When you are ahead of your time, you have to create your own path.  —Dr. Gregory Cajete

One of the biggest barriers to success and happiness that I see my new clients come up against is a feeling of guilt. They’ve worked hard, laid all the pieces for their success, and yet, when it comes to finally taking the leap and putting themselves out there— whether that’s giving a speech or telling their boss they’re changing jobs or asking for a raise— they hold themselves back.

A loud voice in their head barks— “Who do you think you are?!” A gigantic internal rubber band pulls them back from their bellies, creating all sorts of butterflies and anxious feelings, convincing them that they’re not ready or that it’s foolish to dream big. 

Part of them knows that they’re capable and just can’t get why the other part feels so scared.

So, why do they feel so scared? Why do they feel guilty when they haven’t done anything wrong?

According to German psychologist and creator of systemic constellations, Bert Hellinger, the answer can be found in what he called “group conscience.”

A group conscience consists of all the unwritten rules about what is good or bad that a group subscribes to. All groups have their own conscience or set of rules. This goes for families, organizations, teams, groups of friends, political parties, you name it. Even though our brains may not be able to articulate the rules, our bodies can feel the do’s and don’ts of any group we come into contact with.

Given that group consciences are used to exclude the “other” and to suppress group members’ creativity, especially of those who are weakest and most vulnerable, it can be hard to grasp that group conscience might serve an essential purpose. I know this is hard for me to grasp at times. But, if we want to create change, it’s important to understand what we’re working with. And to understand group conscience, we need to understand how it serves the members of any group.

The purpose of group conscience is to help individuals survive within the group, to help them know how to belong.

When you were a small child, if you didn’t know how to belong in your family, it would have been difficult to get your needs met. For example, the group conscience of your family might have told you to say “please” and “thank you” and put a napkin on your lap. Or, the unspoken rules in your house might have been that everyone fended for themselves and fought to survive. 

In either case, unconsciously agreeing to the rules was your best bet at feeling included and securing a place in your group. The more secure your place in your group, the more likely your chances of surviving and being well.

When you’re contemplating blazing a new trail, you might face guilty feelings and a difficult choice.

For example, if you were taught to be prim and proper, now as an adult, you might feel guilty and self-critical when you play and get messy. Or, if you were taught not to trust anyone and depend on yourself, even though part of you knows that collaboration supposedly leads to good work, you might feel guilty or weak if you even think about asking for help.

So, do you stay home and hold onto the belonging that has kept you (relatively) safe? Or, do you risk feeling guilty to venture out into the great unknown?

Many people choose to stay within the boundaries of group conscience their entire lives rather than risk being cast out and rejected. It can feel more comfortable to hold onto their problems and unhappiness than to risk losing belonging, feeling guilty, or no longer being liked by the people in their group. Loneliness can be terrifying. 

But it can be equally terrifying to stay home your entire life with what Joseph Campbell called “a dull case of the call unanswered.” 

So, let’s say you want to finally move beyond the limits of group conscience but feel pulled back by feelings of guilt. What to do?

Counterintuitive as it may seem, the first step to moving beyond the limits of group conscience is to set aside your judgment.

Although I don’t quite understand why this happens, what I’ve seen is that when most people reject a part of their family or group (whether an individual or an unwritten rule), it’s more likely that they’ll become what they reject. 

My teacher, Francesca Mason Boring, who is of bicultural-Shoshone heritage, shares her wisdom about not judging our group conscience—

If it is necessary for wellbeing, we may support one who wishes to step outside of cultural bounds (the group conscience), but that support must come with some element of respect for the generations who were sustained, sheltered, and continued to create life within the parameters of that culture…

Generational group loyalties which fed slavery, genocide, decimation of land and ostracism of those who would not comply have stealthily expanded to national group conscience and atrocities throughout the planet. 

How do we save such a world? Perhaps it takes a simple step: looking with mercy and without judgment on the wounds, oversights, and predators within our own family systems.

The next step is to acknowledge your guilty feelings without trying to hide from them.

When you slow down and acknowledge the fact that you feel guilty, your guilt becomes less heavy. Rather than weighing you down, recognizing and accepting guilt can transform into a powerful force that can move you to action.

Finally, it becomes time to choose which rules you will and will not comply with.

It can be especially hard to become happy and successful if your group gives the message that you need to be unhappy or unsuccessful to belong. 

But when you risk the belonging you’ve had to journey into the unknown, you take a step toward rewriting the rules for your entire group. You open the space for others to follow in your footsteps.

With this in mind, if you’re at a crossroads in your life, I invite you to write down what arises in response to the following questions—

  • What are you called to say yes to in this next phase of your life?
  • To say yes, what rules will you have to stop complying with?
  • How does it feel in your body to contemplate breaking these rules?
  • How will you find the strength to support you as you venture beyond the boundaries of your group?
  • What’s your next step?

I invite you to give yourself time to explore these questions. Stepping beyond the boundaries of your group is a necessary part of any hero’s journey, and yet, it takes a brave heart.

I’m sending you lots of love and en-courage-ment for the journey ahead.

Much love,



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