. But because
he loves her, he gives her a little more than she gave him. No w she feels
an obligation and because she loves him, she gives hi m a little mor e still.
Thi s giving and taking in love increases the vol ume of the couple' s ex-
change, and with it the couple' s happiness, and their relationship grows
stronger. But when the man returns t o the woman something of only
equal value, the pressure of the obligation to equalize and to cont i nue
the exchange ceases.
DAGMAR: And what happens if he gives less in return?
HELLINGER: Whe n a partner gives less than he has received, he is putting
the relationship in jeopardy. I' ll give you an example: The exchange of
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 brief-
ly 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. The 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 mov-
ing 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.
BR I GI TTE : What happens when someone does me a wrong? Do I have to
even it out in the same way?
HE L L I NGE R : We 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 seri-
ously, and he or she will leave me. When I take my revenge in an ap-
propriate 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 escal-
ates, and with it suffering and misfortune.
The question now is: What can partners do to put an end to the nega-
tive 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 posi-
tive one can be resumed.
The limits of compensation
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
died, they have a desire to repay God and fate for their salvation as if
they were partners whose favor must be won through compensation.
People may impose limitations upon themselves, acquire physical symp-
toms, or sacrifice something that they value as a means of trying to ac-
hieve balance, or sometimes someone else may try to compensate instead,
for example, one of their children.
Sometimes people will refuse to accept partners who were previously
engaged or married to someone else, even if that person is dead, because
they would have gained their new partner at the former partner's cost.
Or children of a second marriage may refuse fully to accept their par-
ents and their advantages because room has been made for them by others.
It is even worse if, when fate has been kind to them, they regard
themselves as special and elite and boast about their luck. If they do this,
their luck may change for the worse, no matter how we explain it, be-
cause it becomes intolerable both to themselves and others.
Bal anc e t hrough grat i t ude and humi l i t y
We take advantages that come from fate or God appropriately when we
are simply grateful for an undeserved gift. Gratitude is acceptance without
arrogance. It evens out inequalities without payment of a price. This
gratitude is not the same thing as merely saying "Thank you. " When I
give someone something and the person merely says, "Thank you, " this
is not enough. But when his face lights up and he says, "Thi s is a lovely
present," he has honored both me and the gift. Some people do this with
God and fate as well. They automatically say "Thank you" instead of
lighting up with j oy and taking with love.
Yet anyone who accepts an undeserved gift from fate feels under an
obligation to do something in return. Instead of burdening and limiting
ourselves in some way, however, we may give something positive to
others. Thi s frees us from our obligation in a beneficial way.
But just as we take the positive when it comes to us undeserved, we
must also accept the negative that we did not cause. If we bow to fate
in both good times and bad, we are in harmony with destiny, and free.
This bowi ng to fate I call humility.
Last i ng cl ari ty
DAGMAR : What my family constellation this morning showed was
absolutely correct. I really didn' t honor my mot her. At first I felt a bit
sad, but then I had a feeling of great and lasting clarity. And then there
was a sort of domi no effect inside me. My mot her turned around and
bowed to her mot her with respect, and her mot her said to her, as my
mot her said to me, "I am not wort hy of it. " It doesn' t matter to me any
more whet her my grandfather pulled the wool over my grandmother' s
eyes or it was the other way around. I can be detached about it.
Already my inner relationships with the men in my family have
changed, for example, my relationship with my brother. That' s new. I' m
very curious about what' s going to happen next. Inwardly, I' ve gone over
to my father's side, and I have changed my likes and dislikes around. But
I still have a question: What happens when someone has not been hon-
ored? My paternal grandmother lost her daughter when she was 6 months
old, and I have the impression that she did not really honor or accept eith-
er her husband or her t wo sons who were born later. Is there anything
I should do?
HELLINGER: No. You must acknowledge the fact that your grandmother
remained bound up in the pain caused by the death of her daughter and
was not free for the others.
Leavi ng t he past i n p e ac e
HELLINGER to Dagmar. There' s something I' d like to say to you. Ther e is
a law in families and extended families that stipulates that the past must,
after a time, be allowed to be over and past. Thi s is very important. For
example, what happened in your grandmother' s generation must now be
allowed to be over and past. The same thing applies to symptoms like
the symptoms you, Frank, described a little while ago: if they are allowed
to be over and past, they may leave you in peace. Everything obeys the
law of transitoriness, and we acknowledge and honor this law if, at the
appropriate time, we allow what is transitory to be over and what is past
to be past. We may only go back into the past if it is necessary to deal
with something that is holding us back, or in order to recover something
that we left there and whi ch we need for our future. Thi s is the reason
that we should not go back t oo far, unless there is something really seri-
ous that still has an adverse effect in the present. The fifth generation, for
example, is t oo far back. The furthest we should go is the fourth genera-
tion. In families that are proud of their tall family trees, ugly things are
often not allowed to rest for a long time.
DAGMAR: Letting things rest in peace in this sense is a wonderful ex-
HELLINGER: We find peace when we allow things to rest, for example, the
dead. Then they are at peace. In Ri l ke' s Duino Elegies there is a beautiful
passage in whi ch he writes:
"In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us: they are
weaned from earth's sorrows and joys, as gently as children outgrow the
soft breasts of their mothers."
The dead need a little time to be weaned from life on earth, for they are
in a different realm and they must be allowed to stay there. In another
of Ri l ke' s poems, Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes, Orpheus wants to bring
Eurydi ce back from the dead. But she hesitates, for:
"She was content within herself.
And being dead fulfilled her
like completion."
Anything else, Dagmar? You really do have a clear l ook about you now.
All t hat remai ns of fire i s ashes
DAGMAR: I feel wonderful, really wonderful. But there' s still something
else that I' m rather reluctant to talk about.
HELLINGER: Don' t talk about it now. First of all, trust your reluctance.
Make certain that it's right for you to talk about it, that it's appropriate.
If you are doubtful, it isn' t appropriate.
DAGMAR: It seems right to me to talk about it. I have not i ced .. .
HELLINGER: No, stop. My perception is that it is not appropriate at the
moment .
HELLINGER to the group: It is important that therapists respect and protect
secrets. If we try to t hrow light on something that does not shine of its
own accord, it loses its luminosity at once.
IDA: Whe n I see what is happening here, I have the feeling that I bot h un-
derstand and do not understand.
HELLINGER: Ther e are things that move us, although we cannot grasp
them. They remain secret. If we try to analyze t hem in order to under-
stand t hem fully, all that remains of the fire is ashes.
No mo r e bac k pai ns
U NA: I feel fine. I was very tired, but now I feel I can participate again
I want to thank everyone who helped me by taking part in my family
constellations. Yes, I really feel good at the moment . And the pains in
my back have gone. I nearly forgot to ment i on that.
I N E Q U A L I T Y I N A C O U P L E ' S R E L A T I O N S H I P A N D
B R I G I T T E : NOW that I have decided to work, I should like to start at once.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay.
B R I G I T T E : Shall I set up my own family o f origin or my daughter' s? My
probl em concerns my daughter.
HE L L I NGE R : Set up your present family with all the men, women, and
children who bel ong to it.
B R I GI T T E : I have been married twice. My first husband left us and later
HE L L I NGE R : Wh y did you separate? What happened?
B R I G I T T E : I was studying psychology, and when I had compl et ed my stud-
ies, I didn' t need hi m any more.
HE L L I NGE R : That ' s a good example o f the dynamic of compensation.
Whe n one partner in a marriage learns a profession while the ot her part-
ner pays for it, it very often happens that the partner who was provided
for later leaves the marriage. The partner who was given a career is unable
to even out the inequality by giving something of equal value in return.
A marriage cannot survive with such a crass inequality. It has to be evened
out. The same thing applies when the wife pays for her husband to study
during their marriage. He often leaves her as soon as he has completed
his studies. If you love someone, it's a good idea not to give the person
mor e than he or she can repay. Yo u still owe your husband something.
B R I G I T T E : I have very specific and selective memori es o f his weaknesses.
But I know I still owe hi m something.
HE L L I NGE R : Memori es are deliberate.
B R I G I T T E : Yesterday and the day before I tried to find some photos o f him
to put into a frame with some other photos, but my children had taken
all the photos. I couldn' t find any of t hem
HE L L I NGE R : Your children are making up for what you failed to do.
B R I G I T T E : My husband remarried and had t wo children with his second
HELLI NGER: We ' l l need t he m for t he const el l at i on t oo.
BRI GI TTE : My s econd husband br ought t wo chi l dr en i nt o our mar r i age.
Hi s first wi f e di ed.
Brigitte starts setting up her family constellation.
HELLI NGER: I' ll do i t for you. In this case, it' s ver y si mpl e.
Diagram 1
I Hb First husband, father of 1-4 and 5- 6
W Wi f e, mot he r of 1 -4 ( = Bri gi t t e)
1 First child, a daughter
2 Second child, a daughter
3 Third child, a daughter
4 Fourth child, a daughter
2W First husband's second wife, mother of 5 - 6
5 First husband's first child with second wife, a daughter
6 Second child with second wife, a son
2Hb Second husband, father of 7- 8
2 Hb l Wf Second husband's first wife, deceased, mother of 78
7 First child of second husband's first marriage, a son
8 Second child of second husband's first marriage, a daughter
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w are the daughters feeling?
F I R S T CHI LD (the problem child): Ther e' s strength on either side o f me.
S E C O N D CHI LD: I feel compl et e.
T H I R D CHI LD: I am impressed.
F O U R T H CHI LD: I feel fine.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w is the father feeling?
F I R S T HU S BAND: I was very t ouched when I heard that my daughters t ook
my phot os. Bef or e that, I felt that I had no relationship to anyone.
HE L L I NGE R : Th e children bel ong wi t h their father. Thei r mot her has no
right t o t hem. The y bel ong with their father' s family.
Ho w i s the second wife feeling?
S E C O N D WI F E : Okay.
F I F T H CHI LD: Okay.
H E L L I N G E R to the second wife's two children: The y are all your siblings.
S I X T H CHI LD: Ther e are rather a lot o f women.
HE L L I NGE R : For you, yes.
Ho w i s the second husband feeling?
S E C O N D HU S BAND: I don' t t hi nk this gap bet ween me and my wife came
about by chance. But it's okay like this.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w about his first wife?
S E C O N D HU S BAND' S F I R S T WI F E + : It' s okay.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w are his children feeling?
S E VE NT H CHI LD: They' r e an interesting lot.
E I G H T H CHI LD: I feel good.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w i s the wife feeling?
WI F E : I don' t feel good at all. I feel suffocated. It' s all t oo much. I woul d
like to be in a smaller circle.
F I R S T CHI LD: I want to move closer to my father.
HE L L I NGE R : Exact l y.
Hellinger changes the constellation.
Diagram 2
WI FE: It' s much better like this, but I feel sad about losing my daughters.
I feel very drawn to them.
HELLINGER: Yo u have forfeited your chance of having t hem trust you.
They feel better with your husband and his system, and they bel ong
there. Yo u must not take t hem away from him. Yo u owe t hem t o him.
BRIGITTE: I' m in the process of separating from my second husband.
HELLINGER: The representatives' reactions show that you have no place in
his system either. You don' t bel ong to either system.
Hettinger sets up the solution.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER to the wife: How do you feel in this position?
WIFE: It' s okay.
HELLINGER: It's the fitting place for you.
WIFE: It' s okay. Yes, it's better. It gives me space.
SECOND CHILD: For the first time, I am aware of a living feeling bet ween
me and my mot her.
FIRST CHILD: I feel I have some contact with her now.
HELLINGER t o the group: We are looking at the consequences of an irre-
sponsible separation. People who separate irresponsibly forfeit their right
to make a claim as full members of the system.
t o Brigitte: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Brigitte goes to her place in the constellation.
HELLINGER: If you like, you can try standing in different places and see
where you feel best.
BRIGITTE: I' m the one who' s been betrayed.
HELLINGER: No. You are only bearing the consequences of your decision.
If you don' t bear the consequences, your daughters will.
BRIGITTE: Yes, I have to bear them. She weeps.
HELLINGER: That woul d be a good thing to do, but you haven' t agreed
to do so yet.
BRIGITTE: That could be.
HELLINGER: Your reactions show that you haven' t agreed yet, but your
pain has a healing effect. It reconciles your daughters with their mot her.
Brigitte nods.
HELLINGER: Okay, that's all.
t o the group: We saw here that when people do something for themselves
wi t hout sufficient concern for others, like Brigitte did, they cannot es-
cape the consequences and they must accept them. It was unjust that her
husband was wronged and his children were taken from him. The one
who leaves must stay alone, and the children must stay with the one who
has been wronged. Thi s is an important principle.
BRIGITTE: The reason I started studying was that my husband had been
carrying on a relationship with another woman for a year and a half.
HELLINGER: He also has a share of the guilt. That ' s an important additional
aspect, but it isn' t sufficient to change the dynamic of the constellation,
whi ch leaves you standing alone, bearing the responsibility for your part
of what happened. Whe n you remember what happened with you as the
victim and your husband as the perpetrator, it might reduce your guilty
feelings, but it also makes it impossible for you to act effectively to
compl et e the solution.
J eal ous y and c omp e ns at i on
CLAUDIA: I have a question. Brigitte started studying and compl et ed her
studies. Then came the separation. But it was her husband who left, not
her. At least, that's how I understood it.
HELLINGER: Tryi ng to figure out who left first doesn' t make a difference
for Brigitte, because the dynamics of her situation are clear. The details
are not so important. Remember the basic rule of this work, that things
are usually the opposite of what people say. Wi t h jealousy, for example,
the j ealous partner in fact usually wants to make the other one leave, not
stay, although she acts as if she' s jealous because she wants hi m to stay.
Consi der the effect of someone' s bei ng jealous of you. Does i t make you
want to move closer, or do you pull back?
Jealousy is a way of trying to make the other person guilty for the
separation, but the actual guilt and its consequences are as they are, re-
gardless of whi ch partner physically leaves first. Somet i mes a partner will
leave the marriage as a favor to the other. But when one partner does
somet hi ng that doesn' t contribute to the marriage at the other partner' s
expense, and her partner pays for it, she effectively ends the relationship.
It usually works well for the wife' s parents to pay for her studies, and it
is okay for the husband' s parents to pay for his studies.
t o Brigitte: Wh o supported the family while you studied?
HELLINGER: Then the dynamics are not the same as they woul d have been
if your husband had paid.
Your studies were a way of freeing yourself from your relationship
wi t h your husband, and maybe you wanted to avenge yourself on him
for his relationship with another woman. Your mot i ve may have been
to get even with him. The question is: Whi ch of you was hurt mor e by
the other? Yo u or him? Whos e was the greater revenge? Thi s is really
what you were referring to when you asked about negative compensation
yesterday. Thi s is something that you must take into consideration what-
ever you decide to do.
I nnoc e nc e and gui l t
There' s another dynamic that I' ve seen in relationship systems. The i nno-
cent party is always the more dangerous one. His is the greater anger,
and his actions are most destructive to the relationship. He loses his sense
of proportion because he feels he is in the right. The guilty party is usually
far mor e prepared to give in and make reparations. Attempts at reconcili-
ation usually go wrong because of the i nnocent party, not the guilty one.
Unf ai thf ul ness and f aithf ulness
T HE A: I ' m still thinking about the fact that although Brigitte only started
studying psychology a year and a half after her husband had become in-
volved with another woman, the constellation nevertheless showed that
she had forfeited her claim to her daughters. As a woman, I feel this is
HELLINGER: On the surface, it seems like that, but if we l ook more
closely, is it really so unjust? What you are overlooking is the guilt of the
i nnocent party. In systemic work, it's rare that one person has all the
guilt and the other none. As a rule, the guilty partner has no angry feel-
ings toward the partner, but the i nnocent partner feels righteous anger,
and his guilt is made worse by the fact that it is disguised as i nnocence
and as a sense of j ustice. What is really so terrible about someone having
a relationship outside of his, or her, marriage? What real harm is done?
The i nnocent partner claims a moral right to fidelity when the fact of the
affair shows that a different dynamic is operating. That is presumptuous,
to use a moral claim as if fidelity of the heart could be legislated with
will power. Instead of trying to keep her partner through love, she perse-
cutes hi m and actually makes it impossible for hi m to come back to her.
I' m in favor of a more human and moderate course. I have a deep re-
spect for fidelity, but the fidelity I respect is the result of love, not moral
legislation. Marriage partners often want to be the only persons who are
important to their partners. But sometimes a husband or wife meets
someone else who is important, and their partners deny the reality of the
situation when they persecute t hem for this. If they want love to suc-
ceed, bot h partners must respect the situation as it is, and then they have
a chance to find a good solution for everyone. But this can only happen
through love. Do you get a feel for the dynamic I' m describing?
THEA: Yes.
HELLINGER: Ther e is also another aspect to consider. One partner' s fight
to keep the other partner often draws its energy from the inner child' s
fear of losing the mot her. If that's the case, the demand for faithfulness
is actually directed more toward his mot her than his partner. Faithfulness
in marriage, particularly when it entails an element of self-sacrifice, is the
transference of the child' s loyalty to the mot her onto the husband or
wife. Whe n this is so, an unfinished situation from the past is bei ng
brought into the present in a damaging way. It isn' t real.
Let me give you an example: A little while ago I received a letter
from a man telling me that he had become engaged. His fiancee had told
hi m that her love for hi m was only a transference, and that she wanted
to be independent and free to have other relationships. He felt he must
nevertheless remain faithful to her, and wait for her to come back to
him. I wrot e him the following letter:
" You show faithfulness toward your partner in the same uncritical way
children do toward their mothers. For this reason, your feelings are de-
ceiving you. She is not your mot her and she does not deserve that kind
of loyalty."
He wrot e back saying that when he read my letter, he immediately
felt liberated. He t ook off his engagement ring and was free for whatever
the future held.
As s ume d f eelings of revenge
UNA: On the one hand, I' m still thinking about Brigitte' s system. The
orders of love you describe have an inexorability about them, and they
seem to wor k at a very deep level, even though I' d like to believe that
they are j ust your beliefs. I' ve been thinking about this a lot.
On the ot her hand, I' m concerned with something t o do wi t h me and
my mot her. I was married for only a very short time, and during my
marriage, my husband was frequently unfaithful to me, and when I left
him, I felt absolutely innocent. Whi ch brings me to my identification with
my mother, because something similar happened to her. My father meant
well when he sent her and my ailing brother to recuperate with her family,
but while she was away, he had an affair with his secretary, who became
the mot her of his second child. I was aware of my mother' s vengeful
feelings toward my father, but having watched the constellations here,
I' ve gotten the idea that I t ook over her feelings. Thi s is something new,
and it' s connect ed to a sensation of heat. But it feels okay to let it be.
Ref l ec t i ons on i nnoc e nc e
CARL: I just l ooked at my watch and realized that today' s wor k is almost
over, and I' m surprised at how fresh and energetic I still feel. I' ve been
thinking about what you said about the i nnocent party being the danger-
ous one. Thi s made a very powerful impression on me.
Gifts f or one' s mo t he r
CLAUDIA: I feel agitated. I' m thinking about my mot her. Wal t er has just
left because it's his mother' s birthday t omorrow and he wants to visit her.
Tomor r ow is my mother' s birthday as well, but I' m damned if I am go-
ing to see her. Thi s really began yesterday morni ng when you .. . She
starts to cry.
HELLINGER: Sl ow down a minute! Tr y thinking about what a gift you can
take her from this workshop. It's a wonderful opportunity to surprise her,
but be sure to let her know in advance that you are bringing her some-
thing special. So you can stay here t omorrow with a clear consci ence.
CLAUDIA laughing: I' ve never tried to do anything like that before, but it
appeals to me.
Cri ses are mo s t easily resol ved af t er t hey p eak
ROBERT: I ' m separated from my wife and I feel worried because I have
to decide soon whet her to give up my house and remain with my son.
HELLINGER: It's all much t oo early. A crisis can only be resolved when it
has reached its peak.
I was once headmaster of a big school. Ther e were often crises, but
I woul d observe the fermentation process for days on end until the crisis
reached its peak. Then it was quickly resolved. At the peak, it's very easy
to find a solution.
ROBERT: Yes, but I have to decide, when I see my wife again. She sug-
gested that we meet, but I didn' t want to. I haven' t had any contact with
her at all for three months.
HELLINGER: No w you must wait until you feel the time is right for you.
The ball is in your court. You must contact her in any case.
ROBERT: I know that. It's j ust a matter of when and how.
HELLINGER: You' l l know at once when the time is ripe. Even when you
already know how you' re going to decide, you have to give yourself
t i me to gather strength to carry out the decision.
ROBERT: I find it very hard to wait.
HELLINGER: That' s because you are not a warrior. Warriors know how to
wait. In a battle, when the enemy attacks, you have to wait until he is
within 20 0 feet before you act. That ' s very hard. It is easier to fire bl i nd-
ly when the enemy is still a mile away. But what will it achieve?
FRANK: I have a question about my separation. I have not i ced that in
family constellations, for example, Brigitte' s, the father always has custody
of the children. What does this mean in my case?
HELLINGER: It has no bearing on your relationship with your children. It
only applied to the relationship in Brigitte' s constellation. We don' t yet
know what is appropriate in your case. If you want to find out, you can
set up your family constellation.
FRANK: I woul d like to do that.
HELLINGER: Then do it now.
FRANK: The members of my family are my divorced wife, me, t wo chi l -
dren, and Dagmar, my present partner, who is here with me.
HELLINGER: Was either of you married before?
FRANK: Dagmar was.
HE L L I NGE R : We will need her husband t oo.
Frank sets up the constellation of his present family.
Diagram 1
Hu s b a n d , f at her of 1 a nd 2 ( = Fr a nk)
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
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w is the husband feeling?
HU S B AND: Whe n my present partner came and stood by me, it gave me
a feeling of warmth. But I miss my children.
HE L L I NGE R : HOW is the divorced wife feeling?
F I R S T WI FE : I can' t say.
F I R S T CHI LD: AS I' m standing now I have no contact with my father. I
also have the feeling that I will lose contact with my mot her if I move
closer to my father.
HE L L I NGE R : Move closer to hi m so that you can see how it feels.
The son stands next to his father.
F I R S T CHI LD: That feels better. I also have more contact with my mot her.
S E C O N D CHI LD: I feel okay here, but I' d rather do something on my own.
FIRST WIFE: I can' t believe my eyes.
HELLINGER to the daughter. Go and stand by your brother.
to the f irst wife: Tur n around and face away from them. How is that?
HUSBAND: That feels very good to me, too.
HELLINGER to the first wife: Take a step forward. How does that feel?
SECOND PARTNER' S FIRST HUSBAND: I have nothing to do with any of
t hem, but there is still some tension bet ween me and my former partner.
The former partner laughs.
Hellinger changes the constellation.
HELLINGER to Frank and Dagmar: Now go and stand in your places in the
HELLINGER to the daughter. Do you feel okay there?
SECOND CHILD: Yes, although I think there will be trouble bet ween me
and the ot her woman.
HELLINGER: Yes, of course! You will represent your mot her for her.
FIRST CHILD: I miss my mother, t oo.
FIRST WIFE: I was curious to see what' s going to happen now.
She has turned to face the family again.
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: What does it feel like, looking at your family from this dis-
FIRST WIFE: Mor e complete.
FRANK: I' m amazed.
HELLINGER: That is a clear, simple solution. Okay, that's all.
FRANK after sitting down again: I don' t understand it all yet, but I' ve sudden-
ly realized a few things.
HELLINGER: Just enjoy that! It's enough if you j ust enjoy it.
FRANK: I' m very uncertain about it.
HELLINGER: Enj oy it however uncertain you are. Ther e are people who
can' t enjoy their soup until they have found the hair in it. But it's possi-
ble to forget about the hair and finish the soup anyway.
Okay, it's always the same with you. Happiness creates fear. And it brings
FRANK: I think I have to be clearer in my mi nd before I can take on any
HELLINGER: It is clear that your wife is drawn to her country of origin and
her system, and that the children must stay with you. She was very re-
lieved when she saw that.
FRANK: I always felt guilty.
HELLINGER: It' s unnecessary to talk about guilt in this case. Ther e are
ot her dynamics at work, and it's right as it is.
Okay, we' ll stop here for today.
Th e r ound
HELLINGER: Good morning. I' d like to start again today with a round.
Everyone will get a chance to say what' s going on, or to ask questions
or make comment s about the work.
PARTICIPANT: Before we start, I have a question about that. What happens
here is very different from any group therapy I' ve experienced. Ther e are
almost no interactions bet ween participants, and all the contact happens
bet ween you and the client. It's almost like individual therapy in a group
setting. Can you say something about your thinking behi nd that? Yo u
seem to actively discourage us from participating.
HELLINGER: I actually strongly encourage your participation, but I do
shape it. Many years ago, in Sout h Africa, I got my start as a therapist
worki ng with group dynamics in ecumenical and interracial groups.
Ther e were very intense interactions bet ween participants in those
groups, and a great deal was accomplished. But here, we are doing
somet hi ng different, as you noticed, and you all need a different freedom.
In a "round, " everyone has the freedom to talk about the effects of
the work and to ask questions, voice objections, and make comment s. Or
you may wor k on personal issues that are important and appropriate.
Whe n the others remain attentive and centered and let the speaker talk
wi t hout interrupting, then each participant in turn has the chance to say
what is on his or her mi nd freely and doesn' t need to worry about bei ng
distracted by other group members' remarks or objections.
You' ve probably noticed how important the other participants are in
maintaining a group atmosphere in whi ch the wor k can happen at this
depth. The work couldn' t happen i f you weren' t actively contributing t o
the group atmosphere. The others in the group are also important part-
ners for the therapist, because as soon as someone starts to digress and
gets carried away with explanations and justifications, the group becomes
restless. That' s a good clue for the therapist that something is not right,
and he or she can interrupt and move on to the next person. That helps
the whol e group to maintain concentration and to create an atmosphere
that is respectful of the seriousness of the themes people bring. As l ong
as a participant is worki ng on something truly important, then the group
remains attentive and centered, even if the work takes a long time. In
fact, issues that are important for one person t ouch everyone, and when
one person resolves something that is important to hi m or her, the others
profit as well without having to work themselves. Everyone works for
everyone else. It's very efficient.
There' s another point t o consider. Much of what we wor k with here
is the result of entanglements that a family system imposed on a child,
and that a child accepted out of love. They often are things we didn' t
choose and couldn' t defend ourselves against. Wor ki ng at that level ex-
poses bot h our child' s loyalty and our i nnocent defenselessness. People
feel safer opening up to that level when they don' t have to worry about
comment s, criticism, feedback, or suggestions from other group members.
No matter how well meaning, comment s can easily hurt and shame that
tender place where we all still love innocently, like little children. Group
process and group dynamics are effective methods for ot her tasks, but
they j ust don' t offer the level of safety we need in order to work as we
do here.
So we sacrifice some interactions bet ween members in order to make
it safe to do what we do here.
As s ume d s ymp t o ms
ANNE: I feel fine. I sense that quite a lot has been happening inside me,
and several things have become clearer. I now realize that I ' m identified
wi t h someone, and possibly with several people . . .
HELLINGER: No, as a rule, identification is limited to one person. If there
are more, it tends to make people crazy.
ANNE: Wel l , I suspect that I' m identified with my grandmother. Some-
times I feel it physically in the way I breathe, as if I can' t breathe deeply
and only use the upper part of my body. I also hold my breath some-
times, for example, when I' m afraid or in a situation involving conflict.
At these times, I also make myself as small physically as possible. I re-
member that my grandmother frequently acted paranoid. Whe n I was a
child, she often asked me to go and see if there was anyone hiding. I
think I t ook on some of her fear, and I often held my breath in these
HELLINGER: What woul d be a good thing to do in such a situation?
ANNE: Breat he, I expect.
HELLINGER: To l ook at your grandmother with love and say to her, "I' m
holding my breath for you." (pause) Have you found a way to take thai
ANNE: I ' m trying to.
HELLINGER: DO you feel your l ove for her? It will make you free i f you
allow it to come to light. Anyt hi ng else, Anne?
ANNE: Yes . Thi s morni ng, for the first t i me, I realized that when I talk
about my father' s parents, I do not say that they are dead but that t hey
were murdered.
HELLINGER: Mur der ed by whom?
ANNE: It was during the t i me of the Nazis. I come from a Jewi sh family.
HELLINGER: That i s always very, very important. Do you know what I' ve
observed? A Jewi sh woman can' t marry a Ger man man.
ANNE: I marri ed a German.
HELLINGER: It can' t work. A Jewi sh woman can' t successfully marry a
Ger man man. It' s bound t o go wrong. I' ve never seen i t work. Th e
ot her way around seems to wor k okay, when a Jewi sh man marries a
Ger man woman, but not vi ce versa. It j ust doesn' t wor k out.
JOHN: Is it possible to explain somet hi ng like that, or does it j ust happen?
HELLINGER: I don' t even try to explain it. It' s j ust an observation I' ve
to Anne: Have you ever seen a marriage bet ween a Jewi sh woman and a
non- Jewi sh man work?
ANNE: Yes .
HELLINGER: Have you really?
ANNE: I have.
HELLINGER: Okay, then perhaps my statement was t oo global. Maybe it' s
mor e accurate to say that it' s very difficult.
ANNE: I ' m aware of the difficulties, bel i eve me. The truth i s that I ' m sepa-
rated from my husband because we coul dn' t make i t work.
HELLINGER: Wh e n a Jewi sh woman marries a non- Jewi sh man, especially
a Ger man man, she implicitly renounces her Jewi sh faith. But that' s
somet hi ng a J e w can' t do. The bond created by their c ommon fate cr e-
ates a bond bet ween J ews that is so strong that it' s usually impossible to
truly break it.
ANNE: Wh y do you say it is different wi t h a Jewi sh man?
HELLINGER: It may have somet hi ng to do wi t h what I said yesterday about
the woman following the man. Wh e n a Jewi sh woman does that, she
implicitly leaves her faith. A non-Jewi sh woman can fol l ow a Jewi sh man
and remai n true to her faith, but it doesn' t seem to wor k the ot her way
GEORGE: Isn' t it because Judai sm is passed on by the women? Thi s woul d
mean that the children woul d automatically leave their father' s family.
HELLINGER: Perhaps, but what I know for sure is what I' ve seen and heard
from actual couples I' ve wor ked wi t h over the years: A Jewi sh woman
injures her bond wi t h the system of values she grew up wi t h when she
marries a non- Jewi sh man. Thi s i s onl y one of many aspects. But what -
ever the reason, I' ve very often seen that a Jewi sh woman and a non-
Jewi sh man have a very difficult t i me maki ng a marriage wor k.
ANNE: But I chose this man. What makes it even mor e compl i cat ed is that
my husband was a candidate for the priesthood. He is a Cat hol i c t he-
ologian. His mot her never i nt ended hi m t o marry.
HELLINGER: That ' s not so hard to resolve. That ' s no reason not to marry
hi m or to leave hi m. The difficulty is mor e likely to lie wi t h you and
your parents and your fate.
R OB E R T : Perhaps t he percent age o f Jewi sh bl ood plays a part. Perhaps it
makes a difference if someone is onl y hal f or a quarter Jewi sh?
HELLINGER: I don' t want to go into the legalistic aspects now. Th e i mpor-
tant thing is to identify the forces that are at work. Th e details have to
be verified.
t o Anne: Yo u have given us some important information. It will make it
easier for us to set up your family constellation.
Th e ap p r op r i at e me a s ur e
IDA: My heart i s racing, and my question is: Ho w does one fi nd the appro-
priate measure?
HELLINGER: Th e appropriate measure?
IDA: Yes , the appropriate measure.
HELLINGER: Ther e' s an i nner orientation. If you pay attention to it and are
fully cent ered, you can sense when the balance bet ween expressing and
wi t hhol di ng is right. We frequently try to find the right balance through
our intellect, and it often turns out wrong. The i nner sense is a more
trustworthy orientation. For exampl e, i f you feel somet hi ng very strongly,
like Una' s feeling t oward her mot her the day before yesterday, and you
trust this feeling and allow yoursel f to experi ence it fully, t hen it shows
you what' s appropriate t o express. If you do this, you keep your sense ot
proport i on and stay wi t hi n appropriate limits.
It' s a different mat t er when someone imagines a feeling instead of ex-
peri enci ng it fully, like Wi l l i am did wi t h his feeling of bei ng a victim.
That feeling was col ored by his past. Yo u lose your sense of proportion
and go beyond the appropriate limits because you are not cent ered in
yourself and in the present. But a feeling that springs directly from a real
situation is always appropriate, even if it may seem to be excessive, and
you know immediately when you have reached the limit. In a similar
way, you can sense the appropriate limit in other situations. Some people
think that if they allow themselves less space and less scope, they will be
safer. But they' re not really, because we are safe within the whol e extent
of the appropriate limits, and sometimes they' re very wide.
IDA: Does that mean that in the case of compensation and atonement I must
wait until I have found the appropriate measure for giving and taking?
HELLINGER: Bal ance results from your interaction with an actual situation
or task, or with an actual person. Yo u can' t work it out beforehand.
E x o ne r a t e d
WILLIAM: I slept very well, and I suddenly seem to have lots of time.
WILLIAM: And I feel good in other ways, t oo.
Th e hi gh p ri c e
HELLINGER: How are you feeling, Clara?
CLARA: Good. But I' m pretty exhausted.
