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Mysteries of Belonging

Watching a family constellation often feels like seeing a great mystery unfold. There is almost always a missing piece, and when it is discovered, it has the quality of finding a piece of the puzzle that was hiding in plain sight.

What gives constellations the quality of being obvious and ordinary is that we are always looking for simple truths. Their discovery is punctuated by simple sentences that have a way of moving mountains: “You are part of my family.” “You came first.” “You gave, and I benefitted.”

We find our way to these truths by following the Orders of Love developed by Bert Hellinger, which describe how life energy moves through a system. These Orders are most obvious when applied to a family system, but are so universal that they can reliably be applied to any living system.

Kenojuak Ashevak

The Orders of Love

Living among multi-generational families as a missionary in South Africa, Bert Hellinger observed basic governing principles operating in family systems. Over time he found that these principles also applied for families he worked with in post-WWII Germany, and as the work grew, in most every other culture around the world.

In traditional psychotherapy, we usually investigate an issue or symptom, assuming that it is unique to our own lives and our personal psyches. We often attempt to trace the source back to events in our early childhood. In Family Constellations we zoom out and take a holistic approach, looking at ourselves as a member of a mutli-generational family system. No matter what the nature of our family relationships may be today, or whether we personally had contact with members from previous generations, the family we come from has bearing on who we are in the world. We carry patterns from our family system around with us like a hologram, and these effect how much we feel supported and can thrive in the world, and in what circumstances we feel held back.

The Orders of Love describe what homeostasis looks like in a family system, what puts a system out of balance, and how other members of the system unconsciously try to bring the system back into balance. Hellinger named  these principles the “Orders of Love” because they describe what circumstances encourage or prevent love from moving freely through a family system.

The Orders of Love are:

1. It all belongs. Everyone in the family system has a right to belong to the system, always.
2. All who belong must be given their place. Each member of the family system has a right place.
3. There needs to be a balance of giving and receiving in relationships.

Vibrant Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

It all belongs

This first Order of Love, “It all belongs,” seems like the most obvious. It means that everyone in the family system has a right to belong to the system. However it is surprisingly easy to exclude or forget about someone in a family, either consciously or unconsciously. There are the obvious times when a family forcibly attempts to erase people from memory — the black sheep, the outlaw, or the cantankerous aunt or uncle everyone would just assume forget about. Just as common there are premature deaths, first loves, first husbands and wives, and babies who pass only briefly through the threshold of this world. Many times these losses are too much for the heart to bear and so people in the family put them out of their awareness and try to move on.

All of these people belong to a family system, even when family members attempt to banish them from memory. The family consciousness knows when a person has gone missing. When a person is cast out, actively excluded or passively unacknowledged, the family system will attempt to bring attention to the one who is missing. Even if the person is effectively cast out for one generation, we often see that a child born into later generations, unconsciously adopts their traits or behaviors. They may mimic a form of hiding themselves, or hide an important aspect of themselves. The work then is to see, remember, and acknowledge the original missing person. This gets love flowing again and can change everything.

Raven Shapes, Kenojuak Ashevak

All who belong must be given their place

For all the members of a family system, there is an order that can be represented based on time. For example parents come before children; the first child comes before the second, and so on. If there have been multiple spouses or significant relationships, the first spouse comes before the second spouse, etc.

This is another principle that may seem obvious and common sense. It is simply stating “what is true.” But when members of the system are not given their place, things can really go haywire. They subconsciously become confused about where their place is, who is who, and they may fight with the one that is “taking” their place.

For example if the first child in a family dies prematurely, and another child comes later, the first child still needs to be acknowledged as the firstborn.
Many things can become resolved by acknowledging the first child who died early — or any family member where there is confusion about their order.

People who have been confused about their order feel a sense of empowerment in finding their place. They often have a sense of recovering something that has been missing all of their lives; a sense of finding a place that is more authentic than they have ever experienced.

Ravens Protecting Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

There needs to be a balance of giving and receiving

When someone gives to you, there is a natural tendency to want to give something back — and maybe even a little more than what they gave to you. When a person takes too much, or takes something they are not entitled to, the system knows there is a deficit, and will attempt to make up for it in some way.

This is not a new discovery, but a very old one. In its most basic form, Hellinger describes the evolutionary impulse to keep giving life energy in the way parents pass life down to their children. Children feel the importance of this gift and naturally feel compelled to do just about anything for their parents in order to give back. Subconsciously out of love they may try to “help” their parents by sharing in their struggles. They hold a stance of “I’ll carry the burden for you…” in an attempt to repay them. This leads to imbalances that we often see in family constellations, as there is nothing children can do directly for their parents to repay their feeling of indebtedness.

