Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon. I’m the founder of Sounds True. I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the Sounds True Foundation. The goal of the Sounds True Foundation is to provide access and eliminate financial barriers to transformational education and resources, such as teachings and trainings on mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion. If you’d like to learn more and join with us in our efforts, please visit SoundsTrueFoundation.org.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, my guest is Judy Wilkins-Smith. Judy is a highly regarded organizational, individual, and family patterns expert. She combines a systems-based approach with constellation work to coach high-performing individuals, organizations, and families to end limiting cycles and reframe challenges into lasting breakthroughs and peak performance. With Sounds True, Judy Wilkins-Smith is the author of a new book. It’s called Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint: A Powerful Guide to Transformation Through Disentangling Multigenerational Patterns.
I loved talking to Judy. Quite honestly, I found her to be one of the most unconditionally empowering people I’ve ever met. Her work helps us transform some of the most entrenched patterning that we have, the patterns we’ve inherited from our family lineages, such that we choose to evolve and we gift our ancestors with our evolutionary expression. Here’s my conversation with Judy Wilkins-Smith.
Judy, by way of introduction, can you share with our listeners a bit about your background and how you came to be doing constellation work and systems-based work in working with individuals?
Judy Wilkins-Smith: Sure. I’m originally from South Africa, moved over to the US, and we’d been here for a short while when my father was killed. It was a case of “either write books or go crazy,” and I decided that it was probably better to write books. So, I started writing fiction, and into, I think it was about the third book, I was looking for a piece of information and stumbled upon this person who was already doing systemic work and constellations. He said, “Come study my work and I’ll help you with your book.” So, I went and studied his work and got zero help with the book, but that was the journey that began it. I think once I picked it up, I realized it was something that I’d probably been speaking for a long time but not had a language for, and this gave it that language.
I think I’d always known that there was more to us and our history than we were aware of, and that there were a lot of secrets, or mysteries, or possibilities contained in that. So, if we have a look, though, somebody said to me, about halfway through my studying, “You know what? Of course, you’d know this.” And I said, “Why ‘of course’?” And they said, “Because it began in South Africa with the Zulu tribe. Hellinger went down there to go and tame the Zulus, and they tamed him instead. He realized, quite early in, that any time they had a problem, they would go and explore their ancestry to see what was happening.” The strange thing was, I came from the healthcare arena, and when I left that position, the person who gave my farewell was a Zulu gentleman. He said, “You may be leaving us, but you’ll find a way to represent us in the world.” I laughed and I said, “You’re right.” And now I do it every day.
TS: Now, you referenced Bert Hellinger who’s credited with being the person who formed, who founded constellation work. For people who are hearing about this for the first time, and they’re like, “What is constellation work? What is a systems-based approach to transformation,” give us an orientation.
JWS: OK. I’m going to use three terms: your systemic work, your constellations, and your mind, which is emotional DNA, which is bit of a build-out.
Systemic work is the study of you within a system. You didn’t happen in a vacuum. Who you are came from thousands of years of all sorts of experiences, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, actions that have accumulated and been passed down to you. You don’t just inherit your physical DNA, you inherit your emotional DNA. That’s what I call emotional DNA. Your patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions that you’ve inherited. It’s a study of you within a system and your emotional DNA, and the breakthrough approach that we use is constellations.
Thanks, Bert Hellinger, for the term because everybody says, “Oh, are you an astrologist?” No. In this work, a constellation is a grouping of elements within a home system. Your family system is your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your grandparents, somebody who may have influenced you dramatically, those all belong in the family system. And when we can show you by taking your inner picture of how that looks, what it looks like in front of you, we choose representatives to represent each one of those elements, like mom, like dad, like sister, like brother. Then I will ask the client to place them for me the way that it is for them in relationship to each other. We might find mom and dad are close together, brother and sister are far apart, or mother’s off in the distance and dad is close to the children.
By just seeing that picture, we’re engaging multiple senses. It’s vision, sound, touch, taste, smell. Now, you’re having a multi-sensorial experience of your system. And as I ask questions more and more of the history services until you’re seeing the issue, its origins, its effects, what pattern wants to stop and what pattern is trying to start through you? Because it’s multi-sensorial, you have that embodied experience which begins to rewire thoughts, feelings, and actions in the moment. So, often, what we will hear is, “How come I’ve been somewhere for 20 years to try and resolve this, and it’s resolved in an hour and a half?” It’s because you have that total sensation and the total experience that just goes boom and starts to rewire. That’s the constellation.
TS: I’ve seen constellation work done, and maybe some of our listeners have, as well, at events, where they’ll bring someone onto the stage, that person will then choose someone to be their mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, et cetera. But what I was introduced to in your book Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint is how we could use constellation work on our own at our home with a bunch of post-it notes. And I thought, “Really? Does that really work?”
JWS: Yes, it really works. And the reason I did that was because for a long time, there’s been a lot of mystery around constellations. People think that it’s only others who kind of float two inches above the ground, who can do these things, and “Once I get home, I don’t know what I’m doing.” So, the whole aim of the book was to demystify that and to give you a very powerful transformational piece of your own. And yes, it works. I work like this with CFOs, CEOs, top executives around the world, and everyday people.
