Family Constellations, an Interview with Bert Hellinger
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Many therapists practicing traditional and alternative therapies like to say:
"we treat the whole person, not just the disease".
We all know that sometimes, treating the whole person is not enough. We
know that there are people who don't get better, even after visiting those
"whole-person" therapists. Bert Hellinger takes healing to a higher level. He says:
"in order to help a person, you should also treat his family system, and sometimes
even his nation!"
"It is useless to just treat a person, when a problem actually comes from his family system."
Bert Hellinger visited Norway this spring. He delivered a great seminar, one of the best seminars ever. I never got a private interview, but during the seminar, he actually answered almost every single of my questions. You will get those answers in this one and in the next newsletters.
I personally consider family constellations therapy as important as any other therapy that you personally may choose.
Especially if the symptoms you are experiencing are unexplainable, untreatable, incurable, unresponsive to treatments, hereditary, emotional, psychological, psychosomatic, etc. Hellinger's Family Constellations therapy can be complementary to any and all other therapies, like diet change, lifestyle change, cleansing, supplements etc. It approaches the problem of health from the perspective of family dynamics.
Here are just a few messages on CureZone, written by people who absolutely must try the Hellinger's Family Constellations:
Just because I picked a few extraordinary messages here, doesn't mean that you would not benefit a few constellations every year. There is hardly a person reading CureZone, who would not benefit from Hellinger's Family Constellations.
Some general information about the therapy:
The family constellations, which have become the hallmark of Hellinger’s approach, as well as his observations about systemic entanglement and resolution, have touched the lives of thousands of people and have changed how many helping professionals carry out their own work.
Below is the first part of a virtual interview with Bert Hellinger. The interview was compiled from my scripts and from Bert Hellinger's lectures. In this part, a few problems are touched. Bert Hellinger has written many books that give deeper explanation on problems and solution he encountered in his practice. Several of his books are listed as suggested reading on CureZone.
How to do a family constellation?
Bert Hellinger: A client or the therapist selects from a group representatives for members of his family and puts them in relationship to one another. If he has set them up, he may be very much surprised of what he suddenly sees. In the first picture something hidden is usually shown already. For instance, we may see that some of the members want to leave the family. And we see, when they are set up, the representatives feel like the people they represent without knowing them. So, they know about the people they don't know. That shows something about the human condition. We are not just on our own, we are connected with many others in a very mysterious way. What also comes to light in family constellations is that in the end all in the family are equal. Nobody is better, nobody is worse. So at the end, we can be very humble and take our place in our family, and by taking our right place in the family, we feel good and free.
In family constellations certain dynamics come to light which cause unhappiness, illness, accidents, suicide, criminal behavior. First of all you must know that a child is bound to his or her parents with a very deep love. The child has no greater desire than to belong to his or her parents. If a child feels that her parents need something, she is prepared to sacrifice everything, even her life, out of a blind love. For instance if a child feels that the mother will die, it says, "I will die in your place." Then the child gets ill, perhaps, or has a fatal accident. Or if a child senses that her father will leave the family, she says, "I will disappear in your place. Such a child develops, perhaps, anorexia. The anorectic girl says in her heart, "It's rather me who should disappear than you, my dear dad."
How did you discover or develop this method?
Bert Hellinger: All this is based on observation. I have no theory about it. I have seen thousands of family constellations, and I exchanged my observations and findings with many of my colleagues who also do constellations. We found some basic laws operating in families. But you cannot use them like a theory. They point in a direction, but every family constellation is different. You cannot rely on a former constellation to apply it to a later one. There are some similarities, of course, but you have to face them anew each time. Therefore, a therapist never stops learning.
A therapist has to develop a certain personal attitude in order to do this work. He exposes himself to a situation without any special intention. He looks at the constellation, exposes himself to the constellation, and he doesn't know what to do. He just waits, and he has no fear of what may come to light. He trusts a greater force. It is very close to the attitude which Lao-tse is describing in the Tao-te-king. By not doing, something will happen. Suddenly he sees the next step, or he hears a sentence which he asks the client to say. These sentences are not thought up. They come up from the depth suddenly, and if to tell them, they have strength.
So, family constellation is also an art. After some time, if you do this over the years, you may become wise.
When the representatives feel like the people they represent, is there any hypnosis applied?