HELLINGER: Of course.
CLARA: There' s something I' d like to ask you. Ever since the t heme of
compensation and at onement came up yesterday, I' ve been thinking
about my accident. I had a serious car accident nine years ago, and
whenever I thought of compensation and at onement in connect i on wi t h
the accident, I thought of my relationship with the man I was wi t h when
the accident happened. But I was wondering yesterday whet her the acci -
dent had something directly to do with my family.
HELLINGER: That' s possible.
CLARA: You mean about the family?
HELLINGER: Yes. What are you going to do about it now?
CLARA: I don' t know.
HELLINGER: We can' t change the consequences of the accident. They are
something you have to bear. But you can make t hem less burdensome
by allowing t hem to remind you of what happened yesterday, and by
giving everyone who belongs to your family a place in your heart. You
must accept the rest as your fate.
to the group: I woul d like to say something about trauma, accidents, and
misfortune. Many people who have had a hard fate, for example, people
who have been tortured or who have escaped from concentration camps,
often overl ook the most important thing.
CLARA: That they survived?
HELLINGER: Yes, that in that sense, it ended well. That' s the hardest thing
to accept.
Some time ago, a man phoned me and told me that he had been to
Rhodes with a group, and when he was there, he and the group crawled
through a very narrow ancient aqueduct. In the middle of the tunnel, he
panicked. He managed to get out and returned to the hotel. Ther e he
had another panic attack. He packed and left for home at once, and
when he got back home, he had another panic attack in the night. Whe n
he described this to me on the telephone, I said, "Those feelings are con-
nect ed with your birth." Then I promised him that when I had a place
free in a workshop, I woul d let hi m know. He came to a workshop and
reexperi enced his birth. But it didn' t help. I asked him, "What happened
at your birth. " He said, " My mot her nearly bled to death." I said,
"Okay, kneel down, l ook at the wall and imagine your mot her, l ook at
her and say, ' I take from you my life at the price you had to pay for
it.' " But he couldn' t say it. It was t oo hard for him. After three days, he
was able to say it, and then everything was okay.
t o Clara: That was the meaning of your deep bows yesterday: you accepted
your life from each person at the price it cost them. And they all wished
you well, didn' t they? That' s how it is: someone who has paid a price
wants to see that it wasn' t in vain.
CLARA: You mean the accident was the price?
HELLINGER: No, the others paid the price for your life, and they want to
see that it wasn' t in vain. So if you accept your life at the price that the
others paid and make something of it, they will be reconciled with the
price. But if you allow yourself to be wretched, the price they paid will
have been in vain. Agreed?
HELLINGER: Good. Anything else?
CLARA: Thank you.
Th e base f eel i ng, and ho w t o c hange i t
SOPHIE: I slept well last night, in t wo different phases. After sleeping really
deeply for a time, I woke up, and at first, I felt quite calm. But then all
sorts of things that had happened in the past came to mi nd. I haven' t any
specific probl ems wi t h my family, but I suddenly felt very strongly that
I owe my present wel l -bei ng to the fact that I was in a safe position wi t h
my father when my mot her died.
HELLINGER: Wh e n did your mot her die?
SOPHIE: Wh e n I was j ust 7 years old. My siblings had quite a bad t i me.
HELLINGER: Wh e n you l ook at peopl e, you can somet i mes see their base
feeling. Th e base feeling i s the feeling you go back t o when you want
t o avoid stress. Wh e n you become mor e happy or less happy than that
base feeling, your stress goes up. If you i magi ne a scale ranging from
mi nus 10 0 at the bot t om to plus 10 0 at the top, I' d guess that your base
feeling is around minus 50. Peopl e in the minus range are usually missing
one of their parents. Anne, for exampl e, is in the plus range. Wi l l i am is
in the mi nus range. Strangely enough, Clara is fairly high up on t he
scale. It is said that you can' t change your base feeling. However , I have
found a way to do it.
SOPHIE laughing: I wish you' d tell me how.
HELLINGER: I woul dn' t have bot hered wi t h this l ong i nt roduct i on if I
weren' t goi ng to. If you manage t o integrate the missing or excl uded
parent, your base feeling rises by 75 points.
Laughter in the group.
t o Sophie: Yo u lost your mot her when you were 7, so of course you miss
her. That ' s quite clear. But you can make up for it by giving her a place
in your heart. A child who loses one of the parents isn' t strong enough
to bear the pain of gri ef and sadness. Instead, the child reacts wi t h anger.
Anger is the child' s way of grieving. Later, when she wants to get i nt o
cont act wi t h her grief, she can' t find it, and she experi ences anger i n-
stead. Thi s makes her ashamed, because she isn' t bei ng true to her actual
experi ence. But , in fact, anger is a form of gri ef appropriate to a child.
Parents know that. Your mot her woul d understand.
Of what did your mot her die?
SOPHIE: Of t he results of an operation. Th e truth i s that she was psychoso-
matically ill. She was always ill, and she j ust coul dn' t get well.
HELLINGER: Ther e' s somet hi ng I' d like t o do wi t h you, t o help you get
i nt o cont act with your mot her and feel your l ove for her. It' s not all that
dramatic, but we' l l onl y do i t i f you want to.
SOPHIE: It frightens me a bit.
HELLINGER: One is always afraid when one approaches essentials. But it
is quite simple, and it will do you good.
Pe a c e t hr ough l ove
HELLINGER t o Clara: Woul d you help me, please?
HELLINGER: Li e down on the floor on your back, close your eyes, and just
lie there.
t o Sophie: No w lie down beside her, on your back, a little way away, so
that your head is level with hers.
No w imagine that you' re a child lying next to your ill mot her, and l ook
across at her with love. Look at her. Breat he deeply.
Yo u are seeing her in her illness. Look at her with love.
Sophie breathes violently, feels her grief, and weeps with her eyes open.
HELLINGER: Wi t h love! What did you call your mot her when you were
a child?
SOPHIE: " Mummy. "
HELLINGER: Say "Dear Mummy. "
SOPHIE: Dear Mummy.
HELLINGER: "Dear Mummy. " Wi t h all your love. Say it with all the pow-
er of your love, "Dear Mummy. "
SOPHIE: Dear Mummy. Sophie begins to sob.
HELLINGER: Say it quietly.
SOPHIE: Dear Mummy.
HELLINGER: And say, "Dear Mummy, give me your blessing."
SOPHIE: Dear Mummy, give me your blessing.
HELLINGER: after a pause, when Sophie's grief is subsiding: Okay, that's all.
to the group: Do you see how radiant she is? Beautiful!
The basic therapeutic met hod is healing through love. Whe n you contact
love, you' re ready for the next step.
S ec ret happi ness
HARRY: HOW do you assess my base level?
Laughter in the group.
HELLINGER: Strangely enough, on the plus side.
HARRY: That surprises me, but I' m glad.
HELLINGER: Everyone can tell how high his or her base level is. Yo u can
tell by how you feel.
HARRY: I see mysel f as a mel anchol y person, and I thought my melan-
choly woul d put me on the minus side.
HELLINGER: Mel anchol y guards your secret happiness.
HARRY laughing: Good.
I have learned a great deal and I feel deeply grateful. I also experience
the vibrations here in this workshop as healing. This is the first time I
have taken part in anything like this, and I would like to tell you about
three things that were completely new to me and immediately helpful.
A dif f erent ki nd of knowl edge
HARRY: I never realized before that there' s a kind of direct knowledge or
spontaneous recognition of what it is in us that cannot be conveyed by
words. I had no idea that this kind of knowledge exists, but it suddenly
became clear to me. If I hadn' t discovered that kind of knowledge, I
couldn' t have understood anything you said and demonstrated. It all
would have appeared to be absolutely inconsistent with the superficial re-
ality I knew from my family and would have seemed completely para-
doxical, or at least merely hypothetical. But I really know the way in
whi ch what you say is true. That was the first thing.
The second thing is that for decades now I' ve been trying desperately
to mediate between the members of my family. I' m like a crazy messen-
ger who collapses just as he is about to deliver his message, and I' ve
neglected my own affairs as a result. I' ve expended enormous amounts
of energy trying to arrange reconciliation in order to reestablish some sort
of law and order, which, as I now realize, never really existed, or at best,
only superficially. Through you and this work, I' ve learned that I can
turn toward my father without a personal confrontation. I was terribly
resentful toward him because he always avoided confrontations with me.
He never gave me any means of orientation, no matter how much I pro-
voked him. He had a soul with a raincoat on, in order to protect himself,
and I was terribly resentful. Now, for the first time, I think it's possible
to come to terms with him, even though he died five years ago. The
knowledge that I do not have to renounce him forever is very liberating,
particularly since I was the one who was most concerned about him, and
from whom he withdrew most emphatically.
The third thing, and then I' m finished. I' m becomi ng reconciled to
the fact that I' ve never used my aggression or anger, and that I' ve for-
feited my right to many things because I haven' t fought for them. At first
I thought I' d have to make up for that and become more aggressive, but
I' m starting to see an inner way to gain the strength and energy that have
been stifled by all this suppression.
Gi vi ng wi t hout t aki ng
HELLINGER: Anger is often a substitute for l ove. Approachi ng someone
wi t h l ove is much mor e challenging than approaching wi t h anger.
HARRY: Peopl e close to me tell me that I stifle t hem and that I ' m overly
insistent wi t h my l ove. The y say I never give t hem a chance to wait for
my l ove and t o ask for i t . . .
HELLINGER: Above all, you do not take from t hem. Peopl e who give
wi t hout taking are saying to the ot her person, "I woul d rather you felt
guilty than me. " The n the ot her person becomes angry, and rightly so.
Vi ncent de Paul have you heard of hi m?
HARRY: I' ve heard of hi m, but I haven' t studied hi m.
HELLINGER: He was a saint who lived in Paris, an expert on brot herl y love
in the good sense. He once told a friend what he' d learned during his
l ong life. He said, " Whe n they want t o help you, be careful."
HARRY: I ' m familiar wi t h this mistrust, and I suffer from it.
HELLINGER: And rightly so. I have an aphorism for you: Some woul d-be
helpers may be compared to scarabs that t hi nk that when they roll a
pi ece of dung wi t h their little feet, they are rotating the worl d.
Laughter in the group.
CLAUDIA: What ' s a scarab?
HARRY: In plain language, it' s a dung beetle.
HELLINGER: That ' s it exactly.
Ne w p ers p ec t i ves
R OBE R T: It did me good yesterday when you said that it' s t oo early to
make decisions. It made me feel calmer. I ' m aware that my anger and ir-
ritation wi t h my wife have disappeared since the day before yesterday.
Even if I try to find t hem, they' re no l onger there (laughs).
HELLINGER: Ho w terrible! (laughing)
R OBE R T: It' s a compl et el y new perspective. I don' t yet know what will
come out of it. I' ll wait and see. But I feel good.
Fut i l e f ant asi es a bo ut rel at i onshi ps
JOHN: I ' m uneasy and agitated, and my hands are damp. Th e entire day
yesterday I felt mentally disturbed, right up until the evening. All sorts
of things irritated me. I ' m still a bit disoriented. Ther e seems to be so
much uncertainty. I don' t t hi nk I really understand the wor k wi t h the
family constellations. And my fantasies about an ideal partnership and re-
lationship are falling to bits.
HELLINGER: That' s j ust as well.
A friend of mi ne, the psychotherapist Hans Jel l ouschek, has written a
book in whi ch he describes the effect of these ideal fantasies. The book
is called The Art of Living as a Couple.
JOHN: I' m interested in a lot of what has been said, including what Harry
said j ust now. I have experienced mysel f in the same way. I tend to give
a lot of love, and I have great difficulty in taking or accepting anything.
I' m afraid of it.
Gi vi ng and t aki ng i n a part ners hi p
HELLINGER: Peopl e who are prepared to take from others with love are
humbl e. Taki ng with love requires pulling back from the ot her person
a bit and letting go of a certain amount of power. Thi s makes it easier
for the other person to give. But when we take from others in this way,
we gather strength, and this enables us to give in return. Then bot h per-
sons are humbl e because they bot h recognize their dependence and their
In a couple' s relationship, the man has something that the woman
lacks, and the woman has something that the man lacks. They' r e com-
pletely equal, in terms of bot h their capacity to give and their need to re-
ceive. On this level, their equality is obvious, and this equality can be
extended to other levels as well. As soon as one partner gives mor e than
the other or takes more than the other, the relationship is out of balance
and starts to go wrong. That' s why in couples' therapy the first thing that
has to be established is who gives more or who takes more, and then to
even out the giving and taking. In fact, each partner knows immediately
whet her he or she gives more or takes more.
JOHN: I have the idea that I' m completely at my partner' s mercy.
HELLINGER: What ' s to fear? Bei ng at your partner' s mercy means that you
don' t give her more than she can give in return or is willing to give in
return. Thi s automatically sets a limit on your giving and taking, and we
all are at the mercy of these limits. In the beginning, all relationships start
with a need for restraint because the capacity for giving and taking is
limited. Thi s applies to all relationships. Peopl e sometimes l ook for a re-
lationship in whi ch the mutual giving and taking are unlimited, but such
relationships don' t exist. People who have let go of this illusion form
mor e modest relationships, and because they are modest, the people are
mor e likely to be happy.
JOHN: My girlfriend says exactly the same thing.
HELLINGER: Yo u see!
JOHN: I understand it now.
HELLINGER: Do you know the best way t o handle the question of giving
and taking in a couple' s relationship? You ask your partner for something
concret e, something with clear limits. For example, you don' t say,
"Please love me mor e. " That is not concrete, and your partner has no
way of knowi ng what you really mean. Instead, try saying, "Please stay
and talk to me for hal f an hour. " Then your partner knows that when
the hal f hour is over, she's done what you asked of her. If you say,
"Please stay with me forever," you make it impossible for her to meet
your request, and she understandably feels the impossibility of meeting
your demands. These are simple, modest pieces of advice.
JOHN: It' s clear to me on an intellectual level.
HELLINGER: It will filter through from the top to the bot t om.
Let t i ng pressure f l ow away
MARTHA: I have an awful feeling of pressure in my head. I think it must
be either tears or fear, I don' t know whi ch.
HELLINGER: Bri ng your chair and come and sit in front of me!
Martha picks up her chair and sits in front of Hettinger, facing him.
Make yourself comfortable.
Martha relaxes and laughs.
Cl ose your eyes.
Hettinger gently eases her head forward.
Breat he!
Hettinger lays his hand on the hack of her neck and rocks her head gently from side
to side.
Take hold of me!
She puts her arms round Hettinger and rocks gently to the right and left.
Let yoursel f go with the movement , wherever it takes you.
Imagine that your love is flowing freely, and imagine the person it's
flowing to. Powerfully!
She breathes hard.
Exhal e strongly! Faster! Exhal e more strongly! Faster!
Her pain breaks through, and she weeps loudly.
HELLINGER as her pain subsides: Now breathe wi t hout using your voi ce.
She breathes more quietly.
Ho w are you feeling now?
MARTHA: Good. Yes, now it's free to flow.
Th e quest i on of rel i gi on
ROL PH: There' s something I' m unsure about with regard to my clients.
Whe n they have become clearer about their issues, they always bring up
the question of religion. It always seems to happen sooner or later. I al-
ways say as little as possible, but I sometimes think I ought to say more.
HELLINGER: They don' t really come into contact with the question of re-
ROL PH: But what should they do with the energy and creativity it
HELLINGER: We know nothing about the question of religion. Your cl i -
ents are touching on a mystery. That' s quite a different thing. Peopl e
often try to overcome their fear of the unknown by trying to grasp it.
But then the mystery withdraws and leaves t hem blind and weak.
Sadness about aunt s who di ed i n
a c onc e nt r at i on c a mp
CLAUDIA: Ther e are t wo things on my mind. Somet i mes one of t hem is
in the foreground and sometimes the other. The first one concerns my
father's family. I don' t know if it's really still important. I suddenly re-
member ed that t wo of my father's sisters died in a concentration camp.
She starts to weep.
HELLINGER: That is important, very important. Wh y did they die in a
concentration camp?
CLAUDIA: They were put in a Polish concentration camp after the war. She
HELLINGER: Look at t hem with respect. Wi t h respect for their fate. Okay?
We' l l come back to this when we set up your family constellation. They
must certainly be included. Then you will see the strength that comes
from them.
Re s p e c t i ng t he parent s of handi c ap p ed c hi l dren
CARL: I' ve been thinking a lot about the people I work with, and the sac-
rifice that parents with handicapped children have to make. Whe n you
talked about woul d-be helpers a little while ago, it made me realize how
helpless I am.
HELLINGER: I have the deepest respect for you and your work. A great
many people have the illusion that a happy life is the most important
thing to strive for, but it isn't. There' s value and greatness in the chal-
lenge and the dedication to the care of handicapped children that can
never even be approached by a so-called happy life. For the parents of
handicapped children, this is a predestined path that isn' t chosen and
can' t be avoided. Your task is to respect t hem wi t hout pity. Thi s is
ROL PH: I' m thinking o f a particularly difficult client, and I' m aware that
I feel very sorry for her.
HELLINGER: There' s a saying about compassion: Compassion requires the
courage to face the whol e pain.
Pr e s ump t i on and its c ons equenc es
UNA: I feel good bot h mentally and physically. I' m not afraid any more,
but when certain themes come up, I still feel a constriction in my chest.
It's not exactly a pain, but a sort of pressure. Yesterday, when we talked
about the guilt of the i nnocent party, I felt that pressure. It has to do
with my mother, but with me as well. My father had a child with an-
ot her woman during the marriage to my mot her, and she always i m-
pressed upon me very strongly how that had put her in an extremely dif-
ficult situation, especially since their child was very ill. She repeatedly
told me how my father's unfaithfulness had left her in the lurch, and that
she woul d have taken her t wo children and left hi m if she could have.
I now wonder if this is what stops me from bowi ng to her.
HELLINGER: A child must not interfere in the parents' affairs. It burdens
children to know about their parents' happiness or unhappiness in their
relationship to one another, and the parents shouldn' t tell the child
anything about their intimate relationship. It's none of the children' s
business. The best thing for you to do is to forget what your mot her told
you. It' s really possible to forget.
UNA: Real l y?
HELLINGER: Forgetting is a highly spiritual discipline. Forgetting in this
sense is done by withdrawing inwardly, and all at once, the memor y van-
ishes. After you' ve forgotten, you can leave your parents to manage their
own conflict, and you' re free to l ook lovingly at bot h of t hem and to
take from t hem the good things they have given you.
U NA: Okay. Good.
HE L L I NGE R : I' ll tell you something else. Onl y sinners can be lenient.
U NA: Lenient?
HE L L I NGE R : Yes, lenient. The i nnocent are unforgiving.
U NA: Ah, now I understand.
HE L L I NGE R : Innocence and guilt are not identical with good and evil. In
fact, it's often the other way around.
U NA: I' m starting to realize that I have been hard and unforgiving for
many years, above all in my j udgment s and my evaluation of right and
HE L L I NGE R : Stop describing it or you will start doing it all over again!
U NA: Okay. Wel l , that was one of the themes. The other one came up
during Clara' s work. Thr ee mont hs after my father's death, I had a seri-
ous car accident. Among other things, I fractured the base of my skull
and broke t wo or three vertebrae. Si nce then I . . .
HE L L I NGE R : That ' s enough. What are the dynamics?
U NA: I started thinking about the accident and about your reference to the
grave because I had several more accidents afterward and I ' m still acci -
HE L L I NGE R : D O you know what makes you accident-prone?
U NA: It seems as if I wanted to express solidarity with and loyalty to my
HE L L I NGE R : That ' s one side o f it, but there' s another possibility as well.
What you describe could also be an attempt to atone for your violation
of the orders of love in knowi ng more than a child should about your
parents' intimate life. For example, when a child presumes to know and
to j udge private matters bet ween the parents, she puts herself above her
parents. Violations of the order of precedence often result in family trage-
dies, serious accidents, and suicides. Whe n a member of the family who
is l ower down in the hierarchy puts himself or herself in the place of
someone who is higher up, he or she unconsciously reacts wi t h the
impulse to fail, to be unhappy, and to suffer misfortune.
The solution for you woul d be to extract yourself from the entangle-
ment in your parents' private lives, to give thanks that everything has
turned out relatively well so far, to learn from what has happened, and
to resolve to put things to rights.
UNA: I' d really like to take that in, but I feel as if I were in a sort of mist.
I can' t see you very well.
HELLINGER: That doesn' t matter. If you don' t understand, then you don' t
disagree either. It will eventually sink in unhindered.
UNA: Whe n I think of all my accidents, I get a feeling that I can' t de-
scribe. It is misty, and hot. I can' t help thinking about my father's brot h-
er who had a fatal accident at the age of 54 owi ng to exhaustion. I ' m of-
ten exhausted. I don' t have any feelings about it, but I have a sensation
of heat that seems to come from bel ow, and it's unpleasant.
HELLINGER: I' ve already told you the story of the Eski mo. Do you re-
member it? He went to the Caribbean for his summer vacation and got
used to it after a fortnight. What did he get used to?
UNA: The heat. Okay, I understand.
Hal f way t here
FRANK: I' m still thinking about the constellation yesterday evening. Ther e
is something about my role in it that I don' t quite understand.
HELLINGER: You' ve already seen everything you need for the solution. If
you try to find out more than you need, you' ll lose the solution. Tr ue
knowl edge is always directed toward action. As soon as you want to
know mor e than you need to know to enable you to act, the knowl edge
becomes destructive and serves as a substitute for action.
FRANK: Actually, that's the basic question that concerns me. If this constel-
lation is correct, woul d it be right for me to have my children with me?
HELLINGER: Of course, it's right.
FRANK: That contradicts what I see at the moment . They seem happy with
their mot her.
HELLINGER: Of course. Your wife is a good mother. That' s why you
don' t have to decide anything at the moment . All you have to do is to
carry the image that it is right in your heart and mi nd let it wor k for
FRANK: Aha, that feels good.
HELLINGER: The image does it for you. You j ust wait for its effects to de-
velop. Okay?
FRANK: Almost. Halfway.
HELLINGER: Halfway to happiness, you mean?
FRANK: Halfway.
Ye s and no t o havi ng a chi l d of one' s own
DAGMAR: What happened at the end of Frank' s constellation yesterday
evening was very important for me. It's not easy for me to say this, but
it's what I' ve always wanted. My first reaction was that it wouldn' t be
good if Frank had his children with him unless I have a child with him
too. I' ve been thinking about this for years now, and I' m sure it has
something to do with an abortion and with a recent miscarriage. So I' m
of two minds as to whether I want a child with Frank or whether we
should plan to do something else together in the future.
HELLINGER: There' s something else I' d like to say about Frank' s constella-
tion. As you begin to understand how the image of the constellation is
to be translated into reality, the basic principle you must remember is
that you have neither rights nor responsibilities regarding Frank' s chil-
dren. They are the business of Frank and his first wife and no one else.
DAGMAR: I entirely agree.
HELLINGER: You are only Frank' s second wife, nothing more. You can
tell his children, "I' m only Frank' s second wife; everything else to do
with you is his business, his and your mother' s. " If you are kind to his
children, he owes you something because you are doing something that
isn't your responsibility.
DAGMAR: I' m very kind to his children.
HELLINGER: One can be kind to everyone. That' s not the issue here. When
you do something special for them when they are with you, cooking
them a meal for example, you deserve Frank' s appreciation. Of course,
you do it partly out of love for him, but it's still something that deserves
his acknowledgment.
DAGMAR: I' ve given them presents, and I did my best to give them a good
time at Christmas .. .
HELLINGER: Be careful not to put yourself into their mother' s place. Your
kindness to them must be almost accidental, almost off-handed. It's
Frank' s responsibility to do what is necessary for the children, and al-
though you may support him, you make it tough for them if you start
competing with their mother for their love and don' t stay in the back-
ground. A second wife has to be extremely restrained.
There' s something else. Second partners must respect the hierarchy of
origin. In a partnership, the relationship between the husband and wife
as a couple always comes before their relationship to their children. It of-
ten happens that parents' concern for their children takes priority over
their love as a couple, but this disturbs the hierarchy, and the children
become uneasy, and the hierarchy must be reestablished to put the chil-
dren at ease. The relationship bet ween a husband and wife must regain
priority over their concern for their children. It does no good when par-
ents sacrifice themselves for their children, either for t hem or for their
children. Everyone concerned has to be clear about this.
Whe n one partner already has children from a previous partnership,
the order of precedence is different. In your case, Frank was the husband
of his first wife and the father of his children, and only then your hus-
band. His concern and love for his children must have priority over his
love for you, and you must acknowledge and accept this. If you were to
say to him, "I come first, and your children come second, " this woul d
be a violation of the order of precedence and woul d have serious conse-
quences for your relationship.
DAGMAR: That ' s wonderful advice.
HELLINGER: Anything else?
Ye s and no t o s moki ng
DAGMAR: Thi s has nothing to do with what we have been talking about,
but it' s also important to me. I want to stop smoking. I want to stop this
self-destructive habit, and I want to ask for your help.
HELLINGER after a pause: I have a suggestion for you. Whe n you want to
reach for a cigarette, imagine you are cradling your aborted child in your
Re l i e f f or headac hes
ELLA: I don' t feel good at all. I had such a bad headache this morni ng that
I almost couldn' t come to the workshop.
HELLINGER: What sort of a headache?
ELLA: I have a cold, but I don' t think it has anything to do with that. The
pain is at the back of my head and in my neck.
HELLINGER: Somet i mes headaches come from pent-up love. Wher e does
it want to flow to, this love?
Ella gives a deep sigh.
Exhal e deeply! That ' s one way to let the love flow. Looki ng at someone
in a friendly way is another. Yes, l ook at me! Good morning!
ELLA: Good morning!
HELLINGER: Anot her way is to let it flow through your hands. Open your
hands with your palms turned upward. Yes, like that. These are all ways
to let pent-up love flow again: through exhaling, looking friendly, and
turning your palms upward.
ELLA: I often have the feeling that I don' t love my husband enough.
HELLINGER: I agree with you, you don' t.
ELLA: Thi s feeling goes away if I stand close to hi m in my imagination.
ELLA: But it doesn' t flow of its own accord. I always have to make a con-
scious effort.
HELLINGER: That doesn' t matter. The main thing is that it helps.
And who else must you stand close to? In the break you can ask Sophi e
who it is and how to do it! She' ll tell you. Anything else?
ELLA: Later.
Ho no r i ng one' s f at her and behi nd hi m, Go d
HELLINGER: Does anyone want to say anything?
HARRY: Yes. I was absolutely electrified when Una was talking about her
parents and you told her that presumption and interference in one' s
parents' affairs are compensated for by the wish for misfortune and adver-
sity. Over a period of 13 years, when I was a teenager, my mot her spent
a lot of time telling me negative things about my father. She was really
vindictive about it, and I couldn' t escape. I' m sure it had a bad effect on
my relationship with him. My only relationship to my father after that
was Homer i c laughter. I just realized that I was only in harmony with
hi m when we were bot h laughing loudly at some stupid j oke. I' ve never
laughed like that with anyone else.
HELLINGER: What is Homer i c laughter really?
HARRY: It's a sort o f . . . I never really found out.
Laughter in the group.
In any case, I never laughed like that with anyone else.
[Homeric laughter is resounding laughter and refers to the "inextinguishable laughter
of the gods."]
Perhaps the fact that I often take big risks has something to do with my
knowl edge of my parents' secrets. For example, I' ve risked enormous
sums of money . . .
HELLINGER: No, no, no. Your descriptions only intensify the problem.
You have to stop at once when the essential thing has been said.
HARRY: Good.
HELLINGER: And now, what is the solution?
HARRY: The spiritual discipline of forgetting.
HELLINGER: In your case, it is a deep bow to your father.
And when you do it, see God behind him!
Refusal to accept atonement
JAY: I have a question. Whe n one partner in a relationship hurts the ot her
badly, and the person who has been hurt refuses to discuss it, what can
the person who inflicted the hurt do?
HELLINGER: Not hi ng. What can he do? He must bear the consequences
of what he has done. Then he can be free again. Ot herwi se it' s as if he
were saying: "I have hurt my partner, and now she has to help me to
feel good again." That' s not how things work! (Laughter in the group.)
RUTH: What you said about melancholy bei ng a protection for secret hap-
piness struck home with me. But I feel I' ve had enough of this now. I
want to set up the constellation of my family of origin and take my place
in it. I get the impression that I . . .
HELLINGER: There' s no need to explain. If that's what you want, that's
what we' ll do. Wh o belongs t o your family of origin?
RUTH: My father, my mother, my older twin sisters, and me. The older
of the twins died four days after her birth.
HELLINGER: What happened?
RUTH: They were premature. They had to stay in the hospital for quite
a l ong time. Then my mot her t ook the younger one home. The older
one stayed in the hospital and died there.
HELLINGER: Is there anyone else who belongs in the constellation?
RUTH: My father's sister died in childbirth, and a little later, one of my
father's brothers hanged himself.
HELLINGER: Di d anything special happen in your father's parents' families?
RUTH: After their son' s suicide, it seems that everyone blamed everyone
HELLINGER: That' s a way of avoiding facing up to grief.
Okay, set up the constellation!
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
If Older twin sister, died shortly after birth
2 Younger twin sister
3 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 cor-
rect 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
attack. That only stopped when I l ooked at someone else. I feel I need
my older sister as a support. She is very important to me. My parents
seem far away.
HELLINGER to Ruth's representative: How does the youngest sister feel?
THI RD CHILD: At first I felt I must try and keep the family cheerful, and
t hen I felt I must teach my parents how to be good to each other
HELLINGER: That ' s an identification. That ' s not a normal thing for a child
to feel. She' s taken on someone else's function. The question is, who?
t o Ruth: What happened in your mother' s family?
RUTH: My mother' s mot her was the youngest of four children. Her three
older siblings all died within a fortnight of each other, of some children' s
disease when they were very young. My mot her was the only one to
HELLINGER: You' r e identified with her. Your feelings of mel anchol y come
from her, and so does the feeling that you are responsible for your par-
ents' well-being.
HELLINGER to the representative of the dead twin: Go and sit in front of your
parents and lean against them.
How does that feel?
FIRST CHILDy: Much better. My shoulder is not hurting so much.
Hettinger changes the constellation.
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: How do the parents feel now?
FATHER: I feel good. I have a pleasant contact with my wife. The 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. The 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.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: How is it now?
FIRST CHILD+: It's okay.
THIRD CHILD: It's good. Of course, it makes me less important.
The three sisters laugh.
FATHER: It's good.
MOTHER: Yes, it's good.
HELLINGER to Ruth: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Ruth goes to her place in the constellation and looks around her.
Hellinger adds her mother's mother; her father's sister, who died
in childbirth; and her father's brother, who hanged himself.
Diagram 4
FS+ Father's sister, died in childbirth
FB+ Father's brother, committed suicide
MM Mother's mother
HELLINGER t o Ruth: Ho w is that for you, wi t h your grandmot her standing
there? Yo u must i magi ne her three dead sisters standing next t o her, al-
t hough I haven' t actually added t hem.
RUTH: Wh e n she' s standing wher e she i s now i t i s okay. If she wer e cl os-
er, it woul d be t oo sad.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the grandmot her feeling?
HELLINGER: That is an honorabl e place.
t o the father. Ho w is the father feeling now that his dead siblings have
j oi ned the group?
FATHER: Good. No w the emptiness has been filled.
RUTH: It' s good like this for me.
HELLINGER: Okay, that' s all.
I nheri t anc es wi t h and wi t hout a p r i c e
RUTH: I i nheri t ed some silver from my father' s dead sister. We have the
same monogr am.
HELLINGER: Yo u must give i t back.
RUTH: Ho w do I do that?
HE L L I NGE R : I don' t know who there is to whom you coul d give it. But
you must give i t back. Do you understand that?
R U T H : Yes .
HE L L I NGE R : I f you don' t give it back, you will be profiting from her
misfortune, and that woul d have serious consequences.
MO T H E R ' S R E P R E S E NT AT I VE : Bef or e you said that Rut h must give the i n-
heri t ance back, I had a feeling of const ri ct i on in my chest. It disappeared
when she agreed.
R U T H : I can see the silver spoons in my mind' s eye. It' s strange how at-
t ached I am to t hem! The y have a very special meani ng (laughs).
HE L L I NGE R : Do you know what that' s called? Love o f misfortune.
F R ANK : Somet hi ng has j ust occurred to me in connect i on wi t h giving
things back. I have a ruby ring from my godfather, my homosexual uncle.
HE L L I NGE R : I woul d keep that.
F R ANK : I never wear it. It is in the drawer o f my desk.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, but you have it. I woul d respect it, the ring.
F R ANK : Shoul d I j ust leave it where it is?
HE L L I NGE R : Exact l y. Ther e are no hard and fast rules, but you can feel
whet her it's right or not. Somet hi ng in us clings to these obj ect s, and
they have an effect. The y are part of life. They' r e not j ust dead, lifeless
obj ect s. It is i mport ant to realize this.
t o Ruth: Th e silver spoons should go to someone who is closer to your
father' s sister than you are.
R U T H : I can' t t hi nk o f anyone.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, j ust keep the picture in your mi nd.
WI L L I AM: I have a question. Yo u said that she should either return the in-
heri t ance or give it away. What happens in the opposite case, for exam-
ple, when someone is entitled to an inheritance? Is the person obl i ged to
accept it, and claim it if necessary?