The minute you put down a post-it or a piece of computer paper and you put a little arrow on it that gives you direction, you’re creating a directional marker or representative. And we know, from studies, that as human beings, we’re well able to transfer our emotions, our thoughts, and our feelings onto inanimate objects. So, very quickly, you start to make the invisible visible and the unconscious conscious, and now it’s popping for you. And when you learn to do that, you start to see what you couldn’t put together before and you can unravel complex issues for yourself that way.
TS: Yes. I’m wanting our listeners to be able to leave this conversation with enough knowledge and information that they can build a constellation themselves with something they’re working with. What do you think about that? Is that a good goal?
JWS: I think that’s perfect.
TS: OK. So, we’re going to work towards that together here, Judy. To give a little bit more background, in the very beginning of Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint, I was kind of stunned by this. You described how it’s possible that in your life you could be expressing something that was a pain, or a trauma, or an exclusion from someone in your family system generations before you. And I was like, “Really?”
TS: I want to understand that more.
JWS: OK. We know in systemic work and in systems—this is one of the basic tenets of the work—everybody belongs, everybody has a right to belong. If anybody’s right to belong is excluded for any reason whatsoever, that person or that issue is going to echo through the generations, seeking its place, wanting to be included, and it will seek resolution through later generations. What it does is, it transfers that thought, feeling, action, just keeps echoing down through the generations. But also, the details of the event begin to fade, but the symptoms get louder and louder and louder until somebody says, “Stop. Enough. We can’t do this anymore,” or “I can’t do this anymore.” And then, you begin to look, and you ask questions like, “Well, who else in the family was excluded? Who else was ill in the way that you were? Who else struggled in the ways that you do?”
When we look, we see, as you go back, you’ll find the original. When you’ve got the originator, what happens is there’s an event. The event creates a reaction. The reaction creates thoughts, feelings, actions. Those keep on getting passed down to the next generation and the next generation in all sorts of ways. Epigenetically is one way, and then in our sayings and systemic sentences, “Be careful. Don’t do that,” “People who have money are greedy,” “Watch out. You shouldn’t do that. It’s going to hurt you.” So we inherit those patterns of behavior or the patterns of language, until somebody says, “Really? Does it have to be that way,” and we go, “Oh, well, let’s look.” So, we have a look and we begin to re-engineer what we’ve inherited as the truth—because it’s not the truth, it’s just your truth or your ancestors’ truth, and you can change that anytime you want to. And that is the purpose of that pattern that keeps echoing down through the generations. It comes down until it’s given its place, seen and resolved, and you can move on.
TS: There’s this quote from the book, you write, “Everything in our lives is geared to bring imbalance to our awareness so it can be corrected.” I wonder if you can explain that in the context of what we’re talking about, some imbalance from a previous generation, maybe give an example of that and how it’s trying to be corrected now through my life, or your life, or someone’s life that you’ve worked with.
JWS: Right. Let’s take an example of a client who comes to see me, and he says to me, “You know what? I’ve got everything going for me. My life is great. Great job, great wife, great kids. But my wife’s about to leave me because I drink like a fish. It started when I was about 35. I don’t know what it’s about. I can’t stop.”
So I say to him, “Tell me about your dad.” “Oh, well, dad was an alcoholic as quite a young man, always an alcoholic, and mom left him. So, you can already see we have a similarity.” I say, “Tell me about Grandfather.” He says, “Oh, well, Grandfather and Grandmother were really, really close. And then, Grandmother got pregnant, she has dad, she dies in childbirth. Grandpa was never the same again. He started drinking.” Now we see that the way that the men connect is through the drinking.
But there is another piece that’s happening, too. Grandfather sees himself as a murderer. He made her pregnant, she died. Son sees himself as the cause of his mother’s death. He’s really frightened to get close to a woman in case he kills her. My client comes in and says, “My wife’s about to leave. I drink like a fish. I don’t want to get too close.” Now we know why. And when we know why, we can go back and say, “That was Grandfather’s. Can you see that? Can you see that carrying that neither honors him nor brings strength to your system? Can you leave that with him?” Well, when he can leave that with him, he can look at his father as well and say, “I get it. I understand why you were so afraid to get close to Mom.” And then he can look at his wife and say, “That wasn’t mine. I can look at you and I don’t need to drink to join the men anymore. I can stay present, and I can see you.”
Balance has been achieved. What was excluded, which was grandmother, which was the childbirth, which was the drinking, is now brought back into balance, everything’s given its place, and now we can do it differently.
TS: You introduced this phrase that really got my attention, “unconscious loyalties,” that we can have unconscious loyalties. In the example you just gave, maybe you could—
JWS: Exactly right.
TS: —illustrate this. Where was the loyalty in your client?
