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Exploring the Mind-Body Connection

Do you ever notice how your body responds to stress and worry? Maybe your heart pounds like there’s a drum in your chest. Or maybe your stomach feels like it’s tied up in knots. Have you ever calmed yourself down by breathing deeply or taking a walk?

Though they are often thought of as two separate entities, the mind and body are intricately intertwined. And when you have unresolved trauma, it’s crucial that you involve the body in your healing. Talk therapy can only go so far.

What about trauma that didn’t even happen to you? Can this affect the body too? Research says yes. Memories of traumatic stress can be encoded through epigenetics in our DNA, echoing through subsequent generations. If a woman experiences violence during her pregnancy, not only does the DNA of her child get altered, but so does the DNA of her future grandchildren, who may become more fearful or aggressive as an adaptive response.

During the Hoffman Process, expressive work can be a demanding physical experience. Mention “wiffle bat” or “batting” to any Hoffman graduate, and they will know exactly what you’re talking about. This work helps to acknowledge and ultimately transform negative emotions that are stuck in the body, many of them inherited from parents or caregivers and the generation before them. After all, what the mind represses, the body expresses. When the body is subjected to chronic stress, the risk of developing heart disease, sleep problems, obesity, and overall lack of vitality is widely acknowledged. When we can express our repressed emotions connected to these old traumas, we can also reclaim our physical aliveness – the body can go back to rest and recuperate.

Here are some ways to strengthen the mind-body connection and start addressing unresolved trauma:

Activate and acknowledge

To heal trauma, we must go back to the same level of activation in the body that occurred during traumatic periods in childhood. By triggering adrenal stimulation, the body has an opportunity to process what is stuck in the body, opening the door to healing. In the Process, participants use their body and voice to unearth strong emotions that may have been previously denied, or memories that have been long repressed. They have a chance to tell their story, to express the hurt they’ve carried around since childhood. Beyond being cathartic, this expressive work can also be empowering, allowing participants to reclaim what is rightfully theirs and create distance between themselves and the patterns they unconsciously adopted in response to trauma.

Even if you don’t have a wiffle bat or have no interest in batting a pillow while speaking your truth, there are numerous ways to experience this expressive work. Throwing rocks in a lake, chopping wood, hitting a punching bag, or swinging a tennis racquet are all suitable replacements. As you move your body and your voice, trauma moves too, allowing negative emotions to get unstuck and released. (This is usually better done with a trained facilitator present.)

Be witnessed

Becoming activated isn’t about retraumatizing yourself. When addressing trauma, it’s crucial to offer a resolution. During the Process, participants resolve trauma by having corrective experience with the support of their facilitator and fellow group members. Instead of fighting or fleeing, they are not just allowed to express what needs to be expressed without judgement; they are provided with a corrective experience. This can be extremely healing.

Learn to self-soothe

As important as acknowledging how negative emotions affect the body, it’s key to also note where comfort lives. Mindfulness allows us to move between trauma and comfort, sending calm breaths to a knot in the stomach to loosen its grip, or allowing a warm memory of a kind person or a cuddly teddy bear you had as a child to melt away the tightness in your clenched jaw. Moving back and forth between trauma and comfort becomes easier with practice, allowing you to experience a range of emotions and release them, never becoming too overwhelmed or attached.

Be courageous

You cannot be fully open to joy without also being open to pain. Confronting unresolved trauma takes courage but having a support system on hand can make the leap less daunting. Emerging from the ordeal may also require courage as you encounter the unfamiliar. On the other side of trauma, you may notice yourself responding differently to your environment and your environment may respond differently to you. Maybe you’re more approachable, more vulnerable, more assertive. Maybe you smile more, slouch less, and speak louder. Without old stressful patterns holding you back, who do you hope to be?

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you strengthen your mind-body connection to heal intergenerational trauma.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References
www.cordis.europa.eu/article/id/122740-dna-can-carry-memories-of-traumatic-stress-down-the-generations

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Signs You Had a Narcissist Parent

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who was fixated with his own beauty. One day, he happened upon a pool of water, fell in love with his own reflection, and remained there until his death. All that became of him was the narcissus flower, or the daffodil.

This classic story of Narcissus is the origin behind the term narcissism, which refers to an unhealthy fixation with oneself. Narcissists have an excessive need for admiration, a sense of grandiosity, and in many cases, a lack of empathy for others. Though Narcissus seemingly fell in love with his own image, most experts agree that narcissists have incredibly low self-esteem. Underneath their inflated sense of self lurks a fragile ego begging to be affirmed.