HE L L I NGE R : In some cases, there is an obligation to take on an inherited
WI L L I AM: Y O U mean one may be obl i ged to accept the inheritance?
HE L L I NGE R : Not always. But somet i mes loyalty demands that someone
take over a business, for exampl e.
WI L L I AM: One' s parents' business?
HE L L I NGE R : Yes . Refusal to take on the responsibility may result in failure
in anot her sphere. But it depends on the circumstances.
WI L L I AM: I have a mor e concret e question. What happens i f t he parents
of t wo children say t o one of t hem, " Yo u will get not hi ng, " and t o the
ot her, " Yo u will get everyt hi ng?"
HELLINGER: Then the child who gets everything takes everything and later
gives hal f of it to the ot her child.
Laughter in the group.
Then j ustice has been done all around.
WILLIAM: That answers my question perfectly.
DAGMAR: I have a question. If a mot her leaves something to her daughter
that she has invested in such a way that the daughter will probably have
to pay mor e in taxes than she receives, must the daughter accept the i n-
HELLINGER: It' s like the images from the constellations. The images point
the way, but we need to carefully consider what they mean in each situa-
tion individually. Generalizations are dangerous. The general principle is
that a child is not obliged to pay her parents' debts. Debt s are part of the
parents' personal affairs and have nothing to do with the child.
DAGMAR: Does that mean that the daughter can decide in advance not to
accept the inheritance?
HELLINGER: She is free to do that, but love is well served when she does
it in such a way that she remains in alignment with her parents' good i n-
tentions. That ' s why she can say she' ll accept it even if she later refuses
it. Whe n an inheritance is burdened in some other way, for example, in
connect i on with an injustice, then love is better served if the child refuses
to accept it. Ot herwi se she may become entangled in somet hi ng negative
that' s none of her business.
CLAUDIA: May I set up my family of origin now?
HELLINGER: Yes. Wh o belongs t o it?
CLAUDIA: My father, my mother, and their three daughters. Then my
brot her by another man, who was born twelve years later. Then my par-
ents separated and my mot her remarried. Si nce then she has divorced her
second husband as well.
HELLINGER: Wh y did your parents separate?
CLAUDIA: For a long time, we thought it was because my father was an al-
cohol i c. He drank a lot. But actually they drifted apart quite early in
their relationship.
HELLINGER: Wher e did the aunts come from, the ones who died in a con-
centration camp?
CLAUDIA: They were half sisters of my great-grandfather' s first wife. She
died having her sixth or seventh child.
When Claudia was setting up the constellation, she said to the
representative of her younger sister. " Yo u emigrated to Canada. "
HELLINGER: By giving her that information, you have made i t impossible
for her to feel spontaneously. Now, if she feels she wants to leave, she
won' t be able to tell if it is an original, spontaneous feeling or if she onl y
feels i t because of what you said.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a daughter
2 Second child, a daughter (= Claudia)
3 Third child, a daughter
M2Hb Mother's second husband, father of 4
4 Fourth child, a son
HELLINGER: Ho w is the father feeling?
FATHER: I have to restrain mysel f from taking my daughter in my arms. I feel
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? Who 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?
F AT HE R : T WO thirds better.
HE L L I NGE R : Bet t er than nothing. Has anything changed in your relation-
ship with your daughter?
F AT HE R : Very little.
HE L L I NGE R to the representative of Claudia: How is the second daughter
S E C OND CHI LD: It's a bit better than before. Before, I wasn' t interested in
the people over there, but now I feel I' d like to go away. I can hardly
bear to l ook at my mot her.
HE L L I NGE R : How is the mot her feeling?
MO T H E R : Whe n you were setting up the constellation and you t ook my
husband away, I suddenly felt that I could breathe more easily, and when
my youngest daughter went further away, I thought, "Thank goodness
for that. No w I' m rid of her t oo. " I have no relationship wi t h any of
them. I feel a bit annoyed with my oldest daughter, but I don' t know
why. Whe n my husband' s father and his first wife came, my husband and
my second daughter suddenly became more important. I suddenly felt in-
terested in them, especially in the daughter.
HE L L I NGE R to Claudia: What happened in your mother' s family?
CLAU DI A: Her older brother died when he was only 6 weeks old. Her
father was killed in the war when she was 10.
Hellinger changes the constellation and adds the father's mother
and his half sisters who died in a concentration camp.
Diagram 3
FM Father's mother
FSj Father's half sisters, died in a Polish concentration camp
HELLINGER: How does the father feel now?
FATHER: Much 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: When did that happen?
SECOND CHILD: I felt that when my grandfather's first wife came into
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.
FOURTH CHILD: Wh e n I was facing my mot her' s first husband, I felt very
aggressive. That changed i mmedi at el y when his father came and st ood
behi nd hi m. Now, next to my mot her, I feel aggressive t oward her. I
feel uncomfort abl e here.
HELLINGER: Go and stand on the ot her side of your father. Ho w i s i t
FOURTH CHILD: Muc h better.
HELLINGER t o the mother. Ho w are you feeling now?
MOTHER: Not good.
HELLINGER t o Claudia: Your mot her is bei ng pulled to leave. Has she ever
tried t o commi t suicide?
Claudia weeps.
HELLINGER: Di d she try to kill herself?
CLAUDIA: Somet i mes I t hi nk she' ll really do it one day.
HELLINGER: Yes , she is bei ng pressured to leave.
No w we' l l add her dead brot her.
Hellinger places the dead brother to the mother's right.
Diagram 4
MBf Mother's brother, died the age of 6 weeks
MOTHER: That ' s better.
FOURTH CHILD: For me, t oo.
HELLINGER: It' s possible that you are identified wi t h hi m.
t o the mother. Is that okay? Do you feel all right like this?
MOTHER: I felt a shudder run over my head and back. It' s all right, but I
feel very cold.
Hellinger adds the mother's father, who was killed in the war.
Diagram 5
M.F+ Mother's father, killed in the war
HELLINGER: Ho w does the mot her' s brot her feel?
MOTHER' S BROTHER+: Bet t er since my father came.
MOTHER: No w I feel I bel ong.
HELLINGER: My i mage is that she' ll be able to return to her present family
and take up her rightful place if she stays by her brot her for a little while.
Hellinger 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.
HELLINGER: GO and stand next to your mother.
to the group: The daughter is saying, "I will go instead of you, Mother
HELLINGER to Claudia: Now 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.
Try 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. Hellinger moves the mother's brother to the
mother's left.
HELLINGER to Claudia: How is it now?
She nods.
HELLINGER: Is it better?
She nods.
FIRST CHILD to Claudia: When you came as my sister next to me, I sud-
denly felt sick and giddy.
HELLINGER to the oldest sister. Go and stand closer to your sisters. How is
FIRST CHILD: Yes, 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.
You have taken it over from him. Go and stand next to your daughter.
FATHER: Now it's okay.
Diagram 7
MOTHER' S SECOND HUSBAND: I have a feeling of tension in my shoulders.
Ever since her brot her went and stood next to her, I have want ed to go
t o my wife.
HELLINGER: Thr ough hi m you see her in a different light.
t o Claudia: Does that feel okay for you?
She smiles and nods.
HELLINGER: Okay, that' s all.
A short round
HELLINGER: Let ' s do a short round. It' ll be like a siesta after a satisfying
meal. Yo u need t i me t o calm down and gather strength for the wor k t o
come, and you' l l have a chance to ask questions and cat ch up wi t h any-
thing that' s been left out. Yo u can hear what' s uppermost in the minds
of the others, and we' l l get an idea of the wor k you still want t o do.
S t andi ng f i rml y on bo t h f eet
ANNE: Si nce this morni ng, I' ve been feeling mor e able t o stand fi rml y on
bot h feet. I often onl y stand on one foot and use the ot her one as a sup-
port. Yo u r advice about breat hi ng made i t easier for me t o breathe.
Wh e n I do what you suggested, I can stand firmly on bot h feet.
Wa n t i n g t o e s c ap e f r o m e mo t i o na l f ullness
IDA: Thi s mor ni ng when Sophi e was worki ng, I said to myself, "I can' t
bear all this happiness and unhappiness. " I want ed badly to leave the
r oom, but I stayed.
HELLINGER: It is hard to bear so much happiness and unhappiness all at once.
IDA: Yes , it' s hard to bear.
HELLINGER: That ' s why people somet i mes wi t hdraw from it and prefer to
become depressed. It' s mor e comfort abl e. Depressi on is an easier way to
live. Tr y l ooki ng happiness straight in the eye, like a challenge.
Ful l ness and c omp l e t e ne s s
WILLIAM: I feel good. Thi s mor ni ng I had a strange thought. I t hi nk I' m
really quite compl et e. I really don' t need much mor e of anything.
HELLINGER: Exact l y.
I' ll tell you somet hi ng about the feeling of compl et eness and how i t
comes about. Yo u feel compl et e when everyone who bel ongs t o your
system has a place in your heart. That is the real meani ng of com-
pleteness or of perfection. It is onl y when you have achi eved this fullness
that you' r e free t o develop and go forward. Yo u don' t feel compl et e i f
there i s even one member of your family missing.
t o Claudia: I i magi ne that' s how you must be feeling, Claudia. Yo u must
be feeling compl et e now that they are all there.
Claudia nods.
HELLINGER: That ' s great.
SOPHIE: I feel good. I ' m very interested in everyt hi ng that is happening.
I ' m a bit tired, but ot herwi se I feel fine.
HELLINGER: Yo u are entitled to feel tired.
Sophie laughs.
CLARA: I' ve been feeling wonderfully free and relieved since you answered
my question this morni ng.
HELLINGER: Good. The wor k you did yesterday was a perfect illustration
of the process of becomi ng complete.

I' d like to tell you a story about completeness and how it is achieved. If
you give yourselves up to the story, it may, while you are listening, affect
you on a deeper level.
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
Everyone who has ever been close to him has been invited, and everyone in-
vited comes, stays for a while, and then leaves. All who come bring a gift: his
mother and his father; his siblings; one grandfather and one grandmother; the
other grandfather and grandmother; his uncles and aunts; all those who have
made a place for him, all those who have cared for him friends, teachers,
partners, children all those who have been important to him or still are im-
portant to him. And everyone who comes brings something for which he or she
has paid the full price, stays for a while, and then leaves, as thoughts come,
bring something, stay for a while, and then leave. And as wishes come, and
suffering, bring something, stay for a while, and then leave. And as life itself
comes, brings something, stays for a while, and then leaves.
After the feast, the wanderer stays behind with his many gifts, and the only
people who remain with him are those for whom it is appropriate to stay. He
goes to the window and looks out, sees other houses, and knows that one day
there will be a feast there, too, and that he will go to it, take something with
him, stay for a while, and then leave.
We, too, are at a feast at this workshop. Each of us brought something and
took something. We stay for a while and then leave.
Li ki ng and res pec t i ng
HARRY: I' m tremendously happy when I see solutions bei ng found. My
happiness for the person concerned is almost overwhelming.
Whe n I left last night, I still hadn' t given my relatives who died their
due places. I never knew most of t hem, including my father' s brot her
and sister. The y were occultists, and I was not supposed to know any-
t hi ng about t hem. The y were compl et el y t aboo. I did meet his sister
when she was in a spiritualist phase and did aut omat i c writing. She had
all sorts of obsessive symptoms, but I never knew my uncl e. He was nev-
er ment i oned, except by this aunt, and accordi ng to all reports, he . . .
HE L L I NGE R : We don' t have to know the details. It' s enough for you to
know that these peopl e bel ong t o you, and that you give t hem an hon-
orable place i n your heart. But you have been speaking quite disparag-
ingly about t hem, you know.
H A R R Y : Was it not i ceabl e?
Laughter in the group.
HE L L I NGE R : Yo u can' t hide things like that.
H A R R Y : My feelings about t hem are mainly positive. I liked my aunt.
HE L L I NGE R : It' s not a question o f liking, but o f respect. That is much
Equal s a m o n g equal s
T HE A: I feel very clearheaded, and that' s a good feeling. Th e difference
bet ween "accept i ng" and "respect i ng" has become very important. Unt i l
now, I never not i ced the difference, but now it' s absolutely clear that
t here is a difference, and that respect is the next step after accept ance.
That ' s how I feel about it at the moment .
HE L L I NGE R : Accept ance has no place in this cont ext . I f you accept some-
thing, you behave as if you were entitled to reject it, to change the way
it is.
T HE A: I was feeling glad that I' ve at least come this far.
HE L L I NGE R : It' s not enough, not nearly enough.
T HE A: SO I' ve not i ced.
HE L L I NGE R : The essential thing is bei ng in harmony wi t h somet hi ng wi t h-
out regret and wi t hout ulterior motives. If I respect somet hi ng, it means
that I ' m in harmony wi t h it the way it is, wi t hout want i ng to change it.
And if I respect a person, it means that I ' m in harmony wi t h that person
the way he or she is, I ' m in harmony wi t h fate the way it is, and I ' m in
har mony wi t h the person' s ent angl ement the way it is. That is very hum-
bl e, and it preserves det achment . But there is caring in this det achment
and strength that works unseen. It is onl y if I ' m in har mony wi t h fate
that I may be able to take from it t he strength to change it.
T HE A: Yes. I think that's an important point. I tend to mi x up my own
fate with the fate of other people.
HELLINGER: Your confession does no good at all. You demean yourself.
Whe n people demean themselves by remarks like that, or by interpreting
their actions, it's harmful. I' ve never seen it do anyone good. What peo-
ple are really saying when they demean themselves is, "Please accept me,
I ' m so small and insignificant." But that manipulates the ot her person, for
when you do this, you put the person in a superior position; the person
needs to care for you and you deny hi m or her the chance to be equal.
Rec onc i l i at i on t hr ough c l ari t y
ROBERT: I' m very struck by the way in whi ch the work I did yesterday
is gradually taking effect. I have a picture in my mi nd of my daughter
with my little dead sister behi nd her. I must have grieved terribly for her.
I have overl ooked other people' s feelings and did t hem wrong, particu-
larly my wife.
Robert is very moved.
HELLINGER: Tel l her that. It may reconcile her.
Re ma i ni ng at t ent i ve
CLAUDIA: I' m still thinking about my new understanding of my family,
and I' m j ust beginning to grasp what it all means.
HELLINGER: Constellations are like that, they go on worki ng for a l ong
CLAUDIA: I told you about my mother' s suicidal tendencies because I used
to think she really woul d kill herself. I understand it now. I think the
best thing I can do is to j ust let the constellation work.
HELLINGER: If you wish, you can tell your mot her about it. Tel l her about
the constellation and describe the effect it had on everyone when her
brot her stood next to her. Di dn' t you want to take her a birthday present
from this workshop?
CLAUDIA: Yesterday I thought that the best thing that had happened was
that I didn' t have to go to see her.
HELLINGER: No w you have spoiled it. Di d you notice?
CLAUDIA: I tried to spoil it.
HELLINGER: Yo u succeeded, and there' s nothing you can do to change it
now. Peopl e sometimes think that they' re free after the deed. No one is
free after the deed, we are only free before we have done it.
Sel f -rest rai nt , wi t h at t ent i veness and energy
LEO: I feel more as if I belong, and I' m curious to see what I will do when
I get home.
HELLINGER: Prepare yourself to be surprised by things changing on their
own accord, wi t hout your doing anything and without any intention on
your part. Living with that kind of change takes a lot of strength, the
strength of self-restraint. But the strength that it costs you to restrain
yoursel f will change direction and flow toward the other members of
your family.
FRANK: There' s a lot going on inside me, and it feels good to think that
I must j ust wait until something happens by itself, and that I must stick
it out and not push it away.
HELLINGER: It makes a difference how you wait. Wai t with attentiveness.
Th e l i mi ts of i nnoc e nc e
JONAS: There' s something troubling me, and I' d like to know what you
think about it. Duri ng the past 10 years, I' ve been getting closer and
closer to my father, and I' ve discovered a wonderful love bet ween us.
Because of our mutual trust, he told me that when he was 20 he had
been a guard in a concentration camp for three weeks. It' s something I
can' t bear to think about, and I' d like to be free of it.
HELLINGER: Do you want t o be free of your knowl edge of what he did,
or of your j udgment of him? He didn' t ask for the j ob.
JONAS: He didn' t?
HELLINGER: Most likely he had no choi ce. If he didn' t feel ashamed of
what he did, he wouldn' t have waited so long to tell you about it.
JONAS: I can' t accept the fact that he did it.
HELLINGER: Yo u have no right to j udge hi m until you have been in a
situation like that yourself, and when you have, you' re mor e likely to
understand his conflict than to j udge him.
A while ago, I saw a report on television about a Yugoslavian woman,
a poet, who wanted to erect a monument to a German soldier. He had
been detailed to a firing squad to shoot partisans, but he refused to raise
his gun and went over to the partisans, and was shot with t hem.
His action sounds heroic, but what sort of a man was he really? Can
we decide whet her he was good or evil? What did he actually do? He
chose death over accepting the enormous guilt his fate woul d have laid
on hi m had he obeyed his orders and shot the partisans, but if your heart
is open, what' s mor e difficult to bear, death or guilt? If he' d said to
himself, "I ' m bound to my group by fate and the partisans are bound to
their group by fate. I accept my destiny that it is I who has killed t hem,
and I accept the full guilt and the full consequences of that fate," that
woul d also have required heroic courage. But to think dying allows you
to escape your fate is really taking the easy way out. Somet i mes bei ng a
victim is easier to bear than being a perpetrator. Do you begin to under-
stand how difficult and inappropriate it is to j udge your father, as if you
woul d have acted better in his situation?
Yo u can respect the fact that your father was in the situation you de-
scribe, but it's arrogance to j udge him. Yo u can try to understand him,
but it's the business of the courts to probe and to j udge, not yours. Yo u
have no right to decide if what he did was good or evil either.
JONAS: I' m beginning to understand the compl exi t y more.
HELLINGER: If you can see how helpless we humans sometimes are in the
face of our destiny, then there' s respect for the power of fate.
Th e rel i ef of l i vi ng i n t he pres ent
ELLA: I' m experiencing a sort of movement bet ween my head and my
hands. Whe n I' m 100 percent here, my hands are warm and full of ener-
gy. But when I think how stupid it was of me not to have come this
morni ng, I get a headache.
HELLINGER: Tr y saying to yourself, "It was stupid of me, and now I' m
suffering the consequences. " Then you' ll feel better.
Ella laughs.
Payi ng at t ent i on t o t he i nner p roc es s
DAGMAR: I feel very full. I' m honori ng my mot her in my heart and ac-
knowl edgi ng my system of origin and my family the whol e time. It feels
so good. I have a professional question: How do you deal systemically
with clients who have been the victims of sexual abuse.
Hel pi ng vi c t i ms of i nc est
HELLINGER: Whe n I' m dealing with a victim of sexual abuse, my sole in-
terest must be to help the child. Everything else is secondary to that. Sys-
temically, the single most common dynamic in nonviolent incestuous
sexual abuse of children is an imbalance of giving and taking bet ween the
parents. Thi s typically occurs when the wife was married before and has
a child from her first marriage. The inequality arises when she then mar-
ries a man wi t hout children of his own and expects hi m to support her
and her child. Whe n she doesn' t adequately acknowledge and value his
gift to her by giving something to him that he sees as bei ng of equal
value, he winds up giving more than he receives. A powerful need for
compensation arises in such a system, and one way that it gets resolved
is for the wife, consciously or unconsciously, to give her daughter to her
husband as compensation. In abuse that results from an imbalance be-
t ween giving and taking bet ween the parents, and frequently in other
forms of sexual abuse as well, both parents are involved, the mot her in
the background and the father in the foreground. Whe n bot h parents are
involved, it's impossible to find a solution before their shared responsi-
bility is brought to light.
For example, when a woman in a group says that she can' t resolve the
effects of having been sexually abused by her father or stepfather, I invite
her to imagine her mot her standing before her and to say to her, " Mot h-
er, if it helped you, I was willing to do it. " If she can say this authenti-
cally, the cont ext immediately changes. Then I invite her to imagine her
father, and to say to him, "Daddy, I wanted to help Mommy. " These
sentences bring the hidden dynamics bet ween the parents to light, and
it becomes impossible for the adults sharing responsibility to continue
acting as if they were innocent.
Whe n we are dealing with a current incestuous situation, when the
client is the mot her, for example, I say to her in the presence of her
child, " The child did it for her mot her, " and I have the child say to her
mot her, "I wanted to help you. " That ends the incest. It can' t go on
when the mot her hears that. If the man is present, I have the child say
t o him, "I wanted t o help Mommy restore the balance. " The sentences
make it possible for the child to see herself in a good light, and after say-
ing something like that publicly, she knows that she is i nnocent and she
no l onger has to feel as if it were her fault.
The second thing I do is help the child regain her dignity. Thi s may
be necessary when she feels defiled by the incest. Perhaps I will tell her
a story by Goet he about a beautiful rose that was plucked and its stem
broken by a careless boy, and although it pricked hi m trying to defend
itself, it had to suffer being plucked. Then I tell the child a secret: the
rose still has a beautiful fragrance!
Systemically viewed, it's rare that there' s only one perpetrator. Most
experi enced therapists are alert to the mother' s surreptitious complicity,
but I' ve seen many cases in whi ch the helpers inadvertently add to the
abuse. For example, a helper who is preoccupied with persecuting the
perpetrator doesn' t help the child at all. And if they are not very careful,
the helpers' own moralistic attitudes about sexuality can put the child' s
sexuality in a very bad light. I' ve found a down-to-earth, commonsense
attitude toward sexuality to be very helpful for many children. Somet i mes
the closeness and the intimacy of incest have a pleasurable aspect for chi l -
dren, but they feel ashamed to admit this because their mothers and the
ot her helpers communi cat e to t hem that what they experi enced is
wi cked. Children in this situation are confused and they need a way to
affirm the pleasure they experienced assuming, of course, that they
really did experience pleasure. At the same time, they need the assurance
that however much they did or did not feel pleasure, they are always
i nnocent . It's appropriate and natural for children to be curious and to
want to have new experiences, and yet they remain i nnocent no matter
what happens. Whe n a girl is condemned for having experi enced pleas-
ure, even in incest, her whol e sexuality gets cast in a bad light, as if it
were something terrible. In fact, as far as the sexuality is concerned, all
that really happens is that the child prematurely has an experience that he
or she woul d sooner or later have in any case. To put it somewhat pro-
vocatively, something that every human being experiences at some time
or other is experienced t oo early by the child. It is a great rel i ef to the
child when she gets the message that her sexuality isn' t what' s bad about
what happened.
There' s a common idea that the trauma of incest inhibits the child' s
later development. Thi s clearly happens sometimes, but what I' ve mor e
often observed is that the child' s later development is inhibited by the
bond bet ween her and the perpetrator that results from their sexual con-
tact. Unless she respects her first partner, this first bond can make it diffi-
cult for her to feel free in her sexual surrender to her partner later on in
life. It's difficult for the child to respect the perpetrator when her first ex-
perience of giving herself sexually and her first bond have been publicly
condemned and the offender treated as a criminal. But if she can ac-
knowl edge and affirm her first bond, she can integrate the experience
with her first partner into her new relationship and resolve it. React i ng
to incest with righteous indignation and moral outrage makes it harder
to resolve the problem, and actually increases damage to the victim.
CLAUDIA: Is there a bond bet ween the child and the offender even if the
experience was not pleasurable or pleasant for the child?
HELLINGER: My observation has been that the bond is there in any case.
But regardless of whet her the experience was pleasurable or not, the
child has every right to blame the offender. She has every right to say to
him, " Yo u wronged me, and I'll never forgive you for it. It' s not in my
power to forgive you. " Whe n she says this, she shifts the guilt from her-
self back to the perpetrator, separates herself from him, and withdraws
from the situation. However, if she expresses her feelings and criticizes
hi m on an emotional level, she increases her attachment to him. Emot i on
only strengthens the bond, whereas if the child can return the conse-
quences of the incest to the offender, she will be free. Nei t her fighting
nor criticizing can resolve the situation. Resol ut i on requires her to leave
the consequences of the incest, as much as she can, with the perpetrator
and to withdraw herself from the situation. The struggle, the fight,
merely unites.
Ther e is another important aspect. Seen systemically, the therapist al-
ways sides with the outcast persons. So when you are worki ng with in-
cest, you must always give the offender a place in your heart.
DAGMAR: In my heart?
HELLINGER: Yes, in your heart. If you don' t, you won' t be able to find a
solution for the victim. You must remember that the offender is also en-
tangled, even if you do not know in what way. If you could see his en-
tanglement, you woul d understand his actions, and you woul d have quite
a different approach. Gi vi ng hi m a place in your heart and seeing his en-
tanglement in no way relieves hi m of his responsibility and guilt, but it
enables you to see that he t oo, in some way, is a victim. Then you are
freer to l ook for a resolution. Is that clear?
J OHN: I ' m surprised that the child, or the victim, doesn' t have to forgive
the perpetrator of the incest. Can she become free without forgiving
HELLINGER: Forgiveness is actually presumptuous. If you think about it,
does a child really have the power to forgive? If she could forgive, she
woul d have to take the whol e guilt and all the consequences upon her-
self. The only time we can forgive is when our guilt is mutual. Wi t h
mutual guilt, the parties make it possible for each other to make a new
begi nni ng through forgiveness. But the child does not share the guilt of
incest. She needs to find a way to say, "What you did was wrong, and
you 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 relief to the offender. If,
on the other hand, the victim becomes wretched, she takes revenge on
the offender, but at a terrible price to herself. These things are quite
different when we look at them phenomenologically and systemically.
CLAUDIA: When a child experiences sexual abuse as pleasurable, she often
approaches other adults in a provocative way, and then she is punished
and subjected to a whole avalanche of "that's wicked and that's forbidden."
HELLINGER: When a child who has been abused approaches other adults
in this way, it's her way of saying to her parents, "I ' m a whore and I' m
guilty, so you don' t need to feel guilty." That' s what I see when I' m
working with a girl like that, that because of her love for her parents,
she's taking the guilt onto herself, making herself bad to make it easier
for them. If she can learn to see what I see, she can experience herself as
good in this respect as well, and then she can be free. You always have
to l ook for love, that's where the solution lies.
DAGMAR: I just can' t believe that love plays any role in child pornography.
HELLINGER: Arguments like that distract us and are impediments to under-
DAGMAR: I don' t understand.
HELLINGER: You have to reckon with love as a motivating force all along
the line, even with the people who do terrible things to children to
make pornographic movies and with the people who go to see them. I
can experience something as wrong or evil without having to hate any-
one. As a therapist, I' m always looking for a way to resolve an entangle-
ment, above all for the victim. When the victim withdraws from the
whole affair and leaves the guilt and the consequences of the actions to
the offender, and when she makes something good out of her experience
for herself, then what has happened is over and resolved for her. But as
soon as emotional impulses, such as "now we must punish the wi cked
culprits," come into play, the victim' s path to the solution is blocked.
Therapists who allow themselves to hate the perpetrator can only damage
a client.
I'll give you an example. In a course I gave for psychiatrists, a woman
told the group about a client of hers who had been raped by her own
father, and her attitude toward him was filled with righteous loathing and
condemnation. I had her set up her client's system, and then I had her
add herself to the constellation, wherever she felt was her right place. She
placed hersel f next to her client. Strangely, everyone in t he constellation
felt angry wi t h the psychiatrist, and nobody trusted her. Wh e n I put her
next to the father, everyone i mmedi at el y qui et ed down and started to
trust her, and the client was very relieved. Standing next to the perpe-
trator is often the best place for a therapist l ooki ng for resolutions.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a daughter (= client)
2 Second child, a daughter
Th Therapist
We can' t excl ude anyone from the system, except i n the case of seri-
ous cri me. Nonvi ol ent incest, as a rule, is not a cri me for whi ch the per-
petrator forfeits the right to bel ong to the system. Th e solution for the
vi ct i m can onl y be found i f we include everyone who has been excl uded
and defend the whol eness of the family system. We ' r e a lot mor e likely
to find the solution if we r emember that although the father is the obvi -
ous offender, the mot her is often a secret perpetrator wor ki ng in the
background, the eminence grise of incest. If the therapist onl y sides with
the vi ct i m and doesn' t guard the system as a whol e, he or she onl y makes
things worse, whi ch can have far-reaching consequences.
Ho w t o hel p perpet rat ors of i ncest
BRIGITTE: What do you do when you are dealing with the perpetrator of
the incest?
HELLINGER: First of all, I usually talk to him individually and in a pro-
tected framework. Sometimes I ask him if he can think of any way he
could help the victim to free herself from him and the wrong he did to
her, and to turn the consequences to the good. If he hears this, he can
get out of a defensive position and start thinking constructively. Genui ne
remorse is the main thing he needs to find. This is primarily an inner
process, but it sometimes helps if he authentically says to the child, "I ' m
sorry that what I did with you has hurt you. " This relieves the child of
a burden and often helps her more than if the offender were punished.
But that is all he may say to her.
It's clear that the perpetrator hurts the victim more when he tries to
explain away or justify or make light of his actions, but he also hurts her
if he demeans himself in front of her. He must not wallow in his guilt,
nor may he ask the child for forgiveness or for anything else that would
lighten his burden. That would be a further abuse, because it creates an-
other burden for the child and strengthens her bond to him. Incidentally,
this is also valid for mothers who knew what was going on.
Even guilty parents are still parents, and the children would not exist
without them. In a certain way, children are their parents, thus humiliat-
ing the parents humiliates the children. That means that the matter must
never be discussed in a demeaning way, either between the parents and
their children, between themselves, or especially not in front of a third
party, for example, a psychotherapist. This only humiliates the parents in
their children' s eyes, and it also humiliates the children, although on the
surface it may appear to be vindicating them. Humiliated parents are lost
to their children.
In cases when the offender is taken to court, I advise him to agree to
his penalty without trying to get it mitigated with the help of tricks or
good references. He' s more likely to regain some of his dignity this way.
Apart from being justly penalized, perpetrators of incest sometimes be-
come the objects of hate campaigns that go too far and make resolution
impossible for the victim. Sometimes innocent persons are accused of in-
cest and can' t prove their innocence because the mere accusation falls
like a spark on dry grass. For them, I have a story. It is called:
The stillness
At a psychotherapeutic congress, a famous psychologist gave a lecture on woman-
hood and was verbally attacked by a group of young women. They complained
that it was a great injustice and that it was presumptuous of him as a man to
lecture on womanhood in the presence of women. The psychologist, who had
spoken with 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 in the way of convincing arguments.
When 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, "The young women were right. For although, as you
saw for yourself, they have no difficulty in asserting themselves against men,
and although they probably haven't experienced much injustice themselves, they
take the injustice experienced by other women as much to heart as if they had
experienced it themselves and, like a mistletoe plant, they draw their strength
from their host. They have gained little through their own life experience and
they remain dependent on the love of women. 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 field. He looks
for whatever shelter he can find and waits until the storm is over. Then he steps
out into the open and enjoys the freshness of the air. "
The next time the psychologist met his colleagues, they asked him what the
wise man had advised him to do. "I can't remember exactly," he said, "I think
he said that I should go out into the fresh air, even during a storm."
About mo r a l i ndi gnat i on
HELLINGER: Somet i mes therapists who try to show the victim and the of-
fender how to turn the harm and the guilt into good become the objects
of indignation and outrage themselves. Morally righteous people feel that
they are in the service of a higher law, whet her it be the law of Moses,
the law of Christ, the law of heaven, the "natural moral law, " the law of
a group, or even only the law of a blind Zeitgeist. It makes no difference
what it is called, morally righteous persons believe that the law gives
t hem power over bot h the offenders and the victims and justifies the
harm that they, the indignant ones, do to others. The question is: How
can therapists count er such indignation wi t hout harmi ng the offender, the
vi ct i m, themselves, or the law? Let me tell you a story, whi ch I' m sure
you' ve already heard:
The adulteress
In Jerusalem, early in the morning, a man came down from the Mount of
Olives and went to the temple. Inside, he sat down in a middle of a circle of
learned and righteous men and began to teach. Then they brought to him a
woman, set her in the circle, and said, "This woman was taken in adultery.
The law of Moses says that she must be stoned. What have you to say about
it?" But they were not really concerned about either the woman or what she
had done. What they were really interested in was setting a trap for this man
who was known to help people and was famous for his leniency. His clemency
outraged them and made them indignant. And they felt that the law gave them
the right to destroy not only the woman, but also the man, if he did not share
their indignation, although he had nothing to do with the deed.
Here we have two groups of offenders. To one of them belongs the woman:
she was an adulteress, and the righteous and indignant people say she is a sin-
ner. To the other group belong the indignant people: in their hearts they are
murderers, but they call themselves just and righteous. Both groups are burdened
by the same harsh law, the only difference being that with regard to the first
group, the law calls a bad deed wrong, and with regard to the second group, it
calls an even worse deed right. But the man they were trying to trap eluded
them all: the adulteress, the murderers, the law, the judges, and the temptation
to wag his finger. In front of them all, he bent down to the earth. And when
the righteous and indignant men failed to take his hint and continued asking
him to tell them what he was thinking, he straightened up and said, "Let he
who is without sin cast the first stone." And again he stooped down and wrote
in the sand.