JWS: OK. The loyalty echoed through the men. Grandfather looks at Grandmother and says, “I can’t face this. I’m going to drink,” which, in systemic work, we know is often a slow death or dying to what you can’t look at. Then, that passes to the son and the son goes, “Not only am I responsible for my mom’s death, but Dad, if you couldn’t keep a wife, how dare I?” Son says, “Dad, Granddad, if you couldn’t keep a wife, I must lose mine, too,” until he looks at that and goes, “Uh-uh. Something’s got to be different because if I don’t do this, my son is going to have the same problem.” Often, they go, “I don’t want to pass that on to my children,” but the real joy in that is what you are going to pass on to your children is new emotional DNA. So, when you do yours, they inherit something completely different.
TS: I’m imagining that someone listening is starting to reflect on an unconscious loyalty they may have towards previous people in their family line. I think for myself about some unconscious loyalties that I have about how successful I could be or how much money I could make and, “Am I really going to outdo all the people who came before me,” and how uncomfortable that makes me feel. So, take me through the process of, first of all, what are some of the unconscious loyalties that seem common to you, that it’s a repeating pattern, you see it a lot? And then, importantly, how do we work with it once we’re like, “OK, this is an unconscious loyalty that I have. I get it. It’s ruling my life”?
JWS: I love the one that you brought. Yours is a perfect example. I see financial and success ones often. “How dare I do better than the ones who came before me? It’s very uncomfortable. Who do I think I am to do that?” There’s a slightly different way for you to look at that. “Because of all of you, I get to stand on the shoulders of all of you who came and brought the pattern of maybe not succeeding, which ignited a passion in me to succeed. For all of you who couldn’t, I can.” All that you are doing is you are actually not stepping out of the system; you’re stepping ahead of the system; you’re stepping further into it. You’re certainly not an imposter. You’ve got enough ignition behind you to become the pioneer. You’re stepping into that with gratitude and thanks to all the ones who came before you.
Either they couldn’t do it and you looked at that and went, “I do not want that to be me,” in which case, “Thanks to them,” or, “You all built some success. It’s time for me to take the big leap,” in which case, “Thanks to them.”
I always say to people, “Your success is always due to your parents, whether it’s in collusion with or reaction to. What will you do? You will look at Mom, Dad, the ones who came before you, and go, ‘I know you didn’t get to, but look at what you created. I did. Because of you, me.’”
In fact, I have a client who’s a rather lovely soul, a billionaire client who started with nothing, but he watched his father being belittled and he said, “I will never allow myself to be in that position ever.” And he worked like crazy to be able to get to where he is now. He’s incredibly philanthropic, but his father, whenever he would go and visit him, Dad would kind of hide behind the kitchen table and not want talk. And he said to me, “What’s that about? Suddenly, I’ve become successful, and he can’t talk to me.” I said, “It’s not that he can’t. It’s that he’s now wondering if he is good enough for this child. All you have to do is walk back into the room when you go and visit and say, ‘Hey, Dad. There’s something you need to know. Because of you, me.’” That’s all he said, and Dad came up from behind the table, never went back behind the table because suddenly, he had his place in the system. Son hadn’t gotten too big and Dad too small.
When we look at the ones who come before us and recognize they were there to feed us and to give us the stepping stones, the very best gift we can give them is to step beyond what they’ve created, because that is what the system is waiting for.
TS: It’s interesting because when you think of going against whatever unconscious loyalty you might identify in your life that you’re holding fast to, I think there’s this idea, “I don’t want to step out of the system. I don’t want to be exiled and not belong to my family,” but you’re describing something different, which is that,“I can somehow be part of the growth, evolution, further expression, and be in my family system.” So that’s a really different way of looking at it.
JWS: Absolutely. You belong whether we have different ways to belong. Some of the ways, most of the ways are we stagnate and repeat. But if you look at a flower, imagine if it thought it had to belong by never blooming. It can’t do that. But it also can’t bloom without its roots or the petals. It needs all of that for it to grow. But does it belong to the plant? Of course.
So, all you are doing is you are taking that whole system another step forward. In fact, the minute you take the quantum leap, you’re growing the entire system, the entire system is taking that leap. Think about somebody who struggles, they come from the project, everybody in the family struggles, they do something remarkable, and what’s the first thing they do, Tami?
TS: They give back to their family?
JWS: Bingo. They turn around and they go, “Come. Look what I found. Look what’s happened. I want to share. Come.” They know that they belong. And because they know that they belong, of course, they’re inviting the system in, and of course, the system is going to then begin to grow in that direction. And suddenly, after generations of poverty, you see generations of success because they’ve changed that unconscious loyalty. They’ve not said, “We all suffer greatly,” they’ve begun to change that.
In fact, I have a friend who is from a particular ethnicity, and they said to me, “You don’t understand. Our group was born to suffer.” I said, “Yep. And they’re going to keep on if you keep on keeping on, too. Do you want to change that, or is it important to you that your tribe or your group, your ethnicity must suffer? If it is, you’re doing the right thing. If it’s not, maybe it’s time to become bilingual and learn another language, too.”
TS: I think this is some of the hardest work we can do, in our growth work we can do, which is, transforming these deep ancestral patterns. I’d love to understand more from you why it’s so hard. Why is it so hard for people?
