Order in love
By Bertold Ulsamer
Systemic family therapy in the style of Bert Hellinger is
among the most noticed, but also among the most controversial
forms of Psychotherapy today. After the therapy methods of
the Seventees and Eighties, something completely new is being
offered here: the method of "posting", where representatives
state their feelings. The fact that Hellinger seems to preach
a conservative view of the world in his work offends the generation
What do happiness and fullfillment in a relationship or
with a partner depend upon ? On love, of course. Good, but
even when there is love - whatever people mean by that - things
go wrong repeatedly. In everyday life friction and power struggles,
injuries and disappointments are common in a relationship.
Eventually, the relationship will break up. He or she has
just not been the right one. Will the next man be the man
of her dreams, will the next woman bring happiness ? Love
alone thus does not seem to be sufficient. Of course, good
"interaction skills" are also required in a relationship.
It is important to be open and honest, to communicate frequently,
to settle difficulties, etc. Is there anything else beyond
that ? What if someone uses the word "order" in
the context of love ?
Love and order - opposites?
Order seems to be an opposite to love. Order in love - is
this not a striking contradiction ? Isn`t order something
that rather inhibits love ? Wouldn't we try to lock our feelings
up in drawers by using order ? Building dams of order against
the high tide of feelings, is that right ? Thinking in opposites
of "right" and "wrong", however, does
not lead very far. Life is a dynamic motion between opposites
and contrasts. The truth will never be found on one side only.
Both sides are true (and others as well). Whoever focuses
one side only and excludes the other will become ideological
- no matter what kind of cover he will use to cover up his
ideology with. If one side has been dominant in your life,
it is good to forcus on the other side some time for balance`s
sake. If order could be a meaningful opposite to love - what
kind of order are we talking about ? Surely not the kind of
order that has,in the worst case, forced our ancestors to
keep on living side by side without love because society and
its order would have it that way. That old order is crumbling
now. Just take a look at the relationships in your surroundings.
Confusion is spreading everywhere. Stability more and more
becomes a rare thing. And we, children of this chaos, are
living right in the middle of this uncertainty, are being
injured, are hurting others and ourselves and keep on experimenting.
Knowledge that will free us from being entangled
How can love work out ? In his books and letters, Bert Hellinger
has stated deep insights about an order of love in families
and relationships. Couldn`t such an order just be a fanciful
idea or the result of a conservative view of the world ? Are
we looking at someone here who is turning his ideology into
"the truth" and into a new teaching method, forcing
his way by making use of his personality ? That is exactly
what Hellinger`s critics accuse him of doing. Hellinger, however,
has not developped his knowledge from inside his study room,
but from workingwith family postings in therapy. His theses
can thus be evaluated. Every actual case must prove how much
his thoughts contribute to finding solutions and healing.
The possibility of evaluation in practical work should thus
be the crucial criterion for deciding on whether something
is useful. The therapist must be able to clearly recognize
the client`s improvement as a result of his work. There is
no rule without any exception, however; there are many individual
conditions and deviations. The following statements, however,
may serve as a guideline and a suggestion.
The good order
What Hellinger depicts is an ancient order that works inside
of us. This order controls us much more than we are aware
of. In the postings, representatives spontaneously react with
the feelings that come from their specific spot. By experimenting
with different spots and by uttering feelings and important
messages it is possible to find out whether something corresponds
to the dynamics working in the posting. You can only speak
of a good order when peace has been made for the whole system,
when all of the involved feel accepted and well-placed in
the relationship network. An order that is being imposed from
the outside will remain superficial; an order that comes from
the inside, however, will have a deep impact. Since it is
so important, I would like to repeat this point again: This
order is no ideological foundation ! It must be evaluated
in every single case by looking at the reactions of the people
participating in the posting. Thus, it is possible to repeatedly
bring hidden things up to the surface with this work. Causes
for conflict will become visible. Accepting reality will free
people; it will remove people from being entangled in old
illusions and it will make reconciliation possible. A widening
of one's own perspective and responsibility will take place.