All at once, everything changed: for the heart knows more than that which
the law permits or commands. The indignant men left the temple one by one,
the youngest bringing up the rear. The man respected their shame and continued
writing in the sand. Wlien they had gone, he straightened up and asked the
woman, "Where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?" "No one,
Lord," she replied. Then, as if he were of the same mind as the righteous and
indignant ones, he said, "I do not condemn you either."
That ' s really the end of the story. In the text that has been handed down,
the man who came down from the Mount of Olives is reported to have
added, " Go, and sin no mor e, " but those words, as biblical scholars have
proved, were added later, probably by someone who felt the love and
greatness of the story to be more than he or she could bear.
There' s another point of interest in the story. Nei t her the righteous
and indignant men nor the story itself mentions the real victim: the
woman' s husband. Had the righteous and indignant men stoned the
woman, her husband woul d have lost his wife t wi ce over. As it was,
wi t hout the interference of righteous and indignant men, the couple had
a chance to deal with their problem themselves and to achieve reconcilia-
tion through love, and perhaps to make a fresh start. Had the righteous
and indignant men been allowed to come bet ween them, this solution
woul d have been impossible, and not only the woman, but also her hus-
band, woul d have been worse off.
So it is sometimes with abused children, when they fall into the hands
of morally indignant people rather than loving ones. Ri ght eous people
are not really concerned about the children. The measures they r ecom-
mend are the products of their indignation, and they only make things
harder for the victims. A child, although she was a victim, often remains
tied to and loyal to the offender. So if her father is persecuted and
morally and physically destroyed, the child also dies morally and physi-
cally, or one of her children atones later on. That is the curse of indig-
nation and the curse of the law that serves as justification.
What , then, should caring and enlightened therapists do? They must
reject any dramatization of the events and l ook for simple ways in whi ch
bot h the victim and the offender can begin anew, but with mor e insight
and love than before. Instead of l ooki ng for a so-called higher law, en-
lightened therapists l ook only at the actual people, victims and offenders,
and take their place among them. They know that only the law seems
to be unbending and eternal; on earth everything is transitory, and the
end is followed by a new beginning. They stay humbl e, and have love
for everyone, for the victims, for the offenders, for the secret instigators
behi nd it all, and for the avengers. Have I made the attitude clear?
HELLINGER: No w we' l l begi n wi t h the fi nal round. It' s the last chance t o
wor k i n this workshop. Thomas?
T H O MA S : I' d like to set up my family o f origin and take a l ook at my
HELLINGER: Wh o bel ongs t o the family?
T HOMAS : My father, my mot her, mysel f as the oldest child, and four sisters.
HELLINGER: Was either of your parents previously married or engaged?
T H O MA S : My mot her had a close relationship wi t h a married man before
she marri ed my father. She felt they were kindred spirits, but when she
met my father, she said, "Thi s man is meant for me, " and she marri ed
hi m. Wh e n my father died, she resumed the relationship wi t h t he ot her
HELLINGER: Di d your father have a close relationship before he marri ed
your mot her ?
T H O MA S : NO. He was a frustrated theologian.
HELLINGER: Wha t do you mean by a frustrated t heol ogi an?
T H O MA S : He ent ered a religious order, and he told me he want ed to "do
it t horoughl y, 15 0 percent . " For instance, he often chastised himself.
The n he had a nervous breakdown and left the order.
HELLINGER: Sounds like your father forgot to be grateful for a hidden
blessing he received. His nervous breakdown, that was an act of grace.
T H O MA S : His life was characterized by failure.
HELLINGER: That ' s because he did not acknowl edge this blessing.
Let me tell you a story:
Mercy docs not last forever
During a great food, a rabbi climbed onto the roof of his house and prayed to
God to save him. Soon afterward a man rowed toward him in a boat and
wanted to rescue him. But the rabbi said, "God himself will save me," and
sent the man away. Tlien a helicopter flew by and offered to take him off the
roof, but he sent it away, too, saying, "God himself will save me." Finally,
he drowned.
When the rabbi stood before God's throne in heaven and complained that he
had not saved him, God replied, "I sent you a boat and I sent you a helicopter.
What more did you want?"
Okay, now let' s set up your family of origin!
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son (= Thomas)
2 Second child, a daughter
3 Third child, a daughter
4 Fourth child, a daughter
5 Fifth child, a daughter
HELLINGER to the representatives of the family: Wi t h whom are you all so
SECOND CHILD: Wi t h our father?
t o Thomas: Wi t h God. Is God in this constellation a man or a woman?
THOMAS: I ' m not sure. I ' m not sure I understand.
HELLINGER: Wh e n God appears in a system, he is always really someone
in t he system.
THOMAS: The n he' s a man.
HELLINGER: I ' m not so sure. Okay, let' s begi n.
How is the father feeling?
FATHER: Awful. I'm staring into emptiness, and I have nothing to do with
any of them.
HELLINGER: The father's detachment confirms it, the act of mercy didn't
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
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 pre-
vented 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. The desire to have a priest in
the family was evidently handed down by the mothers, and the fathers
prevented it.
HELLINGER: Okay. Is God in this family a man or a woman?
Let's add him to the constellation.
HELLINGER: This God. Who can it be?
THOMAS: Now I feel like adding a woman.
HELLINGER: Yes, choose a woman to represent God.
to the group: But you needn't worry. In constellations, God always turns out
to be human.
Thomas places a woman in the constellation to represent God.
Diagram 2
G God
HELLINGER: What has changed?
FIRST CHILD: I ' m rather relieved.
THI RD CHILD: I don' t know what she's doing there, and apart from that,
she' s not looking at me.
HELLINGER: But the energy level has risen. How is the father feeling?
FATHER: I don' t want to have anything to do with this God.
HELLINGER: Yes, people often don' t want anything to do with hi m when
they encount er him in the family.
FATHER: Thi s is making me depressed and restless. I want to go away.
MOTHER: I could wring her neck.
REPRESENTATIVE OF GOD (Thea): I knew Thomas woul d choose me for
the part because people often feel threatened by me.
HELLINGER: You don' t have to apologize. How do you feel in this role?
HELLINGER: To where is your energy flowing?
REPRESENTATIVE OF GOD: Into emptiness, straight ahead.
HELLINGER to Thomas: Whi ch woman is it really, and what is she gazing
THOMAS: I've just thought of my other grandmother (my mother's moth-
er), who lived with us.
HELLINGER: What happened to her?
THOMAS: She had a stillborn child and nearly died. Then she had my
HELLINGER: We'll add her to the constellation. Put her next to your
mother. Now we'll make the representative of God represent your fath-
er's mother. She's probably the one who plays the role of God.
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 de-
prived of her power? Through her husband. Shall we add the two grand-
fathers? Put each of them next to his wife.
Diagram 3
Diagram 4
FF Father's father
MF Mother's father
FIRST CHILD: It's getting better and better.
FATHER: It is much lighter.
SECOND CHILD: It's much less dangerous.
HELLINGER: That makes sense. Usually, it's the women who are experi-
enced as dangerous. The men stand for life and the earth.
SECOND CHILD: For the earth?
HELLINGER: For the earth, strangely enough. Whe n children are in danger,
for example, when they' re suicidal, they are almost always safer with
their fathers than with their mothers.
FATHER: I' ve been feeling very relieved since the grandfathers came.
HELLINGER: No w fetch your wife!
He claps his hands, goes to his wife, puts his arm around her,
and places her by his side. She goes with him, smiling. Mean-
while, the oldest daughter has moved to the left of her brother.
Diagram 5
HE L L I NGE R to the parents of the father and mother. How are you feeling?
F AT HE R ' S MOT HE R : I feel okay now.
F AT HE R ' S F ATHE R : I feel neutral, okay.
MO T H E R ' S MOT HE R : NOW I feel good.
MO T H E R ' S F ATHE R : They have my blessing.
MO T H E R : Whe n the grandfathers appeared on the scene, my hands stopped
shaking, and now they are warm.
HE L L I NGE R : I once set up the constellation with a woman whose father
was a minister. In ministers' families, God often has to be included in the
constellation. Whe n she arranged the people in the constellation, the wife
stood on one side with the children and the children' s nannies, and the
father stood alone.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mot her
1 Fi rst child, a daught er (= client)
2 Second child, a daughter
CN Children' s nannies
HELLI NGER: 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.
Diagram 2
G God
HELLINGER: It is always terrible when God appears in a family like this. In
these families, God is experienced as an enemy of life, and is almost al-
ways represented by a woman. When God is male in a constellation, he' s
usually not experienced as threatening to life.

(continuation of Thomas' constellation)
FATHER'S MOTHER (GOD): When I was standing alone here, I suddenly had
the feeling that I was concentrating all the aggression in the room in me.
HELLINGER: Sometimes it's a good thing that there are men around!
to Thomas: I think it's clear enough. Woul d you like to go and stand in
your 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. Okay?
Thomas nods.
HELLINGER: Okay. That' s all, then.
Women and men
HE L L I NGE R to the group: Are there any questions about this work?
ANNE : Yes, I have a question. Wh y is the earth masculine? I' ve always
heard the opposite.
HE L L I NGE R : You' r e right, the earth is feminine.
ANNE : The earth is feminine? But you said that women . . . ? I don' t un-
HE L L I NGE R : The earth is feminine. But the images are compl ex. Wome n
often have more difficulty in considering their children as separate from
themselves. Me n usually find it easier to make a distinction bet ween
themselves and their children, except when they are seriously disturbed.
That ' s why children, as a rule, are safer with their fathers in terms of
their individuality.
ANNE : I understand that.
HE L L I NGE R : There' s nothing wrong with it, it's j ust the nature o f things.
That ' s why men still have a definite role to play.
T HOMAS : I' ve been wondering what I should do about the destructive ele-
ment in me, my destructive restlessness.
HE L L I NGE R : YOU must go to the men. I' ve already told you that. Men
who have beards, like you, have to go to the men, above all to their
fathers. They must leave their mother' s sphere of influence and enter
their father' s. Yo u know my observations about men with full beards?
They come from families in whi ch the men were belittled and were
emasculated, bot h in their own families and in their father's line over
several generations.
The break with God
HE L L I NGE R to Thomas: Have you got all you want?
T HOMAS : The question o f identification still interests me. Wi t h whom was
I identified?
HE L L I NGE R : I don' t think identification is the right word in your case. In
your family, a moral obligation was handed down, and wi t h it the in-
j unct i on not to fulfill it.
T HOMAS : That ' s j ust how I experience it.
HE L L I NGE R : YOU are bound bot h to fulfill and to reject the obligation.
T HOMAS : Yes. Exactly.
HE L L I NGE R : And what is the solution? A break wi t h God. Because this
God is a very small god. Take your leave of her with dignity, and go on
to something greater. Then you will be in the right place. The greater
God sent your father his nervous breakdown. But your father didn' t r ec-
ognize God' s blessing.
T HOMAS : The question is: How can I recognize him?
HELLINGER: Yo u can' t. Love the earth. The God that plays such a role in
your family appears as an enemy of the earth and of life. But the earth
is the only reality that we know. Earth contains the greatest mystery, not
T HOMAS : I have turned toward the earth.
HELLINGER: As an adult, but it's also important that the child in you turn
toward the earth. That will be possible when you stand next to the men,
or when you feel they are standing behi nd you. That ' s all. Okay?
I woul d like to add something about vocations, so-called divine voca-
tions. They usually are handed down from the God operating in the
family, and that's usually the mother.
Someone who refuses to follow such a vocation, for example, a voca-
tion to be a priest, must also break with the particular faith and religion
of the family. Otherwise, he may live an even more restricted life than
he woul d have had he followed the vocation. The only way to escape
from such a vocation is to break with the family God. And this can only
be done by someone with great faith and great strength. People who are
not capable of this cannot leave their vocations either. I' ll give you an
example in the form of a story. It could be called "Desert i on, " or
"Fai t h, " or "Love. " In this story, they 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, his only and beloved
son; looked at his wife, 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 look at his father?
How does the father look at his son?
25 5
How does the wife look at her husband?
How does the husband look at his wife?
How do they look at God?
And how does God if there is a God look at them?
Another man 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 make a sacrifice of 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, "I will not do that."
How does the son look at his father?
How does the father look at his son?
How does the wife look at her husband?
How does the husband look at his wife?
How do they look at God?
And how does God if there is a God look at them?
Have I made my point?
HARRY: YOU certainly have.
HELLINGER: I t hi nk the story makes it clear what it means to break with
the family God, and what a t remendousl y strong faith and l ove it re-
quires. And how weak i n compari son i s the faith of those who are pre-
pared to sacrifice their children to this God.
ANNE: I woul d like to set up my family of origin.
ANNE: Th e member s of my family are my father, my mot her, my sister.
who is t wo years older, and myself.
HELLINGER: Wha t happened to your father' s parents and your father' s
ANNE: The y wer e seized in the early 1930s and murdered in a concent ra-
t i on camp. My father and his sister were separated from t hem and sur-
vived. The y went t o Engl and i n 1937.
HELLINGER: What about your mother' s parents?
ANNE: My mother' s father was a Christian who became Jewish in order to
marry my grandmother. My grandmother, my grandfather, and my
mot her were hidden by one of my grandfather's sisters. So they survived.
HELLINGER: The grandfather who became Jewish is very important. He
might make it possible for your marriage to a German to succeed in spite
of what we discussed before. Yes, it feels to me like he could make a
great difference.
to the group: Do you feel that that would act as compensation?
I'll give you an example:
A man related that his grandfather had come to a small village as a
bachelor and had married the richest farmer's daughter, an only child.
She was Protestant and he was Catholic, but her parents didn' t know
that. They were horrified when the bells on the Catholic church rang
out on the wedding day. The young couple hadn' t told her parents what
they were planning and they had a Catholic wedding, and all their chil-
dren grew up Catholic. One day the man asked his sister, " Why did you
call your daughter Karen?" "Oh, " she said, " We were going to call her
Katharine, but we decided that Karen is more modern. " The man said,
"Our Protestant grandmother was named Katharine." His sister hadn' t re-
alized the connection. She herself had married a Protestant in a Catholic
church, and they had agreed that all their children would be Catholics.
But in some mysterious way that no one quite understood, this child,
Karen, was baptized in the Protestant church and raised as a Protestant.
That was the compensation.
ANNE: My husband, from whom I' m separated, is Catholic, and my chil-
dren have been baptized.
HELLINGER: That is appropriate. Okay. Now set up your parents, yourself,
and your sister, and then the other important persons: your father's par-
ents and your mother' s parents, with the sister who hid them.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mot her
1 First child, a daughter
2 Sec ond child, a daught er ( = Anne)
FFf Father's father, murdered in a concentration camp
F Mt Father's mother, murdered in a concentration camp
MF Mother' s father, who converted
MM Mother' s mother, who survived
MFS Mother' s father's sister, who hid MF and MM
HELLI NGER: How is the mother feeling?
MOTHE R : Now I feel all right. While Anne was setting up the constella-
tion, I lost sight of my two daughters and felt their loss very keenly.
HELLI NGER: How is the father feeling?
FATHER: 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.
HELLI NGER: How is the older sister feeling?
FIRST CHILD: When I was standing here alone, I had a warm feeling to-
ward my parents. Then I was moved around and it got cooler. When 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: HOW 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: YOU mean, easier than facing them?
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 sis-
ter. 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
Hellinger changes the constellation so that the children are facing
their parents. He moves the father's murdered parents further into
the background.
Di agr am 2
FATHER'S MOTHER: That' s much better.
HELLINGER to the father. How' s that for you?
FATHER: I have more strength.
HELLINGER: The dead must also make room.
MOTHER' S FATHER: Now I feel good. Before, when the other two grand-
parents were standing opposite me, there was a strong feeling of strength
between us, which did me good; I felt strong. When they went away,
the strength went too. My two granddaughters were too far away. It's
better now that they are standing in front of me.
MOTHER' S MOTHER: Before I felt as if I were the mother of the whole
company. Now I can turn toward my husband more easily.
MOTHER' S FATHER'S SISTER: I have strong palpitations, but I know that
it is okay like this.
Hellinger now moves the mother's parents and the aunt further
into the background.
2 6 0
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?
HELLINGER: It makes a big difference whether we're dealing with people
who have been excluded or with people who have power. The powerful
ones may stand in the background, and the ones who have been exclud-
ed 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.
Li f e' s gr ac e
IDA: I feel good, and I feel a kind of burning in me.
She is moved and on the verge of tears.
I woul d like to listen to my inner voi ce mor e often. It' s there, I feel that
sometimes, and more and more frequently. But I woul d like to trust it
HELLINGER: Ther e was once a pious J e w who prayed to God every night
to let hi m wi n the lottery. One evening, after many years, he heard
God' s voi ce saying, "Please give me a chance to help you at last. Buy a
t i cket . "
IDA: Wel l , I have experienced life's grace many times. She is still close to
HELLINGER: Look at your father and leave hi m there in the distance. Look
at hi m wi t h love and at his family. Just leave t hem there, where they
are, and l ook at t hem with love. And take his blessing, and take your
father's sibling who was murdered into your heart. Di d they manage to
dispose of the child altogether?
IDA: No. She gives a sigh of relief.
HELLINGER: That woul d have been impossible. It still exists somewhere,
in safekeeping. Leave it where it is kept and held now. Can you leave it
She nods.
Ther e is a good German word for cemetery, Friedhof whi ch means
"place of peace. " It is a place where there should be peace. The dead
must also be allowed to rest in peace. Is that okay for you now?
She nods.
HELLINGER: No w we' ve found a better guide for you.
WILLIAM: I haven' t much to say. I' m very moved.
SOPHIE: I feel good. I' m calm. My energy level has risen again, a bit
higher than this morning. And there' s nothing else I want.
CLARA: I feel good t oo. I feel very full and rich.
JAY: I woul d like to set up my family constellation.
JAY: My father was married and divorced before he married my mot her.
He had a son from this first marriage.
HELLINGER: Wi t h whom did the son grow up?
JAY: He lived with us for the first t wo years before my father died, and
then he went to live with his paternal grandmother. Four years after that,
his biological mot her sent for him and he went to live with her in Italy,
where he subsequently stayed. My father was addicted to pills and died
of kidney failure.
HELLINGER: Do you know why your father's first marriage broke up?
JAY: Apparently it was because of his addiction. My parents didn' t get along.
HELLINGER: Di d anything special happen in your father's family?
JAY: My father's father was an alcoholic.
Jay sets up his family of origin.
Diagram 1
Mother, father's second wife
Father's first wife, mother of 1
First child, a son, from the father's first marriage
Second child, a son, f rom the father's second marriage (= J ay)
Father's father
HE L L I NGE R : HOW is the father feeling?
F A T H E R : Ver y sad.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w about the first wife?
F A T H E R ' S F I R S T WI F E : I ' m not at all happy about my position here. I
know that I have a son, but I have no relationship wi t h anyone, and that
makes me angry. I ' m compl et el y on my own, and I want t o be wi t h my
son. I should be able to do at least that one thing.
HE L L I NGE R : How' s the older son feeling?
F I R S T CHI LD: It' s all so unreal. I feel like philosophizing.
HE L L I NGE R : Yes , it certainly is unreal.
Hellinger places the father's father in front of the father, facing
him; the men smile at each other, and the father takes a step
backward, Hellinger turns the first wife's son to face the family,
and when he places the first wife next to her son, she gives a sigh
of relief.
HELLINGER to the father. How' s that?
FATHER: Wonderful .
HELLINGER: Ho w does the mot her feel?
MOTHER: Bef or e my husband' s father came into the scene, I was thinking
that I' d like to turn around and take my son and leave. But when his
father came, my husband suddenly seemed interesting and attractive again.
Diagram 2
SECOND CHILD: At the beginning, when he was standing there alone, I
thought, "That must be an interesting man. I would like to see his face
more clearly. The mother is the mainstay. I' m glad she's there." When 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: Now I have a wide view. Bot h women seem friendly and posi-
tive. I can see my sons, and the whole constellation seems settled and
FIRST CHILD: It seems to be blowing hot and cold. I like being next to my
brother, but I know that we come from different mothers.
SECOND CHILD: There was a cold draft around my left hand, but that went
when my grandfather arrived. That' s good.
HELLINGER to Jay: Go and stand in your place.
Jay goes to his place in the constellation, looks around him, and
nods approvingly.
HELLINGER: I' d like to do a little experiment with you, to show you what
men can mean.
Hellinger places him in front of his father, with his back to him.
Diagram 4
JAY after a pause: This frightens me a little.
HELLINGER: Stay there for a little while.
after a long pause: Go with your feelings. Turn around and face your father.
Jay turns around and throws his arms around his father. They
embrace, and Jay sobs loudly.
Diagram 5
HELLINGER t o Jay: Breat he deeply, through your mout h. Don' t make a
sound, j ust breathe deeply. Breat he deeply, in and out. Powerfully. Don' t
give in to weakness!
HELLINGER t o the father's father. You can embrace t hem if you want to.
He embraces them both.
HELLINGER to Jay, as he grows calmer. Go back to your place, and l ook at
t hem all.
Diagram 6
HELLINGER to Jay. Is it okay like that?
JAY: Yes.
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
Laughter in the group.
I' m now wondering about the significance of my present family, the sec-
ondary 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
HARRY: I think we can do it with just a few words.
HELLINGER: Set up the constellation.
HELLINGER: No, 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: Who belongs to your family?
HARRY: My first wife, myself, and our two daughters. Then my second
wife. I have no children with her.
HELLINGER: Why did you separate from your first wife?
HARRY: She wanted to leave me.
Harry sets up the constellation of his current family.
Diagram 1
Husband (= Harry)
First wife, mother of 1 and 2
First child, a daughter
Second child, a daughter
2W 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 moth-
er. 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
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.
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
HELLINGER: How 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 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 of 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: You should not have done that, because of your entangle-
ment 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.
Diagram 4
HbF Husband's father
HELLINGER to Harry: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Harry goes to his place in the constellation, and Hellinger places
his father next to him.
HARRY: I feel free, and I like being close to my father. I feel reconciled
with him. His fate was also my fate.
HELLINGER: Okay, that's all.
The blessing c onc eal ed i n thi ngs t hat went wr ong
FRANK: I have a feeling of unease when I think about how I began my
marriage. I knew perfectly well that if I married my wife, it would be
wrong because I didn't love her enough. That' s what I felt, but that if
I didn' t marry her, things would go on in the same old destructive way.
Then we bot h said, "Let' s get married, and if it doesn' t work, we can
always separate." Of course, it couldn' t work like that. Then I wanted
to get away, I wanted my freedom. And it couldn' t work like that either.
I did the wrong thing again and again without being aware of it. I ranted
and raved and made the most awful things happen. That' s why I have al-
ways felt guilty.
HELLINGER: There is a simple solution. There was a certain Le Bon who
wrote a book.
FRANK: Tfie Psychology of the Masses.
HELLINGER: Exactly. He wrot e The Psychology of the Masses. And the same
Le Bon, or so I' m told, also wrot e another book, about the psychology
of the elite. I haven' t read it, but I read a book review that said that Le
Bo n found out that the elite differ from the masses in one respect.
FRANK: In that they believe they are the elite?
HELLINGER: No, in that they do not l ook for a guilty party outside t hem-
selves, but accept responsibility for their own actions immediately. Thus
they are always able to act. But unfortunately only a few people bel ong
to the elite.
Laughter in the group.
FRANK: But you always say that the highest state we can reach is the ordinary.
HELLINGER: Your solution is to say: "What I did was wrong, and I accept
the consequences. " Then you' ll be able to act immediately. Qui t e apart
from the fact that you have collected experience through doing wrong
things. That is the ot her side of the coin. Ther e is nothing, however
hard, that does not also contain a blessing.
Th e ne x t step
UNA: I feel torn apart, pulled in different directions, but I don' t know
exactly why. I woul d like to give what I' ve learned the time to work,
but I' m so restless. I don' t know why.
HELLINGER: Perhaps because it's time to take the next step. If you take it,
maybe your feeling of restlessness will disappear.
Cl oseness and res t ri c t i on
UNA: It has occurred to me that in most of the constellations I' ve seen, the
members of the family stand comparatively far away from each other. For
me, it was very important to put t hem all very close together. Does this
mean that there are t oo much closeness and restriction in these families?
HELLINGER: Yes. Each member of the family needs space.
UNA: And this space was missing?
HELLINGER: Yes. To o much closeness is a rejection of development.
Mo t he r and chi l d
JOHN: I' ve been thinking that I ought to go to my mot her and embrace
HELLINGER: No, that woul d be presumptuous. Leave your mot her in
peace. But what you can do is ask her for her blessing. And you can tell
her that you understand how hard it was for her when you were in the
hospital. If you do more than this, you' ll start all over again, trying to
give instead of staying on the level of receiving and accepting as a child.
Tel l your mot her that you realize what she has done for you, and that
you honor it and appreciate it.
Doi ng t he ri ght t hi ng f or one' s agi ng parent s
LEO: I' ve been feeling weak again, but now I' m ready to exercise some
self-restraint. I was wonderi ng what I' d do if my father were to start act-
ing like a child again, because that makes everything seem different. But
then I thought that it's really up to my mot her to see that her husband
agrees to treatment if necessary.
HELLINGER: Yes, that's her j ob, not yours. It is only appropriate for you
to l ook after your father if your mot her is unable to.
The difficulty is that when children l ook at their parents, they i mme-
diately feel like 5- or 7-year-old children again, and that when parents
l ook at their children, no matter how old they are, they treat t hem as if
they were still 5 or 7 years old. That ' s why many adults have difficulty
in l ooki ng after their aging parents, because in their presence they still
feel like children.
The solution for t hem is to say to their parents, " I f you need me, I
will take care of you as is appropriate." That is the key sentence. Whe n
they say this, they are speaking as adults, and on this level, they can re-
spect their parents as children and still do what is appropriate.
The adult child does not exist only for the parents. Thus children
cannot always do what their parents want, but it is usually possible to do
what is right.
Th e c our age t o do what i s ap p rop ri at e
ROLPH: I feel centered, and everything is bubbling and flowing I don' t
quite know where to. I' m l ooki ng for my happiness, and I see so much
ahead of me.
HELLINGER: The next step is to summon up the courage to do what is ap-
ROL PH: I knew you were going to tell me something good.
Pers pec t i ves
MARTHA: I feel fine. I feel I' m on the right path, but I know I must go
with the process until it reaches its goal.
HELLINGER: You' ve made a start, and the course has been set. After that,
it usually takes a year or t wo before the seeds start to sprout and the
rosebush begins to bl oom.
THEA: What you said about a process taking t wo years to develop corres-
ponds exactly to my experience. I was at one of your workshops a year
ago, and what happened there has been worki ng in me ever since.
DAGMAR: At the moment , I j ust feel very, very grateful. I' m very full.
Some seeds need time to sprout. Self-restraint is very important in my
profession, not to try and pack t oo much in, and to pay attention to the
balance bet ween giving and taking. That' s beautiful, and I' m taking a lot
with me from this workshop. There' s j ust one mor e thing I woul d like.
It sounds a bit odd, but I have a deep longing for thoroughness. I tend
to start something with lots of enthusiasm, and then I give up and do
something else.
HELLINGER: I'll tell you something about thoroughness in psychotherapy.
It's never mor e than 20 percent of the whol e. Everything that goes be-
yond 20 percent is t oo thorough and only causes trouble.
CARL: Whe n I think about the goal I had when I arrived, I have a won-
derful feeling of freedom. At the moment , I' m thinking mainly about the
power of restraint. That ' s what I'll take with me.
ELLA: I' m full of energy, and my hands are hot. I liked it when Leo told
us that he first of all discussed things inwardly and then was able to bow
to his mot her. I think I' m in a similar situation, but I couldn' t do it as
he did.
HELLINGER: You can do it secretly. That' s how it works best.
ELLA laughs: Yes? I' ve been thinking that I' ve never really honored and re-
spected my mot her. I always put myself a little above her. I woul d like
to honor her.
HELLINGER: Yes, and how can you do that? The best thing is if I tell you
a story.
The way of the world
A bumblebee flew to a cluster of cherry blossoms, drank her fill of a blossom's
nectar, and flew away contented. But then she started suffering pangs of con-
science. "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, but she
couldn't make up her mind, and the weeks and the months went by.
She did not forget, 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. "Now I shall never be able to
say thank you," she thought. "I have lost my chance forever. But it has taught
me a 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.
Ho no r i ng what has been
MARCUS: I always feel confused about my roles at the end of your work-
shops, 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 devel-
oped into family therapy.
End of the workshop
From a Workshop
for Family Therapists
Th e sol ut i on as a rel i gi ous ac t
RI TA: I' ve been feeling entangled in something for years. I' ve tried to find
out why, but every time I think I' m becomi ng clear about one aspect,
I seem to get drawn in again from another angle.
HELLINGER: Very few people succeed in resolving an entanglement. I real-
ly mean that. It's one thing to gain an insight, but when it comes to
maki ng a decision, the backward pull is so strong that most people stay
entangled. The transition from an entanglement to its solution is a spir-
itual act. Thi s means that you have to move ont o a different, higher
level, and this is connect ed with a profound and far-reaching leave-taking
of what went before. Thi s move makes people lonely.
If you live in a small village in a mountain valley, for example, your
life is closely bound up with everyone else's. If you leave the village and
climb a high mountain, you gain a much wider vi ew than you had be-
fore. You can feel allied to different things and different people, but you
don' t feel connect ed to things and people in the same close, safe way that
you did in the valley. That' s why a wide horizon makes people lonely.
And apart from that, the transition from closeness to freedom is experi-
enced by the child as guilt, as a leaving behi nd of some former i nnocence
and acceptance, and as the violation of a deep original loyalty. In the
same way, we can only succeed in making the transition from the prob-
l em to the solution if we put our trust in the unknown, whi ch is dark
and unpredictable, rather than in the familiar. Thi s is essentially a re-
ligious act. Thus, a therapist must never fall prey to the illusion that the
solution can be arranged or manipulated. Although there is quite a lot we
can do to make the path easier, in really deep entanglements, solutions
and healing, when they succeed, are experienced as grace by bot h the
therapist and the client.
RI TA: I' m thinking a lot about the t heme of sisters. She starts to cry.
HELLINGER: What do sisters mean to you?
Rl TA: My sister was murdered. Her boyfriend stabbed her because she
wanted to leave him, and now the burden has fallen on me.
HELLINGER: Does it help your sister if you carry this burden?
Rl TA: No. Logically, I know it doesn' t.
HELLINGER: Ye t you feel the powerful pull to burden yourself in spite of
what' s logical. That ' s exactly the dilemma I was describing. It's so much
easier for us all to stay in our familiar village than to breathe the clear
mount ai n air and to allow the vistas of the higher realms to t ouch our
hearts. You can feel how painful it will be for you to make the transition.
HELLINGER to Rita, after a break: We' l l set up your family of origin.
t o the group: Groups have the most intensity when we work where the
energy is. Before the break, Ri t a was the one with the most energy.
That ' s why I' m starting with her.
HELLINGER to Rita: Are you married?
RI TA: Yes.
HELLINGER: Have you any children?
RI TA: An adopted child.
HELLINGER: An adopted child? Why?
Rl TA: Because I can' t have children, and my husband and I bot h wanted
to adopt a child.
HELLINGER: Di d the child want it too?
Rl TA: I think so.
HELLINGER: How old was the child when you adopted her?
Rl TA: She was 5 days old.
HELLINGER: HOW did she come to you?
Rl TA: The child' s mot her had offered her up for adoption. She was in the
hospital, and she waited for me there.
HELLINGER: And the child' s father?
Rl TA: The mot her did not ment i on him, nor is he ment i oned in the
child' s papers.
HELLINGER t o the group: Strange! Men don' t count for much in our soci-
ety. And they call that patriarchy!
t o Rita: Di d you know before you married that you couldn' t have children?
Rl TA: No.
HELLINGER: SO you only found out after you married?
Rl TA: Yes.
HELLINGER: HOW did your husband react?
Rl TA: He didn' t regard it as a problem. He never questioned our relation-
ship because of it.
HELLINGER to the group: Whe n one partner is unable to have children, he
or she has no right to insist that the other partner continue the relation-
ship. However, if the other partner decides to stay, that decision must be
honored. Thi s is important. Then it is clear and okay.
Rl TA: I' m very grateful to hi m for it.
HELLINGER: "Grateful" is an ambiguous word.
Rl TA: Yes. I realize that.
HELLINGER: " Honor " is the more accurate word. Then it is okay. But it
means you have fewer rights than he has.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: If, as you have told us, the couple' s relationship
has priority over the relationship bet ween the parents and their children,
then I don' t understand what you have j ust said. After all, it' s the loving
relationship bet ween Ri t a and her husband that's at stake.
HELLINGER: Does your obj ect i on contribute anything?
PARTICIPANT: Yes, I think it does.
HELLINGER: No, it only takes something away.
to the group: Has what she said helped Ri t a? She has taken the seriousness
of the t heme away from Ri t a by shifting the discussion to a theoretical
level. That ' s the effect of such interventions. They are very risky. Some
therapists wor k primarily with such objections. Whe n someone comes in
wi t h a problem, the therapist starts by saying, for example, that it's not
such a terrible problem.
PARTICIPANT: I didn' t obj ect to Ri t a' s questions or to what she said, but
to your interpretation.
HELLINGER: You have just made another obj ect i on. So now we can dis-
cuss what I meant or what you said, but then we still woul d have left
Ri t a in the lurch.
The participant laughs.
t o Rita: First of all, we' ll set up your present family. Wer e you or was your
husband previously married or engaged?