JWS: There’s actually a really easy answer to that. In the book, I talk about “both” language, or the “full” language. We were born with a full language; we speak only half of that. We were raised to believe that “You should suffer. You should struggle. It is noble. It is worthy. You got to have the good fight. It’s got to be negative before it gets positive.” That’s thousands of generations of that stuff. But the fact is we’re also born with a language that says, “You can. You’re incredible. You’re possible. You’re strong. You’re capable. Of course, things can happen the right way,” but we’re not taught that, and we’re not allowed that. So, now, we’re stepping into a very different section of a meta pattern of “thou shalt not,” and we’re going, “But why can’t we?” The minute you start going “Why can’t we,” things begin to change. That’s why it’s so hard. You’re caught in the systemic trance of a meta pattern.
TS: OK. I don’t think I realized that. And you’re saying this meta pattern came from our human survival focus. Is that what you’re pointing to?
JWS: I would say it comes from survival, it comes from culture, it comes from religion, it comes from ethnicity. Each system has its unspoken, and sometimes spoken, but very clear rules. Think about it. When we think about the wise ones who came to teach us, often, we focus on their suffering. We forget to focus on everything that they taught us, which was amazing, incredible. How many times did they say, “You could do more than I can,” and we don’t listen to that? Instead, we go, “Oh, it’s awfully noble to suffer.” It’s not.
TS: This reminds me of a little section from the book where you write, “If you take only one thing from this book, I hope it’s the realization that it’s your destiny to want more, expect more, and be more, and that transformation begins with daring to believe it’s possible and going for it.”
TS: OK. So, let’s talk to that person who says, “I have an unconscious loyalty about X, Y, Z to my ancestral lineage. Yet, I want more, but I do feel like I will be betraying them. I heard Judy say, ‘No, I’m blooming. This is my gift to them. I’m going further.’ I hear that intellectually, but inside of me, I feel stuck.”
JWS: OK. There are two things that I’m going to address, if you can hold them both so I don’t forget them. The one is, building the weight. So, we’re going to have building the weight.
The other one is this: We have been taught, and this comes, again, into some of our meta patterns, “My ancestors struggled. I dare not forget and I dare not outgrow them or get bigger. That would be disrespectful.” I’m going to ask, “How respectful it is to keep repeating the struggle versus becoming super successful and showing others how you and your group, your ancestry, are wise and capable? Which one do we want to do? Is it better if you struggle like they did?” This is a question I ask every one of my clients, “How big are you willing to be,” because the day that you say, “Yes, I’m willing to be the biggest version of myself,” it’s the humblest day of your life. It is the first day that you agree to be responsible for growing the biggest version of your life, and it is the first day that you are truly in service of the universe and those around you.
TS: Whoa, you’re blowing my mind here. “This is the day of greatest humility, the day that I commit to being the most expanded version of myself.”
JWS: Yes, because it’s never just about you. The minute you expand you, your system cannot help but expand. It may take a while. It cannot help it. The minute you expand, you’re never doing it just for you, ever.
TS: OK. “Building the weight,” what is that about?
JWS: Building the weight. Here’s the next piece. People go, “OK, I heard you, I can do this,” and then they go, “Well, I tried, and it didn’t work.” Here’s the deal. Until you commit with your whole being, and until it’s so exciting that you can’t stand yourself, the rest of your system’s going to keep going, “Oh, Tami, don’t do that. That’s not nice. Come back here. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty.” Even though it wants you to move forward, it’s going to keep pulling you back. So you have got to make your journey so exciting that you can’t stand yourself, because the minute you do, and the minute you say a hundred percent yes, and you commit to the journey, all of the excuses will fade, all of the old reasons why you can’t will fade, and you will go there. And you do this. Every single one of us has done this.
“I want to go on vacation. It’s a little bit of a stretch for my budget, but I’m dying to go to The Bahamas” “Well, but you shouldn’t do that.” “Yeah, but no one in my family has been. I really want to go.” “Yes, I know, but you know the budget and you know the—” “You know what? I’m doing it,” and you suddenly start to get this tingle. What you’re doing is you are teaching yourself, “I am quite capable of making the magic that’s going to pull me all the way there.” If you do it one time, you’re going to feel so different that you will do it again and again, because you’ve just unlocked Pandora’s box, the positive side, and you’ve suddenly discovered that life is an adventure, not something that was thrown at you. And by goodness, you’re going to go after it and you are going to do all sorts of things you never expected.
TS: Mm-hmm. Judy, give me an example from your personal life of working with some type of unconscious commitment you had to your family lineage and how you changed it.
JWS: How about giving money away? I understood from early on that you should give all your money away, or you should give money away. I can remember being at a Catholic school where it was, as we heard, “more blessed to give than to receive.” But it was very odd for me that I would put money in the collection plate, and they wouldn’t let me make change. And I kept thinking, “One of these days, I’m going to need what’s in that collection plate.” So here I am, and people are talking about money and they’re saying, “Money is not good. It’s either love or money. It’s either this or money.” And then we moved over here, and it was really difficult. We hit a bottom, because we basically walked out with the clothes on our back. I can remember, it’s actually in the book, going out for a walk and saying to God, “OK, here I am, again. I need to talk to you. We need money,” or “We’re struggling. Would you mind if I spoke to money?”