No, there is no hypnotic movement in any way, because as soon as
they stand there, they feel like the people they represent without knowing them.
Although these people here had no idea of what was going on, we could see the
movements in them and how they changed The therapist also does not know the
people. Therefore, he cannot influence them in any hypnotic way that they feel
like the people whom he does not know himself. Very often, the representatives
even get the symptoms of the people they represent. Their heart may be racing
for instance. They change their voice, get a headache for instance, get stiff
and cannot move. So it shows, there is a connection between many people. there
must be something in common which unites all of us with other people, and we
know about them without having heard anything about them. This force which
unites many people together, I call "great soul."
Now this goes both ways, not only do the representatives feel like the people they represent. If something has been solved in a family constellation, the members of the family are affected by it without knowing anything about it. She may be surprised to find her daughter changed when she comes home. This happens sometimes.
When the representatives go home, will it have an effect on themselves and their families?
Not with the representatives, of course. But they had an experience which they could not have otherwise in their lives. So, they have gained some new experiences. This may help them but it does not change anything in their family.
In the constellation, you did not always rely on the representatives but you took some steps. Was there any information that guided you?
Here I took some action because I had to shorten this. And some of the representatives were not quite familiar with this. They were still shy. Sometimes, I have a constellation where I don't interfere in any way. The people move as if they were driven by an inner force and then find a solution without any interference on my part.
Is it always so that people find the way themselves?
No, it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes I interfere and I
guide them because I know something about the dynamics of families. So here, at
the end I knew how the constellation could be completed.
Normally, a family feels best if the husband stands at the right side of his wife, and the children stand opposite in such a way that the first child stands right and the second child stands at the left side of the first child and so on.
If in a family at home, people sit at table in this order, then you can see the difference. It makes a big difference. You can try it out.
If you would have chosen other people as representatives, would it have made a difference?
It does not matter who is chosen as a representative. They all
have their personal history in a way, but it does not interfere in a way which
distorts the constellation.
They did an experiment in the United States. They brought up the same problem and were working with it in five different rooms. The results were very close. So it does not matter at all who is chosen. Once the people are in there, they feel like the real people, regardless who they themselves are.
How do the former generations affect the later generations. Is it similar to the Chinese faith in fate. What is the dynamic behind it?
I found out that the members of a family in a wider sense are guided by one common conscience. The following persons belong to this particular group that is guided by one common collective conscience: the children and their parents, the brothers and sisters of the parents, the grandparents, some of the great-grandparents sometimes. These are the blood relatives. In addition, some other people belong to that system. All those who made room for somebody in this family. For instance former partners of parents or grandparents belong to that system.
Within that system there are certain laws operating. These are
enforced by this common conscience. The first law is: nobody must be lost to
this group. If anyone is excluded from this group, because perhaps they are
feared or they are forgotten, or they have behaved in a way which was against
the rules of that group and were then excluded. If anything happens of this
sort, then this common conscience picks later on a member of this family to
represent the excluded people. Therefore, very often in the next generation or
even in the generation after the next, somebody feels and behaves like a person
of a former generation, even if he does not know anything about them. This is an
By family constellations such entanglements can be brought to light and resolved. If you want to know more about it, come to the workshop. Sometimes, it may be sufficient if you just read the book.
I think I can conclude this presentation now. Once more I want to thank for the invitation. I wish you much success in your studies
There is a widespread theory in psychotherapy that anorexia has to do with the mother, that the relationship to the mother is in some way distorted. But family constellations show that, usually, this has to do with the father. The father want to leave the family, and the girl says, "I do it in your place."
Now, what to do with this? If we have a family constellation, and the father
may be present in the family constellation, I let the child face her father,
look at him and tell him, "I will leave in your place." What happens to the
father when he hears this? Can he leave now? No. So, he can tell the child when
this has come to light, "I will stay, and you have my blessing if you stay
alive." In this way, anorexia can be healed, actually in a very simple way.
(Bert Hellinger, Introduction to Family Constellations, Lecture and Demonstration in Taipei on October 11, 2001)
Then we have, for instance, bulimia. That means if a girl - it
is usually a girl - eats and vomits afterwards. They first eat and then they
vomit. Very often, bulimia follow anorexia. What does bulimia means, actually,
bulimia in this case? It means, when she eats, she says, "I will stay alive."
