Understanding our family heritage

What if we have inherited more from our ancestors than a few faded photographs?

What if the things we think we do consciously are no more than manifestations of memories of dramatic events that have been passed down from generation to generation? As Bert Hellinger claims: “We do not always follow our own paths in life”

For many years, he worked as a missionary amongst the Zulus in South Africa and went on to study many disciplines within psychology. His experience culminated in the development of an original systemic family therapy method called ‘Family Constellation’.
‘Family Constellation’ gives people an opportunity to shed light on their family structure in order better to understand things that may go wrong in their own lives.

Cutting loose from the past
The aim of this therapy is to establish to what extent family members influence our lives. Bert Hellinger believes that we carry our ancestors’ history with us. Sometimes we do uncharacteristic things out of a sense of subconscious loyalty. Being bound up with our family history can cause us to act out the fate of one of our ancestors and subconsciously play a role that is not our own.

Experiencing a ‘constellation’
It starts with a person explaining briefly their motivation for being there to a dozen or so people who have never met. The person is asked to recreate their family situation by choosing people from the group to represent family members. They are arranged randomly. The person plays no further part in the constellation, acting only as an observer.

The way the participants are arranged is significant. This intuitive positioning gives a first snapshot of any dysfunction within the family. culture_constellation
The participants are invited to share their feelings and express their emotions. This improvised role-play can be surprising as real bonds emerge between the different players. The people chosen genuinely feel something and they express themselves clearly. This is inexplicable from a rational point of view.
The biologist Robert Sheldrake talks in terms of ‘morphogenic fields’. The theory is that the participants are linked by a collective memory. Each participant also learns something of personal relevance from this role-play that they can use in their own development.
This method may seem surprising, but its success cannot be denied. Anyone bearing the burden of an unexplained problem can try this method, (depression, repeated career setbacks, relationship difficulties…). ‘Constellation’ cannot be dangerous for those involved because the role-play only goes as far as the person wants it to. However, it is a one-off session that sets a process in motion and is not a substitute for any psychotherapy already under way.

For more information a list of qualified practitioners can be found at www.cofasy.be

Valérie Cohen