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Venting my bad experience of a personal growth workshop

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InnerLight posted 3/16/2014 21:33 PM

I just attended a weekend personal development workshop that my sister highly recommended. She has done 3 from this small company and found them very inspiring and helpful. I had a bad experience and walked out.

First you were asked to write down what you were stuck on in your life. Then you made a piece of artwork with colored papers, stickers, markers and asked to stand up in front of everyone to share it.

I got in touch with some really sad feelings around feeling disconnected from community. Part of this stems from past traumatic experiences including the PTSD after infidelity/divorce etc.

Then you were asked to write down all your rational reasons why you were stuck in this area.
You were put into a group of 3 and told to share you reasons, and the other people were to challenge your reasons and tell you why your reasons are bullshit. I felt bad doing this exercise as it felt like I was with 2 people who had been instructed to behave like assholes and they did their job well and told me my reasons were full of crap. It felt very minimizing and disparaging. I think it was meant to show that we defend our reasons for feeling stuck, but it really just felt like these people were non-empathic and rude. It also felt like I was with people who would behave poorly if the leader told them too. ie. No one I want to be with.

Then we broke for lunch and I was still stunned by how bad the exercise felt so I went to the bathroom then looked for lunch companions but everyone has already left. I asked the one last person I saw but he declined. It turned out he had no intention of returning.

I had shared my sorrow about how I felt disconnected from my community and when I came back from lunch the instructor asked who I had lunch with and when I said I ate alone she said, 'Well isn't that a surprise!' Like she is cleverly pointing out that in my stuckness I am recreating the same experience of being disconnected. It felt pretty bad, like she was taking advantage of me sharing my vulnerability and throwing it back in my face in an uncaring way.

Later she commented on my behavior in the class in front of the group, how I had arrived in the morning too late to socialize but just in time for the class to start. See how I hold myself separate and then complain that I feel separate? Then she observed that I moved my chair back from the group and set myself apart physically. When I said I did it because I couldn't see (the person in the seat in front of me was very large) and had to move in order to see, she said that we all have our reasons that we are attached to. Again, very dismissive.

This all created for me a really unsafe environment. I felt really terrible that first day. I hardly slept at all that night.

I let her know the next morning that I was not having a good experience. She explained that my stuff is coming up and it's good to look at it and I said I am aware of groups that use this kind of psychological information to manipulate people. She said that was not her intention and I said that I don't really know that. I don't have the trust. Personally I really feel it is the job of the group leader to create an atmosphere of trust if people are asked to bring up their traumatic experiences and she didn't do that at all.

This morning the exercise was a group meditation on an old childhood experience when we first felt the uncomfortable feelings related to our stuckness we were working on. This led back to an early childhood trauma for me, and one that I have worked on many times in therapy using a variety of techniques but it is still really disturbing to meditate on it and how rotten it felt to be physically assaulted by my father.

So here it was the second day, and I am just feeling rotten in this 'meditation' and I just don't see the point. At the first break I walked up to the teacher and shook her hand and said thank you but this is not doing anything good for me. She wanted me to stay for the afternoon when all the difficult stuff gets transformed into a vision of positive things but I had no trust that she would be able to lead me to anything better. I don't think you can create a meaningful vision in an environment of distrust and she had done so little to earn my trust.

So I drove home. I am really disappointed. I had high hopes for moving forward from some of my stuck areas. I was as engaged and participatory as I could be and gave it a fair shake until I realized it was unhealthy to be there. This was a really depressing experience and I feel angry about the waste of time and energy. My sister paid for it and I think I will ask for a refund.

[This message edited by InnerLight at 9:34 PM, March 16th (Sunday)]

sheila0304 posted 3/16/2014 21:42 PM

I'm so sorry. that just sucks!


MyVoice posted 3/16/2014 21:48 PM

I wouldn't be feeling bad.

I think acknowledging it as a bad environment for you personally, and having the self confidence to stand up and do somthing about it, is a very good place to be xx

Williesmom posted 3/16/2014 21:49 PM

It's awful for you.

I'm so sorry. You stuck it out longer than I would have.

FaithFool posted 3/16/2014 22:59 PM

Ugh! (((IL))) I would have been very uncomfortable as well.

Leia posted 3/16/2014 23:24 PM

So sorry you had that experience. The couple of seminars I've attended, the leader asked people to share only if they were comfortable, and tried to create a comfortable environment. Kudos to you for walking out.

BAB61 posted 3/16/2014 23:59 PM

I'm glad you walked out! That was YOU being in control of your life! The 'leader' of that workshop was either poorly trained and/or a complete ass!

Threnody posted 3/17/2014 00:12 AM

I agree with the others. Your standing up for yourself is proof that you don't wish to remain stuck, that you're actively engaged in the quest to find a healthy life for yourself.

