In the Footsteps of Our Ancestors: Where Epigenetics and Family Constellations meet

The revelations of unconscious identification, invisible loyalties, unspoken traumas, repressed emotions and recurring family patterns over generations leave constellation participants deeply moved, but sometimes also perplexed and bewildered.

Some seek esoteric explanations, while others simply embrace the experience, grateful for the transformation it brought.

Recently, I tried to explain to my nephew the profound transgenerational significance of the issues addressed in family constellations. The concept of inherited dynamics, tensions, and emotions quickly intrigued him, and he asked if this was connected to epigenetics. Indeed, it is!

When trauma leaves a mark on the genes - How family constellations can heal epigenetic scars

Today, numerous studies in epigenetics reveal how factors such as stress and social interactions influence gene expression, leaving epigenetic traces that can be inherited. Trauma, behaviors, and life patterns are thus repeated and perpetuated across generations.

Epigenetics acknowledges the heritability of our learned experiences. Two key aspects play a crucial role: firstly, our daily behaviors can activate or inhibit our genes, granting us significant capacity to influence the course of action; secondly, these epigenetic marks can be transmitted to our descendants.

Family constellations aim to uncover and resolve these transgenerational dynamics and conflicts within a family. Successfully addressing these issues not only enhances our well-being and that of those around us but also positively impacts the health of future generations on an epigenetic level.

Curious to experience it yourself? Join one of our upcoming group constellation workshops, available both in person and online!

The three levels of safety 

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending two highly instructive webinars focusing on the concept of psychological safety. The first, "Unleashing the power of safety", presented by Dr Joe Maier for Sietar Switzerland, and the second, where Csaba Toth explored "Psychological safety and cognitive diversity through the lens of data". Both events provided valuable insights and touched me profoundly.

Safety: The Foundation of Trust

Both webinars underlined the fundamental role of trust rooted in psychological safety. Indeed, it is the sense of safety that makes individuals feel more confident in expressing ideas of their own, without fear of being judged or criticized.

Safety is indeed essential in all areas of life where trust and healthy relationships play a role.  However, tensions or constraints can seriously test relationships and erode trust over time. In his illuminating book "The Body Keeps the Score", Bessel van der Kolk offers an explanation of the three levels of security and how our reactions reflect the perceived level of safety.

The three levels of safety

At the first level of social engagement, we seek validation or comfort, feeling relatively safe. However, if met with an inadequate response, our sense of safety diminishes, and the feeling of threat intensifies, pushing us into the second level  and triggering survival strategies—we interact in a Fight or Flight mode - depending on our  perceived chances of prevailing or our default coping mechanism.

If neither option seems feasible, we reach the third level of safety: Some of us may resort to freezing, becoming paralyzed and shutting down at once. Some also adopt a fourth survival mode, the often overlooked "fawn response," namely to please or appease others.  While these latter reactions may bring short-term relief, they can have disastrous long-term consequences, such as neglect of one's own needs and burnout. What's more, the fawn reflex is often mistaken for sincere consent, especially in situations of unequal social power dynamics.

So how can we contribute to safety and cultivate healthy relationships?

-> We go back to Level 1 of safety for guidance.

Our sense of psychological safety is co-constructed through social interactions and hence based on relational safety. Therefore, each of us bears the responsibility of fostering safety in our environment, both for ourselves and  others.

To achieve this, we can:

In conclusion, feeling accepted for what we are, being truly heard and seen allows for inner calmness, self-confidence and trust in relationships. In times of stress, mutual social support not only serves as an antidote, but is also a key element of resilience.

Is your present talking or your past?

Last week I attended the Basel Peace Forum and the focus was about healing the past  in order to transform the future. It reminded me of how true this is for each of us in our daily lives: If we heal the wounds of the past, we gain more freedom and can celebrate the present and  the future.

In fact, our current life is often influenced by our personal history, creating disruptions akin to a familiar whisper in the background. We all know situations where our response does not seem appropriate to the current reality. Could it be that our response carries the echoes of our past?

Ongoing dissatisfaction may signal that remnants from the past still exert an influence  on our current state, whether through self-limiting beliefs or conditioned responses. Indeed, our behaviors often reveal hidden patterns that trace back to our past experiences. 

The key lies firstly in recognizing these patterns and secondly in cultivating a heightened awareness of how past experiences affect our present perceptions. Understanding these hidden influences enables us to untangle them and gain clarity on the narratives we tell ourselves.

