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Illustrated zodiac constellations in the sky with people sitting beneath.

How to Heal a Breakup Using Family Constellations


This therapy consists of revealing the hidden dynamics of the family to break with patterns and stop repeating stories that do not belong to us.

“A person’s greatness is that which makes them the same as everybody else,” said Bert Hellinger (Germany, 1925), the creator of the therapy of “family constellations,” the application of which has now extended across the world. The technique consists, in short, of revealing the dynamics hidden within a family to break with their destructive patterns and that can eventually heal.

Bert Hellinger is considered one of the most effective family therapists. And his story is no less heroic than his work. When he was a young man he was immune to the magnetic force of Hitler’s national socialism and after 20 years as a priest he left the order to study the more solid psychotherapies of his time, such as psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy and primal therapy, and through which the Family Constellation evolved. According to Hellinger, (and perhaps his theory is not so crackpot), within families there exists what he calls ‘order of affection,’ certain principles of governance that must be respected so that the health of the family can function without obstruction. When these orders are disturbed, for example when a son tries to take a father’s fate, unhappiness and suffering inevitably occur. Only when we acknowledge and honor the difficult fates of those who precede us, the ‘orders of affection’ are reestablished and the chain of tragic fate can be abolished. At least in one of the most overwhelming pathologies that affect us all and which are born in the bosom of family histories and dynamics.

The therapist found that each member of a family has a special place and has the same right as the others to belong to a family system. That applies both to aborted babies and failed members, or perpetrators who have perhaps been rejected due to immorality, criminality or abuse. If a lack of respect is paid to any member of the family, or if they are relegated, forgotten, excluded or not taken into consideration in any way, somebody in the next generation could repeat their fate and share their suffering, and which has also been called ‘ancestor syndrome.’

The family constellation, developed in the 1990s, consists of the following:

A group is guided by a facilitator. The members of the group are encouraged to explore an urgent personal event. After a brief interview, the facilitator suggests who will be represented in the constellation, as if the session were a kind of allegorical interpretation of a problem (sometimes a person represents abstract emotions, such as depression or anger. The group gathers in a circle and each represents someone or something, and the person that seeks to resolve the problem sit and observes how the others create a stage set of their family reality.

Emphasis is placed on intuitive perception, and the aim is to harmonize in what psychiatrist Albrecht Mahr described as the ‘field of knowledge’ and biologist Rupert Sheldrake theorized as ‘morphic resonance.’ It is supposed that the field of knowledge guides the participants toward perceiving and articulating feelings that reflect those of the members of the real family that they are representing. The facilitator interviews each family member so that they report how they feel in relation to the others. When one of them reports feeling uncomfortable, sad, relegated, etc., it means that there is something that needs to be healed. One of the solutions applied is repositioning the participants until each one feels secure in their place and until all members of the group are in agreement with that. The facilitator then proposes one or two announcements to be recited out loud and the ‘seeker’ (the one who is seeking help) is invited to reveal their representative in the constellation. That supposedly allows the seeker to perceive how they feel to be part of a reconfigured system. When all the members feel comfortable in their places, the constellation concludes.

If we think that we are all actors in a role that we partly inherit, and which is partly a legacy of our circumstances and which we have partly chosen, life can be seen as an allegory. We represent roles and human values throughout our lives to embrace – although some more than others – the range of possibilities that is available to us, but in the nucleus of the family is where individual fates germinate and are suffered. Each person is marked forever by the imbalances and characteristics of their family life. One of the things that the family constellations proposes is to, at least, break with the terrible fates that are not ours but which we inherit from other generations and which can be repeated ad nauseam at a completely unconscious level, but not without being painful to us. “There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself,” said Chuck Palahniuk. Perhaps the family constellation could be a good way of, if not changing the pattern, at least taking away our blindfolds.


Image by Becca Stadtlander.

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