Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Landmark Forum almost destroyed my relationship!


In fairness, maybe that title should perhaps read “Attending the Landmark Forum twisted me up so much that I nearly destroyed my relationship!”  Isn’t nearly as good of a headline, though.

Preface


This is going to be a really long blog entry, so settle down for a bit of a read.  And about 2/3 of the way through, it gets pretty ugly.  But that’s also a couple months in the past as I write this, and I’m largely past this.  So thanks in advance for stunned expressions of sympathy.

How I Heard About the Landmark Forum


Since shortly after meeting my boyfriend in September 2008, he had been nagging me, um, pestering me, um, urging me to take the Landmark Forum.  For whatever reason, he thought it would be “good” for me, that it would help me “open up” when talking to him.  Obviously, he has been through the Forum or similar programs before, and he has also put his kids through the young people versions of it.

I tried to dodge the issue for months.  Why would I want to take this workshop?  What would I get out of it?  What should I expect it to be like?  All I got from him (and a couple other people) were frankly crap answers: it would “open up new possiblities in my life,” it would “help me be present,” it would “enable breakthroughs.”  (What does any of that mean, when you don’t have a context to interpret it from?)  The Landmark website was of about the same amount of use: lots of jargon, nothing concrete, and nothing descriptive.

Research: What is Landmark?


Oddly, the Internet seemed reasonably silent on the matter when I did research a couple times.  (Hmm, I didn’t find this page in prior searches.  Or this one.  Or this one.  Maybe my searches had been too narrow before?  I think I had been searching with terms which may have limited my results.)  There were a handful of sites with pretty negative descriptions of behaviors attached to the Forum workshops — sessions lasting until 1:00 am, participants not being allowed to use the restroom (or being followed if they did), people having crying jag breakdowns, people being encouraged to call their family members at 3:00 am and apologize for decades-old slights, presenters verbally berating workshop participants, and so on — but almost nothing describing the actual workshop.  (Oh, and then there were the cases of nervous breakdowns and attempted suicide after taking the Forum.  Yeah, that make me thrilled!)

After having taken the Forum, my best guess for the perceived lack of researchable content: partly caused by people people scared silent due to the legalese in the paperwork you have to sign before taking the workshop, and partly there being very little to actually describe.  More on that along the way.

Myself: Will It Work For Me?


I’m a Virgo, and beyond all the other stereotypes for the sign, that parlays itself into a need to understand, to know “why”.  If you can’t — or won’t — tell me why something is important or valuable (or in reverse, why something is bad), then I will either dig for the information or I will discard what you told me as unuseful.  (This reaches its height for me with opinions which just “are”: if you can’t/won’t explain your opinion, if you won’t defend it, if you refuse to even try to answer “why”, if you won’t spend the effort to let me understand it, then it is a useless opinion and I will ignore it.)  So that’s the root of the issue I had here: what is the Landmark Forum, what should I expect to get from it, do I need what I should expect to get from it, and thus should I pursue it?  When the answers to the first three of those are “I can’t tell you what it is,” “I can’t tell you what to expect,” and “It doesn’t matter if you need it,” it should be no surprise that I had a difficult time developing any answer other than “No” to the fourth one.

Every time that my boyfriend brought up taking the Forum, I tended to shut down.  This was because I had nothing positive I could say about the idea.  I didn’t want to attend, and I couldn’t see any reason why I should attend, and he couldn’t provide me with any reason my Virgo-self could accept as a reason to attend.  For him, of course, this was just more proof that I needed to attend it; I was “afraid” on some level.  (Is it “fear” when I want to speak from fact and not emotion, when I want to provide a reason for saying “No” other than “I don’t want to”?  I don’t know, maybe when you delve down several levels of “why” you get to something you could pretend is “fear”, for lack of a better term.)  He offered to pay for me to attend.  I eventually agreed to attend one of the Introduction nights, a three-hour preview of the Forum, to learn more of what was up.

Unspoken in all his prodding, but very clearly there to me, was a threat to our relationship.  “This is so important to me that if you don’t do it, I don’t know that our relationship can continue.”  We are warned abundantly about “If you love me, you’ll do XYZ” relationship manipulation; is this any different?  Sure feels similar.