Children of narcissists grow up in a household where honest communication was not welcome, gaslighting was far too common, and they were often starved for attention. All children need unconditional love from their parents to thrive, but narcissist parents make their love seem conditional; they expect perfection and become disappointed when their children do not live up to their unrealistic expectations.

Being raised by a narcissist can have long-term effects on a child’s self-esteem and future interpersonal relationships. The following signs indicate you were raised by a narcissist mother or father:

You Still Feel Like a Child Around Your Parents

Even if many years have passed since you left home, being in the presence of your narcissist parent can be triggering. It may almost feel like you’re in a trance, like your sense of self has vanished and you only exist for your parent. You may feel responsible for their happiness and eager to please them.

You Give too Much in Your Relationships

Having always felt responsible for your narcissist parent’s happiness, you may take this pattern into your future relationships. You feel highly attuned to the needs of others and always place far too much attention on others to the extent of neglecting yourself.

Setting Boundaries is Difficult

Narcissist parents rarely respect boundaries because they feel entitled to go where they please and do what they want. Because your boundaries have always been crossed, you may have trouble setting them and reinforcing them.

You Suffer from Low Self-Esteem

Growing up with a narcissistic parent means being subjected to heavy criticism and blame. This can take a toll on one’s self-esteem well into adulthood. A child of a narcissist may have tremendous difficulty feeling good enough.

Your Parent Refuses to Go to Counseling

Maybe you’ve worked up the courage to ask your parent to see a counselor or therapist to help heal your relationship. Most narcissists will refuse to get professional help because they do not see anything wrong with their actions.

You Think You May Be a Narcissist

Many narcissist parents pass their narcissistic patterns onto their children. This makes sense because children will model what their parents have taught them to gain their love. However, if you become aware of this link, you’re already taking the first step in a healthier direction. The pattern of narcissism can stop with you if you commit to change.

During the Hoffman Process, participants delve deeply into their family history to uncover patterns that have consciously or unconsciously passed from generation to generation. With guidance and support from teachers and peers, there is an opportunity to heal intergenerational trauma, whether your narcissist parent is ready to heal or not. By recognizing the effects of narcissism and grieving the loss of the parent you hoped for, you can finally step forward and develop self-forgiveness, self-compassion and self-love.

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you heal intergenerational trauma, set boundaries, and commit to change.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References
www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210414-why-some-narcissists-actually-hate-themselves

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Change Yourself to Change the World

With war raging in distant lands and floods hitting close to home, it’s easy to feel hopeless in the face of disaster. But each of us has the potential to make a difference in the lives of others. You may not be a politician, but your everyday actions count, from how you treat your neighbor to how you treat the planet. Simply put, if you want to change the world, you must start with yourself.

According to sociologist Elise Boulding, peace doesn’t depend on a society being peaceful as a whole. After all, we cannot control how other people behave and we shouldn’t have to. Instead, we should strive for ‘peaceableness’, which is an active and evolving process of discovering, practising, and promoting methods of peace in our daily lives. This means being mindful of the ways in which we deal with conflicts in our families, our workplaces, and in our local communities. While you might think the solutions to war and climate change require grand gestures alone, it’s important that you don’t underestimate the power of your own intentions and decisions.

Here’s how you can promote peace for global change:

1. Heal Your Family Trauma

Mother Teresa taught us that if we truly want peace in the world, we must begin by loving one another in our own families. But this can feel like an impossible feat if you have a strained relationship with your family members, or no relationship at all. One of the core pieces of work in the Hoffman Process is to trace our behavioural patterns back to our parents or caregivers, unearth unresolved trauma, and take steps to get the healing we deserve. By addressing your childhood trauma and acknowledging the lineage of suffering you carry, you learn how to break harmful cycles and finally disrupt intergenerational pain instead of passing it on to others.

2. Accept What You Cannot Change

As Goethe said, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”
While you may not have the tools and resources to help your neighbors heal their childhood trauma or keep your entire city litter-free, you can heal your own trauma and make choices that are kind to the environment. When facing massive problems in the world, it’s important to accept what you cannot change and acknowledge what you can change.