And I sort of walked a bit and I didn’t get smacked, but I did hear a bit of a giggle and I thought, “Well, OK, here we go.” And I had long conversation with money and I think I cried as much as I laughed when I realized that as a kid, with little canna seeds—I collected those from plants to give to my mom, because if she planted those, I already figured out she could get more and more and more because they’d make more and more seeds. I’d loved money or the trade of it, from a small child, but I’d been taught that money wasn’t nice and wasn’t good. And the more I began to talk to money, the more I realized it was a very deep friend, and a very wise soul, and an incredible teacher and mentor. And of course, it wanted to come play with me, but I kept pushing it away.
In fact, I was so good at pushing it away. I went to a casino. My mother-in-law took us. So, she takes us to a casino. We really could have done with some of the money, we were newish family. I walk in, and I’m holding her coins and I’m holding my coins. I put three coins into the machine, and I hit a jackpot. I went, “Wow, here’s this jackpot.” And then I realized I’d taken the coins from hers. Now, any sane being would’ve said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” taken the three coins and put it back, “Not me.” In our family, there was also, “You must be impeccably honest.” So I went over to her and I said to her, “I used your coins and I hit a jackpot. Here it is.” And she took it. I mean, money was throwing itself at me and I was going, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. This is not good.” On the way back from that money walk, I picked up a $1, a $5, a $10, a $20, a $50, and a $100.
TS: What do you mean you picked them up? They were floating on the street?
JWS: They were on the ground. People were walking over them.
TS: This part’s hard for me to believe, Judy.
JWS: I’m sure it is. It was hard for me to believe.
JWS: I picked up every one of those denominations and I made a promise to money that I would teach that it was wise and kind that people inherited that DNA of “you shall not love me,” and that I would show them how money was a good mentor and a great friend. So that was an unconscious loyalty for me and a deep one.
TS: OK. Let’s say, at this point, someone’s identified an unconscious loyalty in their life, and they want to use this constellation approach to work through it. Can we do that?
JWS: We can absolutely do that.
TS: Let’s do it.
JWS: OK. Do you want to give me one?
TS: Let’s see.
JWS: Or do you want me to take a generic one for you?
TS: Take one that you’ve worked with that you see come up a lot for people.
JWS: OK. One thing I see quite often is one where people say, “I don’t belong. I can’t belong in my family. Don’t know how to belong. Everybody’s different.” And I say to them, “Let’s go and have a look. Why is that so? What are you talking about when you say, ‘I don’t belong’? Let’s see what’s going on.” So I ask them to write down on a piece of paper, “Mom” on one, “Dad” on one, maybe “Sister” on one, “Brother” on one, and one for themselves. And at the top of each one, I ask them to put an arrow. Now, you’ve got a nice little directional post-it note. And then I ask them to just hold it in their hands and to not think about it, but this time, to tune into the heart and the gut. We use our heads a lot and it gets us far, but you want to align the head, heart, and gut. So, you’re going to use the heart and the gut, too. “The way that it is for you when you say, ‘I don’t belong,’ how do you feel? That’s your heart. What does it feel like in your gut? Does it tense up? I want you to now take those pieces of paper and place them in relationship to each on the floor the way that it is for you.”
Now, they lay those out on the floor, and then I take a look and I go, “Hmm. That’s interesting. You don’t feel like you belong? You’re the eldest daughter.” “Yeah.” “What’s Mom doing over there in the distance? She’s way at the edge.” “She’s been gone since I was little. She doesn’t even see me.” “What happened? Are there”—so here’s a question I’ll often ask—“any miscarriages, stillbirths? Are there any children who didn’t make it? Was there a tragedy in the family that took Mom’s attention away?” “Well, she lost a child before me.” “So you’re not the eldest.” “Yes, I’m the eldest.” “No, you’re not the eldest.” That’s often the first “Whoops. OK, hold on.”
“Do you understand that when you can’t find your place, that’s because you’re trying to stand in the place of an eldest when you’re not. How about we put down a representative for that one who didn’t make it?” So, they’ll put down a representative, and sometimes, if I’ve got live representatives, you may see the mom sit down on the floor and look up at the daughter or look down at the one they lost. And immediately, the person will say to me, “Oh, you mean it’s not about me? It’s not my fault that Mom didn’t see me?” “No, not your fault.” “Here’s where Mom’s attention was—do you get that?” “Yeah, because she was so often sad, and she was so often absent.” “So, who were you closer to?” “Well, Dad.” “Do you understand why? He allowed you to be a child and have your place, but with Mom, not so much. What about your siblings?” “They don’t always know where they belong either.”