RI TA: My husband was married.
HELLINGER: Di d he have any children from the marriage?
RI TA: No.
HELLINGER: Why did he separate from his wife?
Rl TA: All I know is that they didn' t suit each other. Fr om my husband' s
point of vi ew and that's the only one I know he only married her
out of a sense of duty.
RI TA: That ' s what he says.
HELLINGER: Yes, that's what he says.
Laughter in the group.
We' l l need the first wife, your husband, you, the adopted child, and the
child' s parents. That ' s the system. Ho w old is the child?
Rl TA: Th e child is 5 years old.
HELLINGER: A boy or a girl?
RI TA: A girl.
Rita starts setting up the constellation.
HELLINGER t o the group: Yo u can pay attention to whet her she is really
cent ered whi l e she' s putting the persons in their places or whet her she' s
fol l owi ng a concept of her family she t hought up beforehand. It' s i mpor-
tant to be aware of whet her or not someone is doi ng this really seriously.
If not, you have to interrupt it. It' s no good doing things halfheartedly
in this wor k. It' s a very serious matter, and it onl y works when it is ta-
ken seriously. If you pay attention, you can usually see whet her or not
someone is serious.
Diagram 1
First wife
Second wife (= Ri ta)
Child, a girl, adopted
Father of the child
Mother of the child
HELLINGER t o the group: Have you not i ced at whom everybody in the con-
stellation is looking? At the father, who has been excluded. That ' s where
the key to the solution lies.
HELLINGER: How is the husband feeling?
HUSBAND: There' s a feeling of tension bet ween me and my first wife. I
woul d like her to stand in front of me.
HELLINGER: Okay, follow your impulse and stand next to her.
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 of 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
Diagram 2
Hettinger changes the constellation.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: That' s the solution.
to the father. How is the child' s father feeling?
FATHER: Ri ght at the beginning, I felt that I didn' t bel ong here. Then
when the ot her man went to the back of the constellation, I started to
feel something for the woman who adopted the child. Now that the
child is standing next to me, I realize for the first time that she's my
HELLINGER: How is the child' s mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I feel much better, and I' d like to move away a bit.
HELLINGER: Okay, do.
She moves forward a little, away from the others.
HELLINGER to the group: Fr om the representatives' reactions, you can see
that in putting the child up for adoption in the way she did, this woman
has forfeited her rights as a mother. A mot her who frivolously offers her
child for adoption or who does it out of self-interest forfeits her rights to
her child. But you can see that the father and his family still have a con-
nect i on to this child. You can see that the child belongs not only to her
father, but also with his family, with his parents, brothers, and sisters.
The child is still a member of that family. Not just connect ed to her
father. Thi s connect i on must be taken into consideration. I woul dn' t be
surprised if the child later were to feel a strong drive to find her father
and his family, and if she does, you should help her find them. The child
will be safe when her belonging to that family is acknowledged. Whe n
she is with them, she will bel ong to a system and not only to her father.
But this system (he points at the mother), her mother' s system, has forfeited
all its rights to her. You can see that in the constellation; there' s no pull
there at all. Yo u can see, t oo, that Ri t a' s husband is not really separated
from his first wife.
FIRST WIFE: Whe n the second wife turned away, I got the feeling that I
don' t bel ong here any more. It's not the right place for me.
HELLINGER to the husband: How do you feel there?
HUSBAND: Of all three places, this is the best for me. I feel very good. In
my first place, I had very little contact with my second wife. Here, next
to my first wife, it was a lot better. Now that she has turned around, I' m
in direct contact with her. That ' s a good feeling. But above all, I feel
good about the child. The fact that she is standing next to her father is
a tremendous relief.
HELLINGER: That ' s where she belongs. No w we' ll put you next to your
second wife.
HELLINGER to Rita's representative: How are you feeling?
SECOND WIFE: Much better since my husband came and stood next to me.
Diagram 4
I felt very alone before. But his first wife rather annoys me.
HELLINGER t o the first wife: Wh e n he went to his second wife, you moved
away. No w fi nd out where your right place is.
FI RST WIFE: I woul d like to go further away.
HELLINGER to the group: When, as in this case, the husband has a second
wife, then, as a rule, the second wife must stand bet ween hi m and his
first wife. It takes courage to really assume that position, but it's onl y
when the second wife stands bet ween her husband and his first wife that
the fi rst wife can let go of her ex-husband. If the man i s standing be-
t ween his t wo wives, he' s drawn to the first one.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the child feeling now?
CHILD: Good. I ' m surprised that I ' m not at all worri ed about bei ng so far
away. I feel bet t er here than I did before.
HELLINGER t o Rita: So the adoption wasn' t such a good idea.
Rl TA: Wha t does that mean?
HELLINGER: We ' ve seen what it means. The way to put things right is to
do exactly what you see here i n the constellation. No w you can stand i n
your place i f you like.
Rl TA from her place in the constellation: I don' t feel good here.
Rl TA: No, because I have no cont act wi t h the child.
HELLINGER: You' r e past redempt i on.
Long pause.
That ' s j ust how i t is.
Rl TA: Ho w what is?
HELLINGER: Your attention is goi ng to what you t hi nk is good for you,
to your needs, not to the needs of the child. As l ong as your needs are
mor e i mport ant to you than the child' s, you' re past redempt i on.
Th e p r i c e
HELLINGER t o the group: I' ve wor ked wi t h a number of social agencies
trying to understand why some adoptions go so wrong, and one thing
we' ve seen over and over is how i mport ant the natural father and his
family are to the child' s sense of wel l -bei ng. Wh e n a child is adopted i r-
responsibly, wi t hout an attempt bei ng made to find the father, let alone
to recogni ze his rights, there' s always a high price to pay. Thi s was very
clear from the way Ri t a set up her family system. She sacrificed her hus-
band for the child. That ' s the price she has to pay. Her husband doesn' t
stand a chance in this family, and we could see the systemic pressure he' s
under to leave. Adoptive parents pay for an irresponsible adoption either
wi t h one of the marriage partners or with one of their own children. I' ve
seen quite a few families in whi ch a woman who has adopted a child be-
came pregnant and aborted the baby, or one of the couple' s own chil-
dren died or commi t t ed suicide. These are ways of atoning for an irre-
sponsible adoption.
Th e hi erarc hy of bel ongi ng
HELLINGER: Adoption works when a child really needs to be adopted be-
cause it truly has no one else. It's dangerous to forget that every child has
mor e than j ust a father and mother. Ri t a, for example, is acting as
t hough the child she adopted only had a mot her. In fact, the child also
has a father, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, and we could see that the
child is still connect ed to those people in some mysterious systemic way.
Whe n there is really no one else, then a stranger may stand in for bl ood
relatives, but even then many adopted children still unconsciously feel
connect ed to their natural parents and their families. Whe n that's the
case, it's better if the child is taken into foster care and not actually
Adopt i on usually goes much t oo far. The child doesn' t need it. What
does a child really gain through adoption, compared with bei ng taken
into foster care? The latter is much more modest, and when difficulties
arise, they can be resolved by more modest means.
Obj ec t i ons
HELLINGER: Whe n the child grows up, she will avenge herself on her
adoptive parents for taking her away from her parents and family, and
rightly so.
PARTICIPANT (angrily): I can' t stand listening to your prophesies. They are
only your personal opinion, and they' re very dangerous.
HELLINGER: I'll tell you a story.
Two people entered a room in which there was a picture hanging crookedly.
One of them said, "The picture is crooked," and the other one said, "The pic-
ture is crooked because you say it is." The first person replied: "If that's why
it's crooked, you can easily put it straight."
That's a rather confusing story, but never mind.
THE SAME PARTICIPANT: The 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. The child had no one.
Then Rita 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 hypo-
thetical; she's made up a story about him. Rita said that the child's moth-
er 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 repre-
sentatives' reactions. Then 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 some-
one, 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 rees-
tablishing order in the system?
HELLINGER: We' ve 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: No. You 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. Just 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 a-
gainst 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.
PAR TI CI PANT: YOU mean that it is the duty of the adoptive parents to find
the father?
HE LLI NGE R : Yes. Not only to find him, but to take the child to him and
his family.
PAR TI CI PANT: What i f the child doesn' t want to go?
HE LLI NGE R : That' s what the whole constellation was about. At the begi n-
ning, Ri t a didn't even consider the father and his family, hadn' t even
thought about them. If the child doesn' t want to meet her natural father
and his family, it'll be hard to know if that's her true wish or her uncon-
scious accommodation to her adoptive mother' s wishes. It all has to do
with helping the child distinguish between her own truth and the needs
of the adults around her. It's the adults' responsibility to acknowledge
their position in the whole system, and what we do know is that the
father has been ignored, that people want him out of the way. We' ve
seen that.
A child's ri ght to his or her parent s
A T HI R D PAR TI CI PANT: So it makes no difference what the mother' s
reasons were for not divulging the father's name?
HE LLI NGE R : It makes no difference to the child's need to know her father.
If there are such things as basic human rights, then one of them is
certainly a child's right to his or her parents, family, and extended family.
What sort of law is it that allows people to act as if a child were not
connected to his or her biological parents, to keep the child away from
them, and to put themselves in their place? What kind of law allows a
mother in distress to offer her child up for adoption as if the father were
extraneous and irrelevant? It's nothing short of perverse, but many people
regard it as normal. A child is connected to his or her family and ex-
tended family and has a right to them, just as he or she has a right to
bot h parents.
The f ocus i s on t he vi c t i m, t he chi l d,
and not on t he perpet rat ors
PAR TI CI PANT: The way I see it, Rita' s constellation was the first step in
her work, and whatever results from it is the next step. The information
we received was that the mother did not want to divulge the father's
name, and I think there must be something behi nd that. Si nce then,
things have developed, and who knows with what the child will be faced
if and when she finds her father?
HELLINGER: Again, you' re trying to soothe Ri t a at the cost of the child.
The danger with such deliberations is that we spare the adults and burden
the weakest person, the child. What ' s wrong with leaving the burden
with the persons who are really responsible, the adults?
Whe n you try to find excuses for the mother, you cheat her out of
the confrontation with the full seriousness of her actions. If we behave
as if her actions were free of consequences, then we cut off the possibility
of finding any real solution. Whe n she confronts the full force of her re-
sponsibility, she can see what has to be done, and then it's possible that
she will do something about it. Whe n you' re really serious about some-
thing, you can leave the burden of the responsibility with the people
who have the strength to bear it instead of burdening the child, as many
therapists and adoption authorities do.
Remember , Ri t a set up the constellation with everyone l ooki ng at the
child' s father. I didn' t do that, I only l ooked for the solution. If you now
say that the consequences could have been different, you detract from the
seriousness and power of what you saw and you presume to know better
than Ri t a what' s going on.
It' s only when you take seriously what the constellation showed that
the necessary steps for the appropriate solution emerge. That' s why I' m not
shy about confronting people with the most serious consequences of their
actions when worki ng with their constellations, because I trust that real
solutions can only emerge out of looking at the truth of what' s going on.
The constellation showed Ri t a the destructive forces at wor k in her
present system, and that enables her to recognize the seriousness of her
situation. You won' t be in a position to help her later on unless you' re
willing to see clearly the destructive forces at work in her system. It's the
acknowl edged gravity of the situation that gives her the strength to do
somet hi ng about it.
Fr om the very beginning, my attention was focused on the child, and
the way Ri t a set the constellation up, everyone in it was l ooki ng at the
child' s father. I ' m in tune with them, for they are the ones who bear the
burden. They' re the victims, and we can find the solution only when we
keep them both in view. If we are only concerned with the feelings of the
mot her and the adoptive parents, we don' t notice that the father has been
excluded and that the child has a connect i on to him that is bei ng ignored
by the system. Then we implicitly woul d be j oi ni ng with the perpetrators
against the victims, and all we would be doing woul d be justifying the
problems and excusing the perpetrators instead of helping the victims.
Th e ne x t step
Rl TA: Whe n the child came to us, I wanted to do something special (she
weeps). I t ook a flowering plant to a church, and I prayed there for the
child' s mot her. I never felt that there was anything wrong bet ween us.
I never thought about the father. But I knew that I had to do something.
HELLINGER: One of the main problems in psychotherapy is that women
often behave as if husbands and fathers were irrelevant. They' r e not even
taken into consideration, as if a woman could claim sole responsibility for
a child. Even male therapists hardly ever consider the rights of the men.
They rely on what women say when they condemn men and take the
woman' s part. That makes it impossible to find a good solution. Ther a-
pists can only be strong when they give those who have been excluded
a place in their hearts. I have the strength that enables me to find the
solution because the child' s father has a place in my heart. He had it at
the very beginning. That ' s why I know the solution.
t o Rita: You can still make things right. Agreed?
Rita nods.
HELLINGER: You' r e already starting to l ook mor e cheerful.
Rl TA: It' s getting easier.
PARTICIPANT: In one way, I' m very impressed by what you say. I' m
moved by the wi sdom of your words, and they fulfill a longing in me.
I think many of us feel the same, that here at last is someone who tells
us what' s what, someone who sees what' s really going on and what' s illu-
sion. At the same time, I' m uneasy because I feel you get dangerously
close to dogmatism. You sometimes make some very sweeping generali-
zations, and it's the mixture of your truths and your dogmatic generaliza-
tions that I feel can be destructive. For example, according to the proph-
esy you made a little while ago, everything in Ri t a' s family is confused
and bad and her husband will leave. Now you' ve taken that back to a
certain extent and given Ri t a the chance of finding a solution.
HELLINGER: By trusting Ri t a' s sincere interest to come to terms with
what' s really going on, and by bei ng willing bluntly to name the destruc-
tive dynamics the constellation brought to light, I gave her a chance to
change. She grasped the chance by opening herself to the dynamics and
so we could take the next step together.
PARTICIPANT: Yes. I only wanted to say that I was confused.
HELLINGER: Yo u can' t take the second step until you' ve taken the first.
Often, the shock of the confrontation is helpful, and it opens the way for
whatever needs to be done later.
If you wish, I' ll tell you how to handle the confusion and the uneasi-
ness. Whe n you feel like this, and are also aware of your resistance to
your feelings, l ook at what is actually happening instead of staying preoc-
cupied with your thoughts. Look at the issue and allow yourself to not i ce
what is right about it and what isn' t. Whe n you' ve done this and you
still see things differently from the way I do and you tell me about it, I
take this as a valuable correction. I think: Aha, this is an aspect that I
haven' t seen. Then we can talk about it. You' ve already seen here that
when someone talks earnestly about something he or she has experi-
enced, I take what is said very seriously. Now Ri t a has added something
important to the issue, something that she actually experienced. But so
far your objections are hypothetical, and it's impossible for us to enter
into dialogue if we confuse hypothetical possibilities and actual experi-
ence. Had you been watching Ri t a the entire time, you woul d have seen
what forces were at work and what was changing.
Whe n you have a justified obj ect i on, it's important that you l ook at
the person whom it concerns. Then, face-to-face with this person, you
must ask yourself what effect your obj ect i on woul d have if you were to
express it. Woul d it make the person stronger or weaker, woul d it nour-
ish or harm the person? Thi s gives you an immediate yardstick, and you
know whet her the intervention woul d be helpful or destructive. Okay?
Th e sol ut i on t hr ough di ssol uti on
PARTICIPANT: There' s something worki ng in me. Duri ng the constellation,
I was looking at the representative of the child's mot her and how she kept
smiling to herself, especially at the idea of going further away and leaving.
What concerns me is the bond with the extended family that you
talked about, and the fact that an adopted child belongs to the child' s
family regardless of the legal situation. Up until now, I' ve always regard-
ed it as a great and noble thing when a couple adopts a child. I thought
of it as a humane act, and it was only when I started trying to find my
father who has lived far away ever since my parents' divorce that I real-
ized how important it is to me that I find him, even though my mot her
speaks very disparagingly about him. I can well imagine that something
like that must be a relief to a child. But I' m not yet clear about all this,
because I don' t believe that it's the final solution for Ri t a' s daughter to
live with her father.
HELLINGER: I don' t quite understand what you mean.
PARTICIPANT: I' m not quite clear what you mean by a solution. Thi s solu-
tion, Ri t a' s solution, cannot be a final solution.
HELLINGER: That' s exactly what it is, a final solution.
HELLINGER: The solution is final.
HELLINGER: The word "solution" has a double meaning. It is a solution
through dissolution.
PARTICIPANT: In the sense of dissolving?
HELLINGER: I meant exactly what I said. It was not a play on words or a
paradoxical intervention.
S hoc k and dread
RAYMOND: I feel calmer now. A little while ago, I was feeling awful. I felt
as if all sorts of things were stuck together in my stomach, and I still feel
the shock I experienced when you said to Ri t a: " You are past redemp-
t i on. " I thought it was terribly apodictic, and it sounded to me as if you
were saying: " Now you can go. I don' t want any more to do with you. "
But that was resolved during the course of the round.
HELLINGER: Shock can only overwhel m you i f you l ook away. If you had
kept on l ooki ng at Ri t a, you woul d have experienced it differently. A lot
of people close their eyes as soon as they hear anything that seems to be
shocking and start making their own inner pictures. And these pictures
really are shocking.
RAYMOND: I made another shocking picture. I imagined . . .
HELLINGER: Di d you notice how you l ooked away j ust then?
RAYMOND: Yes, that's true.
HELLINGER: Tr y and see if you can say what you wanted to when you are
l ooki ng straight at me. That' s very hard. You see? You can only have
such "bi g" ideas with your eyes closed. It' s easy to see whet her or not
you are in contact. Staying in contact and limiting yourself to your i m-
mediate perception is very difficult. It means you have to give up a lot
of freedom i n favor of something shocking.
R A Y MO N D : YOU are so terribly strong.
HELLINGER: Yes , I am. And do you know why? It' s because I ' m i n
har mony wi t h the worl d as i t is, even wi t h the terrifying things in it that
we dread and fear. In my life, I' ve encount ered really terrible things as
wel l as beautiful things, and I' ve lost my fear of the worl d as it is. That ' s
why I can say things like that, because I ' m in harmony wi t h everything.
Al l greatness takes its strength from the things we dread, and those who
l ook away from t hem end up i n cl oud-cuckoo-l and.
R A Y MO N D : I t hought that i f I l ook away, I can gather i nner strength to
say somet hi ng important.
HELLINGER: No. It makes you weak, because you lose cont act wi t h the
ot her person. Yo u are onl y strong i n connect i on wi t h the person i n
question. Ho w do you feel now?
R A Y MO N D : I have mor e energy.
HELLINGER: I' ll tell you anot her secret. Some therapists are like a good
mot her, and others are warriors. Th e therapist who' s a warrior needs a
warrior' s courage. The warrior goes t o the ultimate limits because deci -
sive act i on can onl y be taken at the absolute ext remes. Al t hough the
chances of success and failure seem t o be about 5 0 / 5 0 , those who have
the courage to go to the limits find that t hey' re much stronger. Real i t y,
t aken seriously, is friendly, and it' s wort h taking seriously. Real i t y takes
its revenge if it's not taken seriously or is trivialized.
Th e consequences of our actions are a very i mport ant part of our re-
ality. That ' s why therapists help people most by helping t hem accept the
consequences of their own actions, even when the consequences demand
t he ut most from t hem, for good ultimately comes from our bei ng aligned
wi t h reality. A therapist who acts as if it were possible to escape the con-
sequences of one' s actions lightly feeds illusions, for consequences that are
not bor ne responsibly have bad effects, and especially on peopl e who are
entirely i nnocent .
Pity and forgetting
PARTICIPANT: I' ve been thinking a lot about that, partly because I have re-
alized how thoughtlessly the issue of adopting children is handled. That
was one thing. Th e ot her is that I felt i nvol ved in Ri t a' s reactions, and
I can' t i magi ne that the solution is for her to give up the child.
HELLINGER: I' ll tell you a story about pity.
Ther e was once a man called Hi ob who lost everyt hi ng he had and
was covered wi t h boils from head to foot. In despair, he sat down on a
heap of ashes. Whe n his friends heard about his plight, they came to com-
fort him. Do you know what they did? They sat down on the ground
a little way away from him, and none of t hem said a word for seven
days. They were friends with true power.
A therapist might have gone to hi m and said: "Don' t worry, it's not
as bad as it seems, it' ll soon be better, " or something of the kind. That
woul d not have been appropriate to the enormity of his pain. Attempts
to make light of it are never appropriate to the enormity of the pain.
And I' ll tell you something else important. Everyone has the strength to
face his or her problems and solutions. Onl y the person hi msel f or her-
self, and no one else. All your concern about Rata only makes her weaker.
I' ll give you an example of how to deal with issues like this. I' ve al-
ready forgotten about Ri t a and her situation. I only think about her
when I' m worki ng with her directly, not otherwise.
A woman who t ook part in one group was very suicidal, and on the
second day she stormed out of the workshop. Several people were wor -
ried that she might kill herself. I forgot about her. I simply didn' t think
any mor e about her.
On the last day of the workshop, some of the participants said that
they had seen her going into the woods with a blanket. Some of t hem
thought that she was going to kill herself. But I forgot about her. In fact,
I didn' t miss her in the workshop. Te n minutes before the end she came
in and did everything that needed to be done. She had the strength to
do it because I had forgotten about her.
Any worrying I might have done about her woul d have robbed her
of her strength. But I was in harmony with her. To forget about her
showed the greatest possible respect for her. By forgetting her, I was en-
trusting her to her soul. There' s nothing better than that, but it demands
a lot of strength. It's much easier to worry about people. Somet i mes peo-
ple get quite inflated with worry, but that's with nothing but air.
Seei ng and heari ng
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: I was torn bet ween horror and amazement, and
I couldn' t make any sense of it. I think it is a bit clearer now: the horror
has to do with the actual words that I heard, and the amazement has to
do with what I saw. And I realize now that I have more trust in what I
see than in what I hear.
HELLINGER: The right words further the process.
I dent i c al gui l t has i dent i c al c ons e que nc e s
PARTICIPANT: Yo u said that when a woman gives her children away, she
loses her rights as a mot her. I understand that. But what happens when
a man gives his children away? Is there any difference?
HELLINGER: Ther e' s no difference for a man.
Obj e c t i ons i mp e de t he sol ut i on
PARTICIPANT: I have the image in my mi nd that Ri t a' s solution is still
open and that her constellation onl y showed the next step. Isn' t it possi-
bl e that t he father was j ust as guilty of offering the child up for adoption
as the mot her was?
HELLINGER: Occupyi ng mysel f wi t h hypothetical possibilities makes me
t oo weak to act decisively. I don' t do that. Wh e n I told Ri t a that she
was past redempt i on, it was absolutely clear to me that it was true in that
moment . I wasn' t criticizing her, I was j ust bei ng compl et el y open t o-
ward her and t oward myself. If matters t hen started taking a different
course, it is because we bot h t ook the real issue very seriously. If the
out come had been different, that t oo woul d have been all right wi t h me.
That ' s the difference bet ween your procedure and mi ne. Refusi ng t o get
i nvol ved wi t h this hypothetical sort of t hi nki ng is a spiritual discipline.
It' s like taking a step into the dark and trusting reality.
PARTICIPANT: But this i mage still came to me, and I want ed to tell you
about it.
HELLINGER: The fact that an i mage came to you doesn' t make it right.
Some peopl e t hi nk that when they have an i mage, or i f they feel some-
thing, it must be right, but that' s absurd. Ther e are images that come to
you from l ooki ng into the darkness from your center, wi t hout any aim,
wi t hout any preference, and wi t hout any fear. These images have a dif-
ferent quality than those you dream up or that simply come to you.
Wh e n an i mage that emerges from your cent er appears and is passed on,
it strikes home.
Insi ght and ac t i on
Rl TA: I have learned a lot about some issues that have t roubl ed me for
quite a t i me, and I woul d like to talk about this. I ' m now in individual
therapy .. .
HELLINGER: I want to interrupt you before you cont i nue.
Take a moment and sense how much stronger you' ve become. Can you
feel it? How centered you are?
t o the group: She' s not weepi ng now, that's past. You see, her strength
comes from the positive effects of the earlier intervention.
RlTA laughs.
Okay, go on!
Rl TA: Wel l , I know from my therapy that the t heme of separation is a
probl em for me, and I interpret what you have told me as bei ng sym-
bol i c. The moment I turn away from the child and toward my husband,
I give the child the chance to become free of me. I believe that is our
conflict, and it weighs very heavily on me. I can describe the solution by
the word "co-aut hent i c. "
HELLINGER: Forget about the word. It actually robs you of strength. What
you described was perfectly clear.
Rl TA: I think the solution is to allow the child to be free. If I can do this
HELLINGER: No, no, it's not in your power to allow the child to be free.
The child belongs to her parents, and she's free where she belongs. She
must be taken to where she belongs. You must help her and see that she
goes to her father and his family. That' s where she can grow. As soon as
you do this, the child will turn to you in gratitude. That' s the other as-
pect. She will feel gratitude, because you respect her.
Rl TA: I still have difficulty with the idea of putting it into practice. I really
don' t know how it can be done.
HELLINGER: You' r e absolutely right, it's much t oo soon to start thinking
about action. Yo u now have an image, and the image will wor k for you.
Yo u must not act immediately. You must wait until the inner image
gives you strength. Suddenly, when the time is ripe, it will all happen
quite quickly and easily. Insight and action must often be kept separate.
Someone who acts immediately after having an insight often does the
opposite of what is required. As a rule, you have to wait after having an
insight, however right it may be. Thi s is a case in point. You must hold
on to the image, be pregnant with the image, until its strength comes to
light and enables you to act. Okay?
Rl TA: I' m still not comfortable with what you said about the decision to
adopt this child bei ng irresponsible. I' m sorry, but I can' t agree with this.
I' ve been involved with these questions for years, and I' ve always l ooked
for the right way. I haven' t made it easy for myself at all.
HELLINGER: Take my words as an objective description. Fr om a subjective
point of view, you carefully considered your decision, but you still over-
l ooked the child' s father and her connect i on t o hi m. Of course, you
didn' t know any bet t er at the time, and you don' t have to regret that
now. That was an i mport ant oversight that has consequences for every-
one. Even i f you made a mistake in fact, because it was a mistake
it engenders a strength that was not there before. The det our was not
really a detour. It was a path on whi ch you gathered experi ence that will
stand you in good stead. So it was not wasted, not even for the child.
Our mistakes are often our greatest teachers. Can you accept this?
Rl TA: Yes , but I still can' t find the sense in it. But that will come.
HELLINGER: In one of Carlos Castaneda' s books about the shaman Don
Juan, there' s a wonderful passage about the enemi es of knowl edge. Th e
fi rst enemy of knowl edge i s fear. He who overcomes fear gains clarity,
and clarity is his next enemy. He who overcomes clarity gains power,
and power becomes his next enemy. He who also over comes power has
almost reached his goal, and t hen comes the worst enemy, and that is the
need for peace. Thi s enemy can never be compl et el y over come. But at
the end, there' s a small glimpse of knowl edge, and this moment was
wor t h everything. Okay?
Rl TA: Yes .
Inherited children
ALBERT: I have three children of my own, I' ve been marri ed for the past
20 years, and now I have inherited four children from a family in whi ch
the mot her and father died. I ' m wonderi ng what to do about it.
HELLINGER: Somet hi ng doesn' t sound right about the situation. Thei r rela-
tives are responsible for t hem. It woul d be wr ong for you to accept re-
sponsibility for these children if there is family available to do it. Your
i nt erveni ng woul d be good i f there were no one else, but i f there is.
you' r e taking on a responsibility inappropriately. We can' t inherit chil-
dren as if they were things. It' s an impossible idea! Di d you at least i n-
herit some money from the parents?
HELLINGER: Just the children? They must have t hought you wer e a com-
plete fool.
ALBERT: That ' s quite possible.
HELLINGER: Ther e' s somet hi ng strange goi ng on that we don' t yet see.
Yo u must not accept t hem. Yo u owe that t o your dignity.
ALBERT: Ther e are some ot her issues i nvol ved as well. Bef or e the relatives
knew that the will existed, they divided up the children among t hem-
selves, and there was something about this that worried me.
HELLINGER: Let t hem handle the situation in their own way. You need to
protect your soul from any attempts to stick you with unfinished business
from the other family. You mustn' t even know about it.
RAYMOND: I ' m a psychologist, married, with t wo children. I have an ille-
gitimate daughter from a former relationship who' s living on another
HELLINGER: She' s gone a long way away. How old is she?
RAYMOND: She is 16. Her mot her emigrated with a boyfriend.
HELLINGER: What sort of a relationship have you with your daughter?
RAYMOND: She came back to Germany six years ago for t wo years, and
then we had a good relationship. Our relationship is now appropriate to
her age. I receive a thank-you letter for my Christmas present and a let-
ter on my birthday. Now and then we send each other videos. I woul d
like to set up my family constellation.
HELLINGER: Okay, do.
RAYMOND: I' ll start with my ex-girlfriend.
HELLINGER: What ? Wh o are you going to start with?
RAYMOND: Wi t h my ex-girlfriend.
HELLINGER: You must start with your first wife.
RAYMOND: We were not married.
HELLINGER: You must start with your first wife.
RAYMOND: Okay, I understand.
HELLINGER: I' m defending the person who was deprecated. Wh o else be-
longs to the constellation?
RAYMOND: My daughter with my first partner. Then my second partner,
my wife, with whom I have two children, a daughter and a son.
HELLINGER: Was anyone previously married or involved in a close rela-
RAYMOND: My first partner was. I was the reason for their separation.
HELLINGER: Wer e there any children from this marriage?
RAYMOND: No. That was one reason that the marriage broke up. The
husband could not have children.
HELLINGER: That is important i nformat i on because that means the bond
bet ween t hem was limited. Th e legal aspect plays onl y a small part.
RAYMOND: My present wife was in a close relationship for t wo years be-
fore we met . It ended in considerable chaos.
HELLINGER: It' s easier when the second partner was also married previ-
ously than it woul d be if a used partner were to take an unused one.
RAYMOND: My first partner has a new husband.
HELLINGER: Have they any children?
RAYMOND: No, but the husband has adopted my daughter. Does that play
a part?
HELLINGER: That plays a part. She' l l likely take her revenge on hi m for
that. That ' s somet hi ng one shouldn' t do. And you didn' t protest?
RAYMOND: No, I agreed to the adoption.
HELLINGER: Yo u agreed? For heavens' sake! Your daughter must be furi-
ous wi t h you. Yo u can' t possibly give her away t o anot her man t o act
as her father! Tel l her that you rescind your decision and that she is still
your daughter, wi t h all the rights that are entailed.
Diagram 1
Husband ( = Raymond)
His first partner, not married to Hb
Child with this woman, a daughter
l PHb
First child with wife, a daughter
Second child with wife, a son
First partner's husband
HE L L I NGE R to Raymond: Di d you dream this morning?
R A Y MO N D : I dreamed that my son was standing outside the door.
HE L L I NGE R : Of course, you' re the one standing outside the door. That ' s
clear from the constellation.
How does the first partner feel?
F I R S T P AR T NE R : I have a backache. There' s a strange feeling behi nd me,
like a feeling of being pulled, but at the same time, I can' t move in this
direction. Very odd.
HE L L I NGE R : How is the first daughter feeling?
F I R S T CHI LD: Whe n I was standing alone with my mot her, I felt good.
No w I have stomach pains. There' s something going on inside me like
a tingling. Unpleasant, but not threatening.
HE L L I NGE R : What about the husband?
HU S BAND: I feel good with my present family, but those t wo out there,
my first partner and my first child, make me feel uncomfortable. The t wo
ot her children seem to be protecting me.
HE L L I NGE R : HOW is the wife feeling?
WI F E : Not t oo well. Somehow my husband is not a real partner for me.
It' s more like a confrontation.
HE L L I NGE R : It is a confrontation.
WI F E : Yes, and there' s something not right with the children. I have the
feeling that my daughter shouldn' t be standing so far to the side behi nd
me. It's better with my son because we have eye contact. But I woul d
have to turn to see my daughter.
HE L L I NGE R to Raymond's first partner, whose backache is getting steadily worse:
Tur n around until you feel better. I can' t leave you there with such a re-
Hellinger places Raymond's first partner next to the woman's
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: HOW is the second daughter feeling?
SECOND CHILD: Not good. I feel helpless, unprotected, and unsafe.
HELLINGER to Raymond: She has the feelings of your first daughter.
RAYMOND: They write to each other frequently.
HELLINGER: She has her feelings.
HELLINGER: How is the son feeling?
THI RD CHILD: I feel I must support my father. I feel used.
HELLINGER t o Raymond: You' r e bot h standing outside the door, you and
your son.
HELLINGER: No w we' ll make the fi rst important change.
Hellinger places the older daughter next to her father.
Diagram 3
FI R ST CHILD: I don't like it here. I want to move further away.
HELLI NGER: Try it out.
She moves a little further away from her father.
FI R ST CHILD: I don't like the way she is staring at me. It's threatening.
Hellinger adds the first partner's husband.
Diagram 4
30 3
HELLINGER: How' s that for the first daughter?
FIRST CHILD: It' s much better now that my mother' s standing next to me.
HELLINGER: What has changed for the husband?
HUSBAND: I liked it when my first daughter came. But then my wife
seemed threatening. I' m drawn toward my first daughter, but I don' t
want to leave my present family. I' m torn.
HELLINGER: What has changed for the second daughter?