What Does It Cost (Money and Time)


Adding to all this mess was the time commitment required (and the “money” and “mind” equivalents of it): all day Friday, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday, plus an additional Tuesday evening.  And “all day” here means 9:00 am to 10:00 pm — 13 hours!  So attending this would steal a day of vacation from me and completely wipe out every bit of my weekend, including my usual Friday night country-western dancing and all the housework and just relaxation-from-work that comes with the weekend, plus an organization board meeting I would have to skip.  So now you’re talking $400 for the Forum, plus the $250 (post-tax) income loss tied to the vacation day, plus all the stress components tied to the lost weekend, plus the pleasure and health component of losing my primary hobby and weekly exercise and social activity.  That raises the bar that Landmark needs to exceed to be a “success” quite a bit.

Stepford Intro Night


I took the intro night in October.  The woman running it was not the one who would end up as the presenter for the course I eventually took.  The roughly three-hour session mirrored the eventual landmark sessions, where we listened to the presenter talk, and then discussed a topic with the person seated next to us.  (In this case, that was my boyfriend.)  Most of the session was harmless enough, I guess.

Toward the end, of course, they shifted into sales mode.  One of the graduates or volunteers runing the session came over to sit with us and said some inane stuff about “What brings you here?  What session are you going to take?” and so on.  And since I still had no reason to take the Forum other than that my boyfriend wanted me to and would pay the registration fee for me, that’s pretty much what I told her.  And we sat there for a couple minutes, nodding and blinking, me trying to find something of substance to say to her.  (What I really wanted to say was “Go away, you Stepford wife freak.  If this is what the Forum will turn me into, I really don’t want to take it!”  Probably wouldn’t have gone over well, though.)

Finally, Some Usable Info Comes Along


A night or two before starting the Forum, I talked to another friend who had gone through it (several years ago).  He said that, knowing me (since we share some traits), I would either really like it or really hate it.  (Guess which one it ended up being!)  He told me more about what I should expect to experience at the Forum than anyone else had: a series of “listen to the presenter” sessions followed by directed chats with the person sitting next to you, with periodic breaks during which you might have a small “homework” assignment and after which you should sit next to someone different.  (He also said to avoid sitting next to the people with black bars on their badges, since they were graduates retaking the Forum, and were apt to be overly earnest in a way that would undoubtedly annoy me.)  He also said that I would probably not enjoy it much until the end of the second day or start of the third day, when things would start connecting for me.  This was useful advice, encouraging me to push through the presumably boring, tedious parts to come, that the content and mindset should change eventually.

He also said that one of the best things he got out of the Forum was, having taken it with his now-ex-wife, that they at least have common language from which to communicate with each other, which probably helps them have a better relationship (for their kids) than many divorced couples have.  This gave me hope for having some benefit come out of things, regardless.

Cease & Desist?


Now here’s where I have maybe tread lightly.  What can I tell you about the actual Forum and what can’t I?  I think that so long as I don’t (a) badmouth Landmark without concrete examples to contexutalize my statements and (b) so long as I don’t discuss the ideas (“technology”) in detail, I should be within legal, journalistic grounds.  (I won’t be surprised if I get a Cease & Desist letter from them on general principles, though.  Then again, now that I am finding more articles and essays with a negative projection of the Landmark Forum out there than before, maybe not.)

Friday


As directed, I arrived early for the session, in order to register and get situated.

One of the first things the presenter (a Bolivian woman) did was to tell everyone that if they didn’t want to be there, they should get up and leave, that Landmark would give them a full refund.  A half-dozen people left right then and there.  While this was initially surprising — and massively tempting to me — it’s probably also a good idea, since it prevents people who are going to have a bad experience from disliking it even more and thus badmouthing Landmark.

Early on, she basically told people who wanted to figure out what they were going to get from the Forum, how it worked, etc. (like me!), to just stop it.  I don’t recall the exact phrasing she used, but the gist was that that if you don’t “get” it, if you try to analyze it, you’ll hamper your success.  If you’re confused, that’s okay, because it leaves you open to their message.  (Great idea.  Fails utterly for someone like me who can’t, won’t, and doesn’t want to “let go” of analyzing things.)