Tools for Clarity

Fortunately, there are powerful tools to separate the past from the present. Family and systemic constellations are a safe and unconditional space for the mindful observation of emotions without judgment while they reveal hidden dynamics impacting our present. The goal is to break free from patterns that no longer serve us, to fully embrace the present and to feel empowered in making intentional choices.

The silent echo of trauma

Trauma without the personal experience of a traumatic event?

When I began my first training in systemic constellations some twenty years ago, I discovered aspects that permanently affected my understanding of the human experience. I realized that trauma isn't confined to an individual's life; rather, its impact generates shockwaves that resonate silently through time, affecting both the present and the future

A far-reaching ripple effect

Indeed, the reach of trauma extends beyond the boundaries of the individual. Its influence can be transmitted directly or indirectly to other people, leading to vicarious traumatization. This happens when we bear witness over time to the pain and suffering of those around us, be it in our private lives or professional spheres. Transgenerational trauma, on the other hand, is passed on and inherited over generations within the family or the community, creating an enduring legacy. This form of trauma manifests itself in family dynamics, communication and psychological disorders, echoing through generations, such as the transmission of war-related trauma effects from survivors to their descendants. Its influence permeates aspects of upbringing, the formation of secure attachments and the expression of emotions.

Revitalizing Energy and Enriched Relationships

Constellations are a powerful tool that can disrupt this painful cycle of negative patterns. They disclose the hidden dynamics that perpetuate the effects of trauma and offer a pathway to newfound happiness and fulfilling relationships.

Life values instead of life goals

Last Friday, I had the privilege of an amazing experience: an introduction to equine-assisted coaching with the equine coaches Cornelia Roulet and Gundhild A. Hoenig. My failing in the first exercise was a wake-up call for my attitude and the challenge of brain and heart coherence.

It reminded me that sometimes we pursue our life goals but lose sight of our life values. And sometimes we achieve our goals only to wonder if they align with our life values. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a horse like Hidalgo by my side, looking at me and helping me question my own values before I set a goal? After all, it makes much more sense to take a single step in the right direction than ten in the wrong one!

Searching for core values

There are many proven methods for formulating goals. But what if achieving our goals does not fulfill us? Perhaps they weren't aligned with our life values? At this point, it helps to stop and ask : Am I consistent with my own values? Which values are still a priority for me? Have I overlooked deeper values that are more important to me?

Connecting with our values

Those who have worked with me on their career transition know that I always start by asking for an "emotional biography." Ultimately, it is this very narrative that leads us to our core values.

Visualising the future

Another powerful technique that has worked for me is the guided journaling exercise developed by Otto Scharmer (Presencing - Theory U) to gain insights from the emerging future. I've relied on this method for over fifteen years to empower others to discover and be guided by their authentic values.

Morphic fields and morphic resonance

Let me go beyond the current scientific consensus and address a concept that started to fascinate me some twenty years ago and that still impacts my work with constellations: The morphic (or morphogenetic) fields and the morphic resonance. My constellation trainer at the time Dr. Albrecht Mahr, psychiatrist and systemic and family constellation practitioner used the concept and talked about the “knowing fields”.

The morphic field theory was proposed by Rupert Sheldrake in the 1980s as he had observed that traditional genetic and environmental factors alone could not fully explain the development and behavior of organisms, he hence suggested that non-material, invisible fields surround and shape living organisms.

According to Sheldrake, each field of living organisms contains a collective memory of this species which can be accessed and influenced by members of this species, i.e. any information in the morphic fields can be transmitted and shared within a group or between similar morphic fields or systems or across generations. Furthermore, morphic fields are not unalterable, they can evolve.

Isn’t that amazing when we think of the collective information and resonance within a system? We get a new lens to understand collective behavior, social phenomena, non-local communication and how individuals within a system are interconnected on a non-material level.

As a constellation practitioner myself, I see evidence of a “knowing field” in each constellation. All participants in the field gain access to information, mainly on the emotional level, unknown to them before. And above all, changes in the field resonate outside the field and impact related systems.

Work the Relationship BEFORE working the Behaviour

..or no parenting without reinforcing the attachment first

A few years ago, I came across a book that struck a chord with me: "Hold On to Your Kids" by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté. Usually, when we think of children, we think of how to raise them. Everyone seems to know if, when and how to be strict, stricter or less strict. But in fact, this is not the most important issue.

Problems in a relationship can be solved more easily if the relationship is working well. Why should it be any different with children? Children often want it their own way. Each of us has his or her own personality, needs, desires and abilities. It's just a matter of chance whether these match the expectations of our environment, be it family, friends or society.

