Orders in family constellations

I often hear people say: “I like family constellations but I’m not sure about the orders as I don’t like hierarchy”.

The orders, or orders of love as Bert Hellinger, the originator of family constellations calls them, have nothing to do with a strict hierarchical system. So what are they about?

We could look at the orders as ordering forces, a flow of energy that helps systems survive and in case of humans, pass on life to the next generation and preserve life. These ordering forces are really in support of groups, as they protect the group, and in the case of the family system, allow life to be passed on.

There are two phenomena of ordering forces; one is in the personal realm and one in the systemic. Even without knowing the orders in the personal realm, we feel the effect of them our bodies and often have an instinctive knowing of them. The orders of the systemic realm we are generally not aware of although, when not observed we may suffer the consequences.

The Order of Bonding and Belonging in the personal realm

In my family we said a short prayer before our meal. The first time I went so eat at a friends’ place we sat down and they all tucked in immediately. I was surprised and a little uncomfortable and at first not sure what to do but then also started to eat. You may have come across similar things when you grew up. Knowing that this is how things are done and then discovering that it may just be your family who does it like that.

This can also be a cause for arguments for couples, as they have to negotiate their way through different sets of habits from their respective families and the feeling of how things should be done can be strong.

All this belongs in the personal order of bonding and belonging. It is like an unspoken code, and when we go against it, we may feel less part of our clan. We are all part of many different groups, each with their own codes of belonging; our family of origin, maybe our current family, our work and many other social groups we belong to. Imagine you have to go for a formal interview, would you turn up in shorts ad flip flops? Maybe you can think back to something you did that didn’t fit in with the group? How did this make you feel? Were you still as easily accepted into and did you still feel as much part of the group?

We generally know what we need to do to belong to a certain group and what would threaten this.

How is belonging in the systemic conscience different?

In the systemic sphere everybody who belongs to the system has a place. This may seem very logical when you read it, but very often people in our family system have been ‘forgotten’ or excluded. When this happens we don’t feel it, we don’t have a felt sense of this and so it seems as if it doesn’t affect us and most of the time we are not consciously aware of it.

What does it mean that someone has not been included?

If great uncle Henry gambled away the family fortunes, it may be that there is an unspoken rule in the family to not ever mention him or what happened because it was too painful, as the family was plunged into poverty. Or it was seen as disgraceful at the time for something like this to happen in a religious family. So in effect he gets ostracized, or excluded from the family. Several generations later he may not be remembered at all. The systemic conscience always looks for balance and wants to balance out the system. So it may happen that in later generations someone repeats what uncle Henry did, and may be gambling or in some other way lose all his money.

A ritual to include the forgotten

We can include those that have been forgotten by opening our hearts to them and their fate and give them a place in our hearts. If we have personally been tied up with another ‘forgotten’ family member’s fate we can say: “I see you and you have a place in my heart. I leave your fate with you, with respect”. This gives the forgotten person place and allows us to leave their fate with them so we are free to live our life.

In the case of family members who have died young and in difficult circumstances we can light a candle or place a photo or other memento of them in a special place in our home.

We acknowledge with respect what happened to our excluded or forgotten family members and their difficult fate and allow it to have a place. This way the pattern doesn’t have to repeat itself as balance in the system has been restored.