We took a break around lunch time, another in mid-afternoon, and one around dinner time, leaving at around 10:00 pm.  At each break, we were supposed to do some “homework”, which varied from thinking about an issue to talking with another Forum participant to making a phone call to a friend or family member.  While I did think about the assignments, other than the ones I could do by myself, I didn’t actually do them.  I didn’t particularly want to engage with other attendees (in general, I’m a private person and I neither want to know a strangers issues nor burden the, with mine), and I sure didn’t want to call up someone else and intrude on them with this stuff.  I was much more interested in getting food, getting coffee (so I could stay away for hours of sitting on my butt), and trying to clear the Landmark stuff out of my head.

I think the only major piece of “technology” that they presented on Friday was dubbed “Rackets”, a jargon term for how we limit ourselves.  “I can’t”, “You don’t understand”, and so on.  All very true, and mostly stuff I got in my high school college-prep English class 25-mumble years ago, just by another name.

We were there for for 13 hours on Friday (including breaks).  Out of that, I would say about 90 minutes of it was actual content.  The rest was chit chat from the presenter, one-on-one discussion with other attendees, listening to attendees on the mike talking about their issues (for as long as an hour each), and some talk about Landmark’s kid and teen versions of the Forum.  (By end of day Saturday, I was aware that this last was really a form of advertising for their other programs — an infommercial, if you will.)  Astoundingly, the presenter said that Landmark has cut down the length of their programs in recent years, that they used to go until 1:00 am or even 3:00 am.  (Jesus Christ, I would walk out before that.  Or maybe just fal asleep.)

In the one-on-one discussions, some of the people I chatted with were likewise uncertain that they wanted to be at the Forum at all.  It was good to have the chance to talk over some of my concerns with others who shared them.  (I wonder how many others were actually also uncertain.  I tended to sit in end or back row chairs, mostly so I could get up to go to the toilet when I needed to with minimal disturbance, but I suspect that those more certain of their intent at being at Landmark would also take the front row and center chairs, and thus buffer around them with similar minds.  And thus, those of us who were more margnal would naturally tend to be out on the, um, margins.)

After each of the three breaks, when we came back, there appeared to be fewer chairs than before.  At first, I and some others figured that they had set up more chairs than they needed for the number registered and were just paring that down.  (There’s probably some truth to that.  A certain percentage won’t show at all.)  And some of the removal of chairs was likely just to force people to sit next to one another rather than leaving personal space.  But the cynic in me says that after the first break, those shouldn’t be issues, since you should be able to optimize the seating once.  If chairs keep going away, that means some people aren’t coming back from the breaks.

During one break, I visited the Fremont Vintage Mall, an underground antique mall (the sort where a couple dozen people rent out areas for their stuff to sell).  I found a bunch of tiki stuff and took pics to show my boyfriend.  (As expected, he has most of the stuff, but not all of it.  I bought him a genuine tiki mug — “genuine” here meaning “with a handle” — which I hope he doesn’t have, and a couple weeks later, went back and got him a cool resin ashtray from Hawai’i which had the state name and the tiki in relief; both to be Christmas gifts.

The evening’s homework had a couple parts, including making a phone call to someone you have been “running a racket” on and writing a “practice letter” that would accomplish the same thing.  Needless to say, I had no interest in doing such, and didn’t do them.  (Yes, I’m sure I jeopardized my ability to get the full benefit of the Forum.  So be it.)

Friday Night


When I got home, my boyfriend wasn’t there.  We was still out at the bar, finishing up country dancing and socializing afterward.  (Grr.  I called when I left the site to see where he was, but got no answer.  Would have liked to have had a beer and maybe even a last dance of the evening.)  When I got home, I had to sit down and crank out an event poster for a club I’m in (which I should have done the previous week, probably); this took about 90 minutes to do, so I didn’t get to bed until 12:30 am or so.