Of course, when each person has his or her own characteristics and these don't meet the expectations of others, things can get harder for everyone. All parents want their children to thrive, develop their potential and find acceptance in society. And yet, we often only pay attention to the children's behaviour and focus on a pleasant living together.

As a result, we tend to lose sight of what is really important: Our approach to children should not focus so much on their behaviour, but on our relationship with them. If we give priority to the bond, if we nurture the relationship, we'll find it easier to connect and understand the child, to point out directions, to motivate and encourage a change in attitude and hence behaviour. Safe bonding and emotional stability can only be created and reinforced by adults, whether parents or other caregivers; the child cannot do it alone. Irritation, resentment, frustration and anger can overshadow or even undermine secure attachment. Only when the emotional connection is secure and strengthened, and later in a quiet moment, will we be able to address the behaviour.

Are you fed up trying to regulate your emotions? Then try to relate to them!

An appropriate, safe, respectful expression of our emotions is helpful for ourselves, but also for existential relationships.

This is however easier said than done: How often have we assumed that others would understand our emotions while we ourselves were not even aware of them? How many of us have shouted at our little one crossing the street while a car was coming? Were we shouting out of anger ( the child will definitely perceive our shouting as anger) or out of fear? So how can we be in tune with our emotions if we don’t always identify them and understand the connection between our emotions and our actions? Or if we feel a mix of emotions at once ?

On the one end of the emotional awareness spectrum we may feel so much that we might get flooded by our emotions. And if we have not learned to express our emotions in a way that is acceptable and safe to us and others, we just have trouble regulating our emotions.

Some of us may have also realised at some point that negative emotions, e.g. anger, sadness, envy are not socially acceptable or not safe to show. And so on the other end of the emotional awareness spectrum, we might have learned to distance ourselves from our emotions so well that we end up not feeling them, we get disconnected from our lively self. This strategy, once crucial for our survival, may no longer be necessary and may have developed into a limiting, dysfunctional belief that is now more of an obstacle for our well-being.

Our emotions (i.e. the whole palette of emotions, positive and negative) are a source of energy for us, they always reveal life in us, a pain, a desire, a need. If we are not aware of these or do not take these into account, this part of ourselves cannot grow. We can still survive, but not in full power.

Psychosomatic pain, sleeping and eating disorders, relationship stress, self-confidence issues, drug abuse, burnout, can all point to difficulties relating to our own emotions.

As a life coach I meet many clients struggling with these issues. I help them on their emotional awareness journey. Finding the right balance between being too far and too close to one’s emotions is key to our well-being.

Different methods, such as Internal Family Systems, systemic constellations and EMDR, provide help to address hidden emotions, bring them to light and express them in a safe space where they can finally be transformed into a helpful source of energy.

Harness the Four elements for Stress Reduction

Whether we experience stress because of perceived physical, emotional or psychological threat or challenge, most of us have their own strategies for self-care: Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, looking for social support with family and friends, practicing relaxation techniques and good time management habits.

And yet, sometimes we are caught in an acute situation and would like something that can quickly help us reduce our level of stress. I came across the Four elements for Stress Reduction by Elan Shapiro, as easy to remember as to use for oneself in a critical moment.

The Four elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire

Earth stands for grounding and safety. It is all about being fully aware of your senses and using them to be back in the here and now. Some fifteen years ago, I found great relief in Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now , that helped me reconnect with my physical senses.

With Air, we are reminded to breathe in and out consciously. Now, if you are like me, unable to control your breathing process, I recommend a simple device that discreetly guides and slows down your breathing. I managed to quickly learn how to breathe in such a way that I can feel better in minutes. The device is called pneemo (

Water is what we need when our digestive system is shut off in reaction to stress. Drinking some water already calms down as it switches on the digestive system and our body is not that tense any more. It helps us feel in control of the situation. If we have no water at hand, a chewing movement helps to stimulate the flow of saliva.

With Fire, Shapiro hints at the light, the joy, the safety we can have with the visualization of a safe place. In a difficult situation, visualizing this place is usually enough to soothe yourself. You can find your own inner safe place alone or under guidance. There are also various short videos online.

Obviously, these simple techniques support a regulation of all challenging emotions, not just stress, just try them when you are angry, frustrated, sad and confused. In such a moment, it is enough to think of the four elements and use one strategy or another.

Resilience tutors and gratitude

Let us start the year by thanking others. Others who have been focusing on our potential rather than on our weaknesses and vulnerability. Boris Cyrulnik calls them resilience tutors.

We have all encountered in our lives various resilience tutors, who have trusted us in challenging times. In most cases, resilience tutors are our parents. But not only. Other family members, teachers, supportive friends and many others have also been our resilience tutors.

