Does the family make us
How problems and illnesses are created in the family.
By Bertold Ulsamer (www.ulsamer.com)
Real new insights about what causes illnesses and problems
are rare. Right now, the systemic approach of Bert Hellinger
is really gaining ground in Germany. With this approach, our
understanding of the human psyche will be greatly enlarged.
Let us look at the problems of Monika, Robert and Marita,
modeled after cases that frequently come up in seminars:
Monika has been suffering from times of depression and life
sickness that have kept coming back for years now. During
those weeks, she even considers suicide. She also seems to
transfer these feelings onto her family as she has been noticing
similar symptoms with her ten-year-old daughter by now.
Robert is frequently being plagued by feelings of guilt
occuring for the smallest reasons in his everyday life. He
cannot fight them and all his thinking does not reveal the
causes for these feelings.
Marita is not getting lucky in love. She is very successful
with men at first, but unfortunately this doesn't ever develop
into a longer, stable relationship. She looks on her former
schoolmates with envy; they have found their partner and founded
a family long ago. Will the man of her dreams ever step into
her life ?
Whoever is being plagued by a problem will search for the
causes. He looks for an explanation by looking at traumatic
experiences in the presence and in the past - starting from
present unemployment going to bad experiences in childhood.
Frequently, an answer can be found, sometimes no answer evolves.
Neither Monika nor Robert or Marita have found an answer in
the circumstances of their own life. They have been growing
up the same way as any other kid their age, and they are living
in the same environment now. Where does their personal misfortune
come from ? Could it be in their genes ?
Hellinger's approach looks beyond personal history. Hellinger
opens the door to a new area, the area of family history.
Integrating decades of therapeutic experiences Hellinger has
discovered amazing links between past and presence. The roots
of many problems can be traced back into earlier generations.
The whole family including ourselves is being connected -
frequently without us knowing about this or feeling it. Suffering
and guilt are being passed on from generation to generation.
This is about death, about injustice, about blows of fate
and about love and relationships. In the area of family history,
different orders and laws are being applied. Any family member
that has been forgotten or excluded, for example, will be
represented by one of the later born. His or her destiny will
The word that Hellinger uses for these unconscious parts
that we are being connected by is the word. The soul will
ensure that values, behavior and the destinies of the predecessors
will continue to work in ourselves, they will reverberate
and strive for actualization. This loyalty is one of the highest
values. Everyone will take on the role necessary for the family
system. Out of this link, a deep inner satisfaction arises.
Thus, death has an enormous influence. Especially death
that is being experienced as a shock. This will happen whenever
death touches a child or a young person prematurely or when
death follows an act of violence.
In her family, Monika has two brothers and sisters who have
died early. When Monika had been three years old, her five-year-old
brother had died in an accident. Through her exploration,
she also finds out that her parents' first child, a girl,
had been born dead. This sister has never been mentioned;
she actually seems to have been forgotten.
When children die, this will always exert strong influence
on parents, brothers and sisters. Sometimes, especially in
the case of a first child, the parents do not cope with the
loss efficiently, but lock their grievances up in their hearts.
The brothers and sisters feel shocked and guilty just as well.
They are still living while their brother or sister had to
die. Frequently, they are now themselves being pulled towards
death, because they want to be where their brothers and sisters
are. "I will follow you." This sentence expresses
this yearning for death that is not being experienced consciously,
For Monika, this suction expresses itself through depression,
life sickness and suicidal thoughts. The effect develops although
Monika doesn't even know the dead-born sister and has never
consciously heard about her. But such a death will leave deep
emotional scars with the parents. With their fine sensitivity,
children pick up such reverberations and react on them.
This suction towards death can frequently explain severe
illnesses. The will to live is being weakened, the body reacts
with diseases. Others are being pulled towards death, they
are taking the road of leading an excessive life or taking
drugs. Another person might love life-endangering sports activities
and will thus expose himself to death. Many a fast car-driver
racing into his own death might have fallen for this suction
of "I will follow you."
This tendency reaches back further into past generations.