It becomes pretty simple. What I’ll do is I’ll say “We know Mom is stuck somewhere. We could explore that, but your issue is ‘I don’t know how to belong.’ So we’re going to show you.” And then I’ll say to them, “Starting from left to right, can you put Dad on the left, and then Mom, and then the one who didn’t make it, and then yours, your representative, and then perhaps your brother and your sister in their order? I’m going to ask you to go and stand in the place of the one who didn’t make it, and they’ll go, “Yeah, this doesn’t feel good. Yeah, but this is how I feel good.” “Good. Now, stand in your place. You’re a second child, not a first. What’s that feel like?” “That’s my place.” And you can see the face lights up, all the tears start, and they get this embodied sensation, or there are goosebumps. And I say, “What does that feel like?” “Here’s where I belong.”
It’s those simple pieces. It sounds simple. It’s when you stand in it, and you experience it, and you see it, that you go, “Oh.” And then I’ll say to them, “And let’s talk about Mom. Do you understand why she didn’t see you?” “I got it.” “Do you understand it was never about you?” “Yeah.” “How’s that feel?” “I’m not so sad anymore. I get it.”
There’s a whole lot that’s happening in that one simple process. “What is it like for you to stand in your place and be the smaller one?” “Feels good.” Now, they don’t have the weight that they’re trying to carry, which wasn’t theirs. They’re not trying to take care of Mom and be seen. They get it. And now, they can breathe.
TS: As you’re talking, it seems to me like it would be better even than pieces of paper if I had little clay figures or something like that that I could play with all my family members with.
JWS: Absolutely. And I do. Little Lego figures. They’ve got those, and they’re perfect.
JWS: Yes. Because then you can see which way they’re facing. When you put it out, you can literally, with the figures, you can see who’s engaged, who’s not, who’s close, who’s distant, where are their obstacles, where are their opportunities. It’s simply because we’re 3D-ing it. And when we stand in it, we’re 3D-ing it and we’re bringing that whole experience into ourselves. So we’re just employing new senses that we typically don’t when we problem-solve.
TS: Just a beginner’s-mind question here. How does this work relate to what was happening in the Zulu tribe that Bert Hellinger observed? What were the tribal members doing in terms of relating to their ancestors that has any relationship to me and my Lego figures, trying to understand family patterns?
JWS: Much the same. They would go back until they could go, “Ah, there’s a problem here.” They’re very good at sensing into the system. Unlike us who haven’t been taught, they were taught from small. When you feel something, let’s go and find where in the system it belongs. Where is the blockage? So where did the flow of life, love, career, success, where did that stop? And how am I aligned with that? And if I can see it and I can say to the ancestor, “I see you,” which we do in this work, too, “I see you. That’s your place and this is my place. And I can’t take on your fate, but I can see you. And for you who couldn’t move forward, will you watch me as I do?”
TS: Let’s say someone’s listening and they go, “Gosh. I don’t know very much about my grandparents, let alone my great grandparents or any further back in the family tree,” or even further, if someone says, “I was adopted. I know absolutely nothing even about my biological parents. This work’s not for me. How would I do this?”
JWS: This work is absolutely for you. I have this question often. In fact, my daughter is adopted, so it’s very near and dear to my heart. First thing you need to know is you’re going to have two sets. You are related to your biological parents for that physical genetic component. The emotional genetics also, but you will get some from your other set of parents, of course. But what you do is you look at the events in your own life, you look at your own patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions. And then, if you’re adopted, you can actually compare, “Where am I so different? How do I look different? How do I feel different? How are my thoughts and actions different? Where are the patterns in my own life,” because the beautiful thing is that even if we don’t have that, those patterns echo down so faithfully that you are the repository of them right now. So all of the places where you are struggling, where you’re frustrated, irritated, limited in any of those pieces, those are your limiting patterns that have traveled through, and they’re saying, “OK, what is the chapter that only you can write? What needs to stop and what needs to start?” And that’s what you do. You’ve always got the answers within you.
TS: OK. So let me just check this out if I’m understanding you correctly. I can identify the limiting pattern in my life, and I might be able to even say, “I can understand to some degree how it came from my parents, potentially,” but I don’t know anything beyond that. I don’t need to know anything beyond that to do the work of transformation. Is it worth me imagining what happened to my grandparents or great grandparents? No point in that.
JWS: No, there’s no point.
TS: Just work with the fact of what is right here in front of me.
JWS: One thing I teach anybody that I work with or train is that you will not create facts. You work with what the facts are that you have, and what you have is plenty. You notice the idiosyncratic language that you use, because we all have it. Or the unique language, the unique feelings, the unique actions, those are yours. There’s another way to understand it, too. You may not have access to them, but here’s the deal.
We now know. It’s well studied. Epigenetically, there is an event that creates that imprint on the family system that then becomes the blueprint for generations of unconscious behavioral patterns. And that’s what’s coming through to you. We see that even when somebody says, “I don’t know my parents,” and we say to them, “See if you can find something out about them.” They link to those parents, and the similarities are remarkable. How’s that possible? Epigenetically, the imprint has traveled. Your big opportunity is, neuroscientifically, to begin rewiring your thoughts, feelings, and actions. That is the big piece and the big transformation. “What have I got? How is that wisdom? Where is the gift? Now, what can I do with that? Here I go.”