I like to expand the term of "resilience tutors" to those whose presence in the right place and at the right moment has been decisive for us.

Sometimes total strangers with an encouraging word, a supportive smile, a kind look, a simple encouragement or just a sympathetic ear. They have all influenced our journey, whether immediately or with lagged effect, maybe without our awareness and most probably without their awareness. They have given us hope in critical moments and encouraged us to assume responsibility for our lives, to move forward and hence they have made us stronger and more resilient.

Encountering such people on our journey is fortunate and yet, if we look carefully, there have been plenty of such instances. Anonymous guides as they may have been, unaware of their gentle hand on us, they also deserve our gratitude.

Take a few minutes to express your gratitude to everyone who has supported you along your path so far.

And then, take a moment to acknowledge that you yourself have been at some point consciously or unconsciously a precious resilience tutor for others.

"I believe in the contamination of love, gentleness and intelligence. Every time we show kindness, care, love, every time we help someone by giving him or her advice, we change the future of humanity a little bit for the better."

Christophe André

The heart intelligence

I recently came across two different books with the same title, yet in different languages , one in French “L’intelligence du cœur” by Isabelle Filliozat and “The heart intelligence” by Doc Childre. The first one I had bought for myself, the second one was sent to me by my EMDR trainer as a present for completing the EMDR coach training. Needless to say, I loved both books as both were very inspirational, each in its way.

Understanding with the heart

The most important part for me, and the common point in both, was a reminder that as much as we know things cognitively, we can grasp them better with our heart. Indeed we often associate intelligence with the brain and do not realize that our deepest emotions and insights come from our heart. Both books navigate along accepting, understanding and befriending our emotions.

We forget about ourselves

The heart intelligence is particularly important when existential relationships get challenging for some reason, e.g. when we are facing a conflict. Often we tend to react to a situation driven by our emotions in the situation while getting disconnected from the emotions and feelings towards the person. We focus on the situation, we listen to our rational arguments, to whatever might justify our frustration, our disappointment or just our position. And we forget not only the other person, but also ourselves, we forget to connect with our heart.

Shifting from mind intelligence to heart intelligence

If we could just stop for a moment, connect deeply with our heart, listen to our needs and expectations, embrace our emotions, we would be more present. We could then, from that place, re-address the challenging situation and would be hence closer to our deepest Self and to the Self of our counterpart. Connecting at this point with our heart will not only re-calibrate the purpose of the relationship, but grant us new perspectives. This would open new doors and help us access a deeper level of the relationship itself.

Connecting with something bigger

Connecting with our heart expands our consciousness, we go beyond judgment, beyond values, we reach a dimension of acceptance and unity that reconciles us with ourselves and with others. We enter a space of trust and safety. And we can quickly regain our calm and serenity.

In systemic constellations, our purpose is to access the intelligence of the heart. That is why systemic constellations are such a wonderful space for transformation.

Boundaries, space and fulfilling relationships

In order to blossom and thrive, we all need to be aware of our own space. In his Systemic Self-Integration approach, Ero Langlotz reminds us of the important difference between what is ours and what is not.

Very often, there is confusion on emotional, spiritual and mental levels. We go around with and even fight passionately for some desires, values and beliefs, just to realize one day that we have been advocating attributes and aspirations that are not even ours. Just to realize, that we have assumed them a lifelong, out of a need to belong, out of loyalty to someone we cherish and in order not to hurt.

Our confusion is further increased if we have missed exploring our personal space. We've just been too busy navigating in others’ spaces and meeting others’ needs (this is a frequent pattern we unconsciously acquired in childhood!). Ultimately, our space ends up being invaded by others’ aspirations and attributes.

As a gardener, how would we protect our garden from being invaded? Surely, we would build a fence. Firm boundaries would not only protect our garden from unwanted invasion  and appropriation, they would also help us to focus and encourage us to cultivate it further. Without boundaries, we might just forget we have a garden! In the case of our “space”,  we might just ignore our deep motivations, our real emotions and our potential. In the worst cases, we might end up being disconnected from our true Self!

But how then should we create those boundaries? 

Well, establishing (healthy) boundaries is neither a matter of power, nor just about saying “no”.  Rather, it is about clarifying our own needs and emotions, to ourselves first and then to others. It is all about switching from loyalty to others to loyalty to oneself.

The real challenge remains indeed being oneself and still preserving the relationship we want in spite of differences and contradictions. When that works, we can achieve fulfilling relationships.

