‘Everyone is guilty and nobody is to blame’, the Hoffman Process – a review
My therapeutic history
I started doing personal growth workshops in 1983, and along the way have spent more than a year of my life in group rooms.
I have done massage groups: I have done encounter groups , you now, those full-on ones where you can end up going toe-to-toe, willingly or unwillingly in no-holds-barred (except physical) confrontation with someone.
I have done hypnosis workshops, Tantra, meditation retreats, relationship workshops, and a scattering of primal workshops ranging in length from 2 days to 2 weeks.
I have looked at and tried to sort out issues that arose from my childhood and have impacted my adult life. Issues such as my ability to give and receive love, to value myself and others, my commitment phobia plus dozens of other personality traits I collected like the $200 you collect every time you pass GO on the Monopoly board.
I have looked at myself in many different ways, yet still, at 50, I realised I was just as much a victim to my childhood as I was when I began this journey nearly 30 years ago.
My experience of workshops in the past was that I ‘enjoyed’ them, and came out of them on a high with a determination that ‘this time it is different’, ‘this time the changes I feel, the new vantage point from which I view my life’, would stick.
Nothing, however, had really shifted the resentment I felt about my upbringing, the feeling of being shortchanged by life that was impacting every relationship I have had.
Friends’ recommendations of the Hoffman Process
After a couple of friends, both ‘graduates’ of this program, when camping with me and my former stepkids saw how stressed and emotionally childish I was, they both heartily recommended I do the Hoffman Process as soon as possible as they clearly saw that I would benefit from it, that I needed to shift some obvious things that were interfering with my relationships.
So two months later I called Volker Krohn, Director of the Hoffman Institute in Australia and booked myself in, in much the same way as one books oneself in for a detox program, which is pretty much how I felt.
That it was time.
So that is how I decided to do the Hoffman Process.
I had heard of it for 20 years, with many friends having done it over the years, and had heard great things, particularly with how it had made fundamental changes in how people thought and how they perceived their world.
There is quite a lot of pre-Process homework to do, as well as an hour long interview, done over the phone, with one of the Hoffman therapists.
As this homework involved answering a lot of questions about my childhood and my mother, father and stepmother and tracing the plethora of personality traits I have, I began a targeted delving into my family of origin issues about 3 weeks prior to the actual Process.
This meant I was pretty busy, internally, with the various issues that arose, with long dormant memories of different childhood events surfacing.
Oddly enough, one of my sisters coincidentally started talking with me about her unhappy memories and reflecting upon how her childhood had impacted upon her life.
The Hoffman Process
On the first day of the Process we all had an interview with the facilitator assigned to us. As I spoke to her I realised that I had been waiting my whole life for some vague point in time when my life would start, when my life and what I did would matter.
That I had the feeling that I had not done anything with my life thus far, and I felt really sad about that. That up to now nothing I had done mattered, that I was somewhat irrelevant to my world.
She suggested that perhaps it was more about me actually being the person who would do these things, and that she sensed there was a hole, a gap (which resonated with me), in who I was that prevented those things from happening.
Immediately I felt lighter, relieved actually, that someone had verbalised what I had felt for years, and it gave me a focus over the next week.
There is quite a lot of sitting in a semi-circle going through our workbooks, talking, listening to the facilitators teaching us about the influences of our upbringing upon our lives with the occasional joke to freshen us up.
We were introduced to the concept of ‘negative love’, where as kids we adopted the negative traits of our parents in order to show them we loved them so as to get love in return.
These particular traits get carried over to our adulthood – for example, there were huge gaps in my supervision as a child, so I became bit of a wild child, drinking and smoking heavily at 12, out on the streets alone late at night, making and throwing a petrol bomb, lying and stealing but never getting caught.
I still sometimes do what I can get away with as an adult, though am more watchful these days.
This gave me the feeling that whatever I did it didn’t matter, that nobody cared, especially my too busy doctor father.
This has carried over into my adult life where, as I said earlier, I do not feel like I matter, but equally that the people in my life do not matter much either.
I walked away from many relationships as they simply were not that important to me, a trait that has meant I have very few people close to me even though it appears I have many friends.
Mum and Dad
The second and third days are about the prosecution of the mum and dad of our childhood, the ones whose voices we hear when we are afraid or angry, or nervous, or sexy, or when we are venting.
We delved deeply into all of the traits of our parents we adopted or rebelled against. For example, my father was not able to have close relationships, even with his wives.
This a trait I still exhibit, tho to a lesser extent than he did, and tuned into the pain how it feels to carry these behaviours and how they have influenced our lives, undermining our best intentions.
I have done a lot of cathartic work before, so when I was given a baseball bat and a pillow to vent my rage, triggered by realising the impact on my life of the various personality traits I had adopted from each of my parents, I went for it.
It is important to differentiate between the parents of our childhood and our parents as they exist today, that it is the internal sacred cow/parent that needs to be confronted.
Where the Hoffman Process differed from previous mum/dad stuff I had done was there was space given to understanding where and why mum and dad had also learned (under duress) the various behaviours I had adopted from them, and ultimately to forgive them.
Everyone is guilty and nobody is to blame
A maxim of the Process is, ‘Everyone is guilty and nobody is to blame’.
This is important, as while it is important to recognise the wrongs done to us as children (and because no parent is perfect, every childhood produces some wounds), forgiving our parents lets them and (simultaneously) us off the hook, a precondition to living our lives as human beings free of resentment, vindictiveness and anger.
At the end of the 8 days I left the Hoffman Process with a heart much lighter.
I left with a determination that who I am, what I think and feel, what I do, and who I do it with, matters. I, who had carried massive resentment and bitterness particularly towards my stepmother, was at peace with her and her position within my family and especially in my father’s heart.
I have a far more compassionate understanding of my father and mother, and how they really did the best they could with the tools and opportunities they had.
I feel I am able to meet authority and not shy away from or rear up at it when it appears in my life.
The Hoffman Process is a gruelling one, having an 8 day residential component, with the morning session starting at 8.30 and the evening session sometimes going until 11pm, in addition to a two-day retreat post process plus some follow-up work.
It is hard work, as the subject matter is difficult and very emotional, but the support structures within the process are very good, with first class facilitators with lots of experience ready to assist.
In my group there were many who had never done any kind of group therapy before (plus some who had not done any therapy at all) though after finding the first couple of days difficult they all loved the growing sense of freedom and self discovery.
The Process finishes
At the end of the Process I felt lots of gratitude to the facilitators and to the other participants whose processes triggered my own and who were loving and supportive witnesses to my journey.
We may or may not remain in contact, or ever see each other again, but will occupy significant places in our soul.
By Mark O’Brien
For further information on the Hoffman Process, visit the Hoffman page on this site, or the Hoffman site See The Hoffman Process, one month on