From a systemic perspective, the best way for children go “give back” is to say those most important words, “Thank you,” and to let life keep moving through them — through their own offspring or through their creative works in the world. Living into the fullness of the life energy and gifts we were given is a big way to restore balance.

Hellinger stresses that the Orders of Love are not rigid rules and should not be applied in a rigid way. They are the guide that a facilitator checks after a constellation is set up and the first image emerges: “Who or what has been excluded?” “Who is not taking their place in the system?” “Where is the balance of giving and taking out of balance?” The Orders of Love are the map that we follow to find our way back to that the missing piece that changes everything.

Interwoven Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

“People often treat these orders
as if they were opinions
Which may be adopted or not
And changed at will.

But they are given to us as they are.
They have effects independent of our understanding.
They are not created, they can only be discovered.
We can only recognize the orders from their effects,
In the same way we are aware of the existence of soul and consciousness only by their effects upon us.”
Bert Hellinger, Supporting Love, 2001

What are Constellations?

Constellations make sense intuitively when you see them in person, but are notoriously difficult to describe since they work from a place beyond words. These are some of the most helpful introductory materials available about the history of constellations, how they work, and what you can expect when you attend a constellations workshop for the first time.

Intro to Constellations Books

Some of the most recommended books for an introduction to constellations.


The Healing of Individuals, Families & Nations: Transgenerational Healing & Family Constellations

John Payne

The Language of the Soul: Healing with Words of Truth

John Payne

It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle

Mark Wolyn

Family Constellations

Family Constellations was first popularized in Germany, in the aftermath of WWII. Some of the first discoveries were made with German families, who were looking at the after-effects showing up in the descendants of victims and perpetrators in the war. This article explains the origins, why there is often historical undertones in constellations, as well as how they are set up in a group process.

Where Germans Make Peace with Their Dead

by Burkhard Bilger. The New Yorker.

Businesses and Organizational Constellations

After seeing how constellations worked in a family system, early practitioners began extending the work to look at a wider range of systems, including businesses and organizations. Systemic constellations is now known as an effective tool for improving businesses. Jan Jacob Stam is one of the foremost practitioners and trainers for how constellations works in management, non-profits, and government.

How Constellations can be used for organizations and businesses

Intro Video Courses

For those who are ready to dive a bit deeper, one of the first generation of constellators, Bertold Ulsamer, offers very a clear and practical video introduction to constellations. Many of them are free.

Introduction to Family Constellations with Bertold Ulsamer

Family and systemic constellation facilitators in NYC and Brooklyn

Hand drawn map NYC, Brooklyn, NJ
Hand-drawn map of native tribes of New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey areas (c) by permission of Evan Pritchard

Constellations Trainers in the Greater NYC Area

Suzi Tucker
Long Island and NYC

Ron Young

Constellations Facilitators in NYC and Brooklyn

Alissa Fleet

Luisa Muhr

Travis Carrier

Kim Clay and Martina Molloy

Nick Werber

Nathalie Berthold

Constellations Facilitators just a train ride away from NYC and Brooklyn

By distance…

Eve-Marie Elkin
Tarrytown, NY

Jadina Lilien
Creative Constellations
Hudson Valley

Andrea Bosbach Largent
Ancestral Realms
Kennett Square, PA

Sarah Bastian
Aawakened Heart and Mind
Morrisville, PA

Cindy O’Connor
Open Heart Healing
East Windsor, NJ

Bill Mannle
New England Center for Systemic Constellations
Branford, CT

Ed Lynch
New England Center for Systemic Constellations
Branford, CT

Dan Cohen and Emily Blefeld
Seeing With Your Heart
Providence, RI

In constellations there is always an awareness that we’re working with many layers of history in the place where we live and the places we are from. So many find relief in a simple acknowledgement of the land their people came from and those who were left behind. Beneath geo-political layers of history, is what Francesca Mason Boring calls terra firm, the stable essence of the land itself.

These experienced family and systemic constellations facilitators in NYC and Brooklyn area are no doubt working in collaboration with terra firma and those indigenous to this place.

Check their websites for workshops and introductory sessions; most also offer private sessions. These are the facilitators I know and have worked with personally; there are likely even more!

2019-12-20T20:00:46-04:00Ancestors, Constellations|