Trans-Generational Dynamics and Mental Illness: A Family Constellation


Family constellations are a fascinating, cutting-edge tool for exploring issues within family systems, groups, and individual lives. This unique way of working with the unconscious dynamics in family or group systems, or “fields,” can often lead to a great amount of insight and healing—for a variety of issues—in a short period of time.

Constellations allow the subtle or hidden bonds, feelings and entanglements inside and between people to be graphically represented through a natural phenomenon called “morphic resonance,” as explained by biologist Rupert Sheldrake. This allows for these patterns to be seen and felt consciously, which can help repair ruptures in the psychic and social fabric.

Constellation facilitator Jack Blackwell explains: “Family constellations combines our spiritual nature and its inherent power with psychology in a way that is allowing people to experience profound, life-changing shifts at a drastically accelerated pace compared to conventional therapies. The importance of a more rapid healing modality, at this time on our planet, cannot be overstated.”

The modality was founded by the late German therapist Bert Hellinger, who drew on his experience as a seminarian living amongst the Zulu people of southern Africa, and their strong emphasis on ancestral influences and inclusion, as well as on a variety of established schools of therapy to formulate constellations work.

A recorded constellation session shows Hellinger in a group setting working with the mother of a so-called “schizophrenic” child. Over the course of the session, the mother uncovers the deeper family dynamics and losses that underlie her child’s—and the whole family’s—suffering.

In a 2002 video, constellations facilitator Emily Waymire offers an introduction to understanding constellations work, showing a group of students the “schizophrenic” family system session as well as another in which a Native American woman from Washington State explores a tragic event that occurred in her grandparents’ generation. Both sessions movingly uncover the emotions that were hidden or blocked when the events took place, and allow for a high degree of resolution as understanding is achieved and connection restored.

Waymire describes what constellations reveal about the “schizophrenic” dynamic within families:

“There’s really no such thing as a schizophrenic person… [but] there are schizophrenic family souls. And one person is brought into service to bring that split to light . . . And so this is one of the reasons why you see in a family, so often: ‘Well gosh, you know, all the rest of us are fine, what’s wrong with her?’ And so one person or that one sibling or child is also often, then, the one who’s excluded. Because they’re ‘problematic,’ they’re a ‘pain in the butt,’ they’ve got ‘problems in their lives’ and they feel like a ‘drain on us.’ And yet when you do this work, you quickly in your body start to understand that that person in the family is the one carrying the load.

“And then when other people, even if it’s just one other person in the family, starts to see that and to include that person back in the family and back in their heart, that then the whole family has peace. And so it’s no longer about, you know, this one person is carrying the whole burden.

“And in fact, that’s one of the Orders of Love that Bert Hellinger found . . . that each member of the family soul has responsibility for how that family soul operates.”



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  1. Though this misses the mark for me, it is worth a bit of contemplation.

    Whether or not the present-day family is at the core of an individual’s upset or confusion, there can be no doubt (in my mind) that the family experience is one of the most basic experiences of human life.

    And though a particular family might not be that spiritually connected, there is also a good chance that they are. Particularly if a being has unfinished business with its family, it might find a way back into that family.

    The simplest example of a hidden family dynamic is when a pregnant woman experiences some sort of trauma. That’s going to mean that the child also experienced it. And if the trauma was related to an abusive husband, for instance, then the pattern may repeat in every child.

    Hidden (suppressed) events that are a part of the family’s history could also play a big role in “inherited” upset.

    However, it can get a lot more complicated than this. Though families are a good place to start, if you don’t eventually include past lives, the case may never resolve. Therapists be prepared!

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