SECOND CHILD: I feel sort of in bet ween. There' s nothing bet ween me
and my father. I don' t feel any safety or protection with him. I' d rather
turn toward my older sister. I don' t know where to go. The less there
is for me there (with her father), the more drawn I feel toward my older
HELLINGER to Raymond: She feels like her older sister. She feels in bet ween
as well.
Hellinger sets up the solution.
Diagram 5
The two children of the marriage first stand facing their parents,
and then move nearer to their mother.
HELLINGER: How is the wife feeling now?
WIFE: I didn' t like the children standing opposite me. I feel better now
that they are by my side.
HELLINGER: How does the second daughter feel now?
THIRD CHILD: It' s good for me, too.
HELLINGER t o Raymond: The children don' t trust you. They trust their
mot her more.
THI RD CHILD: Whe n the first daughter came, I felt relieved. A feeling of
pressure suddenly disappeared. No w it's very pleasant.
HELLINGER t o the f i rst daughter. Now try out how close you want to be to
your father.
She goes closer to her father and then back to her mother.
FIRST CHILD: I didn' t feel at all safe. I' d rather stay here with my mot her.
I like bei ng able to see my siblings. It's funny, but when my sister moved
further away, I was sad because she was going, but also happy because I
coul d see my brother. That ' s something quite new. I don' t feel bad at all.
I must be able to see them both next to my father. That' s important to me.
HELLINGER: How' s the first partner feeling now?
FIRST PARTNER: Wonderful. It's the first time that I haven' t had to l ook
at the other family. I was staring at his second daughter much more than
at my own.
HELLINGER: How is her husband feeling?
FIRST PARTNER' S HUSBAND: It seems right here.
HELLINGER t o Raymond: You have forfeited your rights concerni ng your
daughter by agreeing to her adoption. She is reacting accordingly.
HELLINGER: Children from a former marriage or a former relationship of
one of the partners shouldn' t be adopted by the couple. It usually can be
very bad for bot h the children and the system.
RAYMOND: I thought it woul d be better for her.
HELLINGER: That was a rational consideration. Yo u can make things better
by telling her that you are sorry and that she can rely on you to be her
father whatever happens. Tel l her that you will always be available to
her, and that she has the same rights as your other children concerni ng
inheritances and similar issues. Then things may calm down. Woul d you
like to stand in your place?
Raymond goes to his place and looks around him.
RAYMOND: Peaceful, it's really peaceful.
HELLINGER: It's peaceful because the system is in order. Each member of
the family has his or her right place. Move a little closer to your older
daughter and see what it feels like.
HELLINGER to the older daughter. Do you feel reconciled now that he' s
standing closer to you?
FIRST CHILD: Oh yes! I can well imagine it (laughs).
HELLINGER to the group: I'll tell you a story on the t heme of adoption. It
is quite easy to understand.
Heaven and earth
On the edge of a forest, there lived a woodcutter and his wife. Tliey had one
child, a 3-year-old daughter, but they were so poor that they often had nothing
to give her to eat. One day, the Virgin Mary came to them and said, "You
are too poor to look after your daughter properly. Bring her to me. I will take
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: "Wliat can we do if that's
what the Virgin Mary wants?" So they fetched the child and gave her to the
Virgin Mary. She took her to heaven with her, and there the child drank sweet
milk and played with the angels. But in secret she longed for her parents and
the beautiful 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. She called the child to her and said:
"Take the keys to the 13 doors of heaven and keep them safe. You may open
12 doors and look at the marvelous things therein, but the 13th door, to which
this little key belongs, is forbidden to you. Woe betide you should you open it,
it will bring bad luck!" And the child promised, "I shall never enter the 13th
When the Virgin Mary left, the child looked all round the heavenly dwell-
ing. Each day she opened one door, until all 12 were open. Behind each door
sat a man, an apostle, surrounded by great glory, and the child delighted in the
radiant sight each time. Then only the forbidden door remained locked, and the
child was assailed by a great desire to see what was behind it. One day, when
she was quite alone, she thought, "Now I'm completely alone. No one will
know if I open the door." She took the little key, put it in the lock and turned
it. The door sprang open, and the child was drawn by a glowing golden light.
It must have been the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The child was all
aglow with rapture; she entered the room, touched the gold with her finger, and
trembled with delight. Suddenly, she remembered the Virgin Mary's orders. She
took her finger off the gold, ran out of the room, and closed the door. But her
finger was completely golden. She tried to wash the gold off, but to no avail.
And so she waitedfeafully for the Virgin Mary's return.
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 the good news from the earth. Human beings had strange boxes,
she said. They only had to press a button, and they could see what was hap-
pening all over the world.
One day, she related, she saw on one of these boxes a woman who dared
to visit the mountain gorillas. That was very dangerous, because mountain go-
rillas are eight times stronger than human beings. 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. He was very gentle and allowed her
to do whatever she liked.
Soon afterward a native brought her a baby gorilla. It had lost its parents
and was already quite weak and feeble through lack of care and nourishment.
She took the baby gorilla in her arms like a mother, gave it sweet milk to
drink, and looked after it so well that it was soon healthy and strong. But as
much as she loved the strange baby, she saw that it was missing the other goril-
las. 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 baby, he leaped upon her with a cry,
snatched the baby out of her arms, ran back to the others with it, and gave it
to one of the females, who immediately suckled it at her breast. He did not hurt
the woman. But she saw that the gorilla baby was happy and safe among its
own kind.
The Virgin Mary told many more stories, and she quite forgot to ask about
the keys. But the next morning, she summoned the child to her and asked for
the keys. "Did you really not go into the 13th chamber?" she inquired. "No,"
said the child, "you forbade me to." "Then why are you hiding your hand be-
hind your back?" asked the Virgin Mary. "Show me your other hand!" The
child was very ashamed, but denials were to no avail, and she held out her
hand with the golden finger. Then the Virgin Mary sighed and said, "I sup-
pose it had to happen some time." She drew off her white gloves, and lo and
behold, she too had a golden finger.
Then she said to the child, "Now that you know this much, you will soon
know everything else as well. Go back to the earth, where there are parents and
siblings and men and women and children." The child was delighted and
thanked her profusely. Tlie Virgin Mary helped her to pack her things, and
when she took her leave, she gave her, to protect the evidence of her knowledge,
a pair of white gloves.
From a Seminar
for People with Serious Illnesses,
and Their Doctors and Therapists,
Held During an International Conference
on Medicine and Religion
Whet her we recognize them or not, we all hold magical beliefs that in-
crease our susceptibility to illness and our proneness to accidents. The
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 extended family
may be the result of a chain of events connected with childlike religious
beliefs, for example, that it is possible to suffer vicariously in someone
else's place, or to atone for someone else's guilt, or to be reunited with
loved ones after death, as if they were still alive.
The f ellowship of f ate
We hold these beliefs in common with the other members of our family,
and together with them, we are a fellowship of fate within whi ch these
beliefs can result in disaster. The following persons belong to this fellow-
ship: the parents and their siblings, the grandparents, one or more of the
great-grandparents, and all those who have made room for one of those
already mentioned, for example, former marriage partners of parents or
grandparents, or former fiancees; also, all those whose departure or misfor-
tune made it possible for someone else to take their place in the family.
Fami l y l oyal ty and its c onsequenc es
All the members of this fellowship of fate are inexorably bound together
with a deep loyalty. The fateful effects of their loyalty are strongest when
it springs from the love of a child for his or her parents, or when it is
loyalty between siblings or between a husband and wife, but a special
loyalty is also felt by those who gained an advantage from those who had
to leave. In this way, a husband's second wife often demonstrates an un-
conscious loyalty to his first wife, or the children of a second marriage
may be secretly loyal toward the children of their mother or father's first
marriage. The loyalty of parents to their children is less strong than that
of children to their parents, but we also observe powerful and unex-
pected loyalties between perpetrators and their victims and between vete-
rans of war and their fallen comrades.
The l ongi ng f or bal anc e
Thi s loyalty results in the weaker members of the group wanting to hold
on to the stronger ones to prevent them from leaving or dying, or, if
they have already gone, in wanting to follow them.
It also results in those who have an advantage sharing the fate of those
with a disadvantage, and sharing responsibility for the health, happiness,
i nnocence, and life of the less fortunate members of their family; chil-
dren, for example, may act this way toward their ill parents or siblings,
or innocent children may try to bear their parent's guilt.
Thus, those with an advantage often risk and lose their health,
i nnocence, and life for the health, innocence, and life of another, follow-
ing the magical hope that by renouncing their own happiness and their
own lives they may save the lives and happiness of others.
This loyalty among the members of a family and extended family
manifests as a need for systemic balance between the benefits enjoyed by
one member and the disadvantages suffered by another. It is this systemic
urge for balance that leads one member of the group to court misfortune
when another is suffering, or that tempts one person into illness or mis-
fortune when another is ill or guilty, or that makes someone long for
death when another member of the system dies.
Thus, within this confined fellowship of fate, loyalty and the need
for balance and compensation assure that one member participates in the
guilt and illness and fate and death of others; they lead to attempts to
bring about someone' s well-being through one' s own misfortune, some-
one else's health through one' s own illness, someone else's guilt through
one' s own innocence, or someone else's i nnocence through one' s own
guilt, and someone else's life through one' s own death.
Illness f ollows t he desires of t he heart
Since the systemic need for balance and compensation utilizes illness and
death, illness of this sort is the result of a heartfelt desire to belong to our
fellowship of fate. Thus, in addition to medical help in the more usual
sense, psychological help and care are also necessary to bring about
healing. But whereas doctors actively do all they can to cure their pa-
tients' illnesses, psychotherapists, aware of the systemic dimensions of ill-
ness, are more restrained since they understand that they are working
with forces of love and belonging with which it would be presumptuous
to compete. Thei r work is limited to helping their clients and patients
align and harmonize with these forces, as allies rather than as rivals.
"Bet t er me t han you"
During a group hypnotherapy session, a woman suffering from multiple
sclerosis saw herself kneeling by the bed of her paralyzed mot her and de-
ciding in her heart: "Bet t er me than you, Mummy dear. I will suffer in
your place." Everyone in the group was moved by the child's love, but
one participant, ignoring the depth and intensity of this love, implored
the therapist, "You' ve got to get her out of that!"
But how can we presume to insult the child's love by intervening in
that way? Surely, trying to get her to renounce her childhood promise
can only increase her suffering, rather than alleviate it, forcing her to hide
her love and cling all the more secretly to her determination to save her
mother though her own suffering.
What a doctor or psychotherapist can do, and what he or she must be
careful to avoid, may become clear with another example. A young
woman, also suffering from multiple sclerosis, set up a family constellation
with the mot her on the right of the father. Opposite them stood the pa-
tient herself; on her left, her younger brother, who died of heart failure
at the age of 14; and to his left, the youngest child, another brother.
Diagram 1
First child, a daughter (= client)
Second child, a son, who died at 14
Third child, a son
Fol l owi ng the representatives' reports, the psychotherapist had the dead
brother' s representative leave the room, whi ch reflected the reality of his
death. Whe n he had left the room, the face of the client' s representative
immediately brightened, and it was obvious that her mot her was also
feeling much more comfortable. Because he had observed that the repre-
sentatives of bot h the father and the younger brother felt an urge to
leave, the psychotherapist had them leave the room, as well. Whe n all
the men had left the room (signifying that they had died), the mot her
straightened up with a relieved expression on her face, and it became
clear to everyone present that she was the one who was under systemic
pressure to die for whatever reason and that she was t ouched and
relieved that the men in her family were ready to die in her place.
Diagram 2
To make the underlying dynamic clearer, the psychotherapist called the
men back and had the mother leave the room. Immediately, all the other
representatives felt liberated from the systemic pressure to take the mot h-
er's fate on themselves, and they all felt much better.
Diagram 3
To test the possibility that the daughter's multiple sclerosis was systemi-
cally connected with the mother' s hidden belief that she should die, the
therapist called the mother back into the room, placed her to the left of
her husband, and placed the daughter next to her mother.
Diagram 4
He asked the daughter to l ook straight into her mother' s eyes and say to
her with love: "Mot her, I will do it for you!" As she said the words, her
face grew radiant, and the systemic meaning and obj ective of her illness
became clear to everyone.
Enl i ght ened l ove
Oft en all a psychotherapist can do is to bring the child' s love to light and
to trust the dynamic of love itself to find what is truly needed. No matter
what the child t ook upon himself or herself, it was done in good con-
science and with the convi ct i on that it was the right and nobl e thing to
do. When, however, this love comes to light through the help of an un-
derstanding psychotherapist, it also becomes clear to the child that blind
love can never achieve its objective.
Children cherish the magical hope that, through sacrifice, they may
heal their l oved ones, protect t hem from harm, atone for their guilt, and
snatch t hem from the j aws of death. But as adults, when their blind love
is brought to light, and also their childlike hopes and desires, they may
realize that their blind love and sacrifice inevitably must fail to overcome
a l oved one' s illness, suffering, and death.
Whe n the objectives of a child' s love and the means used to achieve
t hem are brought to light, they lose their magical power because they are
root ed in magical beliefs that cannot survive in the adult world. The
love, however, endures. Mor e discriminating when combi ned with reas-
on, the very same love that once caused illness now seeks a different, en-
lightened solution, and, if it is still possible, to fulfill the true goals of
love, making illness unnecessary. The doctor and psychotherapist may
show the direction, but the child-soul must rest assured that they respect
his or her love, and that they only work to help the love achieve its goals
in a better way.
"I will go i nstead of you"
One of the most common magical beliefs accompanying life-threatening
disease is a child's decision: "I will go instead of you. " In the case of
anorexia, the child-soul often decides: "I will go instead of you, Daddy
dear," and in the preceding example of multiple sclerosis, the child's de-
cision was: "I will go instead of you, Mummy dear." These dynamics
also are often found operating behind suicide and fatal accidents.
"Even i f you go, I will st ay"
What is the helpful and healing solution when these dynamics come to
light? The solution emerges when you stand face-to-face with the be-
loved person, and with all the power and conviction of love, speak the
sentences of blind love, "I will go instead of you. " Sometimes you need
to repeat the sentences a few times until you recognize the loved one as
an individual person and, not withstanding the depth of love, as separate
and apart. If this doesn' t happen, the symbiosis and identification will re-
main, but there is an unmistakable sweetness and innocence, an at mo-
spheric gentleness and simplicity, when the sentences are spoken from the
depth of the child's soul.
A person who succeeds in saying the words with the whol e force and
conviction of love affirms the child's love, but affirms it in a different
context, standing as an adult face-to-face with the beloved person. Thi s
combination of affirmation of the child's love and adult contact allows
the child-soul to realize that the other loves as well, that both are adults,
lover and beloved to each other. This knowing love draws a line be-
tween them, and thus between their individual destinies. It makes possi-
ble the realization that the other gains nothing from my sacrifice; on the
contrary, my efforts to intervene in favor of the beloved person are more
likely to burden than to help.
Raising love from blind love to knowing love challenges our magical
beliefs and changes the sentences that describe the dynamics of love:
"Father dear, Mother dear, my dear brother, my dear sister or whoever it may
be even if you go, I will stay." Some people add: "Mother dear, Father
dear, Bless me when I stay, and please wish me well even if you go."
Let me illustrate this by an example. A woman' s father had t wo handi-
capped brothers, one of whom was deaf and the other psychotic. He was
systemically pulled to his brothers and to their fate, and out of loyalty to
them, he could not bear to see their suffering in comparison wi t h his
own well-being. His daughter unconsciously recognized his danger and
leaped into the breach. Whe n she set up her family constellation, her
representative rushed over to her father's brothers and embraced t hem as
if she were saying in her heart: "Father dear, I will leave so that you can
stay." The client had anorexia.
What is the solution here? The daughter must first l ook at her father's
brothers as individuals and then say to t hem in her heart: "Please love my
father if he stays with us, and love me if I stay with my father."
"I will f ol l ow yo u"
Anot her, earlier sentence lies behind the parents' desire to leave or to
die, whi ch the child tries to prevent with the words: "Bet t er me than
you. " It is a sentence that the parents may want to say to their own ill
or dead parents or siblings, "I will follow you, " or, more precisely, "I
will follow you into your illness," or: "I will follow you unto death."
Thus, in the family, the first sentence to take its effect is: "I will fol-
l ow you. " These are the words of a child. And when these children
grow up, their own children prevent t hem from implementing the words
by saying: "Bet t er me than you. "
"I will go on l i vi ng f or a little whi l e"
Whenever the dynamic "I will follow you" is operating in the back-
ground of fatal illness and accidents or suicide, the helpful and healing
solution is, first of all, to bring the dynamic to light by allowing the child
to speak the words aloud to the beloved person with all the power and
convi ct i on of the child' s love. Usually, the words that name the dynamic
are some variation of the sentence, "Father dear, Mot her dear, dear
brother, dear sister or whoever it may be I will follow you, even
into death."
Here, t oo, it is important that the words be repeated as often as it
takes for the patient to recognize and perceive the loved ones as indi-
vidual, separate beings. Publicly naming this dynamic allows the child to
realize that love cannot eliminate the separation between the living and
the dead, and that we all must recognize and accept these limits. As the
child's blind love develops into knowing love, it is easier for the child to
see that it is easier for the loved ones to fulfill their own destiny when
no one interferes, especially not their own children.
Many people in constellations have found another sentence very free-
ing, "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." Or: "I will live my life fully, as long as it lasts, and then I, too, will die."
When children see that one of the parents is drawn to follow someone
from their family of origin into illness and death, they can free t hem-
selves when 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 one of the parents has committed suicide: "I respect
your decision and bow to your fate, and I honor you as my father, and I honor
you as my mother."
Belief s t hat c ause illness
The two sentences, "Bet t er me than you" and "I will follow you, " are
secretly spoken by entangled children with the utterly innocent convi c-
tion. At the same time, they correspond to the Christian message and the
Christian example, for instance, to Christ' s words in the Gospel of St.
John, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down 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 unto death.
The Christian teaching of redemption through suffering and death and
the example of Christian saints and heroes confirm children' s magical
hope and magical belief that they can take on illness and suffering and
death in someone else's place. By paying in the currency of suffering,
they hope to redeem others from their suffering, and to rescue them
from death by dying in their place. And they also hope that if redemp-
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.
L o v e t hat heal s
Whe n such beliefs prevail, healing and redemption are beyond mere
medical and therapeutic measures. They call for a change of heart. Some-
times, it is possible for a doctor or psychotherapist to pave the way for
such a change of heart, but whenever it occurs, it is beyond human pow-
er and is experienced as grace.
Thi s is illustrated by the following 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, 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 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 look at his father?
How does the father look at his son?
How does the wife look at her husband?
How does the husband look at his wife?
How do they look at God?
And how does God if there is a God look at them?
Another man 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: "I will not do that."
How does the son look at his father?
How does the father look at his son?
How does the wife look at her husband?
How does the husband look at his wife?
How do they look at God?
And how does God if there is a God look at them?
Illness as at onement
The need to atone for guilt is another of the systemic forces that lead to
illness, accidents, suicide, and premature death. In many cultures, atone-
ment is seen as being something valuable and good, but if we look at it
systemically, we see that it is a cruel distortion that only perpetuates suf-
fering. Events that were unavoidable and determined by fate are some-
times treated as if they carried a personal guilt and required atonement.
For example, a parent may become ill or despondent following a miscar-
riage or the illness, handicap, or early death of a child. In such cases, it
is more helpful for the parent to look at the deceased child with love, to
face the grief the death entails, and to allow the past to be past.
Similarly, people may become ill or harm themselves following events
that bring benefit, or even life, to one person while harming another. For
instance, when a mother dies in childbirth, her child often has difficulty
fully claiming success in life, as if the child's failure could atone for the
mother' s sacrifice.
Ther e are other situations in which someone is genuinely responsible
for causing harm. For example, when someone, without a pressing need,
aborts a child or gives the child away, or ruthlessly inflicts wrong on
someone else. In this case, atonement for personal guilt frequently takes
place on a subconscious level and in direct opposition to the mother' s
protestations of i nnocence or justification of her actions.
In these situations too, the person comes under systemic pressure to
atone for the guilt, whether real or imagined, by compensating for the
suffering of others through his or her own suffering. Or, as we have seen
in many examples, one of the children takes on the burden. But when
our guilt is real, what helps is to do good, not to add to the suffering by
suffering ourselves.
Thi s distorted hope of achieving compensation through atonement is
actually promoted by religious teaching, by the bel i ef in redemption
through suffering and the cleansing of sin and guilt through self-inflicted
punishment and pain.
Comp ens at i on t hrough at one me nt i s
mi sf ort une doubl ed
At onement satisfies our blind need for compensation and balance. But
when this compensation is sought through illness, accidents, and death,
what is really achieved? Instead of one injured person, there are two, and
one death is followed by a second. Wor se still, at onement doubles the
damage done to the victim, because the victim' s suffering becomes the
cause of mor e suffering, and his or her own death results in someone
else' s dying.
At onement is illusory, as if one' s own suffering or death could really
bring about someone else's healing or redemption.
The wish to atone for someone else's guilt entails the wish to pay for
like wi t h like. Suffering takes the place of constructive action, death the
place of life, and atonement the place of guilt.
A child whose mot her dies when giving birth feels guilty because the
mot her paid for the child' s life with her death. If the child tries to atone
for her death by suffering or suicide, then the disaster becomes even
greater for the mot her she loses her own life and her child dies. Then
the life she gave her child is not honored, and her love is not recognized
and appreciated. Her death will have been in vain and, worse still, it will
have brought suffering instead of happiness, and instead of one death
there are t wo.
If we want to help a child in this situation, we must l ook clearly at
what at onement really achieves, we must penetrate its illusion and distor-
tion, and we must remember that, in addition to the desire for systemic
balance through atonement, the child also has the wish, "Bet t er me than
you, " and "I will follow you. " We can abandon our ill-fated longing for
at onement only if we leave behi nd the words, "Bet t er me than you, " and
"I will follow you. "
Heal i ng ways of c omp e ns at i on
What , then, is the appropriate solution for bot h the child and the mot h-
er? The child can say, "Mother dear, the price you paid for my life is not in
vain: I will make something of my life, in memory of you and in your honor."
Thi s means that the child acts constructively instead of suffering,
achieves good instead of failing, and lives fully instead of dying. In so
doing, the child becomes much more deeply united with the mot her
than by following her into suffering and death. By accepting and living
life fully, children embrace their mot her in their heart, and strength and
grace flow from her to them.
Unl i ke compensation through atonement, whi ch increases suffering
and death, this compensation leads to happiness and health. Compensa-
tion through at onement is cheap, harmful, and grasping, and fails to
achieve reconciliation; compensation through positive action is costly and
bestows blessings. Then both the mother and the child become recon-
ciled to their fates, for the mother participates in the life and achieve-
ments of her child.
Rec onc i l i at i on i s bet t er t han at onement
By believing that guilt can be exonerated by suffering, we avoid facing
up to the fullness of human relationship. We only attempt atonement
through suffering if we lose sight of the person we have wronged, but if
we see them truly as fully human persons, we are bound to realize that
the damage already suffered cannot be undone, no matter what we may
This is also true of guilt for which you are personally responsible.
Even a child who has died through a mother' s guilt may have had the
hidden wish, "Bet t er me than you. " So when a mother tries to atone for
her child's death through her own illness and death, the child's love and
willingness to die for the mother are unrecognized and in vain.
The solution is to seek reconciliation instead of atonement. Recon-
ciliation becomes possible when you really look at the person you have
wronged; for example, when a mother 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." The good that the mother or father does in the child's
memory happens with and through the child. The 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 as an at t emp t to at one f or s ome one else
It often becomes clear in constellations that members of a family atone
for another member' s guilt by taking upon themselves the guilt and its
consequences the others reject. Then a child or a partner may say, "I will
follow you and share your guilt and its consequences," or "Bet t er me
than you. I will bear your guilt instead of you. "
An example: During a group session a woman related that she had re-
fused her mother' s request to live with the woman' s family and instead
sent her to an old people' s home. The same week, one of her daughters
developed anorexia, started dressing entirely in black, and began visiting
various old people' s homes to care for the residents. No one, not even
the daughter, realized why she did this.
Illness as a result of ref usi ng to honor one' s parent s
Anot her hidden family dynamic that leads to severe illness is the child's
refusal to honor the parents. Cancer patients, for example, sometimes
would rather die than bow down before their mother or father.
To honor one' s parent s i s t o honor t he eart h
To honor one' s parents is to love and accept them as they are, and to
honor the earth is to love and accept the earth as it is, with life and
death, health and illness, with a beginning and an end. This is a deeply
religious act. In former times, we called this worship. It is the ultimate
religious act, and we experience it as complete surrender, costing nothing
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 you a philosophical story.
Absence and presence
A monk, out seeking the Absolute,
approached a merchant in the marketplace
and asked for 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 and yours?"
The monk replied:
"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, conversely, if this Absolute exists,
can 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 the Absolute."
Still unconvinced,
the merchant tested him with yet another thought:
"Assuming that an 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 the Here and Now.
"Compared with what 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
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."
HELLINGER: In this seminar I will be demonstrating what I talked about
in my lecture on the systemic conditions of illness and health. I, t here-
fore, will be worki ng mainly with participants suffering from life-threat-
ening disease, such as cancer, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis, or who are
t o Astrid i n a wheelchair. I' d like to start with you. Come here, to me. You
can come in your wheelchair. What is your illness?
ASTRID: I have diabetes. I had to undergo dialysis for a long time, and
since then, I have had a kidney transplant.
HELLINGER: I will place all my knowledge at your service. If you wor k
with me and with the positive impulses of your own heart and those of
your mot her and father, perhaps we will find something useful to you.
Okay? Good. Tel l me something about your family. Di d anything drastic
happen in your family? Di d anyone die young, for example, or did any-
one commi t suicide?
ASTRID: Ther e was a third child who came after me and died three days
after her birth.
HELLINGER: That is important. A dead child' s siblings react very strongly.
Di d anything else happen in your family?
ASTRID: My diabetes began at the same time that my grandfather died of
cancer. He lived with our family.
HELLINGER: Whose father was he?
ASTRID: My mother' s.
HELLINGER: Di d anything else of importance happen in your mot her' s
family? Di d anyone die young, for example?
ASTRID: My mother' s brot her died of diphtheria during the war. He was
HELLINGER: Was either of your parents or any of your grandparents pre-
viously married or involved in a close relationship?
HELLINGER: Let' s set up you family system with the help of members of
the group. First of all, choose the people. We need someone to represent
your father and someone for your mother. The first child?
ASTRI D: My brot her. *
HELLINGER: Th e second child?
ASTRI D: That ' s me.
HELLINGER: We also need someone t o represent you. The dead child?
ASTRI D: It was a girl.
HELLINGER: We need someone for her, t oo. Of what did she die?
ASTRI D: That ' s not clear.
HELLINGER: Wha t do you mean, not clear?
ASTRI D: My mot her told me that the child refused to drink. That ' s all I
know about t he cause of her death.
HELLINGER: She starved to death, then?
ASTRI D: That ' s the onl y explanation I ever heard. Apart from that, the
child was never ment i oned.
HELLINGER: Do either of your parents bl ame the ot her for the death of
t he child?
ASTRI D: No one ever talks about her.
HELLINGER: Okay. No w let' s set up the family constellation. Can you
wal k well enough to do that?
ASTRI D: Yes .
HELLINGER: Do you know how set up a family constellation?
HELLINGER: Take the person you' ve chosen from the group and put that
person in the place that seems right to you in relationship to the others.
Wh e n you feel they' re all in their right positions, you leave t hem stand-
ing there. Pl ace t hem entirely accordi ng to your feelings at the moment ,
the way you feel is right, and when you have finished, sit down.
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.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son
2 Second child, a daughter (= Astrid)
3j" Third child, a daughter, who died soon after birth
HELLINGER: Ho w is the father feeling?
FATHER: I feel hemmed in bet ween these t wo and t hreat ened from be -
hind. Ther e' s an uncanny feeling behi nd me. I have an impulse to l ook
HELLINGER: Ho w is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: Ther e' s a lot behi nd me that I can' t see. Ther e' s t oo much be -
hi nd me.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the son feeling?
FI RST CHILD: I feel very close to my sister and very far away from my
HELLINGER to the representative of Astrid: Ho w is the older daughter feeling?
SECOND CHILD: I feel that my parents are wat chi ng me t oo closely. I ' m
glad I ' m not closer to t hem.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the dead child feeling?
THI RD CHILDt: I can' t recogni ze anyone. I feel I don' t bel ong here.
HELLINGER: I ' m goi ng t o bring the dead child into vi ew of t he others.
Diagram 2
HELLINGER: Wha t has changed for the parents?
FATHER: I feel much freer, although I still feel rather confi ned by my wife.
But I can breat he mor e easily.
HELLINGER: Ho w i s the mot her feeling now?
MOTHER: I feel relieved.
SECOND CHILD: I feel bet t er t oo. The two sisters smile at each other.
HELLINGER: What happened bet ween you t wo j ust now?
SECOND CHILD: It feels good to have her around.
HELLINGER to the group: I have several different ideas about this family.
Th e first is that the mot her wants to leave the family and fol l ow t he dead
child. My second idea is that the older daughter wants to prevent her
mot her from leaving by leaving herself. And my third idea is that the ol -
der daughter wants to fol l ow her dead sister by dying.
Di d you see the understanding bet ween the t wo sisters? Th e love?
The two sisters smile at each other again.
Di d you see that? The y can' t hide it.
Laughter in the group.
Exact l y. No w I ' m goi ng t o place the mot her next t o the father.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: How does that feel now?
FATHER: I feel drawn toward the right, away from my wife.
HELLINGER to the father. It's possible that you feel the urge to leave. Go
and stand next to the dead child. How does that feel?
FATHER: It feels good.
HELLINGER to Astrid: What happened in your father's family?
ASTRID: One of my father's younger brothers died of pneumoni a during
the war, very suddenly.
HELLINGER t o the father. Go back and stand beside your wife. I ' m going to
add your dead brot her to the group.
Diagram 4
FBy Father's younger brother, deceased
FATHER: That feels good. The pull to the right has gone.
Nothing has changed for the daughter and the other members of the family.
HELLINGER t o the group: The father probably wants to say to his dead
brot her: "I will fol l ow you. "
HELLINGER: Ho w i s the mot her feeling now?
MOTHER: I t hi nk somet hi ng changed when the brot her j oi ned the group.
Bef or e that somet hi ng didn' t seem quite right about my relationship with
my husband. That ' s changed now. But his brot her must n' t come too
HELLINGER: No; i f he does, you will lose your husband.
t o Astrid: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place now?
Astrid goes to her place in the constellation.
HELLINGER: Wha t was your dead sister's name?
ASTRID: Mari a.
HELLINGER: Look at her and say: "Dear Mar i a. "
ASTRI D: Dear Mari a.
HELLINGER: Say it again.
ASTRI D: Dear Mari a.
Long pause.
HELLINGER: Say t o her: "I will fol l ow you. "
ASTRID: I will follow you.
HELLINGER: "Wi t h l ove. "
ASTRID: Wi t h love.
HELLINGER: Say it again.
ASTRID: I will follow you with love.
HELLINGER: Do the words feel right? Are they true?
HELLINGER: How is the dead sister feeling now?
THIRD CHILD-J-: Not so good.
THIRD CHILD"]-: I don' t need her.
HELLINGER: Thi s is the disillusionment.
t o Astrid: I' m going to take your sister away from you and put her where
she belongs.
to the dead sister's representative: Sit down on the floor in front of your par-
ents and lean against them.
Diagram 5
HELLINGER t o the parents: Put one hand lightly on her head. Bot h of you.
HELLINGER: How is the dead child feeling now?
THI RD CHILDy: Bet t er.
HELLINGER: How are the parents feeling?
The parents nod and smile at each other.
HELLINGER t o Astrid: Say to your dead sister: "Dear Mari a. "
ASTRID: Dear Mari a.
HELLINGER: "Thi s is your right pl ace. "
ASTRID: Thi s is your right place.
HELLINGER: "And I stay here. " Open your eyes!
ASTRID: And I stay here.
Long pause.
HELLINGER: Br eat he deeply. Look at your mot her and say to her: "Dear
Mummy. "
ASTRID: Dear Mummy.
HELLINGER: "I' l l stay."
ASTRID: I' ll stay. She is crying.
HELLINGER: Look at her and say to her, wi t h l ove: "Dear Mummy. "
She hesitates.
ASTRID: Dear Mummy. She is sobbing.
HELLINGER: "I' l l stay."
ASTRID: I .. I . . I ..
HELLINGER: "I' l l stay."
ASTRID: I' ll stay.
HELLINGER: Say it again, very simply: "Dear Mummy. "
ASTRID: Dear Mummy, I' ll stay.
HELLINGER: No w l ook at your father and say: "Dear Daddy. "
ASTRID: Dear Daddy.
HELLINGER: "I' l l stay."
ASTRID: I' ll stay.
HELLINGER: It seems easier for you to say it to hi m. Look at your mot her
again. I ' m goi ng to put you next to her. Li ke this, really close.
Diagram 6
HELLINGER: Look at her. Look into her eyes and say: "Dear Mummy. "
ASTRID: Dear Mummy.
HELLINGER: "I' l l stay."
ASTRID firmly. I' ll stay.
HELLINGER: Exactly. Say it again.
ASTRID: Dear Mummy, I'll stay.