These postings do not only explain and solve single cases
only, however. By looking at what is similar or equal in many
postings, we are getting a picture of the general structures
Giving and Taking
Relationships will work out well for a long time whenever
there is a balance between giving and taking. If one partner
is giving only, imbalance and a tension striving to be resolved
will result. If the other partner gives back, the tension
can dissolve. If he gives back a little more than he has received,
a good tension will remain in the relationship. "Happiness
in a relationship depends upon the turnover of giving and
taking. Small turnover will bring about little profit only.
The greater the tunover, the more happiness will be resulting.
However, this does have one great disadvantage - it ties people
together even stronger. Whoever wants freedom can only give
and take very little and only very little energy can flow."
(In the following, citings from Hellinger's work will be printed
in italics). Relationships where one gives and the other one
takes only are bound to break up. Eventually, one of the two
partners will not be able to stand the imbalance anymore -
this may very well be the one who has received too much -
and he will leave. What is true for balance in friendship
is also true for balance in hostility. Whenever one person
has done something to another and has hurt the other, the
same need for balance arises. The culprit should bring a sacrifice
or give satisfaction according tó what he has done.
This will be helpful for the relationship. It is justified
to demand a balancing. It is even more beneficial when, talking
of balance in hostility, the vicitm demands a little less
than what has been done to him. Whoever feels too proud to
demand a balancing (by forgiving magnanimously, for example)
harms the relationship because he doesnt resolve the existing
need for balance in a way understandable for human beings.
On the contrary, he even increases the imbalance, because
being the victim on the one hand, by forgiving he places himself
above the culprit on the other hand. That is one of the reasons
why Hellinger says: He who seems to be good on the outside
often really is the bad guy.
Oftentimes, a fascinating picture can be seen in the postings
when former partners - the first true love especially - are
being posted. This may well have been ten, twenty or thirty
years ago. The representatives smile at each other and show
how much they feel attracted to each other. An astounding
bond can be seen that the person posting has not really been
that deeply aware of. It doesn't even make a difference whether
the relationship has been officially legalized. It is thus
appropriate to use the term "your man" or "your
woman" in the postings when referring to a serious bond.
How does such a bond develop ? Sex together with love will
bind. When two people are having sex and there is love, a
bond will develop - whether they want this to happen or not,
whether it makes sense, whether it is appropriate or socially
acceptable or not. Such a bond tends to lead towards a lasting
relationship: marriage. If one of the partners wants marriage
and the other one rejects him, this will be experienced as
a wound that can cause the relationship to break up. When
talking about a long-term relationship in the postings, Hellingers
question is: "Why have you not gotten married ?"
(In my ear, however, Oshos sentence sounds as a counterpart:
Marriage is the death of love" But, looking back, maybe
it is not so important if love has died because of marriage
or because of not getting married ??) This bond is not undissolvable,
however. A woman whose husband has become paralyzed due to
an accident comes into family therapy. Hellinger tells her
that everyone has to carry such a destiny by himself and cannot
expect his partner to stay attached for a lifetime. The bond
is the strongest in the first relationship. With every parting
and every new relationship it diminishes a little. Whoever
breaks up relationships frequently will one by one lose the
strong bond to a partner that has originally been there. Bonding,
however, must be distinguished from love. "It (the second
relationship) does not have the same depth as the first one.
It cannot have that, and it doesnt need it. This does not
mean, however, that there will be less happiness and less
love. Love may even be greater and deeper in the second relationship.
But a bond in the original sense like the one in the first
relationship is not possible." Hellinger emphasizes that
there is not the one true partner. On the contrary: Whoever
declares his partner to be the only one ("If you leave
me I will not survive") puts a strain on the relationship.
This dependancy is appropriate for the relationship between
children and parents, but not for a relationship between grown-up
people. Instead, it is true that "The right man and the
right woman can very rarely be found. A good man and a good
woman are usually enough."
The bond between man and woman again seeks for a third part.
