Release negative patterns — heal yourself emotionally and physically
by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
- The power of the emotional brain
- Negative love and our family patterns
- The Hoffman process of change: how we forgive, heal, and find our true selves
- Trigger healing, not disease
Many years ago, I had a patient named Rebecca. She was in her 30’s and had grown a successful business crafting jewelry. As we talked, she seemed confident and well-adjusted. But something changed when Rebecca got up on the exam table. Her shoulders and knees tensed up, her arms stiffly crossed over her belly. She seemed frightened and defensive as I did her pelvic exam. When she was dressed again, I asked her about it. Rebecca told me she had been having intense pelvic pain on and off for years. In our conversation, it came out that this pain had caused problems in her marriage. Rebecca hadn’t been intimate with her husband in months and now he was seeing another woman. I asked if there was anything else going on emotionally, but she simply looked at me and said, “What does that have to do with my pain?”.
One of the biggest problems with our current medical system is that we don’t understand how to work with patients’ emotional needs. And these emotional blocks, when not addressed, tend to manifest physically. I’ve referred women to therapists, but for many of them, including Rebecca, it was too easy to “talk around” the therapist and convince themselves they could manage on their own. I’ve seen other patients and friends struggle with antidepressants, claiming that when they take them, they just don’t feel anything. The bottom line is that we’ve all developed negative emotional patterns, and our tools for fixing these patterns don’t always help us to find the joy, creativity, love, and good health we’re seeking.
In all the years I’ve been working with patients, I’ve been looking for a program where I can send women for help with emotional healing and feel confident that it will work for them. For the past 16 years, the Hoffman Institute has been the place I recommend most often. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people heal emotional wounds, identify self-defeating behaviors, and learn more effective ways of living. Although Hoffman’s program is not for the faint of heart, I’ve found that for those who are brave enough to undertake it, the results are beyond your wildest dreams in terms of emotional freedom. It doesn’t make your life “perfect” when you’re finished, but it helps you understand patterns of behavior that may trouble you, and it will change how you look at and interact with other people.
I spoke with Raz Ingrasci, President of the Hoffman Institute, about their process and how women can become more aware of negative patterns in their lives before these patterns get in the way of their overall health. The Hoffman Institute has worked with thousands of women on these issues. Let’s take a closer look at what the Hoffman Process tells us about how you can heal your emotions and become the healthiest version of yourself.
The power of the emotional brain
We often tell ourselves that our negative feelings aren’t productive, so why dwell on them? The answer to that question is that if those feelings aren’t resolved in some way, they won’t simply go away — and they can cause you both emotional and physical pain for years until you work them through. I know a woman named Charlotte who was deeply hurt by her husband. He’d lied to her for years about their monetary situation, and the truth was only revealed when there was no choice but to file for bankruptcy. All those years, she had trusted her husband to be responsible for the money they both worked hard to earn. When the truth came out she felt betrayed, humiliated, and so physically sick that she could not eat or sleep. But because Charlotte had a high-powered job and because the logistics of the bankruptcy had to be worked through, she assessed that there was no time left for her to feel. She put her feelings in a box and went to work to find a way out of the mess her husband had created. Amazingly she got them out of financial hot water, reworked all their expenses, and even managed to secure a promotion at work. But the painful emotions she had stuffed throughout her ordeal were never fully addressed, and they continue to creep back into her life unexpectedly.
According to what Raz has seen at the Hoffman Institute, our emotions largely determine the quality of our lives. Emotions direct our attention, motivate our behavior, influence our sense of self, and attribute significance to whatever is happening around us. Many of us walk around spending most of our time “in our heads,” believing that we’re very rational about our decisions and actions. Yet in reality, our actions are mostly guided by how we feel.
Burying our emotions only means they will resurface some other way, some other time. They may manifest as physical problems or again as unwanted emotional states, but you can be certain that repressed emotions will come back. You may have read about the Adverse Childhood Events study, which looked at the way emotionally troubled childhoods manifested in adults as physical ailments. The data were astounding: the more emotional stress people endured as children, the more likely they were to suffer chronic health concerns like heart disease and cancer later on in life.