And when she vomits, she says, "I will die."
So, she has not overcome the difficulty. The solution is: whenever she wants to vomit, she says, "I will live." Then she may stop vomiting.
We have bulimia in a different context as well, the more common bulimia, when there is no connection with anorexia.
What is the family dynamic in such a case?
If we look closely at a family like this, we can see that the mother says - not
openly but she conveys this to the children - "Don't take anything from your
father, you must only take things from me."
I will tell you how I discovered this. There was a bulimic girl who said that her mother told the children, "Your father doesn't give you anything to eat." Therefore she cooked secretly for the children and the father should not know about it. From this I found the solution for this kind of bulimia. I tell the bulimic girl, "Whenever you have a bout of eating, you just buy all the food you want to eat, place it on the table, look at it, and then you take a small teaspoon, and you imagine that you sit on your father's lap. Then you take a little bite with your teaspoon, imagine that you look at your father and you tell him, "With you, the food really tastes well"
This thought has healed many bulimic girls. All this comes to
light through family constellations.
In many families there has been a suicide and people then say,
"This person killed herself or himself because of this and this and this."
But the reasons given, are usually wrong. When we set up the family, some other things come to light.
I give an example.
An old man who was a doctor, told that his young son hanged himself one night. The boy was 14 years old. He had sent him to buy some food. When the boy came home, he spread the food on the staircase. Then the father got angry and hit him. In the night afterwards, the child hanged himself. That was many years before, and the old man still felt guilty about the death of his son. A few month later, he came to another seminar, and during the break we walked together. Suddenly, he remembered, a few days before the child hanged himself, the mother told the family at table that she was pregnant. And that child cried out in panic, "But we don't have enough room in the house."
That is why he hanged himself. He made room for the other child. When the old man saw this, tears flowed down his cheeks, and he said to me afterwards, "Now I am in deep peace."
Most suicides are committed out of love, or in order to follow somebody into death.
For instance whose mother died at childbirth has a deep desire to follow the mother into death. Then they get sick or have an accident and, sometimes, they kill themselves. Or, if they see that in the family someone want to kill himself, they do it in the place of this person.
Once I had a very strange case in a seminar. A woman who was the second wife of her husband, set up the family. She reported that the first wife of her husband had committed suicide. Then I placed a representative of the husband in front of the first wife who had committed suicide. As he stood there, he went on his knees crawled over to her, embraced her legs an cried aloud. Actually, he wanted to commit suicide, and his wife had done it in his place.
With cancer patients very often we can see that they want to die. They say
that they want to fight cancer but deep down they want to die. One very common
dynamic I have seen with women, is they are at war with their mother. Therefore,
very often if I have to do with a woman who has breast cancer, I let her face
Recently, we had a constellation where we did that. But here it was different. The woman who had cancer went on her knees in front of her mother, and her mother did not look at her. She passed by her daughter and looked at something else, she looked to the ground. In a family constellation, if somebody looks to the ground, he or she looks at a dead person.
So I selected a representative and let him lie on his back in front of the mother. She then clenched her fists. So I asked the ill woman, "What happened in the family?" She said that the brother of her mother had killed his fiancée. From the constellation we could gather that certainly her mother knew about it and had consented to it.
Now what happens within a person like that? She feels guilty, and in a way they know in their heart, they also have earned death. But then, her daughter said in her heart, "I die in your place." That is why she developed cancer. This was the secret background of her illness.
But I come back to the example of women and their mothers. Very often I do a very simple exercise. I tell them they should kneel in front of their mother and bow to the ground in respect for them. Many women who have breast cancer cannot do that. There is such a strong resistance to honour their mother that it becomes apparent that they rather die than to honour their mother. Of course, you cannot say that each woman who has breast cancer has difficulties with her mother. That is wrong. But there are quite a few cases where I have seen this.
I give another example. Once I had a seminar only for cancer patients, and I worked with a woman. She was not centred and I had to break off the constellation. As a result, she became angry with me. But very often, when I break off a constellation, it is a therapeutic intervention. Next day, she was quite changed. She came forward and said, she had to report something.