Children feel it with their parents. In the children, another
sentence will then arise: "Rather me than you."
The child wants to die for his mother or father. Some kind
of magic faith in their own ability to take the hard destiny
off their parents animates the children. Monika's daughter
wants to take her mother's suffering and death off her; thus,
she grows depressive herself.
Robert is repeatedly being plagued by feelings of guilt that
he cannot explain. His feelings can also be explained by the
bond connecting his family over the generations. Another law
that governs families is: Important feelings that a family
member has suppressed will be adopted and expressed by a later
In order to illustrate this, here is an example by Hellinger:
A couple participates in a group. Everyone notices how inappropriately
aggressive the woman keeps acting toward her husband. Hellinger's
question to her: "Which woman in your family has had
good reasons for being angry at her husband ?" Her answer:
"My grandmother would have had every right to be angry.
Her husband, my grandfather, kept ill-treating and humiliating
her. He has even pulled her through a restaurant by her hair
in front of all the guests once." The grandmother had
suppressed her anger. It seems as if the suppressed anger
keeps spooking about in the family system searching for someone
who will live it. The granddaughter takes on the suppressed
wrath of the grandmother constantly feeling it. This wrath
is being directed against her own innocent husband.
Robert is being asked: "Which man in your family would
have had every reason to fell guilty of himself ?" Robert
remembers that his father had abandoned his first wife during
the war, with her dying as a result. Afterwards, he remarried
and seemed to have forgotten his first wife. Robert discovers
that he lives the feelings that his father has suppressed.
The order ruling in families ensures that injustice is being
atoned. Thus, an important question is: Have there been injustice
and feelings of guilt in the family ? Because injustice and
guilt have fatal consequences for the following generation.
In a farmers' family, for example, whenever the order of bequest
is not being respected this is being experienced as a great
injustice. Whenever not the oldest son, but his younger brother
receives the farm. This farm will frequently bring about bad
A family will become especially screwed up when one of their
members has committed a murder. Such a deed cannot be forgotten,
it must be amended. The culprit loses the right of belonging
to his family and should leave it. Otherwise children and
other later born members will be involved with the guilt.
Further homicide or suicides in the following generation or
the generation after will frequently result afterwards. In
Germany, the guilt resulting from the Third Reich frequently
Another typical entanglement with the destiny of the family
shows with Marita. In spite of her undeniable success with
the other sex, all of her love affairs sooner or later end
in an unhappy way. What is the reason?
A partnership has a good chance for success when both partners
are reliable and mature enough to be able to eventually found
a family and assume the roles of father and mother. In other
to achieve this, it is necessary that the mother figuratively
"stands behind" the woman and that the father stands
behind the man. Whenever this connection is being disturbed,
the ability to establish a relationship and a bond will be
disturbed as well.
A systemic cause for this disturbance that can be found
frequently can be traced to the parents' history. Mother or
father have been seriously engaged once even before their
marriage, through a great love, an engagement or another marriage.
Such a first partner is also part of the system. Another law
in families states that he who has made room for another person
belongs to the system. If he is being forgotten, as happens
in many families, he will be represented through a child.
Marita's father had been engaged before his marriage. His
first bride had then left him because of another man. In the
family, nobody talks about her, the subject is too delicate.
Marita represents the former bride of his father without her
knowing or realizing it. Because of this, she has always been
her father's darling - as representative of his first love.
With her mother, however, her relationship has always been
difficult as her mother unconsciously feels the rivalry. As
an effect, Marita is good at playing with men, being able
to seduce them successfully. But when it comes to establishing
a steady bondage, she will lack the mature female powers necessary
as long as she stays trapped in this original field of tension
between mother and father.
If you search deep enough for the roots of these connections,
a deep and original love of children towards their parents
will be brought to the surface. Children love blindly and
unconditionally. They are not, as has been largely maintained
in psychology so far, only in need and dependent on receiving
love. They themselves love with a strong, unconscious love.