3. Be Flexible

Many people are placated with simple principles: right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, etc. Black-and-white thinking clears up doubt and we either look to our leaders or our saviors to help us decide which side we should be on. But this kind of thinking only fuels divisiveness. Instead, we should align our actions with our values and live in a way that asserts these values positively to the immediate world around us. Consider the actions of the Northern Rivers communities when flooding struck. While there was much divisiveness in the community around COVID-19 protocols regarding mask mandates and vaccines, all of this fell away so that people could help each other get to safety. Identities seemingly fell away and the human spirit prevailed. Our ability to cooperate and have empathy has always helped us succeed as a species.

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you correct negative patterns, heal childhood trauma, and foster your relationships with others.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References:
www.thehill.com/opinion/white-house/535194-political-peace-starts-with-everyday-interactions/

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Defence Mechanisms & Sexual Intimacy

A recent survey commissioned by Netflix and conducted by YouGov found that just over one in 10 Australians rate themselves as great lovers. While being a “great lover” will mean something different to every person, those carrying negative patterns from childhood may find that their sexual experiences are especially lacking.

Sexuality is about being able to follow your attraction and allow yourself to be activated so you can respond physically to the other person, embrace your own libido, and merge with the other. Though your aim might be to feel fully present and connected during lovemaking, unresolved shame or defence mechanisms may be getting in the way of true intimacy. Learn what these defence mechanisms are and how to help love flow again.

Common Defence Mechanisms

Defence mechanisms are strategies that we unconsciously use to protect ourselves from anxiety, threats to our self-esteem, and troubling thoughts or emotions. German psychoanalyst Karen Horney came up with ten “neurotic needs” to describe the defence mechanisms or coping strategies that drive our behaviour in interpersonal relationships. These defence mechanisms can be classified into the following broad categories:

  • Moving away from others (withdraw): This behaviour causes individuals to evade their partner, become lost in fantasy, or even become disassociated from their own body. They may prefer solo sex to sex with another because it is less confronting.
  • Moving toward others (accommodate/please): This behaviour describes the people pleasers, those individuals who are overly concerned with their partner’s pleasure and not their own. They may place all their attention on the other and have difficulties being in their body or communicating their likes or dislikes.
  • Moving against others (overpower): This behaviour causes individuals to always be in charge. They have trouble surrendering to the other and may have difficulty receiving unless they’re in control, causing a power struggle between partners.

Many individuals use one or two dominantly, but it’s likely that everyone has used these defence mechanisms at one point or another in their relationships. Your aim is to be fully present during sex, to understand the give and take of intimacy, and accept that everyone has different needs at different times. But you cannot accomplish your aim if you don’t take the time to reflect on how your defense mechanisms impact your sexual intimacy and be willing to trace these behaviours back to their origin.

The Origin of Your Defence Mechanisms

Like other patterns, defence mechanisms are guided by your role in the family system. Sex is merely a mirror for the personality structure that already exists outside of the bedroom. By zooming out from behavioural patterns as participants do during the Hoffman Process, you can examine where you learned your inclination to withdraw, please, or control. Here are the other ways you can learn to step back from defence mechanisms and repair sexual intimacy during the Process:

  • Talk about the shame issues that hold you back
  • Be a benevolent witness to another person’s shame and fears
  • Use mindfulness to be present in the body and more connected with those around you
  • Receive feedback without shutting down
  • Give feedback in a kind and compassionate manner

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you examine your defence mechanisms and improve sexual intimacy in your life.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References:
www.refinery29.com/en-au/how-australians-rate-themselves-sex
www.verywellmind.com/horneys-list-of-neurotic-needs-2795949

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When Your Spouse is Like Your Parent

If you’ve ever noticed your significant other doing something that reminds you of Mom or Dad, the phenomenon is more common than you think. A 2019 study by dating site eHarmony revealed that 64 percent of men go for women with the same personality traits as their mothers and research shows that women prefer male faces that resemble their fathers. As eerie as this sounds, why do so many of us end up choosing partners like our parents?

In the 1960’s, Hoffman Process founder Bob Hoffmann developed the theory of the Negative Love Syndrome, in which we unconsciously adopt the negative behaviors, moods, attitudes, and admonitions of our parents to secure their love. This also includes the subsequent rebellion against those negative traits throughout our adult lives. Part of this adoption involves choosing partners or spouses who remind us of Mom or Dad as yet another attempt to recapture their love. We don’t just project our parents onto our lovers, either. We may also project them onto our colleagues, friends, and superiors through transference.