I'm sorry you had such a poor experience. Perhaps instead of a workshop, you could read a book or two which use different methods, like journaling or art, to help you work through these emotions? Then when you feel ready, try another social workshop. It might just have been too soon for the social aspect of it.

Sending warm hugs.

Sad in AZ posted 3/17/2014 06:47 AM

You should feel proud of yourself; as the others said, you stood up for yourself, expressed your feeling eloquently and left with dignity. I would have told them to kiss my ass.

You are an amazing woman, IL

better4me posted 3/17/2014 09:45 AM

It galls me that people get paid to do this to (not with) people. How unethical and "anti personal growth" to call you out like that, commenting on your behavior without knowing the details! People like this give "personal development workshop" a bad name.

Glad you had the chutzpah to leave. You showed a lot of strength by being assertive and telling the leader your reasons for leaving, instead of just leaving without saying anything. Definitely ask for the refund!

nowiknow23 posted 3/17/2014 09:48 AM


InnerLight posted 3/17/2014 10:45 AM

Thank you for acknowledging the strength it took to talk to the leader and leave. I have stayed too long in the past in bad workshops and learned the hard way that it lengthens the recovery time to suppress that urge to run. But I hate not finishing things, so it is really hard for me to leave in these situations.

I find myself googling the company that put this on, not finding anything but glowing testimonies. It is a small company but I think that the founder came out of EST and started this in the 1980s. I could be wrong, but in his bio he said he was a trainer in a nationally recognized seminar course. Why not include the name of this illustrious past unless it was controversial like EST was?

I hate mindfuckery. I hate being in the presence of mindfuckery. I hate watching others being mindfucked. I know some people find use in having some psychology pointed out to them. Lord knows we all need more awareness and insight and consciousness. But it is such a fine line between when this is conveyed in a healthy way, and when it is used as a tool to gain power over with little real respect for the individual. I hope my sister is safe as she continues to take workshops here. She has had wonderful experiences but it sure hit me the wrong way.

Oh the Irony posted 3/17/2014 10:54 AM

Yup. I was going to post that it sounds like Large Group AWarenss Training. I see it as a cult. I've seen friends get sucked in by it and spend thousand and thousands that they didn't have to get to the next level.

Dr. Phil got into this for awhile.

I don't consider it kind. Not something I want to be a part of. It totally ignores the reality of oppression or trauma.

There would have been calls for you to recruit people.

InnerLight posted 3/17/2014 10:55 AM

One major thing I have learned from bad group experiences is to know that in a group setting the instructor's agenda is not to take care of you as an individual. The instructor's agenda is to move the whole group forward. Individual work in a group is really only partly focused on the individual, it is geared to making a point for the whole group. This places an individual trying to process deeply in a group in an unfortunate position, but it is just the dynamics of groups. I think that group work can be very healing and affirming and I have had good experiences, but it is really important for anyone doing group work of any kind that individuals are going to be sacrificed for the functioning of the whole, however the group leader defines 'functioning'.

Also, members of a group want to follow the instructions of the group leader, naturally want the group to be successful so they can be part of a successful group, so if the group leader says to behave badly many very nice people who normally would not behave badly will unthinkingly behave badly because the authority figure said to do it. This is another way that the individual is at a disadvantage.

Being aware of these two dynamics and pitfalls of groups is part of what gave me the strength to walk out of a bad situation. Unfortunately I have had to learn the hard way to have this awareness.

If you are involved in therapy groups, please be aware of these two things to keep yourself safe!

InnerLight posted 3/17/2014 10:59 AM

I think Landmark, that used to be EST, is under the umbrella of Large Group Awareness Training. I do think this group was a smaller milder version of this sort of thing. I also think negative group dynamics can happen in professional therapy trainings, in small group therapy groups, in church and school groups, in sports teams....

There was only 15 people in this group and there was no effort at recruitment. The only sales part was a 5-10 minute description of other workshops and classes offered which is normal for any business.

[This message edited by InnerLight at 11:07 AM, March 17th (Monday)]

MovingUpward posted 3/17/2014 11:09 AM


I am proud that you were seeing things as they were and how that was not going to work for you. Too bad this seminar wasn't in Houston for you could have joined a bunch of us from SI being in community.

InnerLight posted 3/17/2014 18:41 PM

Thanks Moo.

I am finding myself feeling really tired and kind of depressed today.

What2Do76 posted 3/17/2014 19:31 PM

What an awful instructor!
She showed no empathy whatsoever when you expressed how you felt, and the activity where others are to challenge why you are stuck sounds poorly conceived. Good for you for leaving.

MovingUpward posted 3/18/2014 08:50 AM


wildbananas posted 3/18/2014 08:57 AM

That sounds completely counterproductive to the desired result. How awful.

I'm glad you were strong enough to leave when you realized it was doing more harm than good. That's a huge sign of strength.


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