Hoffman... when you're serious about change

Roxane Catz
Published in the Dutch magazine - Happinez - October 2011
Click to read this article in Dutch

Change your behaviour and you can change your your life. Roxane Catz had the courage to throw herself into the Hoffman adventure: an 8 day intensive journey with blood, sweat and tears (mixed with some laughter) and an enlightening result.

Just when I had decided not to do any workshops, courses or training any more for a while – just how many paths to enlightenment can you follow? - I was approached by a friend from my shiatsu group, who made my resolve weaken. She told me enthusiastically about The Hoffman Process, an eight day therapeutic method that had given an incredibly positive turn to her life.

Former top athlete and presently CEO of a consultancy company, she’s got both feet on the ground, and so I understood that this was  no average “navel gazing” course. Would I like to come to an Introduction Evening?, she asked. “Er, yeah, of course” I heard myself say. Immediately afterwards I heard a protesting voice in my head: “There we go again… what was our deal?”

Persistent Patterns

The next week I’m at her office, together with 6 Hoffman ‘graduates’, people who have already done the Process, and a number of other people interested to find out more. Tim Laurence, Director of the International Hoffman Institute, a slender man with a charming British accent and friendly appearance, explains the Hoffman Process.

“This method is meant for people that really want to change” he begins. “There is a reason why we behave like we do.” Apparently our behaviour is mainly driven by unconscious ‘patterns’, as otherwise we would do things very differently. It is those rusty, ingrained habits that are the obstacle to a smooth path in life. These patterns arise in our childhood, he says, through what Hoffman calls the Negative Love Syndrome. This theory is based on the fact that a child right from birth needs - besides food and shelter - love in order to survive. Scientific research in Romanian orphanages shows that love is essential when growing up to become healthy, and a child will do everything to get that love and attention. Children will therefore try to imitate the behaviour of their parents to get positive reinforcement. Later on -mostly around puberty- we quite often rebel. All of this is going on on a very subconscious level of course. Since both are reactions to the parent’s behaviour, the child loses its authenticity and develops negative patterns of behaviour.

The question now is: How much do you want to get rid of that? Are you prepared to discover the origins of your patterns that have a negative impact on your life and to go to work with them? Tim emphasises that you need courage to change your behaviour on a deep level and create a future that looks different from your past. Taking turns, the graduates then recount what made them decide to do the eight days and how it changed their life positively. I’m touched by their stories. These people radiate calmness, positivity and satisfaction. On thing is clear to me, this method does change your behaviour and therefore your life. I acknowledge that although I have everything to feel that I am privileged  -health, a great partner, dear friends, wonderful work- there is still, somewhere deep inside, an undefined and sad feeling gnawing at me.  I am also still bothered by a number of persisent patterns that hold me back. Hearing about Hoffman now was no coincidence. I decide to do it, one final course.

Fleeing is Impossible

Florence House in Seaford, a charming mansion between rolling green hills, close to the white cliffs of the English south coast, is the British home of the Hoffman Institute. On my way there I have no clue of what lies in store for me. My Pre-Course work, the homework I worked on intensively for over two days, brought up some emotions. I came up with a series of lists about the characteristics of my father, my mother and myself. Also, I read a 30-page introduction about the Hoffman Process. What I do know of this is that we will spend the whole week in jogging trousers (very flattering), that I will have to share a room (not looking forward to that) and that it will be an intense experience (with hindsight an understatement). Oh, and that I – to experience the process fully - I will have to abstain from alcohol, drugs, telephones, reading, TV and sex.  Apart from that, I know nothing.

I arrive early in the afternoon. The rest of the participants stroll in one by one. There are eight men and seven women, with ages varying from early 20s to mid 50s. Still a bit uncomfortable, we exchange the usual chatter and run a discreet eye over each other. Who might become friends and who would not at all? After dinner (fantastic food by the way) I go to bed early. I talk a bit with my roommate (a slightly older woman that seems to feel as uncomfortable with the situation as I do) and fall asleep. In the middle of the night I wake up in panic: What am I doing here? What did I get myself into? Why did I do this to myself? At this moment I would gladly pay three times the price of the intensive to be able to pack my luggage and leave. But the next morning I’m still there: I promised myself to be brave and to confront it.

The day starts with a personal conversation with my teacher. There are two of them, a man and a woman. I hope for the woman, but get assigned to the man. Michael is slim and moves around a lot.  He has a big smile and an Italian accent.