Sometimes we even provoke our spouses to act out in a way that reminds us of our parents, trying to bring Mom or Dad into our relationships. This may be because we feel a sense of “unrequited love” with Mom or Dad still and now we’re trying to resolve that pain with our current partner in an attempt to finally be loved. Or, if our parents were frightening, we might just as easily seek out partners who have entirely different traits than our parents to finally feel safe.

If any of this sounds familiar, there are ways to stop projecting and break free from unconscious patterns. Try the following:

1. Learn to Self-Soothe

When we are children, we depend on our parents to soothe us. As adults, we may end up expecting the same from our partners. But we don’t need to if we can learn to self-soothe. Taking a time-out for yourself is an important way to self-soothe, whether you choose to sit and meditate, go for a walk, or simply rest. Notice how your body feels when you feel tense, lonely, or angry. Do you hunch your shoulders? Tighten your jaw? Take shallow breaths? Paying attention to your body’s way of holding stress is a powerful way to begin letting go.

2. Own Our Reactions

One of the core teachings of the Hoffman Process is that while other people may trigger us, our reactions are 100% our responsibility to deal with. Once you have taken responsibility for your own emotions, you can see that your partner is not at fault for how you feel. This releases them of blame, but it also releases you from re-enacting the same dynamics you had with Mom or Dad.

3. Name Emotions

When you have committed to taking responsibility for your emotional reactions, it’s time to disempower them. One way of doing this is to name your emotions: ‘I feel lonely,’ or ‘I feel angry.’ Separating the ‘I’ from the painful emotion creates distance and empowers you to realise that you are not identified with your emotions; you are simply feeling them. This also reminds you that your emotions are fleeting. Pain is not permanent.

4. Express Gratitude

A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship. After all, there is much to be grateful for. Part of this work is distinguishing reality from fantasy. Your partner is not your parent, no matter how similar they may seem at times. This relationship is a fresh start if you choose to perceive it this way. When you notice your partner acting like Mom or Dad, instead of slinking away in shame, see the familiarity as an opportunity. What are you trying to resolve?

During the Hoffman Process, participants have a chance to identify the patterns that are no longer working for them and trace them back to their parents or caregivers. Once you realise how you may be projecting your parents onto others through these negative patterns, you learn that each of us has a choice to take a different path. By peeling away the layers of negative feedback and unconscious knee-jerk reactions to others, you can finally live in the present. Realising that you have chosen a partner due to your family of origin conditioning is not the issue. The issue is, whether you can love them for who they are and whether you can also love yourself in this relationship with them.

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you overcome the Negative Love Syndrome and improve your relationships.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References
1. www.eharmony.co.uk/dating-advice/finding-yourself/mothers-day-men-women-remind-mums/
2. www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-we-more-attracted-to-people-who-look-like-our-parents/
3. www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

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How to Create a Vision

With so much beyond our control after two years of living through a pandemic, it may be difficult to imagine what the future may hold, or if it will be much different from previous months. But learning how to create a vision for the future is crucial at times like these. Different from goal setting, in which you become attached to specific outcomes, visioning is a low-pressure technique that allows you to access your birth-given need for exploration. By directing your creativity towards what you find interesting, and not what others expect of you, visioning can be the most powerful practice you take into 2022, helping you gain more clarity on what you truly want and who you truly are.

Some people choose to use a ‘vision board’ as part of their practice, in which you make a collage of images and words that represent your goals and dreams in life. Author Jack Canfield describes vision boards as a compass or ‘guiding star’ to keep him moving in the direction of his dreams, no matter how many unexpected distractions everyday life brings up. But visioning doesn’t have to include a tangible vision board at all. You might use an online platform like Pinterest to make a digital vision board, or you might simply use a journal to map out your vision through words or drawings. No matter what form you use, it’s important to remember that visioning should be the starting point of a strategic planning process. Once you have a clear picture of what you want, you can figure out the most efficient path to get there.

Hoffman Process teacher Ed McClune likens visioning to exercising a muscle that can lead you to where you really want to be. He writes, “For many of us, the patterns we learned in childhood have us focusing our energy on supplying others with what they want, rather than looking inside for what we deeply long for.” By looking within and asking the right questions, you can learn to ‘add bulk’ to your visioning muscle and become an expert at creating the year and the life that you want.