Saturday


Saturday didn’t start off on a good note.  The weather was clear and right around freezing, and I was riding my scooter (as I do year round unless I have to use the car).  Going up Columbia Drive, I hit black ice on a curving hill and went down.  Thankfully, I was wearing leather chaps (more for warmth than protection, I thought!), and since you slide on ice, I was physically reasonably okay, and with only a couple small scrapes on the chaps and jacket.  The scooter ended up with a bent right mirror (again), a bent right handlebar tip (again) which I now have to manually counter-turn to release the throttle, and the right front blinker stopped working (again, but has since come back; damaged connection, probably).  I quickly righted the scooter and got on my way again, and even made it to the Forum site on time.  But all day, I had pain in my left wrist (which I had sprained back in August), my neck, and my right shoulder.  (It took over a month for the shoulder to get back to normal.)

The amount of content for Saturday was a little better, maybe as much as double what there was on Friday (ooh, maybe 3 hours out of 13 this time!), two or three more concepts (“technology” — retch) useful for self-analysis and self-realization.  Stuff like the difference between what actually happened with an event and the stories we build around that, until we convince ourselves that the stories are what happened.  Again, nothing I hadn’t been exposed to before (and used for myself to some degree), just presented under a different name and with different intent.  Never hurts to revisit and reinforce good techniques, of course, and I figured I could at least get some value out of an otherwise lost weekend.

Of course, I still didn’t want to be there, so I was resistant and cynical and under-participative.  (This is what happens when you are cornered into attending something rather than wanting to do so, when there’s no “organic” reason for you to do it.)  Some of the other people were feeling similar, via the one-on-one discussions; one guy I was paired with after lunch apologized midway through that session and left the Forum.  (I can’t help but think that my own dismay pushed him over the edge.  And more power to him for leaving then; wish I had, since I might have avoided what was to come that evening.)

The late afternoon and evening portions were about 2/3 occupied with attendees on the mike, working out their problems in front of everyone else.  The format started to take on a “rubberneckers at the car wreck” feeling, as the person would say what they were going through, the presenter would twist it around, the person would refocus on some event from years ago (even childhood) that was holding them back, and then we’d have 20 minutes of stammering and flailing as the person tried to have a “breakthrough” to get past it, desperately wanting the presenter to actually guide and coach them, but she wouldn’t.  (Should wouldn’t explicitly, anyway.  I’m aware that she was coaching via very subtle guidance, but it felt agonizingly drawn out when you had to sit there and watch it happen.)  Sometimes, the “answer” was painfully obvious to us in the audience.

What was most amazing/appalling about these on-mike cases was the issues they brought up.  Marital separation and divorce showed up almost every time, along with references to childhood abuse, sexual abuse on a family member, and so on.  (One woman merely wanted to change careers and open a store, bless her.)  One guy had taken the Forum multiple times, trying to get past his issue; all I could think was “Guy, maybe you should see a therapist instead of taking this thing over and over.  It ain’t working for you.”  This repeated evidence of traumatic situations people were trying to deal with via the Forum served to reinforce the idea that there should be a genuine need to take the program, and thus wormed into me that I was somehow lacking because I didn’t have a personal tragic situation to compare.  Maybe that was why I was so disengaged from the Forum, and thus maybe I need to dig for one, even to potentially blow up a molehill into a mountain if that’s what it would take to feel like I really was supposed to be there.  (Yeah, let that idea sink in a while.  It will come up later.)

The other third of these afternoon and evening sessions was an increasing amount of “infomercial”, advertising Landmark’s other programs under the cover of describing how the presenter came to Landmark and how fantasticly kids and teens respond to the Forum, and so on.  Increasingly obvious advertising, to a cynic like me.

Saturday Night


Here’s where it gets hairy.


After the increased level of annoyance and anxiety I was having with the Forum, I really really needed something to clear my mind.  Some socialization that had nothing to do with (no discussion of) the Forum.  Some alcohol, to numb the brain.  Maybe some hot sex.

So what greets me when I get home at 10:30 that night?  My boyfriend, ready to go out for drinks?  Nope.  My boyfriend, looking sexy in leather gear with a bottle of beer in one hand and lube in the other?  Nope.  My boyfriend, in his PJs, in bed.  So much for anything of what I needed (wanted), I thought.  Could I have asked him to get dressed and go out for a beer with me?  Probably, but he tends to be very directed, so if he is in his PJs and in bed, he’s done for the night.