He did his homework –which was reading mine- and seems to have a pretty good hold on my personality. His conclusions: my biggest obstacle: insecurity. Insecure? Me? Moody maybe, impatient, a procrastinator… but insecure? I have some stern words with myself. “Don’t try to find something behind everything, Rox. Open up to what they give you here and try to trust the teachers and the process. Otherwise it is a waste of your time and money.”

Letter to my Mother

Who are you, why are you here and what do you expect from this week?

I am shocked by the stories of my fellow participants during the introduction on the first day. From abuse to suicide attempts. –are my problems big enough? Everybody is very open and has the courage to show their vulnerable side, thanks to the good questions the teachers put forward: they don’t leave you much room just to keep up your public image. After this session we aren’t strangers anymore; in a few hours time an almost tangible connection and mutual trust is created. Later that day the other teacher, Gabi, does a guided meditation with us, taking us through our body, intellect, our emotional child and our spiritual self: what the Hoffman calls the Quadrinity. We are going to work a lot with this concept the coming days, she says, because if these aspects of self are balanced you are in total harmony. I can only look forward to that, because that is something I have not exactly experienced yet.

The next day is Mother’s day. Before lunch we get the assignment to look at the negative character traits of our mother, the ones with which she influenced us unknowingly. Next we have to write a, minimum 10 page A4 letter to her in which we vocalize all our anger… I think this is going to be just impossible. But I put my pen to paper and start writing. And I keep writing, for almost two hours, without any hesitation. A long letter with here and there a stain from a tear that falls on the paper. My mother, with whom I had a close relationship, was often depressed. As a child I found her a few times balancing on the edge of death, subdued by alcohol and pills that ultimately became fatal to her. In my letter I let out for the very first time what this has done to me. How insecure I often felt, how scared this made me, how I developed my own behaviour to flee uncomfortable situations.  I write it all down and feel how angry I actually am with her that she did not choose for me and for life. I feel relieved when I put the pen down, but Mother’s day is not over yet. In the working area fifteen cushions lay on the ground, with next to them fifteen plastic baseball bats. Oh no… is this what I think it is? All the resistance that I kept under control until this moment comes out. Where is the emergency exit? I don’t know if I have to cry or laugh or run, so I discipline myself and stay with the Process. Thanks to the group energy and the great guidance I unexpectedly get through my own limitations. It is an intense afternoon.

The Locks Open

We end the day in silence. I have a blister on my thumb. I want to talk, drink, smoke, watch TV - anything to avoid my feelings. But that’s not an option. I am here and have to go through this. Silence. I feel a pressing feeling on my chest and burst out crying. This is the first time I have ever cried like this for my mother. I’ve crossed into unknown territory. The next day I awaken with muscle pain in my back and arms, but also with a indescribable feeling of calmness. In my daily conversation with Michael we look back at yesterday. He explains that negative experiences are stored in the form of muscle tension in the body which can block energy flow. You can lift those blockages by certain physical exercises which will make the energy flow free again. I’ve always downplayed the death of my mother, telling myself, “it was better for her that way”… That I felt left alone, somehow not worth her time and that I missed her; all of these were feelings I had not admitted before. By letting out those feelings, first by putting them on paper and then by expressing them physically, I have opened the locks. I can now freely unlock what I’ve been hiding for far too long.

After that, I could have known. It was my father’s turn. The sweetest, most considerate father in the world, whom I sadly buried too soon as well. Can I skip this part?

Michael sees my hesitation. He explains to me that the point is not to blame my father but to find out which negative patterns I developed. Obediently I get my pen and while I’m writing it becomes clear to me that my sweet father might have been very overprotecting towards me. Always in control and never sharing his real feelings with me. He never spoke about what he went through as an adolescent Jewish boy in the Nazi camps. But as the youngest and most sensitive of the family I picked up on his feelings and had nightmares about the war, of which I was more afraid than anything. His response was to protect me even more, which unintentionally made me weaker. On top of that he had high expectations for me which paralysed me as a young girl. Suddenly I understand how my stubborn behaviour developed as well as my need for control, for things to be just right. It all served to compensate my insecurity. Bingo!  I know what I have to do: the cushion and bat are waiting.