She remembered, immediately after she had been operated on her breast, when
she was just waking up after the operation, her daughter came to her and said,
"Mum, in our house I heard two children crying." She brought two dolls and
placed them on the shoulder of her mother and said, "I bring you these two
children." The woman knew immediately who they were. She had aborted two
children. Then we could set up the constellation. She could look at these
children and give them a place in her heart. A few years later, I met her again
perchance, and she said, "I am doing fine."
(Bert Hellinger, Introduction to Family Constellations, Lecture and Demonstration in Taipei on October 11, 2001)
Men and Women
The relationship between a man and a woman is the basis of human society. How does such a relationship succeed? This is most interesting for everybody. Why does a man want a woman? Why does a woman want a man? Because the man misses something that women have. And men have something which women lack. So both are in need of something which they lack and which the other person has. That is why they are attracted to one another.
A relationship succeeds if the man remains a man and if the woman remains a woman. Well, you laugh, but in modern psychotherapy very often it is demanded that men develop female qualities and that the women develop male qualities. Now if a woman has developed male qualities and the man has developed female qualities, where is then the attraction? Therefore, men must remain men, and women must remain women.
But although both are different - men and women are completely different almost in every respect --they must acknowledge that they are both equally good. Only if this is acknowledged that men are equally good and women are equally good, then the relationship has a good basis.
The Positive Exchange
In addition, a relationship develops in a good way, if there is a balance of giving and taking. When one of the partners gives more than the other, then the relationship cannot develop. They both must give and take at the same time and at the same level.
Now, how does a relationship grow. Let's say, the man gives something to the woman. When she receives this, she feels obliged to give something in return. But because she loves the man, she gives him a little bit more. Then he feels obliged, and because he loves her, he gives her also a little bit more. So the exchange develops and grows. The more of this kind of good exchange, the deeper the love and the deeper the happiness. This is easy to understand, of course.
The Negative Exchange
But what happens if the husband hurts his wife? She has now the urge to retaliate. She feels, she has a right to hurt him also. And because she feels right to do this, she hurts him a little bit more. Then he feels, he has the right to hurt her again. And because he feels right, he hurts her a little bit more. So the mutual exchange is in the negative way. Many relationships function in this way. The negative exchange also binds the couple together. But they are unhappy.
Now how to change this. We cannot escape our drive to give something back, be it positive or negative. If I have been hurt, I feel the right to revenge myself. But when I love the other person at the same time, I hurt her a little bit less than she me. This is a great secret of happy relationship. If a couple can understand that they have to revenge themselves with love, then the exchange can be in the good way again.
Relationship between parents and children
Between parents and children, there is also giving on the one side from the parents, and receiving on the other side by the children. Children also feel the desire to give something back to their parents. But they can never level out. Parents always give more than children can return to them. So children always feel indebted to their parents. The same applies in schools. A teacher gives more than the pupils can return to him. But even here there is a way to balance out.
Parents give, children take, and if they have taken so much, they pass it on to their children. So they feel free from the obligations toward their parents because they have passed it on to their children. Whenever there is a situation where we cannot return the good we have received, we pass it on to somebody else, and then we feel good.
What is the dynamic with incest?
It would fill a whole hour to talk about it. But the main thing about incest
is: if there is incest, the child is bound to the perpetrator. She (it usually
is she) loves the perpetrator. But she is not allowed to show it. Therefore, she
remains bound to the perpetrator. Where there is incest, usually there are
two perpetrators. One in the open - this is usually the man, and one who remains
hidden - this is the mother. Very often, the mother wants to go away from her
husband, she breaks the relationship with her husband. Then the daughter
substitutes for her. Very often, that is the secret dynamic of incest.
(Bert Hellinger, Introduction to Family Constellations, Lecture and Demonstration in Taipei on October 11, 2001)
Trying to explain family constellations to someone who has never taken a part in it is like trying to explain what aurora borealis (northern light) looks like to a blind person, or trying to explain what love is to someone who has never experienced it. I am not even going to try to explain what this form of therapy is all about. Instead, I will just tell you this: do not try to make your mind about this therapy before you actually get personal experience. The easiest way learn more about family constellations is by watching good videos of a therapy.
Commercial videos are available for purchase on many websites on
Few Excerpts from some German videos are available free on YouTube:
German Language video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xwTGAHeZx8
German + French language: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0rRvkqVlGk
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