Follow these steps to start creating a vision for the upcoming year and beyond:

1. Create a Vision

Visioning is based on the freedom of creativity. Give yourself some time and space to reflect. Mindfulness meditation may be useful here. Settling into your body and allowing yourself to relax, ask yourself: ‘What lights me up?’ If you could have things the way you want, how would life be? Consider your relationship to yourself, your relationship to family and friends, what kind of work you’d like to do, and even where you’d like to live. Be careful that your vision is not based on what others expect of you. If you have a pattern of pleasing others, consider using the recycling tool to release this pattern. Then create a vision board that represents your vision or record it in a journal. Place your vision board or journal in a place where you can see it often.

2. Become Aware of Current Reality

Simply having a vision will not make your dreams come true. If your vision is to sail around Australia, for example, do you have a boat? What kind of boat is it? Do you have a boating license? Allow yourself to get specific and ground your vision in where you currently stand. Remember that your current reality always changes as you progress towards your vision. Can you see obstacles as mere stepping stones on your way to making your vision a reality?

3. Hold Your Vision in Consciousness

Just as you may need concrete things like a boat or a license to achieve a vision of sailing around the continent, what do you need to embody? You may have to let go of patterns that hold you back or adopt new patterns to get there. In holding your vision and your current reality in your consciousness, ask yourself how you are called to grow and evolve to embody your vision.

4. Activate Your Own Will

The last step is to commit to your vision. As W.H. Murray, Deputy Leader of the 1951 Scottish Expedition to climb Mt. Everest, famously wrote, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.” You must trust that existence will support your vision even if you have obstacles along the way.

The Hoffman Process helps you to get a sense of your vision at the very beginning of the Process. You’re also able to achieve more clarity on our current reality and recognize how your patterns affect your reality. At the end of the Process, you will review your vision again to ensure it was not influenced by a pattern of pleasing others.

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you create a vision for your future.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References:
www.jackcanfield.com/blog/how-to-create-an-empowering-vision-book
www.hoffmaninstitute.org/create-your-vision

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A Case for Compassion

Recent surveys by Relationships Australia indicate that the Christmas period is a time of increased stress for many families. While finances and work certainly contribute to this stress, family time can also be rife with old tensions that dampen the holiday spirit. One antidote to this tension is compassion. While it may be difficult to muster compassion for difficult individuals in our lives, the rewards are plentiful. According to Paul Gilbert, M.D., head of the Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Derby, we can begin to deliberately cultivate compassion by “learning to cultivate compassionate attention, compassionate thinking, compassionate feeling, and compassionate behavior.” Not only can this compassion help to strengthen our relationships, but it can also improve our own mental health. Explore the many benefits of compassion, how to start cultivating it for difficult people, and how to find self-compassion during trying times.

How Compassion Impacts Mental Health

The literal meaning of compassion is “to suffer together.” It is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s plight or predicament, and you feel motivated to alleviate their suffering. Research has proven that when you feel compassion, your heart rate slows down, you produce the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and parts of your brain linked to empathy and pleasure are activated, which often results in the desire to care for others. But compassion for others doesn’t just benefit them. It can also have significant effects on your mental health. Brain scans show that during compassionate meditation your mind wanders less and tends to focus more positively on the present moment. And by activating the pleasure circuits of the brain, compassion leads to lasting increases in self-reported happiness. There are physical benefits, too. By boosting the positive effects of the Vagus Nerve, compassion has the ability to lower your risk of heart disease.

How to Find Compassion for Difficult People

Knowing the benefits of compassion is one thing. Cultivating it for difficult people is another. Surprisingly, this work begins by taking responsibility for your own suffering. Before you can feel compassion for a person who triggers you, you must become aware of why you become activated in the first place. When you feel this activation happening, it’s crucial to zoom out from the sensations that arise and acknowledge them fully. Find a private space to verbalize your suffering: ‘I am frustrated with this person,’ or ‘I feel judged by this person.’ Or you can simply visualize these statements. When you can verbalize or visualize your suffering, you are able to deactivate the amygdala, a brain region involved in negative arousal and physiological responses typical of fear and anxiety states. Once you have identified the negative feelings that have arisen, you can take responsibility for them. After all, one important maxim used in the Hoffman Process is, “While other people may trigger us, our reactions are 100% our responsibility to deal with.”