HELLINGER to the mother. Put your arms around her. Bot h arms.
to Astrid: Say: "Dear Mummy, I will stay."
ASTRID loudly. Dear Mummy, I will stay.
HELLINGER: Exactly. "Dear Mummy, I will stay."
ASTRID: Dear Mummy, I will stay. She is sobbing.
HELLINGER: Breat he deeply. In and out, deeply. Thr ough your mout h.
Breat he in and out, deeply. Yes. like that. And repeat, gently: "Dear
Mummy. "
ASTRID: Dear Mummy.
HELLINGER: "I will stay."
ASTRID: I will stay.
HELLINGER t o the group: No w she is speaking in her normal voi ce. That
shows she really means it. No w her words have power.
to Astrid: "Dear Mummy, I will stay."
ASTRID: Dear Mummy, I will stay.
HELLINGER: That ' s good. But will you really do what you said? Look at
your mot her. Look into her eyes and say: "Yes, I really mean it. "
ASTRID: Yes, I really mean it.
HELLINGER: Good. That' s all, then.
Hellinger leads Astrid back to her place. The woman next to her
tries to put her arm round her.
HELLINGER: Your offer of comfort will interfere with what' s going on
deep down inside her. She' s in the best possible hands, in contact with
herself. Your comfort woul d only distract her.
t o the group: Thi s was a very intensive piece of work. I believe we saw the
forces at wor k that lead to illness, and also the strength necessary to find
the transition to healing. And we saw that the love that leads to illness
is the same love that leads to healing. Onl y the aim is different, the love
itself is unchanged. Are there any questions?
PARTICIPANT: Wasn' t there something unresolved with the father? He
wanted to die.
HELLINGER: One of the important principles in this work is not to do
mor e than is necessary for the patient. Astrid didn' t need anything more.
That was quite clear. That ' s the moment to stop, otherwise the energy
drains away. The time to stop is at the moment of greatest intensity. No
tidying up of details or asking: " How do you feel now?" for example.
That only dissipates the energy. Can you sense that?

Four mont hs later, I received the following 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 writing until now.
The most tangible "proof of success" was that the constantly recurring infec-
tions of my kidneys and urinary tract I have had for the past three years sud-
denly 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, and the success of which
was extremely doubtful.
The words, "I'll stay" have in the meantime lost their original accompanying
defiance toward my mother, have become a liberating certainty that I am allowed
to live.
The awareness of the words: "I will follow you," and "Better me than you,"
which are prevalent among various members of my family, has, at least in terms
of my relationship to my little dead sister, resulted in a definite disentanglement
and a great feeling of relief.
Suddenly, 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 . . .
HELLINGER to Bruno: What ' s your issue?
BRUNO: I feel uneasy and not free, and I don' t know what to do or where
to turn.
HELLINGER: Di d anything special happen in your family?
BRUNO: My mot her died four years ago. She was with my father in the
HELLINGER: Was it an accident? A climbing accident?
BRUNO: She slipped. Some time later, and I think this has something to
do with it, my father told me something. I should have known a long
time ago that he had a relationship with a woman who used to wor k at
the same place as he did.
HELLINGER: He shouldn' t have told you that. Children shouldn' t know
things like that about their parents. Such things bel ong to a higher level
in the family hierarchy, the parents' level. Those on the l ower level,
namely, the children, shouldn' t know about them. They shouldn' t know
their parents' secrets. I' m always careful to protect the parents' secrets
when I' m doing therapy. Thi s information isn' t important to you. Di d
anyone die earlier on in the family?
BRUNO: Yes, my sister.
HELLINGER: How old was she?
BRUNO: She was 18, t wo years younger than me. She had Down' s syn-
HELLINGER: Down' s syndrome? That ' s important information. Whe n a
child is handicapped, the healthy members of family tend to feel they
have an advantage they haven' t deserved, even though they aren' t res-
ponsible for the advantage any more than they' re responsible for the
other' s disadvantage and they often impose restrictions upon themselves
because they can' t accept their lives in vi ew of their sibling' s handicap.
Thi s is the first place we must l ook for what' s troubling you.
to the group: Whe n we' re exploring a systemic entanglement like this,
there' s no question of anyone' s bei ng bad or personally responsible. It's
simply a matter of fate. Ther e are forces at work that are beyond inno-
cence and guilt. We' r e not l ooki ng for guilty persons, we' re trying to
observe the systemic forces at work and to find a solution in harmony
wi t h t hem.
t o Bruno: Di d anything else important happen in your family? How many
children were there?
BRUNO: Just us t wo.
HELLINGER: Onl y you two? That makes it even more intense. Was either
of your parents married before or involved in a close relationship?
HELLINGER: Di d either of your parents blame the other for your sister's
handicap? Di d either of t hem think it might have been the other' s fault?
BRUNO: My mot her was comparatively old when she had my sister.
HELLINGER: Ho w old was she?
BRUNO: She was 40 .
HELLINGER: Di d your father blame her, or did she blame him? What is
your impression?
BRUNO: My father didn' t blame my mother. But I think she felt guilty and
tried to find a reason for what had happened.
HELLINGER: We' l l start by setting up your family of origin, begi nni ng with
your father, your mot her, you, and your sister.
Diagram 1
F Father
Mt Mother
1 First child, a son (= Bruno)
2t Second child, a handicapped daughter, who died at 18
HELLINGER: How is the father feeling?
FATHER: Sort of heavy.
HELLINGER: Heavy? Can you describe what you mean by that?
FATHER: I' m facing away from the family. It's an unpleasant feeling.
HELLINGER: How is the mot her feeling?
MOTHERf : I feel very apprehensive. There' s no way I can contact my hus-
band or my son. I feel I don' t stand a chance.
HELLINGER: Yes, exactly. How is the son feeling?
FIRST CHILD: I feel torn apart, drawn in different directions. My sister is
taking my mot her away from me.
HELLINGER t o the group: Somet i mes when we work like this, the people
standing in the constellation conclude what they are supposed to feel by
l ooki ng at the way the people are arranged instead of feeling it freely
from within. That' s what happened just now. He said that about his sis-
ter, because it seemed to be the way he ought to feel.
to the representative of Bruno: It's better if you concentrate on what you' re
actually feeling at the moment , quite independently of how the constella-
tion looks.
FIRST CHILD: I feel torn in different directions.
HELLINGER: How is the sister feeling?
SECOND CHILDf: I feel very uncomfortable and confined, and very de-
HELLINGER: GO out of the room and close the door behi nd you.
to the group: Whe n someone leaves the room, it signifies that the person has
died or commi t t ed suicide. In this case, she died.
HELLINGER: What has changed for the mother? Is it better or worse?
MOTHER")": I feel worse rather than better. I feel very much alone.
HELLINGER: And the father? Is it better or worse?
FATHER: Wor se.
HELLINGER: What about the brother? Is it better or worse?
FIRST CHILD: Bot h. On the one hand, I can see my mot her better, and
that' s a relief.
HELLINGER: It' s very hard to say that one is relieved when someone has
died, but it's often the case. Whe n he says he feels better and worse at
the same time, I interpret that to mean that he feels better.
FIRST CHILD: Yes, that's true.
HELLINGER: That ' s the truth. That' s how it is, and there' s nothing wrong
with it. It doesn' t mean that anyone is bad or wi cked.
t o the mother. Go out of the room. You' r e the one who died next. Go out
and close the door behi nd you.
Diagram 2
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: How is the father feeling now?
FATHER: Terri bl e.
HELLINGER: Check out carefully what the father is really feeling. Di d he
really mean that?
The father's representative laughs.
Yo u see? It's a forbidden feeling. The truth is that he feels better. He
never had a chance in this family. What could he do in this situation but
love another woman? Can you blame him, when you see the position
he' s in? No, you can' t.
to Bruno's representative: How are you feeling now?
FIRST CHILD: Bad. I feel terribly alone.
HELLINGER to the group: It's clear that what we have here is not a good
solution, but it's the one that this particular family found. No w let' s see
if we can find a better one.
to the daughter and the mother outside the room: You can come back now.
Stand where you were standing before.
Diagram 4
HELLINGER t o the daughter. How did you feel outside the room? Bet t er or
SECOND CHILD+: I t ook a deep breath, and then I felt better.
HELLINGER t o the mother. And how did you feel outside the room? Bet t er
or worse?
MOTHER+: Bet t er. I was pleased to see my daughter. Mother and daughter
smile at each other.
HELLINGER t o Bruno: She was pleased to see her. Now do you see the hid-
den dynamics behi nd your mother' s death? She followed her daughter.
It was an honorable mot i ve, but an unsatisfactory solution.
Diagram 5
HELLINGER to the father. How are you feeling now?
FATHER: Better.
HELLINGER to Bruno: Your parents broke off their intimate relationship
when their daughter was born. Whose idea was that? Whi ch of them
broke it off?
BRUNO: My mother.
HELLINGER: Your mother broke it off, and that's why she was the one
who possessed the key that could have brought about a change for the
better. Now let's see what happens if we put her next to your father, her
Diagram 6
HELLINGER to the father. How' s that? How do you feel now?
FATHER: Qui t e good, really. Yes.
HELLINGER to the daughter. How do you feel? Bet t er or worse?
SECOND CHILD+: Better. There' s a feeling of air and life around me.
HELLINGER to the group: Isn't that strange? As soon as the parents are a real
couple and stop worrying so much about the children, the children start
feeling better. Even handicapped children.
HELLINGER to the son: How do you feel?
FIRST CHILD: I feel fine.
HELLINGER: And how does the daughter feel?
SECOND CHILD+: I feel fine too.
HELLINGER: And how about the mother?
MOTHER+: I feel very relieved.
HELLINGER: That woul d have been a much better solution. It often hap-
pens that modern parents mi ni mi ze the risk involved when they conceive
a child. Maybe that's what happened here. If they had fully accepted the
risk of having a handicapped child, they could also have admitted how
difficult it was for t hem that their daughter was handicapped. If, instead
of breaking off their intimate relationship, they had stuck together, every-
one mi ght have found a better solution.
HELLINGER t o Bruno: How do you feel when you see your parents stand-
ing together like this? Go and stand in your place and see how it feels.
Bruno goes to his place in the constellation.
HELLINGER: No w l ook at your sister and say: "Dear sister, I' m your
brot her. " Say it to her. What was her name?
BRUNO: Maria.
HELLINGER: Say: "Dear Maria, I' m your brother. " Say it.
BRUNO: Dear Maria. I' m your brother.
SECOND CHILDJ: I love you.
HELLINGER to Bruno: And say: "I respect your fate."
BRUNO: I respect your fate.
HELLINGER: "And I will stand by you whatever happens to you. "
BRUNO: And I will stand by you whatever happens to you.
HELLINGER: "And I accept my own fate."
BRUNO: And I accept my own fate.
HELLINGER: No w there' s something else I' d like to offer you. It may not
be easy, but it will have a healing effect. Come forward a few steps, you
and your sister, a little closer, and bow to your parents. Go with your
feelings, with love. Bo w to your parents, and to all they have done for
you. Bow!
They bow, and Bruno begins to sob.
HELLINGER: That is the feeling that heals. Say: "Dear Daddy, dear Mummy. "
BRUNO: Dear Daddy.
HELLINGER: "I honor you. "
Bruno hesitates.
BRUNO: I honor you.
HELLINGER: And say: "Dear Mummy. "
BRUNO: Dear Mummy.
HELLINGER: "I honor you as my mot her. "
BRUNO: I honor you as my mother.
HELLINGER: No w stand up straight and l ook at your parents, straight in
the eyes, your mot her and father.
to the parents: How are you feeling?
Both parents nod contentedly.
HELLINGER: Exactly. Now you can feel your dignity.
t o Bruno: No w you can feel your dignity as well. And you can feel your
dignity as a father to your own children.
to the participants in the constellation: You can go back to your places now.
t o the group: Di d you notice the deep respect wi t h whi ch this wor k is done,
with respect for everyone involved? And all the time we were worki ng
toward a solution. Ther e was no unnecessary rummaging about in the
past, j ust purposeful steps toward the solution that will give Br uno the
strength to live his life fully, and that will now also have a positive effect
on his present family.
Are there any questions?
PARTICIPANT: I am wondering why you structured his work so tightly rath-
er than letting hi m talk more about his situation. Di d you start with his
family of origin because it was all clear to you from the very beginning?
HELLINGER: No. I wanted to see if there was something in whi ch he had
become entangled. It became clear to me as soon as he ment i oned his
It is usually significant when there is a handicapped child in a family,
and its importance became even clearer when he said that his sister died
young and his mot her had a fatal accident some time afterward. That was
important information, and I worked with it. If it had been something
else, we woul d have found it out later on. I always start wi t h what ap-
pears to be obvious, and this always consists of events. Bruno' s mot her
died, and that was an event. His sister died, and that was an event. She
had Down' s syndrome, and that was also an event. That' s all we needed
for the solution.
If you allow the patient to talk about everything under the sun instead
of worki ng toward the solution, the issue becomes confused. But i f you
allow the events to have their effect on you, you can feel the energy
there at once. There' s no need to ask any more questions, you j ust have
to feel the presence or lack of energy. Whe n Bruno told us what had hap-
pened in his family, we could feel the energy. I worked with this energy.
sity of the work.
HELLINGER: Of course, you were part of the constellation, you experi -
enced how it works at first hand. Yo u experienced your feelings chang-
ing as your position in the constellation changed. We don' t know exactly
how this happens. In these constellations, everybody taking part partici-
pates in other people' s fates and other people' s feelings, and we don' t
know why. And i f we can do this, j ust think how much more strongly
a child is entangled in the family's feelings and fate.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: I was amazed at how assured and definite you
are in your work, how you go straight to essentials and refuse to be side-
tracked by inessentials.
HELLINGER: I can tell you how you can learn to do that. Woul d you like
t o know?
PARTICIPANT: I certainly would.
HELLINGER: You must forget all that you have learned. That' s the first
thing. Then you observe everyone in the constellation with love and re-
spect. In this case, it was love and respect for Br uno, his mot her, and his
sister. They were the three main characters. Then you wait and see if a
solution suggests itself. Wi t h this basic attitude, the solution often emer-
ges quite quickly. Of course, there are some techniques that can be
learned. For example, an important test in this sort of situation is to see
what happens in a system when someone dies, and you do this by send-
ing the dead person out of the room. The deaths of members of the
family represented this family's attempt at a solution. But it was not a
good solution, so we l ooked for a better one.
Br uno showed us his family's attempts at finding a solution. He had
an inner picture of their relationships. But it was a disastrous solution that
led to the deaths of t wo members of the family, his sister and his mother.
Whe n he set up this inner picture in the form of a family constellation
for everyone to see, we were able to change it and work toward a better
solution. The solution will have a positive effect on Br uno wi t hout any-
thing having to change in his family. His father does not have to change,
he doesn' t even have to know about what has happened here. But if
Br uno keeps this new picture in his heart and mind, with love, every-
thing can change for the better.
t o Bruno: Whe n you go home with this new picture, you will see that your
children are radiant. So that's what this work is about; it's quite simple
and fundamental.
PARTICIPANT: I have a practical question. If Br uno came to you privately,
woul d you work like this with hi m in the very first session, and if so,
woul d you want to see hi m again for further sessions?
HELLINGER: No. No further sessions. Everything of importance has hap-
pened. He must, however, be aware of one thing I told hi m this dur-
ing t he break. In a systemic cont ext , it is possible that his daughter will
imitate his sister, that she is entangled in his sister's fate because up until
now his sister has not been given the respect due her. Now, when he
goes home, he will see the changes that have taken place in his family
because of his recogni t i on of and respect for his dead sister. Th e very fact
that he now remembers his sister wi t h l ove will have a positive effect on
his daughter.
Th e therapeutic process may be compared to a ballistic curve. At t he
begi nni ng, the energy level rises quickly, and then reaches its peak and
starts to fall. Yo u must stop when it is at its peak. Everyt hi ng that hap-
pens afterward wastes energy. The n the energy is used for explanations
and analyses instead of bei ng concent rat ed on the solution.
PARTICIPANT: Woul d you wor k like this in the very first session?
HELLINGER: Usually, yes.
I woul dn' t do any mor e wor k wi t h Br uno because all that is necessary
has been done. Of course, this implies trust in his strength and the sup-
port of his parents. Wi t h t hem and his sister, he is in the best possible
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: Whe n I was talking to the others during the
break, I became aware of how much of what has happened loses its
power when one talks about i t t oo much.
HELLINGER: Exact l y. That ' s a good exampl e of what happens i f you go on
talking or asking questions when the wor k is finished. In anci ent Chi na
a certain Lao-t ze wrot e a little book called the Tao Te King. Ther e' s a
sent ence in it that is like a mot t o for peopl e who want to help others.
Lao-t ze says: " Whe n a wise man has finished one task he goes on to the
next . " That ' s what I do as a therapist. No discussions or analyses after t he
event. Wh e n it's over, it' s over.
me, especially at the end.
HELLINGER: Thank you. Yo u have remi nded me of somet hi ng i mport ant .
First, when you represent someone in a family constellation, it' s a service
you are doi ng for the person who is setting it up. That ' s what you did
j ust now. Yo u did i t out of l ove for Br uno, even t hough i t was a strain.
Second, when you' re standing in a constellation, you' re feeling some-
one else' s feelings. Yo u must be careful not t o t hi nk that what you feel
during the wor k are your own feelings. Thi s i s very important. Yo u must
not say to yourself: " I f I can feel as I did j ust now, it must have some-
t hi ng to do wi t h me. " I stress this because if you allow yoursel f to t hi nk
of ot her people' s feelings as your own, the situation can become con-
fused and crazy. Wh e n the wor k is finished, you must leave behi nd you
everyt hi ng that you experi enced in the ot her person' s system and return
to your own. Is that clear?
Wh e n did you feel strained? Was it when the son bowed to you as his
HELLINGER: I t hi nk I know why that was so hard. It is somet i mes difficult
for peopl e to accept the respect due to t hem, but it woul d have been a
big mistake t o have gone over t o the son when he was bowi ng t o you
and make hi m stand up straight. It woul d have been t oo soon for him.
He needed to be able to honor you: that was the onl y way that the love
bet ween you coul d start to flow again.
t o Bruno: I t hi nk we may assume from the way he felt that your father in
real life finds it hard to accept respect and l ove. Is that true?
Bruno nods.
HELLINGER: Yes , his representative felt that.
t o the father's representative: But it was good for you to have to endure it. As
strange as it may sound, it is humility that enables you to permi t the
child to honor you as his father. Peopl e do not become fathers through
their own personal meri t but t hrough a fitting and appropriate consum-
mat i on of l ove. One does not become a father because one is a good or
a bad person, but because one accepts and agrees to this consummat i on
wi t h all of its risks. I treat that wi t h the utmost respect. Is t here anything
else you woul d like to say?
PARTICIPANT: I was actually expect i ng you to ask hi m what his probl em
was. And t hen I was surprised that it wasn' t even necessary.
HELLINGER: I' ll tell you a secret. Intuition only works when you are
wor ki ng t oward a solution. If you concent rat e on the probl em, your per-
spective becomes narrow and restricted. Yo u see the details but the
whol e escapes you you can' t see the forest for the trees. But if you
l ook t oward the solution, you' re always in t ouch wi t h the whol e, and
t hen t he right path beckons, and you go straight to it. Yo u can forget
about everything else because you have all you need.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: It made a great impression on me when you said
that the parents had br oken of f their intimate relationship after the birth
of their daughter, and that the wife had sacrificed the relationship as a
form of at onement . I wonder ed i f that woul d have occurred t o me, and
t hen I wonder ed if it were j ust a theory. But t hen it was confi rmed by
what happened in the constellation and by what Br uno said.
HELLINGER: Ther e was no need to ask any questions because we saw
clearly that there was no relationship left bet ween the parents, and it
must have had somet hi ng t o do wi t h the birth of their daughter. But
what ever made the mot her act the way she did, she knew of no bet t er
way. She l acked help, and the fact that she had risked giving birth to a
child at that age was not respected.
PARTICIPANT: I was deeply impressed by that.
O N E ' S F A T H E R
HELLINGER: Let ' s go on wi t h the next person. I' d like t o wor k wi t h some-
one who is seriously ill because that' s wher e we can do the most good,
and it' s also how we can learn the most.
HERMAN: I woul d like to work. I have cancer of the bone marrow.
HELLINGER: Okay, I' ll wor k wi t h you. Co me and sit next t o me. That ' s
a serious illness. Ho w l ong have you been ill?
HERMAN: A year.
HELLINGER: What treatment have you had?
HERMAN: I' ve had chemot herapy, and I' ve also taken part in various psy-
chot herapy groups.
HELLINGER: Are you married?
HELLINGER: Any children?
HELLINGER: Is there any particular reason why you have no children?
HERMAN: We want ed children, but i t never happened.
HELLINGER: Was there anything special in your family or origin?
HERMAN: The onl y thing I can t hi nk of is the bad relationship bet ween
my father and his brothers. The y were j oi nt owners of a company, but
t hen t hey separated and br oke of f all cont act wi t h one another.
HELLINGER: Wha t about your father' s father?
HERMAN: I never knew hi m. My father never said much about hi m. It' s
not clear to me at all.
HELLINGER: Strange, that he doesn' t talk about hi m. We' l l set up your
family of origin: your father, your mot her, yourself, and your siblings.
Ho w many of you are there?
HERMAN: I have onl y one sister, younger than me.
HELLINGER: Was either of your parents married before or involved in a
close relationship?
HERMAN: Not that I know of. I don' t think so.
HELLINGER: Was there a stillborn child or a child who died young?
Herman sets up his family of origin.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son (= Herman)
2 Second child, a daughter
HELLINGER: How is the father feeling?
FATHER: People say that I exist.
Laughter in the group.
HELLINGER: How do you feel?
FATHER: I feel sort of uncommi t t ed, very . . . He sighs.
HELLINGER t o the group: The father is bei ng pulled to go. Do you see that?
He has to go. The question is, who is he following?
How' s the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I' m delighted to see what charming children I have. The only
thing is, I' m rather far away from them. My husband can do as he
pleases. Whet her he stays or goes, it makes no difference.
HELLINGER to the group: Her reaction is very strange. There' s no love
there, do you see that? No love at all. I' ve seen quite often that one per-
son was bei ng pulled to leave and that the other left in her place. I sus-
pect that' s what' s going on here, the wife is really the one who is pulled
to go, but her husband does it for her. That ' s called love.
Do you see her expression? She looks malicious. If her husband leaves,
she will be triumphant. Whe n you are a representative in a constellation
like this, you have no influence over what happens or what you feel. If
you represent a person entangled in evil, you feel the way that person
FATHER: Wh y is it that I don' t feel anything at all here?
HELLINGER: We' l l turn you around. We' l l put you so that you are facing
the family and your wife is facing away from it and see what happens.
FATHER 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 be serious, otherwise we won' t be able to do our best
for Herman. How are the children feeling now?
FIRST CHILD: I' ll be furious if he turns away again.
HELLINGER: Exactly. Ho w is the daughter feeling?
SECOND CHILD: At first, I had the feeling that my brother and I were the
real married couple in the family.
HELLINGER: How' s the wife feeling now? Bet t er or worse?
MOTHER: I don' t want to be sent away just yet. I want to be with my
children, and I want to turn around.
Diagram 2
HE L L I NGE R : Wher e were you l ooki ng just now?
MO T H E R : Towar d my husband?
HE L L I NGE R : NO, someone was just in front o f you. Wh o is there? Wr.
are you l ooki ng at?
> MO T H E R : At my own life, my own history?
HE L L I NGE R : That' s a guess. It doesn' t help.
t o Herman: Wh o is your mot her looking at, who is making her want
leave? Wh o is she following?
H E R MA N : Her sister died three years ago, but . . .
HE L L I NGE R : No, that's not it.
H E R MA N : Her mot her died a few years ago.
HE L L I NGE R : No. It must be something much more serious, and somethi'
much earlier, but it's clear that your family was forbidden to know i:
to the group: There' s a family secret here. The children feel like the re-
couple, they will be furious if the father turns away again, the moth
doesn' t care if he goes or stays, and she' s looking at someone else and r.
telling. We have to respect her secret and follow the dynamic. I' ll hr
her representative leave the family and see what effect that has.
Hellinger leads the mother away from the family.
Diagram 3
HE L L I NGE R : How do you feel there? Bet t er or worse?
MO T H E R : Bet t er.
HE L L I NGE R : That fits. That' s the truth o f the matter. Somet hi ng we do;
know is pulling you out of the family. How is the husband feeling?
FATHER: Whe n I turned to face my family, I suddenly felt a great load of
heaviness and sorrow.
HELLINGER: Go and stand in front of the children; children, turn and face
your father.
The father and children smile warmly at one another.
HELLINGER t o Herman: Go and stand in your place in the constellation.
How does that feel?
HERMAN: Strange. Very unfamiliar.
HELLINGER: Everyone could see that the father's love was good for the
children, but something makes it hard for you to feel it. Let' s see if we
can find a healing movement for you. Go and stand to his left and l ook
at hi m with love. Tur n toward him and l ook at him. Say: "Daddy. "
HERMAN: Daddy.
HELLINGER: "Please stay."
HERMAN: Please stay.
HELLINGER: "And give me your blessing if I stay t oo. "
HERMAN: Gi ve me your blessing if I stay t oo.
Long pause.
HELLINGER: What are the right words?
HERMAN: I' m angry.
HELLINGER: Okay, For some reason, even though you are very seriously
ill, you turn away from love, back to anger. Say to him: "I' l l go instead
Diagram 4
o f you. "
H E R MA N : I' ll go instead of you.
HE L L I NGE R : Louder.
H E R MA N angrily: I'll go instead of you.
Long pause. Herman remains angry.
HE L L I NGE R to the group: He will die angry. He can' t escape from the en-
t o Herman: Your anger is more important to you than your health. What
did you do to your father?
H E R MA N defiantly. I don' t know.
HE L L I NGE R : Di d you do him some wrong?
H E R MA N : I don' t know.
HE L L I NGE R : Di d you despise him, for example?
H E R MA N firmly. Yes, I hated him.
HE L L I NGE R : That ' s it.
H E R MA N : He . . .
HE L L I NGE R : Knowi ng what he did won' t help us now. The important
thing is the effect your anger has on your health, no matter what the
reason. Go and stand by your sister again.
to the group: Reconci l i ng hate and restoring love can influence the course
of a disease, and they make dying easier when the disease itself can' t be
healed. The best thing for hi m to do now woul d be to kneel before his
father and bow to hi m with respect. But he can' t bring hi msel f to do
that. He woul d rather die in anger.
to Herman: Is that true?
H E R MA N : No!
HE L L I NGE R : Wi l l you do it?
H E R MA N : I' ll try.
HE L L I NGE R : No trying! Wi l l you do it?
H E R MA N f i r m l y : Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : Good, then I' ll help you. Kneel down and bow l ow, until
you are t ouchi ng the ground, and stretch your hands out in front of you
with your palms turned upward. Yes, like that. Breat he deeply. Say:
"Dear Daddy. "
HE R MAN: Dear Daddy.
HE L L I NGE R : "I bow down to you with respect."
H E R MA N : I bow down to you with respect.
HE L L I NGE R : Say it again, in a normal voice.
H E R MA N : Dear Daddy, I bow down to you with respect.
HE L L I NGE R : Exactly. Those are the right words. Breat he deeply. "Dear
Daddy. "
H E R MA N : Dear Daddy.
HE L L I NGE R : "I bow down to you wi t h respect. "
H E R MA N : I bow down to you wi t h respect.
HE L L I NGE R : "I honor you as my father,"
H E R MA N : I honor you as my father,
HE L L I NGE R : "and you may have me as your son. "
H E R MA N : and you may have me as your son.
HE L L I NGE R : "I bow down to you wi t h respect. "
H E R MA N : I bow down to you wi t h respect.
HE L L I NGE R : Stay like that for a little whi l e, quite still and calm, and
breat he deeply. Re l a x and let go. Wh e n it feels right, get up and go back
t o your place.
Long pause.
Br eat he deeply, t hrough your mout h. That ' s the best way to let it flow.
Take your father in as you inhale and let your l ove flow out to hi m as
you exhale.
Long pause.
No w go back and stand next t o your sister and l ook at your father. I n-
cline your head slightly, in a gesture of respect. The n stand up straight.
Herman stands beside his sister.
HE L L I NGE R : Ho w does that feel to the father?
F AT HE R : It' s hard to accept, it' s hard to bel i eve . . .
HE LLI NGE R : What is hard to believe? That he really respects and honors you?
F AT HE R : Yes .
HE L L I NGE R : Yes , that' s possible.
t o the group: Wh e n representatives report accurately what t hey experi ence,
it' s very difficult to cheat in this wor k. I' ve often observed that peopl e
with cancer find it easier to die than to open their hearts by bowi ng
down before their parents. The y woul d rather die i n anger.
t o Herman: Look at your father again and say: "Pl ease, "
H E R MA N : Please,
HE L L I NGE R : "gi ve me a little mor e t i me. "
H E R MA N : give me a little mor e t i me.
HE L L I NGE R : "Pl ease, "
H E R MA N : Please,
HE L L I NGE R : "gi ve me a little mor e t i me. "
H E R MA N : give me a little mor e time.
HE L L I NGE R : That ' s the movement we' ve been l ooki ng for. Yo u r heart j ust
opened up a little. No w you can put your trust in your own heart.
t o the group: He can' t go to his father yet. He can' t embrace hi m yet. It
woul d only be a game. It wouldn' t do any good.
t o Herman: Okay, we' ll leave it like that for the moment . I' ll put my trust
in your heart too. May I?
HERMAN: Yes. He smiles insincerely as he speaks.
HELLINGER: NO, I may not. Your smile tells me I may not.
HERMAN: Yes, you may!
HELLINGER: Be careful! What you believe is less important than what is
really going on. I don' t want to quarrel with you, I want to help you.
That ' s why I take every signal seriously. Your smile was insincere. Your
heart opened, but then you quickly covered the opening with an insin-
cere smile. If I pretend I didn' t see that, I woul d only be playing with
you, and we can' t afford to play games with an illness like yours. Cancer
feeds on hate, but it shies away from love.
Okay, that's all.
HERMAN: I can feel that. Thank you.
HELLINGER to the group: I want to say a few words about the things that
terrify us and fill us with dread and fear.
We are in harmony with the earth only when we are also in harmony
what appears dreadful and terrifying. Whe n we are in harmony with
them, the things that terrify us turn out to have a positive effect, even
stronger than love. Thi s is why the therapist must be in harmony and
agreement with them, whatever they may be. I am in harmony with the
destructive forces, as well as with the healing ones. And because I am in
harmony with Herman' s illness, I can take hi m seriously and he can take
me seriously. And he can take his illness seriously. It is only when he is
able honestly to confront the forces that are pulling hi m away from love
toward hate that he has a chance to choose life over death.
PARTICIPANT: How woul d work like this continue? Woul d there be a
HELLINGER: No. That was all.
PARTICIPANT: I mean perhaps next week, or . . .
HELLINGER: No, that was all. Herman knows what he has to do. If we did
any more now, it woul d make a mockery of the work we have done.
That was all.
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: HOW did you get the idea that it was not the
father who had to leave, but the mot her? At first, it seemed to be the
ot her way around.
HE LLI NGE R : As I said, I saw it in her expression, I had the information from
the representatives, and when I tested it, she felt better. It's not the first
time I have seen something like this. But here it was clear for everyone
to see.
O T H E R PAR TI CI PANT: HOW do you explain the fact people taking part in
family constellations feel things that have nothing to do with them?
HE L L I NGE R : I can' t explain it. I see that it is so, that that' s what happens,
and that it's possible to test whet her the participants in a family constella-
tion really do feel what is going on in the family. That ' s all I need to
work with.
P AR TI CI P ANT: Why didn' t you let hi m express his anger toward his father?
Most psychotherapy encourages people to get their feelings out.
HE L L I NGE R : I did Primal Therapy for many years, so I' m familiar with the
healing effect of allowing emotions t o flow. The reactions of the repre-
sentatives showed that love is accessible bet ween the father and his chi l -
dren, and Herman felt it too for moment s at a time, then he turned back
to anger. His anger wasn' t his personal feeling toward his father, but the
feeling of someone else in the system. That' s the entanglement. Wi t h an
illness as serious as his, he doesn' t have a lot of time to waste. Ei t her he
learns to open his heart to love and life, or he stays caught in a hate he
didn' t cause. I' m convi nced that, in addition to medical treatment, the
best thing he can do is to get himself out of whatever systemic forces are
entangling him. It' s a matter of life and death.
Okay, shall we work on another case before the break?
HE L L I NGE R : Christa, I'll work with you. Wi l l you come to the front?
to Max, Christa's husband: Wi l l you come and sit next to her so that you
can take part as well?
to Christa: What is your illness?
CHR I S T A: For some time now my energy just seems to have been draining
away, probably as a result of my polio. I can only whisper because my
vocal chords have been paralyzed for 40 years. The doctors have only
just found out that it was caused by the polio. My whol e throat is para-
lyzed, and so is my diaphragm. They didn' t know that at the time.
HE LLI NGE R : Whe n did you get polio?
CHRISTA: Whe n I was 14.
HELLINGER: What happened in your family?
CHRISTA: I was confirmed.
HELLINGER: That shouldn' t have had such drastic results. What ' s your
probl em at the moment ?
