Belonging & Relationship

One of Bert Hellinger’s unique contributions to the world has been his thoughts on conscience and belonging. He made a differentiation between our personal conscience and our family or collective conscience. If we look at this historically, we see that in past times, the survival of the tribal group was paramount and took precedence over the survival of the individual. So sick or injured individuals were sacrificed in order to preserve the survival of the group. Individual needs were subsumed under the needs of the group.

Once we moved from being hunter-gatherers to becoming settlers, we began to claim land as our own and put boundaries round it and thus created an ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic. This was the beginning of individuality where personal survival took precedence over survival of the larger group.

It is clear though, from the family constellation work, that the collective conscience within the family still operates at a deeper level and we are compelled to follow it. We are not individualistic beings. We are like pack animals. We need each other to thrive. Those who reject their families find themselves trying to recreate them in other groupings, but no other group can fully replace our own family, however difficult it is.

The family conscience dictates that we behave in a certain way in order to preserve our belonging. Some of the rules will be overt and many will be hidden, unspoken rules, but my survival n my family group depends on adhering to these rules. What do I have to give up in order to belong to my family group? What do I have to do or not do? This sense of belonging or not belonging will be mirrored in any other group that I am part of: my football team, work colleagues, village or Church community, or Jihadist group.

At the same time, particularly in the Western world, we are influenced by individualistic thinking and so we find ourselves dancing between our conscious, individualistic way of seeing and being in the world and the larger collective forces that are operating, often out of our awareness, but which compel our souls to follow a certain path.

Our personal conscience will be dictated by the values and beliefs we formed initially from our place in our family but then influenced by other outside forces when we leave home. However, our deepest beliefs and values will in all likelihood be pretty close to those of our family of origin.

To not belong is life-threatening for most people. We are pack animals. We need to belong to thrive. Many people these days reject their own families and then discover that life without family is at best a compromise and at worst deeply lonely and isolating. The need to belong is very strong. But we can only truly belong to an ‘us’ if ‘we’ have a ‘them’ to oppose – to fight against:

Nazis and Jews
Israelis and Palestinians
Colonialists and colonised
Black and white
Conservatives and Socialists

Many acts of war, unkindness, cruelty, torture are done in the name of our group conscience. We commit these acts because we need to belong to a particular group and in that context we feel we are ‘right’, that what we are doing is ‘honourable’ and ‘they’ are the ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ ones.

Relationship is something different entirely. If we come together as a tightly knit group, as a ‘we’ looking towards the ‘them’ out there, then we don’t have to look at the relationship between us.

True relationship is not built on belonging. It is built on simply being here now with another human being, relating as best I can with my heart open, listening and being present to the ‘other’. Sometimes this ‘being with’ can be excruciatingly painful as old wounds are triggered. Intimate relationships can bring up our deepest pains and we can unwittingly project these on to the ‘other’.

And it is generally those closest to us that trigger most strongly these
unprocessed feelings. But if we can commit to keeping our heart open, no matter what, then we find we can move through deep pain and suffering together with another human being and the result is pure joy. Such joy just sits on the other side of suffering and we cannot have one without the other.

Family constellations are a great tool for uncovering these wounds, many of which we are unwittingly carrying for others in our family. When we witness these wounds in the context of our families and those who have gone before us, we can widen our lens and see our own suffering and that of those closest to us in a different light. Then we can find compassion and understanding for each other.

Barbara Morgan.