The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


15 January 2021| Personal, Persoonlijk

Together we are

“My little brother died when I was eight. After the funeral we hardly ever talked about it again.”

“When I was four, my mom gave birth to a girl, but after a few months she died. My parents think I don’t know anything, but I’ve known about it my whole life.”

“My parents actually had a boy between me and my youngest brother. I don’t know much about him anymore. Asking questions was fine, but my parents didn’t talk about him. I have felt an emptiness all my life. ”

We already know a lot about order in families. In a family, the first, or firstborn, is the one who comes first. The second takes second place, etc. Now that fact may seem quite simple, but acting or living by it is not a matter of course. (Un)consciously, for example, people can shift places, which disrupts the order. A child can end up in a parent’s place, or perhaps become “the parent’s parent” and thereby (partly) leave the child’s place. Both for possibly good reasons, and with the necessary dynamics as a result. Another reason for a disrupted order is a “hole” in the line of children. This can be because of a miscarriage, a stillbirth or the death of a sibling.

These are traumatic events for a family, in which each family member processes this loss in his or her own way and within their own capacity. But then; How do you continue with the pain? How do you continue with the family? We have to go on, life goes on. Is it the four of us now, or actually the five of us?

And then another complicated matter: when does a miscarriage count? From how many weeks do you talk about a child? There is no unequivocal answer to this last question. Initially, Bert Hellinger said about this that miscarriages under three months do not count, but later he became less convinced.

I myself had a miscarriage at six weeks, in between our two daughters. Do I feel like I have three kids? No. I am a mother who had three pregnancies and who has two children. Both the event and the physical pregnancy have a place together. It seems that it is not just about the child or the embryo, but more about the experience as a whole.

A question that might seem logical: should you talk to your children about a miscarriage or deceased sibling(s)? From a systemic perspective: yes. However complicated, painful or uncomfortable as it may be.

Recently, I had a short conversation about this topic. Our seven-year-old needed a little more explanation about fetuses, babies and stages in the uterus, but after that, she thought it was mainly a strange and hilarious idea that there was a baby swimming around the sewers now.

Our eldest, who is ten, thought about it for a moment and asked: “So, there are actually three of us? And if that child had lived, would we have had Maila?”

I answered honestly. I do not know.

What I do know, is that it is incredibly important for siblings to know the order on their line. Time and again, as a coach and counsellor, I experience that it is healing and gives recognition:

To know who belongs.

To feel that you can live your own life.

That you don’t have to live two lives. Or three. Or four.

Or to say it out loud: “I live because of you passing away. ”

To feel that you can let go of the childish illusion that you have to do everything in your power to make your parents happy again.

That it was not and is not your fault.

That you no longer have to make yourself invisible because as a child you felt that your presence also brought pain.

That you survived the event.

To feel that you can live your potential.

Time and again, I witness how much love is released when a missed sibling is being looked at. And I am deeply impressed when I see what relaxation (eventually) occurs in the body.

The woman whose little brother had died at the age of eight ended with the words:

“We are finally complete.

Now I can and I may.”


Maaike van der Heiden

January 14, 2021

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About the Bert Hellinger Institute

People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

For up-and-coming and established leaders. An initiative of the Bert Hellinger Institute.