Endless Innocents Karen Goodfellow

Family Secrets

by Jonathan Hooton ~

“I am beginning to believe that we know everything, that all history, including the history of each family, is part of us, such that, when we hear any secret revealed, a secret about a grandfather, or uncle… our lives are made suddenly clearer to us, as the unnatural heaviness of unspoken truth is dispersed. For perhaps we are like stones; our own history and the history of the world embedded in us, we hold a sorrow deep within and cannot weep until that history is sung.”
Susan Griffin, A Chorus Of Stones (Doubleday 1992).

Secrets within the family have a profound effect on the members of the family, particularly on those who are most vulnerable, usually the children. The effect may continue over several generations. For those who do not know the secret, there is often a knowing in the body, a felt sense of something “out of order,” that shows up as unexplainable, even risky behavior, a repeated pattern of painful relationships or unsuccessful enterprises, addictions, an inability to move forward in life which can include depression or suicidal feelings or excluding oneself from the family, to name some dynamics.

In my family two of my siblings took on the burden of an excluded member of our family system: my brother suffered from mental illness and committed suicide while my sister became anorexic and alcoholic. Only a few years ago I learned that my father had an affair that had lasted most of his 44 year marriage with my mother. As Susan Griffin wrote: “the unnatural heaviness of unspoken truth” was dispersed and, after many years of not being able to grieve my parents’ deaths, I could weep to release the sorrow held deep within.

Bert Hellinger, a German priest then psychotherapist, spent time with the Zulus in South Africa where he learned that they resolved personal and communal issues by including their ancestors in the healing processes. They understood that our well-being or lack of well-being is connected with our family system which includes the living and the generations before us – our parents, grandparents, and our ancestors.

After many years of studying family dynamics in a process he named Family Constellations, he distilled his observations into three “Orders of Love”:

Everyone has the right to belong in the family system. If someone is forgotten, rejected or ignored then the flow of love is blocked between the generations and a descendant will identify unconsciously with the excluded ancestor and bear that burden. Examples of excluded family members are criminals, the “black sheeps,” homosexuals and unacknowledged miscarriages and abortions.

There is an order of precedence: parents come first, then the children in the order they are conceived. Sometimes, a child will act as the parent or be the emotional partner of their parent, in order to take on the pain or sadness of that parent. This is a burden that can lead to difficulties later in adult life.

There needs to be a balance of reciprocity in any relationship, except between parents and children where only parents can pass on life to their children, not vice versa. When these orders or principles are not respected, then an interruption in the flow of life will be apparent in the form of a member of the family unconsciously taking on the burden of an excluded person.

The Family Constellations system can be used to help individuals, couples and families in a group process or in a one-on-one consultation to reveal the hidden dynamics in the family system and initiate a change in those dynamics.


Jonathan Hooton

AUTHOR: Jonathan Hooton has a private practice working in Edmonton, Alberta with individuals, couples and families and facilitates Family Constellation workshops. He has studied extensively with Bert Hellinger and many of the international leading teachers in this system. Contact Jonathan at 780-426-1508, jonathan@soul-guide.com or http://www.soul-guide.com

ARTIST: Detail of Endless Innocents © Karen Goodfellow. Karen’s art is a critical part of her spiritual discipline… She uses it to transcend her ego. Like any spiritual practice, anything can happen while awaiting form to take shape: insight, knowingness of who she is, healing, reflection, and even rare enlightened experiences. www.karengoodfellow.ca

NOTE: This article was first published in February 2013 in © Mosaic Mind, Body and Spirit Magazine. This information is for educational purposes only and is intended to supplement your current health program, not to replace the care of a licensed medical doctor.