Children are the natural way of fullfillment. Through a child,
an even stronger bond will be established no matter what circumstances
may look like. A couple lives in a close relationship over
years without having any children. Then the man has a sexual
affair; his girl-friend becomes pregnant. It would be appropriate
for the man for the sake of the new relationship to leave
the first woman and to stand behind the child and the new
woman. Having sex - even without love - already bears the
risk of a bond because of the possibility of a child. This
can be shown in the postings. An example: a 45-year-old bachelor
has become a father to a daughter. At the time when his girl-friend
that he had been together with for half a year before became
pregnant, the relationship was already about to break up.
She offers to have an abortion. He decides in favor of the
child. In the posting, the relationship between father and
daughter is touchingly close. There is no love between man
and woman; a bond exists, however, because of shared parenthood.
Even though ongoing growth in a partnership implies having
a child, this doesn`t mean that there cannot be any good relationship
without children. Unwanted childlessness is a tough destiny
for couples that will tie them together when it is being carried
jointly. When both partners decide not to have any children,
however, this will weaken their relationship. Hellinger says:
"The partner who doesnt want to or cannot have children
has no right to force the other who wants to have children
to stay. He must let him go." Another one of Hellingers
statements I find very rermarkable: He states that parenthood
was something that gives the parent a "specific higher
inner balance". Isn't it true that parents, when compared
to singles of the same age, seem to be somewhat more serious
and "down to earth" ? A while ago, I called a friend
of mine who works as a psychotherapist. Ever since his divorce,
he takes care of his two children. When I told him enthusiastically
about my new favourite form of therapy, he interrupted: "That
is far too sophisticated for me right now. I have been to
an amusement park with ky kids for the whole day today, and
now I have to cook for them. Right now, that is much more
important to me." Who of us has been more in touch with
reality ? Who has been more down to earth ?
Appreciating what has been rejected
Speaking of childlessness, Hellinger is also concerned with
appreciating the person who has been rejected. "Whenenver
someone decides for something, he usually has to let go of
something else. Whatever he decides in favor of is what will
be realized... Despising that which has not been realized
will take a piece off that which has been chosen. This will
diminish. If that which has not been decided in favor of is
nevertheless being appreciated, then something will be added
to that which has been chosen. Women who are aware of the
loss and consciously relinquish (having children) and who
consciously accept this will save the female element for the
future. The future will then gain another quality. Thus, by
consciously relinquishing something will be won. That which
I have not chosen will have an effect if I appreciate it,
even if I do not realize this myself."
Whoever decides in favor of any alternative in life (parenthood,
for example) has two options. By devaluing the alternative
in order to feel like having taken the "right" decision
one will limit himself. By admitting the pain about the loss
of the other alternative, however, one will become enriched.
Guilt and atonement
An idea that has become more and more unclear and questionable
to myself over the last years is the idea of guilt. To me,
guilt sounded like some outdated religious rule, like confessing
and like sin. For this reason, in my work with people I have
always maintained the presupposition that everybody does the
best he can. Thus, the idea of "guilt" had been
unnecessary for me.
When working with postings, one comes to regard ideas like
"injustice" and "guilt" differently. When
the "soul" of a person, as Hellinger likes to put
it, regards something to be an injustice, it will ensure that
it will be paid for. This form of guilt will always have negative
results. It has to be paid for either through oneself or through
another member of the system. In case that some readers might
feel uneasy when reading these sentences, here are a couple
- A child always is the responsibility of both mother and
father. When a man gets a woman pregnant and then leaves her
to raise the child by herself, he doesn't accept his responsibility
and becomes guilty. His soul will demand a price off him for
that. When I heard this for the first time, I suddenly solved
a puzzle in my own past. I had gotten my first girl-friend
pregnant just when I was about to break up with her. In the
beginning, the child had grown up with her and her parents.
During that time, I have met my great love of that time. I
soon felt an inner resistance against the relationship, however,
which made me systematically spoil the relationship in the
following four years. I now realize one thing: I hadn't been
able to stand having a happy and fullfilled relationship when
letting the mother of my child down at the same time - in
spite of all necessary rationalizations and justifications.
