g a t h e r i n g s

Thoughts on Guilt and Innocence in Family Constellations

Innocence in this sense refers to an adherence to the rules of the family – which themselves are always specifically interpreted through the filter of survival instinct. We feel innocent when we act in accordance with the familial vocabulary. This innocence is an obstacle to growth -- the very thing most of us yearn for, strive for, dream of. It is an obstacle because the vocabulary of the family we are most often attuned to often includes sadness, isolation, anger, coldness, or other difficult aspects, and when we are very young, we are intensely sensitive to these currents, willing and ready to absorb them. But to live in accord with those early images does not leave room for a present life in its fullest. Oriented to these aspects, mobility is limited – sink into or run away. Often, we vow to not follow the ways of the family, sometimes estranging ourselves, moving thousands of miles away, dropping the family’s religion, lifestyle, politics, whatever we can identify. But by running, by severing connections, we usually end up in the same straights -- sad, isolated, angry, cold, or in other ways ... connected! In other words, we simply take a circuitous route to the same destination. We stay innocent, following the subliminal messages of conscience, unable to find a clear path out.

What is the answer? Guilt.

Guilt used in this way refers to the step required to transcend the narrow early lessons we learned. Guilt is uncomfortable, expecially at the threshold, but ultimately, it is freedom. To achieve this level of guilt, we need to reclaim our connections. But as adults the connection no longer needs to be on the terms of the innocent child, the young ears and eyes and heart that took in the pain of the system without question or defense. As adults, we can imagine and then experience the part of the family system that continued, that despite the vicissitudes of existence brought life forth again and again.

Not doing better than our mother and father (even as we strive to) keeps us close (even when we run away). We stay inside the small frame created by our earliest observations. To do well – to find the peace, happiness, love we seek – requires that we give up that kind of closeness, and the secret pledges we took as children. Surrendering that role, no matter how much pain it has caused, can be frightening. Who will we be without it? Will we be? Even the soundest advice, pointing directly to the most positive possibilities, has little chance in the face of these fears. Can thought triumph over force? Only if thought enlists the help of love, the greatest force.

Innocence is a relentless editor, claiming and reclaiming partial, powerful images, and then honing the interpretation of them, sometimes over the course of an entire lifetime. Guilt leads to the acceptance of a larger field of understanding and the ability to take actions that are anchored in it. Fortunately, guilt causes only a momentary sense of imbalance, and stepping into this larger field offers so many more dynamic opportunities for reciprocity -- our interactions now in tune with the moving world rather than preoccupied (even obsessed) with resisting it.

Guilt is the wobble between the innocence that keeps us bound to the despair of what came before us (only a partial, distorted image anyway), and mobility, which allows us to make our full contribution to life and receive, in return, the gifts it has to give. Guilt is the moment of imbalance between standing firmly in what has past and moving forward into our future.

The territory of Constellations is beyond paradigmatic thinking, beyond the comfort zone of division, separation, and exclusion. In this territory, no single psychological, political, religious, or academic view suffices as an effective navigation tool since any one of them demands that observations be shaped to fit its parameters. Sometimes these views are adopted in the attempt to balance the perspectives of the family of origin that are felt to be repressive or negative in some way. Oddly, the adopted ideas are often just as rigid, and those who hold them just as strident in their defense of them.