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Bert Hellinger on hidden and paradoxical loyalties in the family

Introduction: Hidden and Paradoxical Loyalties in the Family

Our family relationships profoundly and sometimes invisibly affect our lives. Family connections are not just about close relationships between individuals; they weave a complex web of emotional, cultural, and psychological dynamics. One of the most fascinating and complex phenomena in this context is hidden and paradoxical loyalties in the family. Join me in this lesson by Bert Hellinger, which I translated, focusing on hidden and paradoxical loyalties in the family and how they affect our lives. Discover how the principle of debt and the scales of justice operate within the family system and how to identify and address these patterns through family constellation work.

nesting doll

Bert Hellinger: Hidden Loyalties in the Family

The term "invisible loyalties" was coined by the late Hungarian-American psychiatrist Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, who, along with Geraldine M. Spark, published the book "Invisible Loyalties." Boszormenyi-Nagy posited that disorders, illnesses, and problems in individuals stem from an imbalance in giving and receiving within the family system. The family system always tends towards justice, regardless of what its members might strive for personally. Giving and receiving must be balanced in terms of love, property, respect, and energy. If someone gives a lot and receives less, a debt is created. If someone gains money or affection at the expense of others, they owe it. If someone loses something so that others may gain, they are owed. This is a universal principle, "the law of the heavens."

Order Between Parents and Children

Sometimes parents try to make their children feel what they lack and give them love. It goes against nature for a parent to demand love from their children; this is not the natural order of family systems. The elder always nurtures and cares for the younger; parents care for and nurture their children. If they fail to do so, they owe a serious debt. If they did not receive proper nurturing from their parents to be loving, it is unfortunate, but it is not the role of their children to give them what they missed.

The Principle of Debt

What one generation leaves unresolved, the next generation will try to solve innocently and unconsciously. There is an intergenerational transfer of family problems that sometimes creates a chain of difficult or tragic fates. Unresolved matters from previous generations and injustices committed within and outside the family system can unconsciously affect the lives of families, manifesting in one or several members of the system as unexplained illnesses, depressions, suicides, turbulent relationships, physical and mental disorders, difficulty in finding a partner, prosperity, and turbulent behaviors.

Examples of Hidden Loyalties in the Family

A cheating man who disrespects and humiliates his wife, and someone will have to pay for it. It is possible that a grandson or descendant will live an unhappy life or suffer from continuous infidelities and humiliations from women and partners, to compensate for the abuse his forefather inflicted on his grandmother and other women.

When a family member sacrifices their personal interests for the sake of the family, they feel entitled to compensation for this sacrifice and will expect recognition. If this debt is not paid by the generation that benefited from the sacrifice, the next generation will often be required to settle the debt in some way, or it will pass to the next generation after that.

The principle of debt states that debts are always repaid. Always!

Scales of Justice

For example, a child is born as a result of another's death. The mother insisted on getting pregnant and then regretted and aborted early. A few years later, she has another child. This child will pay for it all their life - because they live at the expense of their unborn sibling. It is likely they will be very loyal, unconsciously, to their deceased sibling and always feel something is missing, that they are incomplete. Melancholy, sadness, or self-destructive behaviors will cause them much harm because they feel unconsciously they have no right to live.

Unconscious and Paradoxical Loyalty

Loyalty to the family of origin is based on paradoxical laws: what seems is not what it is. Two people who seem to hate each other very much, a father and son, for example, can, deep down, be more loyal to each other than people imagine.

Unspoken Alliances

A woman unhappy due to her loyalty to her mother's unhappiness, angry at men and at life and how it treated her. One of her daughters, out of unconscious love for her, will perpetuate this unhappiness in her life.

We believe we know the reasons and answers, but we know nothing. Our conscious mind and ego believe they know the answers to our problems, but the truth is they have no clue what is really happening beneath the surface.

Nothing Is As It Seems

We can be loyal to a deceased person without even knowing them or their name or anything about their life. Yet our lives will be, unconsciously, a constant preservation. We might be rectifying a murder committed three generations ago that our conscious mind knows nothing about. Ignoring problems leads nowhere because what we do not take responsibility for will eventually become the responsibility of others: our children, nieces, and grandchildren.

Everything is subject to the order of the system, and this order includes justice. However, the same love that can harm us, once it becomes conscious, has the power and wisdom to find solutions. Hidden loyalties surface and come to light in family constellation work. The goal is to reintegrate into the system those who were ostracized, forgotten, vilified, unrecognized, unjustly treated, those who left to make way for others, and those who lived particularly hard lives.

Bert Hellinger

My free translation of the text available on this site: Bert Hellinger, Constellation Seminar, Domus Codex University, Mexico, July 2014

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How many times do we find ourselves acting out patterns that are not entirely clear to us? These are the moments when we encounter an invisible wall that prevents us from moving forward in our lives. This is precisely where the importance of understanding these hidden dynamics comes into play. Invisible loyalties are not just a theoretical matter; they impact our daily lives. Have you ever experienced a feeling of melancholy or sadness that has no clear explanation? Or perhaps found yourself in painful relationships that you couldn't break free from? These can all be the results of hidden loyalties operating within us.

Family constellation work allows us to uncover these loyalties and bring about deep release and healing. When we identify these hidden patterns and work to release them, we can experience a sense of relief, inner freedom, and a new opportunity to live fuller lives.

I invite you to share your feelings and thoughts about the article and join me on a journey of exploration and discovery. Let's understand together how hidden loyalties affect our lives and how we can deal with them in a conscious and empowering way.


Sivan Avni - Couple and Family Counselor, Couple Therapy based on Family Constellation and Differentiation, Clinic in Kiryat Tivon and Online.


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