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Healing my Ancestors, Healing Myself



     I'm holding back the tears.  A warm humid air wets my face as we near the end of the session.  At that moment, I see two cats, one black, the other white, in front of me. They are curled on the floor in the shape of a heart.

     "These are your parents letting you know that they are healed," Luz, the facilitator, said.  I finally let my tears flow.

      Earlier this year, while watching Coco--the Pixar® film about the Mexican Day of the Dead---an old question came back to haunt me:  How can I heal my ancestors?

     Bert Hellinger, the developer of Family Constellation Therapy, believes that we can heal our ancestors.  As a German priest living with the Zulu people in South Africa, Hellinger immersed himself in their spirituality.  When he returned to Germany, he left the priesthood, became a psychotherapist, and blended Zulu spirituality into family therapy.  Hellinger based his approach on the belief that we inherit our parents' and ancestors' unresolved traumatic experiences, which cause disturbances in our current lives.  His perspective seems consistent with the concept of epigenetics--the study of how our environment, including traumas, and other stressful experiences--modify our genes and transmit our emotional reactions to our descendants.  Interestingly, Dr. Oded Rechavi and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University, identified a precise biological mechanism that regulates the epigenetic transmission of traumatic stress.

     So, how do we heal our inherited trauma?  Since most people have an intrinsic desire to connect, we remain attached to our family lineages through invisible loyalties.  Our unawareness of these loyalties results in unconscious unhealthy behaviors. Hellinger believes that we attach to our ancestors through an energy field, which he calls the family soul.  He argues that we can heal our inherited trauma when we access this energy field.  Hellinger described the family soul as a Knowing field.  This energy field can be understood through biochemist Rupert Sheldrake's concept of morphic resonance--which is a kind of a collective memory inherited in nature through an interconnection between organisms.  In other words, the family soul is a type of morphogenetic field.

     As a spiritual seeker and a trauma psychologist, I was both curious and skeptical about constellation work.  Moreover, as a biracial feminist woman, I was concerned about reported accounts that Hellinger had expressed patriarchal, mother blaming, anti Semitic, and homophobic comments during Constellation therapy sessions (  Family Constellation Therapy has critics who consider this approach unscientific because it relies on energy healing, intuition, and morphogenetic fields.

     In Family Constellation Therapy there is a seeker (client), a facilitator (therapist), and several representatives of the ancestors or issues. The facilitator helps the seeker (you/the client) recognize your painful legacy working with representatives of your ancestors and/or issues.  If you are unaware of your multigenerational traumas, you can become conscious by tapping into your family soul.  After you recognize your distressing legacy, you can accept your inherited unhealthy dynamics.  Once you identity and accept your unhealthy dynamics, you release your dysfunctional patterns, become free from your ancestors' traumas, and are able to make healthier choices in life.

     My curiosity about Family Constellation Therapy overpowered my skepticism, so I decided to do a constellation session.  My friend Clara, a believer in this approach, scheduled an appointment with Luz, her constellation facilitator.  On a sunny afternoon Clara, Fred (my husband), and I arrived at Luz's house.  A sudden nervousness overcame me.  Luz welcomed us with a bear hug and a kiss.  As we walked through her lovely garden, the smell of pink flowers soothed me, and transported me to my deceased abuela Antonia's garden.

     After enjoying the garden, we entered a two-level carriage house. There we met Maria, another constellation worker.  Maria exuded serenity, and I became very relaxed.  All of a sudden, an abrupt movement startled me.  Two cats, one black, the other white, descended from the second level and appeared to smile at me.


     "Are they constellation workers?" I asked jokingly.

     "We will see, " Luz replied with a wide smile.

     The session began, and Luz gave Fred permission to videotape it.

     "We believe that Family Constellation Therapy helps us to accept what we cannot change, express gratitude, and connect with love to ourselves and others."  Luz said with a gleam in her eyes.  "Let's do your assessment."

     Because of my ancestors' multiple traumas, the assessment took a while.  Afterwards, Luz asked, "What do you want to work on?"

     "I want to heal my ancestors."

     "For that, you need to work on your own issue," Luz explained.  "It can be health, relationships, work, finances, or any other issue."

     After exploration, Luz identified my issue as purpose in life.  Although I was not completely sure about it, I went along with her suggestion.  Luz divided my issue into three topics: healing, creativity, and personal development.  She wrote them on three pieces of paper.

     "Connect with your family soul and use your intuition to place the pieces of paper on the floor, " Luz instructed.  "Do it one by one."

     I asked for spiritual guidance and followed her instructions.  When I completed the process, Luz asked Maria to stand next to me.  "We all need to connect with Lillian's family soul," Luz explained.

     Maria shared what she sensed after connecting with each topic.  Luz wrote Maria's comments on a small notebook.  When Maria finished connecting with my topics, Luz picked up the papers.

     "You are looking to the past," Luz stated after she analyzed the first topic.

     I felt a weight in my stomach, but remained silent.

     Luz examined the rest of the papers.  With a serious look on her face, she stated: "You need to see yourself as you really are."

     I gasped.  I thought I knew myself pretty well.  After noticing my puzzled face, Luz said "You maintain an invisible loyalty toward your maternal generation trauma."

     "I don't understand, " I said in a low voice.

     "You need to go beyond your unhealthy attachment."  Luz added, "Does this make sense?"

     I placed my right hand over my heart.  I then realized that connecting with my maternal transgenerational trauma has occupied too much space in my life. "I understand," I said finally.  "I can be different from my maternal ancestors."

     In psychological terms, Luz's message was that I needed to individuate from my ancestral trauma, in order to further my personal development.

     "Let's move to the final healing stage," Luz said.  She instructed Maria to represent my mother, and Clara, to stand for my father.  Luz guided me through several Constellation Therapy rituals.  These rites included expressing acceptance, gratitude, and love towards my parents.  Moreover, Luz guided me in embracing my parents' strengths.  Towards the end of the session, Luz said, "Once you are healed, your past and future generations are healed too."

     It was then that I saw the two cats curled in the shape of a heart, representing my parents' healing. 

     Unbeknown to me, that was not the end of my constellation work.  Several months later, I visited my only sibling, David.  While walking in the Chicago Botanical gardens, I shared my constellation session with him and my niece Antonia. Named after my maternal grandmother, Antonia listened with a ruptured expression on her face. 

     When I finished my tale, Antonia made the shape of heart with her hands.  She then asked, " Am I healed too?"

      I placed my left arm around Antonia's shoulders, and said, "Let's go back to your house and see if your two cats lie down on the floor in the shape of a heart."

     "We will see," Antonia replied with a wide smile.



Art by David Comas-Diaz


Houri-Ze'evi, L., Korem, Y., Shetftel, H. ....& Rechavi, O. (2016).  A tunable mechanism determines the duration ofthe transgenerational small RNAi hesitance in C. elegant.  Cell, 165(1), 88.



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As a psychologist, healer, and writer Lillian Comas is interested in spirituality, feminism, and multiculturalism.


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