TS: OK. There’s two pieces of science you’ve introduced here. Let’s see if we can deepen our understanding of both. The first was the epigenetic inheritance. What’s the science that’s underneath that? And then we’ll move to the neuroscientific change.
JWS: There’s a lot of research and studies that have been done. Three particular ones that are important, the great Dutch Hunger Winter, the Holocaust, of course, and 9/11.
With the great Dutch Hunger Winter, there was a city in the Netherlands that was completely surrounded for about three or four months by the Germans. They were punished for assisting the Allies, and the water and food was cut off. They existed on rats and whatever they could find, and bulbs, and all sorts of things. Because they were such an intact group, they were studied for generations after that. And what they found was mothers who’d been pregnant with children at the time, depending on which trimester during which this occurred, would either produce children who were malnourished, or children who had an obesity problem, or who ate a lot and had all sorts of cortisol problems. And this was studied in the children. But the children’s children, and the children’s children’s children exhibited the same characteristics. That intact group has been studied.
Then we have the Holocaust, and you see things like ancestors who don’t dare be too happy, or ancestors who benefit from the Holocaust allowance, who can’t do too well, because in their minds, it’s “I must suffer like my ancestors did.”
Then we get 9/11, where they’re now studying the PTSD markers that the mothers carried that are now expressing on the children too. So, there it is.
TS: When it comes to the neuroscience part, you also mentioned that “I can rewire my brain.” So this belief I have that “I have to suffer in order to be true to the people who before me suffered.” “But Judy’s going to help me here and we’re going to rewire this.” How are we going to do that, and what’s the science that shows what works?
JWS: Here’s what it is. With neuroscience, we have neuroplastic brains. It’s not set in stone. That’s long been dismissed. With one new thought, one new feeling, one new action, instead of repeating ancient history, which is what 90 percent of us are doing, instead of repeating ancient history with just that one, one, one, we’re beginning to change the neural patterns. We’re beginning to lay down a neural pathway that’s different. Now, instead of laying down suffering or trauma, we can lay down success and triumph.
The triumph: you can lay down what I call a triumphant path or pathway as quickly as you can a traumatic one. With a traumatic one, if I go back and say, “OK, Tami, I want you to tell me about that time when …”—you can tell me what was there, who was there, how it was, what you remember. All of those pieces are there, what you’re feeling, how it’s triggering for you. You could do the same if you watch athletes who are rehearsing for what they’re about to do. They’re laying down the opposite and you can lay it down very quickly.
But for most of us, all it takes is “Everybody in my family suffered. Everybody in my culture suffers.” So how does this benefit all of us, again? What might it be like if I took one small step and said, “I’d like to succeed. But I’d like to succeed—and because it’s about me and my culture, I’d like to showcase my culture. Perhaps I’d like to give them dignity, and then, I’d like to give them success.” And we can show how evolving thought by thought, feeling by feeling, action by action, we’ve actually moved from perhaps being a victim to a success, from being downtrodden to being celebrated, from being stuck to being possible. Would that be a terrible thing to do?
TS: Obviously, and I’m sure you can feel this, Judy, and I imagine that listeners can, too, this is all very personal for me, working with ancestral patterns, working with family patterns. Very personal, very deep for me. I’m curious, as we’re talking, I want to share with you what’s coming up for me and to hear your view on it, which is this idea that I could present a gift to my family lineage of further growth. I’m curious what you think of actually going through the inner imaginal exercise of imagining how they would respond to that and celebrate me. Do you think that’s useful or is that just kind of like I’m making stuff up?
JWS: No. So, I’m going to introduce another small piece here. I know we’re talking about the book, but because people need to connect, what I’ve also created are constellations meditations. And what it does is exactly what you’re describing. It takes you deep into the lineage of your mother—one is the mother, the other is the father—and it takes you on the walk. It connects you all the way back to your ancestral line, right back to the beginning, turns you around, and walks you back in. I’ve got goosebumps talking about it, I have to tell you. What you’re doing is you are, with profound gratitude and sacredness, are journeying into the voyage of you, all the way back to the beginning, and you’re pulling it all the way into the now.
And as you are doing that, it is with gratitude, it is knowing that this is part of an exceptionally sacred journey, and it’s been waiting for you. And of course, I’m laughing as I’m speaking to you in particular, who brings so much of that to the world, who keeps showcasing the ancestors, “What do you think you are doing?” You’re honoring the ones who took you all the way here and said, “Can you please give us a voice, and the place, and the belonging,” and you’re doing it every time you speak to someone else. Every time.
TS: Thank you, Judy. Now, towards the end of the book, you talk about how we can use this work of decoding our emotional blueprint when we have a health challenge. And you even talk about how, you say, “Our symptoms are gold,” and of course, you’re referring to all kinds of symptoms we might be observing in our psyche and the patterns, but also our health, our actual health. How could we use this work that you’re describing if we’re dealing with a health challenge of some kind?