- Injustice in a partnership can also arise when one of the
partners takes the other one for a husband or wife as an easy
solution only. It is good when injustice and guilt are being
brought up to the surface. In the postings, hidden tensions
can be resolved when feelings that have been left unspoken
ever since are being uttered, when the wife tells the husband,
for example: "I am mad at you because I have only been
second choice for you all along." He can accept this
and find the words to say: "I'm sorry."
The subject of abortion is one that is rather controversial
on the battlefield of ideologies. Looking at the effects that
an abortion has in the postings can clarify a lot here.
"In our culture, abortion has a very deep effect on
the soul (there may be great differences depending on the
family, however), and this inner authority cannot by impressed
by reasoning. It works independently of that and also unconsiously."
Abortion, usually perceived as an injustuce by the soul,
will generally be repressed as much as possible. When only
one of the partners has wanted to have the abortion and has
pushed towards it, the blame will unconsciously be put on
him and he will not be forgiven. This can only be paid for
by the break-up of the relationship or by stopping sexual
An abortion sometimes is the reason why a posted couple
(represented through representatives) feels uneasy and peace
cannot be made. Only when the abortion is being brought up
to the surface and the couple accepts it healing can take
place. In one seminar, the participants were talking about
the broken relationship of one of the participants. "Our
continuous fighting about the new dog that we bought was the
main reason for the break-up." Jokingly, I stated that
it might be important here to post a dog. Its place would
be obvious: by the feet of the couple. In the posting taking
place a little later, an abortion that the couple had had
a year before the break-up became an important subject. The
aborted child was being posted by the feet of the couple -
just like the dog that had been bought shortly after the abortion
and, representing the child, became the trigger that should
bring the conflict between the two up to the surface. In order
to finally find peace after an abortion, the aborted child
must find his/her place in the system of the mother and the
father. Certain sentences uttered by the father or the mother
are important for this. For example, when one of the two tells
the child: "You have given me the greatest thing that
can be given to anyone: your life. I will now make a space
for you in my heart." Another sentence is: "I am
sorry. I now take you as my child." These sentences will
dissolve tension in many postings. Here is something that
Hellinger has said to the parents afterwards: "It will
still take time for the pain to arrive. Then you will give
room to the pain in the face of the child. You may also give
the child a place in your life for a while. You may show his/her
brothers and sisters to the child inside, for example, and
you may show him all the nice things in the world for a year.
But then, this must end. Guilt must be dealt with eventually.
And then you won't talk about it anymore. The child will find
peace and you will look forward."
Separation and parting
Love goes wrong time and time again, relationships break
up. Partners part, new partners come together. How can we
deal with that purposefully ?
"Usually, the end will come without anyone being to
blame. It's over because everyone is entangled in his own
way, or because someone takes a different road or is being
led a different way. As soon as I start perceiving guilt,
however, I will have the belief and the illusion that I myself
or the other person could do something or that the other one
or myself would only have to behave in a different way in
order for everything to be safe. Then the greatness and depth
of the situation will be misunderstood and guilt and accusations
against each other will be sought out instead. The solution
is that both give in to their sorrow, to this deep pain, the
sorrow because of the fact that it's over... When a separation
takes place, anger oftentimes serves as a substitution for
pain or sorrow."
Former partners are still part of the system. In the postings
of the present system, these partners are also being posted.
Sometimes there are still tensions that have not been resolved.