For their whole lifetime they stay deeply connected to their
parents and are even willing to give up their lives for their
parents and family. Out of this loyalty, misfortune of their
parents is also being taken on by the children. Take this
couple living in an unhappy relationship. Their children will
hardly find the courage or the strength to be happier in their
own relationships. In their hearts, this would seem like treachery.
This holds for all children. On the surface, the link from
the children to their parents might seem to be disconnected;
their relationship might even be a hostile one. But such children
are still serving their family, carrying out duties that have
been passed on from generation to generation.
Can these misfortunate connections be cut or changed? In
order to achieve this, Bert Hellinger has developed family
posting as an instrument of it's own kind.
With the help of the participants in a group, somebody is
posting his family. Either the system of origin can be posted,
the family where one has been raised with the parents, brothers
and sisters and possibly even earlier generations. The present
system can also be posted: one's own family with oneself as
husband or wife, the partner and one's own children. The former
partner also belongs here.
Each one of us is carrying a picture of an order for his
family inside of him. With the postings, this picture is being
brought to the outside and it is being invoked with life.
For every living or dead member including oneself, the person
chooses a representative. He then one by one assigns each
person a free spot and a direction to face. Doing this, he
neither assigns a specific posture nor a specific emotion.
In many postings, a great deal of subtle tension is visible
and will be revealed by the representatives. When, for example,
a child or a parent is being posted at the edge and doesn't
face the others, the representative will experience this as
troublesome. The spots each have their own power causing any
person standing in this spot to have similar perceptions.
Going beyond pure perception, the representatives will feel
an amazing multiplicity of emotions and relationships in that
Whoever takes on the spot of a stranger will share the experienced
tension of the role. This tension will dissolve when it is
being revealed and it is being referred to. In the actual
work, a number of sentences are being used that have a dissolving
effect. The effect of a sentence on the people posted will
decide whether a sentence feels right and can bring about
a real change. Different possibilities for solving the problem
can be tested out and checked.
Changing the spots and looking for a good order, an order
in which everyone feels OK in his spot, is an important step.
An frequent order in a family is when the parents are slightly
turned towards each other facing their children. The children
stand in some kind of half circle with the oldest being the
first in line and the others following according to their
age. For this, it is especially helpful when those that have
been forgotten or excluded before also receive their spot.
In Monika's posting, meeting the representatives of the dead
brother and sister is an important step. The dead-born child
now also receives her spot close to her brothers and sisters
at Monika's side. This feels for her as if a black hole in
her inside is being filled. Monika's representative stands
before this child, expressing her respect with a bow speaking
the healing words: "Please, look at me in a friendly
For Robert who has been living the feelings of guilt that
his father has been suppressing, different sentences are important.
He stands in front of his father, saying: "It is your
feeling of guilt that I have been carrying for such a long
time. Please, take it back again."
In Marita's posting, it is especially important that the
former bride of his father who has been excluded so far is
being posted. Suddenly it becomes obvious whom the father's
feelings are really being aimed at, and the daughter is relieved.
Thus, she can go back to her role as daughter and, from this
position, she can find new ways to get in touch with her mother.
At the end of the posting, the participant who has been posting
will step in the spot of his representative. Up to this moment,
he has been observing the history of his family from a distance
for what could have been a time between fifteen minutes to
an hour. Some things have been clarified for him. He now takes
in the new picture and the new order with all his senses.
It is a useful prework to explore one's own family beforehand,
to ask parents, uncles and aunts researching important events.
The most important questions for clarifying influential facts
in the past shall be given once again at this time: Has there
been an untimely death in the family ? Among the brothers
and sisters ? In the line of the father or the mother ? Has
there been injustice and guilt ? Have there been blows of
fate ? Have the mother or the father had a steady relationship
The net connecting a family is being revealed in a family
posting. Whatever happens out of love and is being maintained
by it can only be dissolved in love. This atmosphere is the
basis necessary to untangle old knots and misfortunate entanglements.
A more mature form of love and belonging will be found; a
new order in which everyone has a good spot becomes possible.
Ancient tension that has been passed on through generations
can dissolve and make room for an independent life in the