But when we recognize the power and significance of our emotions, we can begin to overcome the past and dramatically improve our lives. To tap into this emotional power, Raz suggests “the best strategy is to become aware of your feelings and move with them, not judge or criticize them and not act them out, but rather, to allow yourself to experience your sensations and emotions”. This is how we work through problems and eventually heal. But many of us, like Charlotte, have been taught to push these feelings down.
Negative love and our family patterns
Can you remember when you were a small child? I’m sure you recall being told No! while in the midst of exploring the world around you. From the time we were toddlers, our parents and other caregivers told us how we should and shouldn’t act. From this guidance, we learned that their love and acceptance were dependent upon our behavior. You may have heard: “If you’d only act more like your sister and stop being such a cry-baby, you could come out to lunch with me more”. Or something along those lines. As adults, we tend to reproduce the very behaviors we used to win our parents’ love. And because repeating these behaviors is rooted in the feeling of not getting enough love, Bob Hoffman, creator of the Hoffman Process, called this the Negative Love Syndrome. From birth, we learn by emulating the attitudes, moods, behaviors, and beliefs of our caregivers, including those that were negative. That exposure and learning shaped us.
These behavior patterns play out in our adult lives as well. Many of us end up seeking and cultivating relationships that are similar to what we experienced with our parents because this is how we learned about love. These “negative love” patterns often continue from generation to generation virtually unexamined.
I have one patient, Anne, with small children, who promised she would never force her children to bury their emotions the way she was taught to as a child. But as one of her sons was entering and the other leaving the “terrible two’s,” their house was filled with tension and drama. To alleviate the stress, Anne found herself doing exactly what her mother had done: trying to return the house to peace and quiet by stifling her sons’ emotions. The amazing thing for Anne was that addressing her negative patterns enabled her to simply enjoy her children. She told me the other day that without the worry of trying to make everything perfect in her home, it seems like she suddenly has more time and space.
In order to become our authentic selves, we have to examine where our emotions and motivations stem from. If you find that your critical attitude toward others comes from one or both of your parents, Raz would suggest you ask yourself, Do I really want to be so critical of the people I love? Is this really who I am? If the answer is no, take comfort in the fact that you don’t have to carry the burden of your parents’ traits. Nor do you have to blame them. They probably learned this behavior from their own mother or father and most likely were doing the very best they could raising you.
Is negative love running your life?
Think back to an experience in childhood, where a parent did something that hurt you. Now reflect on whether you have similar experiences in your adult life. Are you in relationship where someone “does” this hurtful thing “to” you; do you “do it” to someone else; or, are you “doing it” to yourself?
The Hoffman process of change: how we forgive, heal, and find our true selves
You’re probably wondering what happened with Rebecca. After some convincing, she decided to work through some of her emotional issues by attending the Hoffman Institute. While she was there, she realized many things. For the first time, Rebecca was able to fully address and explore the sexual abuse she experienced in her early teens from her uncle. Though she’d never forgotten this traumatic experience, she hadn’t seen how it had shaped her relationships with everyone, and how it had played out in her life. Coming to this place of acceptance also helped Rebecca recognized a pattern in herself of extreme criticism and judgment, especially when it came to her interactions with other people. She had a habit of negative self-talk — You’re too sensitive… Lighten up… You’re never happy. These were the words her family often used to chastise her, and she’d been replaying the “recording” in her mind for over 15 years. Now Rebecca can go forward in her relationships having explored probably the most traumatic experience of her life. It certainly doesn’t make the experience go away, but she can be free of its hold on her.