JWS: OK. If you’re dealing with a health challenge, one of the things that I would say to you is, first, have a look if it does live in your ancestry. If it does, what step are you going to take that they couldn’t? Let’s bear in mind that medicine has come far, that lifestyle has come far. You are not doomed to what they were doomed to, but you’ve got to start taking conscious steps. You’ve got to look at it and say, “Do I want to repeat this, or is it time for me to begin the journey to health?” And then, the other piece, Tami, that’s so important is if you look at the Holocaust, if you look at that great Dutch Hunger Winter or 9/11, that would’ve had profound effects on the nervous system, and of course, we know that impact health in all arenas.
One of the other things I ask people is, “Where was the big event in your family system that began the health wobble, and what did it look like?” Diabetically, was the sweetness taken out of life? If you cannot eat meat, could you not take the meat of life? Start looking at it quite literally to see how this expresses for you and how it wants to re-express in a healthy way. Yes, the mind is incredible, let’s be very clear, but the minute you start working with it, one new thought, one new feeling, one new action, head, heart and gut, you are now no longer living by the hormones of stress, you’re beginning to live in those elevated hormones. And the minute the body starts getting those healthy pieces in, it can deal. And the minute you start recognizing where it came from in your family and adding one new piece, you can deal.
TS: There’s a quote from the book where you write, “Your nervous system is not just your nervous system; many of its patterns, blocks, and triggers are multidimensional, multigenerational.” I was like, “What? My nervous system’s not just my nervous system?” So you’re sort of saying that now, but help me understand that, especially if people say, “I know that in my family tree, the kinds of stresses people were under, and I can only imagine what their nervous system had to go through to adapt to the situations they were in.”
JWS: Exactly. And that didn’t just stay there. Just think about it. All of this is happening. And I’m saying to my… I’m the great grandmother. I’m going, “Be careful, be careful, be careful, be careful.” Now, your nervous system winds up and you’re going, “Be careful, be careful, be careful, be careful.” So, now, we’ve got two generations living under the biology of stress. And the next one, and the next one, until someone goes, “I can’t. Stop. What do I do here?” “Relax.” “How?” “One thought, one feeling, one action. You can’t carry that anymore. You’re too small to carry what went on back there. It’s time to say, ‘Thank you. I know where you came from. My journey …’” I had a woman. I’ll talk about her in a minute. “‘My journey is to do it differently. For all of you who couldn’t, you’ve given me everything you could. It’s my duty to take the gifts and move it forward in a healthy way.’”
I had a woman who came in, who said she couldn’t sleep, she was in a really bad way, and she couldn’t express emotion. We did a piece of work, and she started to cry, and she couldn’t stop. It just poured. It just came, it just came, it just came. She looked at me and she said, “What is this work? There’s something wrong with me. Look what’s happening.” I said to her, “Stop. You told me that four generations ago, the shock was so bad for your great grandmother that she went crazy, and she never expressed an emotion after that. And since then, none of the women have been able to. You’re crying five generations of tears. Let them flow. That’s what we do.”
TS: As we come to an end of our conversation, Judy, I’m curious to know more. How do you see your work in the world as a way of furthering the evolution and the gifts that are coming through you of your lineage, your biographical lineage? How do you see that?
JWS: Wow. I think you asked me two questions. I’m going to try and sort of separate them. So, how do I see my work in the world? I think the work in the world is simply to show people, “You are not a victim. You never were. You’re not. You are a gift. It’s to make that shift so you begin to understand how important you are, how possible you are, and how much of a gift you must be to the world. And by the way, it’s a ton of fun. It’s a big adventure. Life is amazing when you start to live it from that perspective. It really is. You must want, and you must want a lot. That’s how the world evolves. And for goodness’ sake, make it fun. It’s not greedy. It’s not selfish. It’s empowering you and everyone around you.”
For me, I think, if I look at it, I really stand on the shoulders of so many who came before me, incredibly honest, wise, kind, possible people who didn’t have the opportunities, but did the very best they could. I got the opportunity to move to a place where opportunity abounds, and for me to not take it all… I think if I look at that and I look at the universe, if the universe gave me enough of a brain to do something, in my view, I’m very much like Walt Disney who is probably my favorite being in the world. It’s kind of fun to do the impossible and kind of lazy if you don’t. I think I’m really bent on pushing the envelope as far as I can for everybody, so they love who they are, where they came from, what they’re doing, and who they’re becoming. I would say that’s it.
TS: I’ve been talking with Judy Wilkins-Smith. She’s written a deep and packed new book, filled with practical exercises, things you can do, journaling, practices—it’s packed. It’s called Decoding Your Emotional Blueprint: A Powerful Guide to Transformation Through Disentangling Multigenerational Patterns. It’s fun to talk to you and this book is fun to read. Thank you so much for all of your great work and your contribution, Judy.
JWS: Thank you for having me. And I would say to you very gently, your ancestors thank you for what you did.
TS: Thanks for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at Resources.SoundsTrue.com/Podcast. That’s Resources.SoundsTrue.com/Podcast. If you’re interested, hit the Subscribe button in your podcast app. If you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I absolutely love getting your feedback and being connected. Sounds True: waking up the world.