As I looked at the 18 strangers in a circle with me, I freaked out! I had just ravelled all the way from Singapore to Australia, for an eight day workshop call the Hoffman Process – counted to be the “Rolls Royce” of non religious personal development retreats.
But my fellow participants were shocking – a poor-little-rich-girl, an ageing hipster and a tattooed punk, amongst other things.
I had heard of this retreat from friends who tried it. Many of them have been hard hit by personal and financial crisis. But after a couple of finishing this process, some of them went onto making life changing decisions. One quit his influential role for a more flexible position so he could spend more time with his son. Another one transformed from a mousy, tired housewife into an energetic pilates teacher with many admirers’ “Whatever they’re having, I want some of that too”, I thought.
I was exhausted. I had two babies in two years, while also trying to forge a career in the tricky financial markets. I felt like a mad balloon: Sometimes stretched to the breakpoint, at other times, deflated and empty. I had become irritable, judgemental and negative – and knew something had to change. So I reproached the Hoffman Institute and found the Process is endorsed by Havard’s world-renowned Kennedy School of Government, which had send 40 graduate participants along as part of a leadership study. They concluded if significantly their leadership capabilities and personal life. Another study by the University of California shows 17% of Hoffman Process Graduates relapse into depressive behaviour, compare to an average of over 50% for most conventional antidepressant therapies.
Apparently, the central idea is that in order to achieve true happiness and love, we have to free ourselves from the “Negative Love Syndrome”. Basically, the theory is we all come into this world as clean slates, and then learn patterns of behaviour from our parents.
As children, we all want attention and love from our parents. To get these, we imitate their behaviours, moods and attitudes. These become “patterns” we cary for the rest of our lives.
At first I was very sceptical as I felt I was nothing like my parents! For example, my mother was very critical of me as a child. She would compare my exam results with those of her friends children and pit me against my siblings in therms of intelligence and so on. I had vowed never to be like her!
So I made it a point to never criticise my kids. Yet, if I accidentally computer my son to another, I would feel very guilty. I would also attract my husband if he criticised my kids. So , in a way, my mother’s attitude was still having a negative effect on me and my family.
To break such negative patterns, the Hoffman Process involves confronting them head on.
In my case, it turned out that most of my negative traits were forms of rebellion again my mother.
Although, I love her dearly, her tendency to control relationships through “smooth-love” and dramatic display of tears and dramas always driven me crazy. When they happened, I rebelled by becoming cold and withdrawn, just like my father.
Next, after identifying our worst pattern, we had to “bash” them away – we literally wrote dorn each negative trait like “cold” or “control freak” on cards, place them on pillows and used a baseball bat to bash each card into plus! I admit, it sounds crazy.
I found the idea quite juvenile and had “Asian-Style” hang-ups about expressing myself in such a dramatic way. But the trainer explained, beating expels the compulsion that makes us repeat certain behaviours over and over again. “Whatever…” I thought dismissively. And then I realised “being dismissive” is another of my negativity patterns. So I wrote “dismissive” on a card and bashed it – to see what would happen. Initially I felt stupid.. but after a while, I did feel liberated.
I also used to be a sucker for the Jerry Maguire romantic idea of “You complete me”. But I learned that while we may be lucky enough to have meaningful relationship, our most important relationship is with ourselves. So it is essential be comfortable with that without fearing or avoiding it.
Yes, this retreat cost money, but instead of buying handbags or having cosmetic surgery to feel pretty and successful, I feel we need to invest in learning how to let go of our toxic emotional baggage. What I’ve learned has been more beautifying for me than any fashion or cosmetic surgery.