In that case, it is important that things left unspoken are
being uttered, for example: "I am sorry." When former
partners receive "a good place", they can become
supportive and a source of power. "A good place"
- this means that they are being honored and respected as
former partners and predecessors. The best proof for that
are friendly relations that continue to exist after the separation
or that start to develop anew. Suppression will have a negative
impact on the own family's presence and future. If the former
partner is not regarded as being part of the system, if his
existence is being denied, for example, this will have a particularly
bad effect when children arrive. A child will then represent
the former partner. The family will then be in disorder. Suppose
the father has had a partner before, for example (regardless
of whether they have been dating, engaged or married). Their
daughter will take on her role, she is "entangled"
with this partner. This will result in her being particularly
close to the father and a rivalry between her and her mother
coming into existence. In that case, the daughter can never
fully relax in her role as a child since she still has to
represent the former partner. Only when the former partner
receives the place that she deserves, the child can free herself
from this stressful role. It is important that the former
partners are being respected by both instead of, in the above
case, the successor still being jealous of her predecessor.
It would be salutary for her if she would step in front of
her predecessor in the posting and say: "I thank you
for making room for me." And maybe she could even add:
"Please look at me and my family in a friendly way."
Children continue to tie people together. The child is the
fruit of a love that was back then. In the child, this love
is being manifested. For this reason, it is important to honor
the former partner in the child. A feeling of anger towards
the partner that the child is supposed to share will be harmful.
It is important for the child to still keep both parents inside
without feeling pressured towards having to decide. The child
tries to solve this in the following way: "I'm taking
both of you for my parents. Whatever is or has been between
you is none of my business. I am only the child." Realizing
the existing ranking in this order is of equal importance.
In a partnership, the partner comes first before the child.
This changes after a separation, however, when a new partner
comes. The child is then ranked higher than this partner.
In the beginning, it may be difficult for the successor when
the new partner has a child already. But everybody can relax
only when this order is being respected.
A participant in one of my seminars told me that, as a result
of this knowledge, the four-year-old son of his girl-friend
was not jealous of him at all anymore (although he sometimes
wasn't allowed to sleep close to his mother now because of
the boy-friend). The reason for this: The new boy-friend knew
right from the start that the child would come first and that
he didn't want to claim his place.
Effects of the family of origin
Repeatedly, the effects of the family of origin (the family
that one stems from) are one of the most massive disturbing
factors in a relationship. Not everything is systemic. An
"interrupted affiliation" experienced during childhood
will have great negative effects on one's life as a grown-up.
Every child has a natural affiliation to his mother and father
because that's where he can find love, protection and safety.
Whenever this affiliation is being stopped suddenly and forcefully,
the interruption will remain permanently. As a result of an
early separation, like having to stay in a hospital, for example,
the child experiences some kind of shock. The child cannot
cope with a massive rejection or injury. He will then not
dare to follow his natural impulse towards the mother or the
father anymore. However, a strong yearning towards the parents
does still exist. This feeling will then turn into a feeling
of sorrow, pain, anger and frustration. These feelings can
go on forever. In therapy sessions, people can endlessly beat
cushions in anger without any real change concerning the anger
taking place. Whoever has experienced this as a child will,
as a grown-up, not find the courage to love a partner with
all his heart himself. He will still be stuck in the gap between
the yearning and the negative feelings connected to it that
he has experienced. Frequently, he will unconsciously provoke
rejection (that he secretly expects) as a result of his own
Healing will bring the fullfillment of childlike needs.
In such a constellation, Hellinger will seat himself facing
the client and will make him go back in age to the core situation.
He then tells him to stretch out his hands and say "please".
As a representative of the mother or the father, Hellinger
will then embrace the client and hold him. Thus, the affiliation
that has been interrupted for so long will find its true aim.
The old negative emotions can dissolve.
In order for a relationship to work out, it is important
for male and female energy in man and woman to meet. The man
will receive the strength for a good relationship from the
father and other men; the woman will take it from the mother
and other women. When these relationships are disturbed -
regardless of for what reason - then this will have an inhibiting
effect on the present relationships.
Entanglement and adopted feelings are systemic causes that
frequently initiate behaviour in a partnership. The power
of these influences is great. Fortunately, such partners whose
influences fit together will frequently find each other. In
a good case, both can stabilize and protect themselves this
To describe the multiple factors at this point would be
too much. As a general rule, it will usually make more sense
to start out by working on the family of origin before posting
the present situation. I have described the results of working
with the family of origin elsewhere.
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