CHRISTA: My daughter was confirmed, and since then, my energy just seems_
to have dwindled away. I was already having difficulty in standing up
straight six mont hs ago, and then my energy disappeared and I just col-
lipsed. It started with pyelitis. I don' t seem to be able to get my strength
HELLINGER: Let' s set up your present family system. We' l l l ook at the im-
portant people in your family of origin afterward. Wh o are the member s
of your present family?
CHRISTA: My husband, myself, and my daughter.
Christa chooses people from the group to represent the members of
her family.
HELLINGER: What happened at your daughter' s birth?
CHRISTA: I had gestosis very badly and nearly died. The doctors gave me
a 15 percent chance of survival and the child none at all. Perhaps ' I
should tell you that my great-grandmother died in childbirth.
HELLINGER: That is important. In a seminar I gave a little while ago, there
was a woman with a pregnancy psychosis. Her mot her had died in child-
birth. Later, in a family constellation, I placed her opposite her dead
mot her and told her to show her child to her mot her and ask her to bless
the child. Suddenly, an intense and loving contact sprang up across the
generations. Later on, maybe we' ll do some work of this kind with you.
t oo. But now let' s set up your present family.
Diagram 1
Wi f e ( = Chr i st a)
Only child, a daughter
HELLINGER: How' s the husband feeling?
HUSBAND: I feel in contact with my daughter in front of me, but I want
to turn more toward my wife.
HELLINGER: How' s the wife feeling?
WIFE: I' m very cold. I started feeling shivery at the very beginning, when
she asked me to represent her, and I still do. I thought I would feel bet -
ter when I stood next to my husband, but I don' t.
HELLINGER to Christa: Do you sometimes feel shivery as she describes?
Christa nods.
to the group: You see how the person representing Christa feels as she does,
although she didn't know about it beforehand?
How is the daughter feeling?
FIRST CHILD: I feel helpless with these parents. I don' t know what sort of
a relationship I have with either of them.
HELLINGER to Christa: What happened to your great-grandmother?
CHRISTA: She died giving birth to her seventh child. She was my father's
grandmother on his mother' s side.
HELLINGER: I' m going to bring her into the constellation, and then we' ll
see what' s changed.
Diagram 2
GGf Great-grandmother who died in childbirth
HELLINGER: Wha t has changed?
WI FE: NOW there' s someone there. I have some support. Bef or e that I felt
very alone.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the daughter feeling now?
FI RST CHILD: She helps me t oo. I ' m l ooki ng at her. My parents were
l ooki ng away the whol e time.
HELLINGER t o Christa: I ' m going to add your father and his mot her .
Diagram 3
WF Wife's father
WFM Wife's father's mother
HELLINGER to the wife's father. Ho w does that feel to you?
WI FE' S F AT HE R : Ther e' s somet hi ng behi nd me.
HELLINGER: Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
WI FE' S F AT HE R : Unpleasant.
HELLINGER: Ho w does the father' s mot her feel?
WI FE ' S F AT HE R ' S MOTHE R . - She' s t oo close.
HELLINGER to the group: A woman who dies in childbirth causes a great
deal of anxiety and fear in the system.
Hellinger places the dead great-grandmother on the left of the
father's mother.
Diagram 4
HELLINGER t o the wife's father. Ho w does that feel now that she' s in view":
WI FE' S FATHER: Bet t er.
WI FE' S FATHER' S MOTHER: For me t oo.
]": I feel good here, and I also had a war m feeling
t oward t hem when I was standing behi nd t hem.
HELLINGER t o the group: Wo me n who died in childbirth are wel l disposed
t oward the children and grandchildren. The y wish t hem well.
t o the wife: Ho w do you feel now?
WI FE: Bet t er. My right side is starting to feel warm. There' s a lot of strength
and energy coi ni ng from the left.
HELLINGER: No w I ' m going t o change everything around. In family con-
stellations, the husband usually comes first, t hen the wife, and t hen the
children placed cl ockwi se i n order of age. But when the wife has such
a serious probl em, she comes first and her husband second.
Diagram 5
HELLINGER: How' s that?
WIFE: There' s energy around.
WIFE: There' s life on both sides, all at once. Before, I felt as if I were di-
vided down the middle. Then my left side got warm, and now my right
side is warm too. I can stand here without difficulty.
HELLINGER to the group: Di d you follow that?
to Christa: Energy was your keyword. Go and stand in your place.
CHR I S TA: It's strange. After the birth of my daughter, my left arm was
HELLINGER: Go and stand in the constellation and try and find your right
place. You can move the others around if you want them closer or fur-
ther away.
Christa goes to her place in the family constellation, moves nearer
to her husband, and then beckons to her father, grandmother, and
great-grandmother to come closer.
Diagram 6
HE L L I NGE R : How does the husband feel now?
HU S BAND: Thi s feels good.
HE L L I NGE R : How about the daughter?
F I R S T CHI LD: Yes, it's okay here.
HE L L I NGE R to the group: I t ook the daughter out of her mother' s sphere o:
influence and put her into her father's. The mother' s system woul d i m-
pose t oo great a burden on the child.
to Max, Christa's husband: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place in
the constellation and see how good it feels?
Max goes to his place and nods contentedly.
HE L L I NGE R to Christa: Look at your great-grandmother and say to her:
"Please give me your blessing if I stay."
CHR I S T A: Please give me your blessing i f I stay.
HE L L I NGE R : YOU could say it in a rather more friendly way. And say tc
her, with energy: "Please . . . "
C HR I S T A firmly: Please give me your blessing i f I stay.
HE L L I NGE R : Exactly.
C HR I S T A: Please give me your blessing i f I stay.
HE L L I NGE R : Say: "I' l l stay,"
CHR I S T A: I' ll stay,
HE L L I NGE R : "with my husband"
CHR I S T A: with my husband
HE L L I NGE R : "and with my child. "
CHRISTA: and with my child.
HELLINGER: "And give me your blessing if I stay."
CHRISTA: And give me your blessing if I stay.
HELLINGER: No w say it to your grandmother.
CHRISTA: Gi ve me your blessing if I stay.
HELLINGER: And to your father.
CHRISTA: Gi ve me your blessing if I stay.
HELLINGER: Exactly, yes.
Hettinger places her with her back to her great-grandmother so that
she can lean against her. The great-grandmother puts her hands
gently on Christa's shoulders.
HELLINGER: Take energy and strength from your great-grandmother!
after a pause: No w go back and stand next to your husband, l ook at your
great-grandmother again and say: "Gi ve me your blessing if I stay."
CHRISTA: Gi ve me your blessing if I stay.
HELLINGER: Now there was energy there. Okay, that's all.
Diagram 7
HE L L I NGE R to Daniel: I' ll wor k with you now. We talked together during
the break. No w come and sit next to me. I' d like to know something
about your family, that's all. Are your parents married?
DANI E L: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : How many children do they have?
DANI E L: They have three sons.
HE L L I NGE R : Was either of your parents married before or involved in
close relationship?
HE L L I NGE R : Di d anything special happen in either of your parents' family
of origin?
DANI E L: My father's mot her died o f cancer.
HE L L I NGE R : How old was she when she died?
DANI E L: She was 60 or 6 5.
HE L L I NGE R : Then it's not so important. Di d anyone die in childbirth?
DANI E L: I think there was a stillborn child, but I don' t know anything
about it.
HE L L I NGE R : Whos e child was it?
DANI E L: I think it was my mother' s, but I' m not sure.
HE L L I NGE R : Then it woul d have been your brot her or sister?
DANI E L: Yes.
HE L L I NGE R : Was it a boy or a girl?
DANI E L: I don' t know.
HE L L I NGE R : Whi ch do you think it was?
DANI E L: Probably a girl.
HE L L I NGE R : Was the stillborn child born before or after you?
DANI E L: Before me.
HE L L I NGE R : Immediately before you?
DANI E L: I think so, yes.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, let' s set up the system. We' l l leave the stillborn child
out for the moment and add her later.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
1 First child, a son
2 Second child, a son
4 Four t h chi l d, a s on (= Da ni e l )
HELLINGER: How' s the father feeling?
FATHER: I was just wondering what happened to make my oldest son go
away like that. And another thing my wife is bl ocki ng the contact be-
t ween me and my second son. I woul d like to have that contact.
HELLINGER: Ho w is the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I' m rather at a loss. I can' t see my husband, or my first and sec-
ond sons. The only one I can see is my third son.
HELLINGER: How' s the oldest son feeling?
FIRST CHILD: I have a very bad feeling at the back of me. I can j ust see
my parents, but nothing else. And I can only see my parents out of the
corner of my eye.
HELLINGER: How' s the second son feeling?
SECOND CHILD: I feel I woul d like to go and stand behi nd hi m (the oldest
HELLINGER to Daniel's representative: How about the youngest son?
FOURTH CHILD: Whe n I was put here, I felt I was much t oo close to my
mot her. I woul d rather be with my brothers.
HELLINGER t o Daniel: Now add your stillborn sister to the constellation.
Put her wherever you feel is right.
Diagram 2
3+ Third child, a daughter, stillborn
HELLINGER: What ' s changed for the youngest son?
FOURTH CHILD: I' m very frightened. It's much t oo close, much t oo un-
HELLINGER: How' s the sister feeling?
THI RD CHILD+: I feel out of place here.
HELLINGER: How are the parents feeling?
MOTHER: I like this child (the daughter).
FATHER: Somet hi ng has been added, but the situation hasn't really changed
HELLINGER to Daniel: May I describe your situation briefly to the group
Daniel nods.
HELLINGER to the group: Duri ng the break, Dani el told me that he feel.-
split right down the middle. He is not sure about his sexual identity
whet her he is a man or a woman. This sometimes happens in families in
whi ch a boy has to identify with a girl because there is no girl to repre-
sent her. Thi s is exactly his situation. The girl must go to her parents.
to the stillborn sister's representative: Sit down in front of your parents and lean
against them.
Hellinger places the mother to the left of the father and asks both
parents to put one hand gently on the child's head. Then he
places the brothers opposite their parents in order of age.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER: How does that feel?
FATHER: I' m a proud father.
MOTHER: I feel fine.
HELLINGER: How does the youngest son feel?
FOURTH CHILD: NOW I can relax. Now it all fits.
The parents smile at each other.
HELLINGER to the group: Now he can leave the identification behind him
because his sister has been given her rightful place. He no longer has to
represent her. He can be himself without having to take the place of
someone else, a girl.
to the sister. How does the child feel down there?
THIRD CHILD+: This is where I belong.
to Daniel: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Daniel goes to his place in the constellation and looks around him.
HELLINGER: How do the other brothers feel?
The other brothers smile and nod to each other.
HELLINGER: Okay, that's all.
Ident i f i c at i on wi t h a p ers on of t he oppos i t e sex
i n homos e x ual l ove and psyc hosi s
HELLINGER to the group: Recent l y, Gunthard Weber and I gave a seminar
together. We invited 25 psychotic patients with their doctors or psycho
therapists, or with their parents. We wanted to find out about the family
dynamics in the case of psychotics. Our theory was that they might be identifying wi t h t wo different people, but this hypothesis was very quick
ly proved wrong. We soon saw that almost all the patients were identify
ing with a person of the opposite sex. For example, with one couple, the
family constellation showed that their daughter was representing her fath
er's stillborn twin brother.
Had there been another girl in Daniel' s family, she woul d probably have identified with the stillborn sister and Daniel wouldn' t have had.
But since there were only boys in the family, one of t hem had to repre
sent the dead sister.
The question now is what to do about it. Experi ence has shown this
it is unlikely that a homosexual inclination can or should be changed,
mainly because in male homosexual relationships, almost as in hetero-
sexual ones, a bond develops that is hard to sever later on. Anyone who
becomes homosexual as a result of his family situation has a difficult but
den to carry, and the only constructive option open to hi m is to accept
it willingly. All ot her options perpetuate the negative.
t o Daniel: But there is something you can do. For the period of one year
you can imagine that you are showing your dead sister the good and find
things of the earth with love. Love annuls identification. Whe n I iden
tify wi t h someone, it is as if I were the person I' m representing. I don'
perceive this person as bei ng separate from me, and this means that love
cannot flow bet ween us. As soon as I start to love that person, I perceive
hi m or her as separate from myself, and the identification is resolved,
feel bot h united with and distinct from the person I love.
Trust your sister to help you.
to the group: Are there any questions?
PARTICIPANT: YOU said that in the case of homosexuality, the child identi
fies with a person of the opposite sex. Do you mean that this is always
so? If so, this woul d add a whol e new dimension to the issue of homo
sexuality. And what about transsexuality? Does the same thing apply?
HELLINGER: In terms of systemic dynamics, there' s no difference between
transsexuality and homosexuality.
Identification with a person of the opposite sex doesn' t always cause
homosexuality, nor are all homosexuals identified with persons of the
opposite sex. That' s just one observation, but I' ve also worked with a
number of homosexuals who have had to take the place of a person who,
for some reason, has been excluded from the system. Maybe the identifi-
cation with an outsider is one of the reasons that homosexuals are com-
monl y regarded as outsiders. But homosexuality of this kind doesn' t usu-
ally cause the same distress as it does when there' s an identification wi t h
a person of the opposite sex. Does this answer your question?
ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: The question has not been answered for me. Do
you mean that these are the only causes of homosexuality? How do you
explain the fact that homosexuality is regarded in quite a different light
by other societies, for example, by the ancient Greeks, who considered
it to be perfectly normal?
HELLINGER: I' m wary of talking about things I haven' t seen for myself.
We all saw what happened in Daniel' s case, and because we saw it, we
can talk about it. Generalizations, however, are dangerous. I don' t want
you to accept what I said blindly. Just be open to considering it and
make your own observations. It's worth considering, because it has
helped to lighten the burden of many homosexuals. It makes it possible
for t hem to see their fate in a different light, although whet her or not
they can or should change it is another matter.
Dec i di ng i n f avor of t he f at her ove r
t he mot he r ' s l over
DANIEL on the following day: I remembered that my mot her had a friend
who disappeared to America.
HELLINGER: Your mot her had a boyfriend?
DANIEL: Yes. I found out about it when he appeared on the scene for a
short time and then disappeared. He was the man she really want ed to
marry. I still believe that.
HELLINGER: It's common that a child represent a parent' s lover, even if he
is unaware of it, and wi t hout any intention on the parent' s part. In your
family, I don' t know whi ch boy fulfilled this role there are three sons
in your family. The boy who represents the lover is bound to get into
conflict with his father and have difficulty in becomi ng a man. He can' t
accept his father as father, nor can his father give hi m what he needs as
a son because the identification makes t hem rivals.
Th e solution is for the boy to l ook his mot her in t he eyes and say
" He is my father, and I honor hi m as my father. I ' m not related to the
ot her man. " And he needs to say to his father: " Yo u are my father, and
I honor you as my father. Yo u are the right one for me, I ' m not related
to t he ot her man. I am your son. "
DANIEL: That ' s strange, I' ve often felt I was playing the rol e of a rival.
Knowledge must engender action
DANIEL: Yest erday I realized how i mport ant my father' s family is to me
In this family, the grandfather disappeared. No one talks about what hap
pened. Ther e' s somet hi ng missing.
HELLINGER: I don' t want to go into this now. It' s no good trying to do
t oo much at once. It is enough if you can see your grandfather behind
your father and that you honor t hem together. It' s a guiding principle of
this wor k that knowl edge must be transformed i nt o action as quickly as
possible. As soon as I' ve gained enough knowl edge to enable me to act
I must stop investigating and start acting. Tr yi ng to find out mor e only
dissipates the energy I need for action, and knowi ng becomes a substitute
for doing.
" B E T T E R M E T H A N Y O U "
HELLINGER to Ernest: Come and sit here, next to me. What ' s your prob-
l em?
ERNEST: Fi ve years ago I had an operation for mel anoma. Thr ee years ago
I developed a secondary mel anoma, and at the moment I have acute phle-
bitis. Apart from the operations, I' ve been treated . . .
HELLINGER: I don' t need to know that. Woul d you like to see what you-
family system can show us?
ERNEST: Yes , I woul d.
HELLINGER: Are you married?
HELLINGER: Any children?
ERNEST: We have one child, and there' s anot her one on the way.
HELLINGER: Yo u owe i t t o your children t o get well. Di d you know that
ERNEST: Yes , I know.
HELLINGER: If you don' t, they will t end to fol l ow you. That ' s a good reas
on for doi ng somet hi ng about i t now.
ERNEST: It certainly is.
HELLINGER: Di d anything particular happen in your family of origin?
ERNEST: Ther e were four children. There' s nothing special on my mot h-
er's side. It was a huge family . . .
HELLINGER: What about your siblings? Di d anyone die, or was there a
stillborn child?
ERNEST: My father has skin cancer, and so have my sister and my older
HELLINGER: Whew! That' s a lot. What about your father's family?
ERNEST: My father's father died when my father was 7 or 8.
HELLINGER: Of what did he die?
ERNEST: It seems that he had a grenade splinter from the war somewhere
in his body and it started to move. He got bl ood poisoning and died
quite quickly.
HELLINGER: How many siblings did your father have?
ERNEST: One half sister.
HELLINGER: Wher e did the half sister come from?
ERNEST: Fr om his father's first marriage. She is older than my father.
HELLINGER: What happened to your father's first wife?
ERNEST: As far as I know, she j umped out of a wi ndow shortly after
giving birth. I don' t know why.
HELLINGER: She is the important person. But we' ll start with your present
family. Set it up yourself, your wife, and your child. How old is the
ERNEST: She is 4.
Diagram 1
Hb Hu s b a n d ( = Er nes t )
W Wife
1 First child, a daughter
HELLINGER: HOW'S the husband feeling?
HUSBAND: I feel sort of hemmed in. In one way, it's quite pleasant, but
in another way, it's not.
HELLINGER: How' s the wife feeling?
WIFE: TOO confined, and I' m looking straight ahead.
HELLINGER: HOW'S the daughter feeling?
FIRST CHILD: I' d like to stand further away from my mot her.
Hellinger takes the husband out of the constellation.
Diagram 2
HELLINGER t o the husband: How do you feel now?
HUSBAND: Now I' m t oo far away.
HELLINGER: Feel exactly what it's like. Is it better or worse?
HUSBAND: A little better.
As soon as the father moved out of the group, the mother and
daughter smiled at each other.
HELLINGER to the group: Strange! Di d you see that?
Mother and daughter burst out laughing.
Di d you see that? They feel freer when he goes.
to Ernest: Is that how it is?
Ernest nods.
What have you to say about it?
ERNEST: I can' t say anything at the moment .
HELLINGER: No, it's hard.
HELLINGER: What happened in your wife' s family?
ERNEST: Her father died of cancer.
HELLINGER: How old was he when he died?
ERNEST: I don' t know exactly. About 60 or 70, I think. But he and his
wife were divorced before that.
HELLINGER: Wh y did he get a divorce?
ERNEST: As far as I can gather, his wife sent hi m away.
HELLINGER: His wife sent hi m away?
ERNEST: She found him a j ob in Switzerland.
Laughter in the group.
HELLINGER to the group: The mother' s daughter is doing exactly the san:
thing to her husband as her mother did to her husband. It's an exac
to Ernest: Add your wife's father to the constellation.
wF+ Wife's father, deceased
HELLINGER: What has changed for the wife?
WIFE: I feel an urge to move backward and lean against my father.
HELLINGER: Okay, do.
Diagram 3
Diagram 4
HELLINGER: The exact dynamics probably l ook like this.
Hellinger turns the wife's father around and places her behind him
so that she is following him.
Diagram 5
HELLINGER: HOW does the wife's father feel?
WIFE' S FATHERf: It's much better facing in this direction.
HELLINGER: How does the wife feel?
WIFE: Better. I want to embrace my father from behind.
HELLINGER t o the group: Her dynamics are: "I will follow you. " And who
leaves? Her husband. Men are kindhearted creatures. It' s time someone
said that!
Laughter and applause from the group.
Hellinger turns the husband around and places the daughter next
to him.
Diagram 6
HELLINGER: How does the husband feel now?
HUSBAND: Better. I' m not so alone any more.
HELLINGER: How does the daughter feel?
FIRST CHILD: I feel fine.
HELLINGER t o Ernest: Thi s is the secret system of dynamics in your family.
It' s not a good system, as you can see. I' ve shown you the worst thing
that coul d happen.
ERNEST: My wife is pregnant. That may help us to find the solution.
HELLINGER: That doesn' t change anything. And it hasn' t changed anything
ERNEST: But my daughter has changed something for me.
ERNEST: I' m not so alone any more.
HELLINGER: That ' s true. But comforting the father's loneliness isn' t a good
place for a child. The question is: What can be done about your wife?
ERNEST: She must let go of her father, leave him.
HE L L I NGE R : No, that wouldn' t work.
E R N E S T : Wel l , she must stop wanting to follow him.
HE L L I NGE R : We must add her mot her to the group, then we' ll be able to
see more. Add her.
to the group: Whe n we set up a constellation like this, the first thing that
emerges is often the ext reme situation toward whi ch the system tends. It
is only then that we can see how serious the matter is. Then we try to
find out if there is another solution. Ther e often isn' t, but it is important
that the client sees that we are trying to find one.
Diagram 7
WM Wife's mother
HE L L I NGE R : HOW is the wife feeling now?
WI F E : Bet t er. I want to go to my mother.
HE L L I NGE R : Okay, do.
Diagram 8
HELLINGER t o the group: Wh o is Ernest' s wife representing now with so
much anger? Her father, who was sent away. And who should be the
obj ect of her anger? Her mot her. And who is, i n fact, the obj ect of her
from the group: Her husband. That' s what' s called a double displacement.
to the wife's father. How are you feeling now?
WIFE' S FATHER+: I felt my wife' s presence on my left.
HELLINGER: No w turn around. We' l l put your daughter next to you and
turn your wife around so that she is facing away from you.
Diagram 9
HELLINGER: No w how is it?
WIFE: I ' m starting to get angry. I don' t want her to turn away and leave.
HELLINGER: That ' s a child' s dilemma! Children feel loyal to bot h parents.
How is the wife' s mot her feeling?
WIFE' S MOTHER: I have hardly any contact with my family.
HELLINGER: Exactly. Go further away still.
Diagram 10
HELLINGER t o the group: We don' t know what happened in her family and
why she has the urge to leave. But we' ll leave that as it is for the mo-
ment and l ook for the solution in this family.
to the wife: Shall I l ook for a solution?
WIFE: Yes. She laughs.
Hellinger sets up the solution.
Diagram 11
HELLINGER: HOW does that feel?
WIFE: Better. I can breathe more easily. I have a spontaneous feeling tha:
this is my right place. Before that, I didn't know where I really belonged.
HUSBAND: I feel now that she is more willing to accept me. She is stand-
ing by my side. This closeness feels good. It was not genuine before.
FIRST CHILD: NOW I have parents.
WIFE' S FATHER+: I have friendly feelings. He laughs.
HELLINGER to Ernest: Woul d you like to go and stand in your place?
Ernest goes to his place in the constellation. The husband and
wife smile and joke with each other.
HELLINGER: Sometimes there is a good solution to be found.
to Ernest: I worked with the most obvious problem first, your present fam-
ily system. We will have to set up your family of origin to find out
whether your cancer has anything to do with those family dynamics. But
it wouldn' t be good to do too much at once. Is that okay?
HELLINGER: Good. That' s all, then.
Fami l y constel l ati ons wor k t hrough
t he i nner pi c t ure
HELLI NGER: Are there any questions about this work?
PARTI CI PANT: In the previous family constellations, there was always
something that the persons concerned could do themselves honoring
the father, for instance, or feeling and expressing love. But in Ernest' s
case, the solution depends entirely on his wife. Is there anything he can
HELLI NGER: My guess is that Ernest and his wife have known for a long
time that his going would be a relief, but because they love each other,
they didn' t know how to face that. Seeing the representatives having the
same feelings shows them that the feelings are systemic, not personal.
That' s a huge relief. Ernest now has a different picture of his wife, and
it's already working. He can tell her what happened.
to Ernest: Just tell her exactly what happened, without any explanation or
to the group: When something accurately reflects what' s really going on, it
needs no explanation. Ernest doesn' t have to do more than tell her what
happened here. Her understanding of her feelings will change when she
hears what the representatives felt, and she will be free to deal with them
in a different way. But Ernest' s relationship to his wife has already
changed, and when he gets home, she'll most likely notice a difference
in him because he too knows they are dealing with something larger than
their personal relationship. I cannot, and may not, do any more.
This works demands a great deal of restraint on the part of therapists.
They must at all costs refrain from "doing some more work on it" or
anything like that.
As it turned out, Ernest's wife was in the audience.
"The ri ght t hi ng"
PARTICIPANT: I have a technical question. Does it make any difference
whether you choose the people to play a role in a family constellation or
whether the patient selects them? And another question: You often use
the word "right" "in the right place," for example. Is this based on
a set of principles, or does it result from what you observe at the mo-
ment? I' ve learned that one of your principles is that respect has to be
given from the bot t om upward, that children must respect and honor
their parents.
HELLINGER: It doesn' t much matter who chooses the representatives or
who is chosen. It makes no difference whet her the patient selects them
or whet her I do in order to save time. Anyone can play the part of any-
one providing, of course, that he or she agrees to do so.
" Ri ght " for me is when I observe that everyone in the constellation
feels comfortable in his or her place. That ' s all. And order ensues when
everyone is in the place where he or she belongs. Thi s, however, de-
pends on a number of factors and differs in different constellations. I base
my primary orientation on principles I have observed operating in sys-
tems, but I deviate from t hem when I see that they don' t apply.
To be very precise, it isn' t my principle at all. Obviously, children are
free not to respect their parents, but it has consequences when they
don' t. Conversely, when everyone in a family is in his or her "right"
place, respect and love flow naturally, but the primary flow is from the
top down, not from the bot t om up.
Fami l y c onst el l at i ons usi ng s ymbol s
PARTICIPANT: Whe n you are worki ng wi t hout a group, with symbols,
how do you generate the dynamics of feeling as we have seen t hem ex-
pressed by the different couples and participants?
HELLINGER: I only wor k like this with groups. You can see that this kind
of work is really only possible in groups. Thi s intensity can hardly ever
be reached in individual therapy. But it is sometimes possible for thera-
pists to use symbols if they have to work without a group. One of the
best ways of worki ng has proved to be with shoes. The client arranges
pairs of shoes just as he or she woul d arrange people from the group.
The client and the therapist imagine the persons concerned standing in
the shoes. They can also walk around and stand next to the shoes and
feel how the persons represented are feeling. That ' s one possibility. The
same thing applies here as elsewhere: the client and the therapist can
make the best of even a difficult situation if they allow their hearts,
minds, and spirits to be guided by the circumstances.
PARTICIPANT: Wh o says what the shoes are "feeling" you or the client?
HELLINGER: Thi s requires a good deal of caution. As soon as fantasies and
interpretations come ont o the scene, you know you are on the wrong
track. But a colleague of mi ne tells me that when he works with shoes,
he only has to stand next to t hem to feel immediately what the persons
represented are feeling. He can rely on it. It is also something that you
can learn t hrough practice. But it is bet t er when the client stands next to
t he shoes and feels what the persons in question are feeling. He or she
is closer to t hem than are t he therapists.
O N E B R O T H E R D I E D S O O N A F T E R B I R T H ,
HELLINGER t o Frieda: What ' s your probl em?
FRIEDA: My brot her commi t t ed suicide six mont hs ago, and I feel I ' m i n
danger. My parents t hi nk I mi ght . . .
HELLINGER: Have you ever tried t o commi t suicide?
FRIEDA: No, but I' ve t hought about it.
HELLINGER: Okay, I' ll wor k wi t h you next . Wh o are the member s of
your family?
FRIEDA: No w there' s onl y my parents and me.
HELLINGER: Ho w did your brot her kill himself?
FRIEDA: He j umped of f a bridge across the hi ghway.
HELLINGER: Ho w old was he?
FRIEDA: He was 27.
HELLINGER: We' l l set up your family constellation wi t h the four of you
you, your father and mot her, and your dead brot her.
FRIEDA: My mot her had anot her child who died six days after he was bor n
my older brot her.
HELLINGER: We' l l need hi m, of course. We' l l add hi m later.
Diagram 1
F Father
M Mother
2\ Second child, a son, who committed suicide at 27
3 T h i r d c hi l d, a d a u g h t e r ( = Fr i e da )
HELLINGER t o the group: Th e whol e family is l ooki ng in one direction. Di d
you not i ce that? They' r e probably all l ooki ng at the child who died.
t o Frieda: Was anyone bl amed for the death of this child?
FRIEDA: Yes . Th e child was born i n the seventh mont h of pregnancy, and
my mot her blames her father for treating her so badly that the child was
bor n prematurely. The child refused to drink and starved to death.
HELLINGER: I ' m goi ng to add this child to the constellation.
Diagram 2
If First child, a son, born prematurely, who died when 6 days old
HELLINGER: How is the father feeling?
FATHER: I was feeling compl et el y alone in the first constellation, j ust star-
i ng straight ahead of me. No w I feel drawn t oward the dead child, and
I ' m starting to feel angry at my wife.
HELLINGER: How' s the mot her feeling?
MOTHER: I was feeling terrible, really ill. No w at least I' ve got somet hi ng
to l ook at. But I still don' t feel comfort abl e.
SECOND CHILDf: It' s most unpleasant wi t h my mot her standing behi nd
me. And i t was even worse when she put her hand on my shoulder.
THI RD CHILD: I want ed to be further away from my father, and I felt
drawn t oward my brot her on my right. But that' s changed now that the
ot her child i s there. No w there' s mor e distance bet ween me and my
HELLINGER: Wh o feels guilty about the child' s death? Th e mot her. And
who died instead of her? The son.
to the child who died young: Ho w do you feel?
FI RST CHILDf: I was feeling awful. The bad feeling came from my mot her.
But it wasn' t onl y her. At first it came from the whol e family, and t hen
it became clear that it really came from my mot her.
Hcllinger leads the mother out of the family group.
Diagram 3
HELLINGER t o the mother. Ho w are you feeling?
MOTHER: Bet t er. Th e burden on my right has gone.
HELLINGER: No w I will show you the solution.
Diagram 4
HELLINGER: How' s that for the father?
FATHER: I feel relieved.
FI RST CHILD+: I feel drawn t oward my mot her.
SECOND CHILD+: I feel safe.
THI RD CHILD: NOW it fits, it' s right.
Hellinger places the child who died young with his back to his
Diagram 5
HE LLI NGE R : These are the dynamics: The mother says to her dead child:
"I will follow you. "
to the mother. How do you feel here?
MO T H E R : I feel quite loving. I feel much better.
F I R S T CHI LDJ : I feel relatively good. Not quite right, but . . .
Hellinger places the mother on the right of the child who died
Diagram 6
HELLINGER: How' s that?
FIRST CHILD+: It could be better.
HELLINGER: The right place for him would be beside his father and with
his siblings. How do the siblings feel when he' s not there?
FIRST CHI LD+. I feel an emptiness on my right side.
THIRD CHILD: I feel completely bewildered.
HELLINGER: When he is away from his siblings, they are drawn to follow
him. I'll show you another solution.
Hellinger places the mother on her husband's left and the dead
child sitting in front of his parents, leaning against them.
Diagram 7
HELLINGER to the parents: Put one hand lightly on the child' s head.
The mother begins to cry.
HELLINGER to the mother: Look at the child. Lean against your husband and
say to the child: " My dear child. "
MOTHER: My dear child.
HELLINGER: Say it again.
MOTHER: My dear child.
HELLINGER: Breat he deeply, through your mout h.
HELLINGER: How do you feel now?
MOTHER: I feel better. Now I can see the others.
HELLINGER to the child who died young: How do you feel?
HELLINGER to the second son, who committed suicide: How do you feel?
SECOND CHILD+: It's the first time I' ve seen my mot her.
HELLINGER to the group: Whe n a child dies, the parents find it easier to
blame themselves or someone else than to face up to their pain and their
fate. It was a hard fate for bot h of them. The solution in cases like this
is for the parents to move closer together and say: " We bear the pain t o-
gether, " and then to give their child a place in their hearts. What hap-
pened here is that they lost sight of their child and excluded hi m from
their hearts.
t o Frieda: Go and stand in your place. Does that feel good?
HELLINGER: Okay, that's all.
Suicide out of motives of love
H E L L I N G E R to the group: In my experi ence, suicide is frequently based or.
the dynami c "I will fol l ow you" or "Bet t er me than you. " Knowi ng this
enables us to treat the mat t er wi t h much mor e l ove and much less fear.
We can l ook for the person whom the suicidal person i s fol l owi ng and
bri ng hi m or her back ont o the scene, wi t h l ove. As soon as the person
is in vi ew again, and in his or her rightful place, the danger of suicide
disappears. Thi s also applies when someone becomes prone to suicide
t hrough the dynamics of "bet t er me than you, " when he or she takes the
place of someone else who wants to follow a dead person. Ther e are
ot her situations that can make someone sui ci de-prone, for exampl e, the
wish to atone for guilt. Peopl e usually become suicidal t hrough love, as
we saw very clearly in this case.
P AR T I CI P ANT : Unt i l now, you have always wor ked t oward t he solution
t hrough the client. Her e you did it t hrough the mot her. But Frieda is the
client. What can she do?
HE L L I NGE R : Th e real client was the mot her. I did it for the mot her and
for the whol e famil