“I can tell you as a biologist that when we step into the part of ourselves that doesn’t judge, that is simply open to the possibilities of the moment, that what happens is we feel a sense of peace and gratitude. Enormous biochemical changes accompany that, changes in the neuropeptides from the emotional center of the brain, changes in our immune system and our cardiovascular system that are all consistent with good health”. - Dr. Joan Borysenko, co-founder of the Mind-Body Clinic at Harvard University
Addressing these deep emotional issues gave Rebecca a freedom she hadn’t felt since she was very young, freedom from the expectations of her family, freedom from the hold her uncle had had on her body, and most of all from the negative chatter inside her own head. When she got to this quiet place, she told me it was almost scary because she realized, If I’m not all these things my family has been telling me I am, then who am I? And so she began the work of redefining herself. Although things didn’t work out with her husband, Rebecca firmly believes that her marriage ended for the right reasons. She is also completely free now of the pelvic pain she’d suffered for so many years.
Here is an overview of the transformative steps taken by Rebecca and other Hoffman Process participants. I offer them for your personal consideration and practice, and if you find you would like more guidance, you can look into the Hoffman Institute.
- Awareness. Awareness is a simple, yet monumental first step in healing negative patterns in your life. If we can allow ourselves to simply feel and name what we’re feeling, the reflection often comes easily. For Rebecca, it was mostly fear. She was living her life in fear of what intrusion might come next. She was always looking over her shoulder, always second-guessing, never trusting anyone. When we become aware of this programming, we can look at where it comes from and find a more productive response. On the other hand, if we see the programming is good — which much of it can be from loving parents — we can incorporate it more fully into our lives. (See our list of emotions and sensations — our amazing spectrum of emotional expression).
- Expression. When we discover that one of our negative patterns comes from a parent or caregiver we felt close to, it can sometimes make us angry or frustrated. Repressed and unexpressed anger often evolves into hostility, depression, or despair. Expressing this frustration is integral to the healing process. We hold anger and resentment in our physical bodies, so it makes sense that we need to release them in a physical way. Dancing, running, drumming, hitting a pillow with a whiffleball bat, or simply letting it out in tears are all ways to physically release your frustration and anger. It’s important not to confront the individual who is triggering you while you are highly emotionally activated. In most cases, carrying this anger into a conversation leads us right back to the very pattern we’re trying to understand and de-energize.
- Forgiveness. As I mentioned before, the negative patterns we notice in our lives have most likely been carried down for several generations. This means our parents and caregivers probably learned to act out these negative patterns to win love from their parents, so it feels natural, almost instinctual, to treat their own children that way. If you can think about your parents as young children trying to decipher the rights and wrongs of the world, you know that they were doing as they were taught. And in most cases, all parents are truly doing their best and acting out of their understanding of love. Finding emotional forgiveness toward your own parents and caregivers for teaching you unproductive behaviors is another step toward healing your heart and finding inner peace.
- New behavior Once you permit yourself to unblock painful emotions and reflect upon them, life can become much richer, and you may begin to feel more alive than ever before. With each emotional situation you encounter, you can get into the routine of feeling first and then looking closely at those feelings. Perhaps you need to work on expressing some pain, addressing a fear, or forgive yourself for something you feel shame about. Practicing a more reflective, rather than judgmental approach when you realize you’ve reacted negatively will get you into the habit of stepping back and saying, Wow. That’s interesting. I need to work through that. Instead of, Why am I such an idiot? I can’t believe I said that!
Trigger healing, not disease
Raz once asked me, “You know why we’re all so good at using negative patterns? Because we’ve been practicing them since early childhood”. It’s so true. And we can take comfort in the fact that health-defeating interactions with others are learned behaviors, behaviors that we can unlearn with time and practice. The best part is that when we release these patterns and come from a place of love, emotionally, it can trigger healing physically in the body.
The quadrinity of mind, body, spirit, and emotions make us who we are. And according to Raz, much of the work done at the Hoffman Institute involves differentiating emotions and identifying positive alternatives that allow people to lead proactive rather than reactive lives. Raz admits, “It requires intention and practice. I don’t want to make it sound simplistic. It’s something we will spend our whole lives doing.” But I can say from my own experience and that of my patients, it’s work worth doing.
It’s been said that the greatest journey we will ever take is to travel the distance from our head to our heart. The Hoffman Quadrinity Process takes individuals on that journey. It’s a path of incredible discovery, freedom, and love — a path of healing and finding oneself.