The Fawn Response

We all know the 3 "F" as responses to fear and stress: F for Fight, Flight, and Freeze. Pete Walker has added a 4th response, the F for Fawn - the Fawn-response to trauma and stress, the " please and appease" response. What does Walker refer to?

In situations of emotional or physical stress, many of us strive to minimize the danger while appeasing the person primarily responsible for the threatening, destabilizing, and dysfunctional situation.

"Fawn" stands for stepping out of the way when conflict arises. We appease and accommodate others if necessary to make them happy, even if it is at our own personal expense or if it results in neglecting our own needs, our own boundaries. In order to survive, to protect ourselves and to have some peace and security, at least in the short term, we deny our own selves.

Accommodating too much or too quickly, willingly committing to something that is beyond the scope of our control, struggling with the urge to help or make ourselves useful, giving more than we can afford or want to give: Fawn develops into a compulsion that ultimately leads to burnout.

How can we prevent it? How can we set healthy boundaries and protect our "self"? How do we manage to avoid guilt when we disappoint others? And how can we maintain relationships as we disappoint others?

Developmental Trauma

We often talk about trauma. And we refer to the irrepressible, recurring emotional response to a terrible event.

However, a much more frequent and overlooked kind of trauma is generated by continuous and repeated stressful experiences in early childhood. These can occur during the prenatal phase or the first years of life, when the child is subjected to a profound sense of insecurity, distress, and unpredictable danger in his/her family or immediate environment. This type of trauma all too often leaves severe psychological scars and attachment disorders that affect personality, liveliness, life and future relationships.

Early childhood traumas are overcome by various coping strategies, such as dissociating from one’s own emotions, (over)developing other areas or expecting too much of oneself. Despite an apparently trouble-free and successful life, symptoms such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, chronic anger or different kinds of addictions can occur.

What experience, what pain is there behind such symptoms? How to heal early childhood traumas? How to positively transform the relationship with oneself and establish a trusting relationship with others?

What is actually triggering my response and my emotions?

Once again, a relationship issue takes hold of me! Anger, defence, resistance, fear: the range of my emotional outbursts is wide.

But the nature and intensity of my emotions are often not directly related to the relationship or the situation. Rather, they are often rooted in another part of my biography. My partner's behaviour is the trigger, but my emotions and responses are based on my unconscious interpretation of his or her behaviour. If I manage to separate my partner's behaviour from my own response, I have already taken a big step towards improving the relationship.

I may come up against some of my own ingrained and limiting beliefs in the process. Or get in touch with repressed emotions. In any case, I would have embarked on a personal development journey, a self-transformation that will eventually serve me and all my relationships.

We can always learn to control how we respond to a situation, to challenging behaviours. Adopting a new attitude will automatically change our response, our own behaviour and will have a sustainable impact on our relationships.

The False Self

Sometimes we wonder when looking back: "Why did I react that way? What happened? I'm not like that at all!" Sometimes we may feel like our life is out of control. In relationships we seem to be missing the other person's point and we fail to connect with the other person.

The first time I encountered the concept of "False Self", a new world opened up to me. Understanding this concept helped me accept and reconcile with others as well as find compassion for myself.

According to Donald Winnicott, the False Self develops out of a need for protection and survival. The False Self can be so strong that neither others nor we ourselves can distinguish it from the True Self. Nevertheless, it gets in the way of finding solutions in everyday life.

Also in challenging relationships, it hardly occurs to us that we might be facing the False Self of the other person. 

A change of perspective in form of a guided self-reflection helps us track down the False Self and improve relationships in the long term.

Parentification does not equal an unhappy childhood

Maintaining a healthy and fulfilling relationship with a partner, friends, family members sometimes requires a lot of effort. And yet effort seems to be just part of the solution. We tap in darkness and wonder what else may be in the way of a balanced relationship. We take care of others’ needs, are always here for others, tend to be over-responsible, but resentment and anger might arise for no reason. What did we miss? What went wrong? Many will find the origin in their experience as parentified children. Parentification happens in childhood when roles get enmeshed, when children become either emotional or logistical caregivers for a longer period of time - a role reversal that makes children grow too quickly.

The difficulties of clear boundaries in adult relationships, a tendency for taking over too many responsibilities before listening to one's own needs, a chronic stress feeling, anxiety and depression are only some of the many consequences as they bear the scars of early parentification. Different degrees and different types of parentification, a sense of strong loyalty coupled with guilt make it sometimes difficult to recognize it and yet, the phenomenon is not uncommon. 

Awareness can break the cycle, improve relationships and communication, raise self-esteem and help re-connect with our own energy.