No Thinking, Just Feeling

Now that all the anger is out of the way, there is room to work on compassion and forgiveness. The guided meditation, where my emotional child meets the emotional child of my parents is one of my very special moments of the week. After this moving experience I understand so much better what they went through and why they behaved like they did. I feel a deep compassion for them both and forgive them. I understand now what the expression “from the bottom of my heart” means because there is where I feel it, in my heart. And I feel that forgiving my parents, especially my mother, will empower me to make the conscious decision to do things differently myself.

The days thereafter are filled from minute to minute with the most diverse exercises and assignments. We practice enhancing our intuition, how to make choices and how we can feel inside if those choices will lead us to the light or the darkness. Light and dark are concepts that come back a lot during the Process. There is hardly time to think.

Don’t think, feel! That is the point here. No feeling remains untouched. A lot revolves around going back to painful moments, events and the decisions we took in our life.  Once you have dealt with the unfinished business then there’s room for new approaches to arise. The method used for this is a mix from scientific and spiritual principles and insights. I recognize, among others, psychoanalysis, NLP, Buddhism and Gestalt therapy.

As well as all this, we participate in impressive rituals, like the one in which we throw our demons into a massive fire to burn them in the flames. Magic!  And to bring us back into contact with unburdened childish joy there is a lot of room for humour and fun.  Hoffman must have been a fun-loving guy… we laughed a lot!

Retrospective

When travelling to England I asked myself, “Why don’t I go and knit for a weekend in the countryside?” That would have done me good and would have been a lot cheaper. But apart from a healthy dose of cynicism, I have to admit that I changed substantially over here. Like a trimmed tree that finally can feel the light on its branches again, all my senses have been sharpened. It was rough from time to time, but under the intensive guidance of the teachers you go beyond your normal limits and you do things you would never do normally. That is the special thing about this method; they know exactly how to push your limits and your buttons.

Working with a group agreed with me more than I had imagined beforehand. It certainly was not Group Therapy, in that everybody had his unique process, but the dynamics of the group worked as a catalyst. It was special to see that a group of totally different people could develop such close bonds in only eight days. We learned a lot from each other and still have contact via a Google group in which we let each other know how we are doing. How am I doing? After the first euphoria somewhat diminished I got the feeling of dropping back into all my old patterns. I was heavily disappointed. Fortunately I could call Michael and he reassured me: this is a very normal reaction. Your dark side does not let you push it aside easily, he said.  You have to keep working on that. It works like homeopathy (sometimes it has to get worse to get better). And fortunately I had my Hoffman Toolbox (a collection of tricks we learned to keep alert) like stepping in the role of the observer to look at your behaviour, thoughts and feelings from a certain distance.

Instead of resisting I am now able to recognize certain things and accept them. My ‘monster’ has no response to that. More and more it returns to its basket without making problems. I am more compassionate, not just towards the world at large but also to myself. I’m milder and less demanding and that brings peace of mind. Also I’ve learned to listen to my heart to make clear choices. What I learned in Seaford is usable in all aspects of my life. It is certainly not a quick fix –I am not where I want to be yet- but because of the intensity of the experience and the continued aftercare it keeps on working. Subtly and continuously, like a dug up treasure that will provide for the rest of my life. The cliché “to get closer to yourself” has got a real meaning to me and the emptiness I often felt is replaced by space. I am a happier person.

Who was Bob Hoffman?

Bob Hoffman, the son of a Russian immigrant, was working as a tailor in Oakland, on the San Francisco bay. He discovered he had paranormal gifts which he developed through different techniques in order to help others. Hoffman started his practice in his own tailor shop. His approach proved especially effective with people who suffered trauma in their childhood and as a result various psychiatrists became intrigued. They then collaborated with Hoffman so that the best of the professional mental health care system with its scientific knowledge was added to his own intuitive approach. That’s how the Hoffman Process (HP) was born. Now it’s worldwide (in 15 countries) and 80,000 people have so far participated in it. Hoffman himself stayed involved until close to his death in 1997.

Participate in the Hoffman Process

The Hoffman Process is meant for people that one way or another have got stuck. It can help with long-lasting family problems, relationship issues, compulsive behaviour, depression and anxiety, but is also meant for people looking for personal development on a deep level.

If you decide to do it, it is important to really go for it. It is all about pushing your limits and stepping out of your comfort zone. That is why this Process it not suited for people with a serious psychological disorder or for those looking for a soft approach. The programme is, as yet, not offered in Holland but the plans to do so are advanced. The price for the 8 days is around €2750 (£2600), which includes all room and board and the follow-up groups.

Information www.hoffmaninstitute.nl and www.hoffmaninstitute.co.uk

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