Once you have taken responsibility for your own emotions, you can turn your attention to the individual. If they are behaving in a way that is upsetting, such as criticizing you or acting passive aggressively, is it possible to see them as an emotional child? What are their wounds? What needs do they have? Do they find it difficult to ask for help? Do they strive for perfection as a plea for respect? By seeing this difficult person as an emotional child unaware of how to meet their own needs, it’s easier to start opening the door to compassion.

While it may be tempting to hide until the season is over or take a solo trip to avoid running into people you know, suppressing uncomfortable emotions may do more harm than good. In an eye-opening study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester, researchers found that people who bottled up their emotions increased their chance of premature death from all causes by more than 30%, with their risk of being diagnosed with cancer increasing by 70%. Allowing yourself to face difficult emotions (and the people who provoke them!) may just be the best route to long-lasting health.

Practicing Fierce Self-Compassion

The holiday season is also a wonderful time to practice self-compassion, something that may fall to the wayside when striving to buy the perfect gifts, cook the perfect meals, and make it through family functions unscathed. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Fierce Self-Compassion, when we hold our pain with loving, connected presence, we start to transform and heal. Her theoretical model of self-compassion includes three core components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness of suffering. Being able to soothe and comfort yourself when in pain is an admirable act of self-kindness. Recognizing that suffering is part of the shared human condition allows you to loosen your grip when things don’t go according to plan. And mindfulness allows you to hold and validate your pain with open-hearted acceptance. In the spirit of giving, don’t forget to give back to yourself. Compassion might just become your favourite new tradition.

Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you work through family conflicts and embrace change.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References

  1. www.relationships.org.au/document/december-2018-social-isolation-at-christmas-time
  2. www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_turn_brain_anger_compassion
  3. www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition
  4. www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20851735
  5. www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00771/full
  6. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939772
  7. www.self-compassion.org/women-fierce-self-compassion
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Freedom vs Obligation

With ongoing debates on vaccines, masks, political preferences and beyond, the world may seem as divisive as ever these days. One scroll through your social media feed and you’re likely to come across a heated exchange between individuals who are sure they are on the “right” side and that their opponent is completely wrong. In terms of the pandemic, freedom and obligation seem to be at war. One side sees mandates as an infringement on personal freedoms. The other side sees mandates as necessary obligations that uphold the common good. Read on to find out why divisiveness isn’t the best answer and how to find the middle place.

Masks Debates & the Spanish Flu

Divisiveness is nothing new, not even when it comes to pandemics and masks. During the Spanish flu outbreak, Victorians in 1919 Melbourne faced the same debates they do today. Some thought masks were ineffective, while others argued for their widespread use. Some stayed home as lockdown orders demanded, yet others continued working, often hiding their illness to do so.

In the U.S., the ‘Anti-Mask League‘ held rallies denouncing mask ordinances, decrying what they viewed as an unconstitutional violation of their civil liberties. Men, women, and children who appeared in public without masks were labeled ‘dangerous slackers’ and ordered to pay hefty fines. Deeply ingrained ideals of individual freedom and ubiquitous misinformation only seemed to fuel the divisiveness, much as it does today.

In Defense of the Common Ground

While there is nothing inherently wrong with living according to what one sees as their obligations or choosing instead to live by one’s own self-determination, either of these scenarios can be taken too far. When we become too identified with our opinions and ‘our side’ to the point of shutting others out and reserving our compassion for only those who agree with us, the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ deepens. Instead of choosing ‘us’ or ‘them’, would it be possible to choose a place of compassion and empathy in even the most difficult situations for even the most triggering individuals? After all, one of the core teachings of the Hoffman Process is that while other people may trigger us, our reactions are 100% our responsibility to deal with.

How the Hoffman Process Heals Divisiveness

During the Process, participants learn a number of useful tools and practices that enable them to become more mindful so that they can respond to triggers from a place of conscious choice. In identifying negative patterns and tracing them back to their origin (caregivers), participants are able to shift their perspective by realizing and understanding how these patterns have been learned and how their caregivers also learned these patterns from the generation before them. Participants then have the opportunity to cultivate empathy and compassion for those who may have disappointed them in the past.

This compassion is a mere starting point, though. Compassion for one’s parents expands so that participants also learn to have compassion for those around them, even those who follow a different path. In walking in another person’s footsteps, they become open to new ideas from someone else’s point of view. This creates an openness that didn’t exist before. Understanding and having compassion for another’s experience doesn’t correlate with changing one’s own stance, but it does allow us to stay in relationship, holding this difference, rather than creating more divisiveness, which ultimately corrodes community. While today’s news headlines may seem eerily similar to those from the early twentieth century, history doesn’t always have to repeat itself.

Find out more about the Hoffman Process.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References:

  1. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/masks-lockdowns-fines-and-a-devastating-second-wave-a-century-on-history-repeats-20200723-p55er1.html
  2. https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/mask-resistance-during-a-pandemic-isnt-new-1918-many-americans-were-slackers
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Accepting Criticism

While no one wants to hear that they’ve made a mistake or they’ve let someone down at home or at work, accepting criticism is an important life skill that promotes growth. Criticism, when given constructively, allows individuals to learn new things, perform better at tasks, and see themselves or their work from a new perspective. This is also true for leaders who may be wary of receiving critical feedback from their subordinates. In fact, studies show that leaders who ask for critical feedback are seen as more effective by their superiors, employees, and peers.

There’s another reason why learning to take criticism well matters, especially if you’re a workplace leader. It allows those around you to feel comfortable being themselves. It fosters psychological safety for all employees. Being free to give feedback to one’s subordinates as well as one’s superiors is also a catalyst for creativity and collaboration in the workplace.

Though research from the Harvard Business Review indicates that people generally want to receive feedback as long as it is given constructively, some individuals go into opposition when challenged because they are too identified with their opinions. Being challenged feels like a threat to their sense of belonging. Receiving criticism can trigger shame-based thinking in which the person hearing feedback feels inadequate or not good enough. To interrupt this shame-based thinking, we’ve rounded up a number of ways a person can learn how to take feedback without getting defensive, whether they’re a new employee trying to rise to the top or already in a leadership role.

1. Have Self-Awareness

If you find yourself triggered by critical feedback and reacting defensively, ask yourself what this defensiveness is really about. Do you feel embarrassed? Ashamed? Angry? Defensiveness is a way of distancing yourself from these feelings and attempting to protect yourself. Have you always reacted this way to critical feedback? Is defensiveness a pattern?

2. Regulate Toxic Shame with Mindfulness

When triggered by criticism, compassionate mindfulness can help you regulate any toxic shame that may arise. This might feel like needing to break eye contact or a contraction at the heart center. Take a moment to place your hand where you feel stiffness or resistance, witness it fully, and then watch it dissipate. Regulating uncomfortable feelings will help interrupt or prevent a defensive reaction.

3. Develop Cognitive Empathy

Giving criticism can be just as difficult as receiving it because both individuals fear confrontation. Take a moment to develop empathy for the person giving you critical feedback. Put yourself in their shoes and realize that you both play a role in making the interaction constructive.

4. Create a Positive Environment

Creating a safe and positive environment in which the people around you feel liked and respected helps to promote a healthy exchange of critical feedback. This is especially important for leaders. If their subordinates do not feel respected, then they will not feel allowed to express how they truly feel in the workplace, even when they notice something that needs to be corrected in order to help the business succeed.

5. Look for Flaws in the System

When there is an issue at work, it’s important to look at the system rather than finding an individual at fault. If the system is flawed, then bigger adjustments need to be made so that all team members can thrive.

How We Give Criticism Is Equally Important

Giving criticism is just as important (and challenging!) as learning how to accept feedback without defensiveness. Practising nonviolent communication as defined by Marshall Rosenberg is an integral component, which entails a certain level of emotional literacy. In practising nonviolent communication, people giving critical feedback first identify the needs that are not being met and verbalizing these needs appropriately. For instance, if there is a team that is not performing well, the leader may be frustrated in their need for respect and their need for being seen as competent. Once the leader understands what he or she needs, they can use nonviolent communication to come up with a doable solution, and respectfully make a request from the team.

How the Hoffman Process Helps

During the Hoffman Process, participants are able to engage in inner work that breaks down shame-based thinking so they can accept criticism with an open mind. They also develop the ability to distinguish constructive feedback from destructive feedback. Participants learn that while other people may trigger them, their reaction is 100% theirs to deal with. In becoming less identified with toxic shame-based thinking, they learn that their self-worth has nothing to do with what other people say and cannot be upended by critical feedback.

This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram

References:
www.jstor.org/stable/256442
www.hbr.org/2015/04/the-assumptions-that-make-giving-tough-feedback-even-tougher
www.cnvc.org/learn-nvc/what-is-nvc