So I got undressed and went to bed, and lay there awake, unable to sleep, mulling over the Forum and how much I hated it and how much I wanted to just bag the whole thing and how that would let down my boyfriend’s faith in me and how not finishing the Forum would destroy our relationship and how I couldn’t bear to lose him and how I wanted to cry and how slitting my wrists to commit suicide would feel.

That’s right: I was so fucking upset that I considered killing myself.


Only for a couple minutes, but that’s a couple minutes that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  (As did the couple minutes where I considered that during my senior year of college, over 20 years ago.  Burns strong in the memory even now.)

Instead, I got up and went into the living room and read a couple comic books.  Couldn’t sleep.  Grabbed a blanket and curled up in a ball on the futon in the second bedroom.  Couldn’t sleep.  Got back in bed.  Couldn’t sleep.  Finally drifted off somewhere after 2:00 am.

No, I didn’t wake my boyfriend and talk all this through with him.  That’s not how I work (see above); I don’t say something until I’ve worked it out for myself.

Sunday


Despite my issues from Saturday night and ever increasing depression about the whole thing, I nonetheless dutifully went back on Sunday morning.

I’m sure it goes without question that I was inattentive, reluctant to fully participate and communicate, and so on.  And frankly, the Forum did nothing to improve on my attitude, since Sunday was even more content free, roughly a 50/50 split between infommercial advertising for their other programs (including pushes to sign up for the advanced class now, at a savings) and more rounds of people airing their personal disasters and personal breakthroughs at the mike for 30–45 minutes at a shot.

During the couple bits of one-on-one discussion with those next to us — to discuss our “homework” from the night before — I was pretty painfully honest about things that were going on with me, including the previous night’s suicide thoughts.  One of them asked my why I hadn’t just left, and another suggested that I should get up on the mike.  (Not on your fucking life!)

Self-Analysis


So why was I sticking it out?  Why was proceeding with this worth depression and contemplating suicide?

My conclusion is that one of the things that drives me in all facets of my life is “personal honor”.  That is, more than being right or being happy, what is important to me is my word that I will do something, see something through, complete something.  It doesn’t matter if it is something tiny or something grandiose, and it doesn’t really matter if anyone else thinks it is important or thinks I need to finish it.

Mind you, I don’t get fulfillment from finishing tasks and projects.  Nor do I get it from kudos about doing a good job.  What drives me is that I said I would do it.  Tasks can linger for months and years, but so long as I haven’t given up on them, then I haven’t failed.  (Someday, I will finish the next issue of that comics fanzine; the last issue came out in 1995 or so.)

I can see aspects of this in several places in my life, in things that I have tried to accomplish several times over the years, but never succeeded with — but because I am still trying, or still have it in my head to keep trying, I haven’t failed.  I just haven’t succeeded… yet.  (Yeah, I’m sure a therapist could have a field day with me.)

As an result of this, I will claw mightily to hang on to things I have taken on, even long past where anyone else thinks I should.  Letting go of things like this is very hard for me, although I’ve had some success over time in disposing of back-burner projects which I’ve eventually admitted I will never manage to deal with, and have managed to not feel that I’ve lost “honor” as a result of dropping the task.  (And I’ll also admit here, this was a useful bit from the Forum: admitting when “someday” really means “never” is a powerful tool.  Of course, again, I had hit upon the concept myself a while ago; the Forum merely reconfirmed it.)

In the case of something like this disastrous experience with the Landmark Forum, the real task is not finishing the Forum, it is finishing my promise to my boyfriend to do the Forum.  And that’s why I could not walk out: I would lose honor with myself by not fulfilling my promise to him, regardless of what his reaction might be.  (That’s also, perhaps, why I am reluctant to make “promises” to people.  Whether it’s “Promise me you’ll call” or “Promise me you’ll never embarrass me like that again”: I can’t make that promise.  If circumstances arise that cause such to fail, then no matter what the outcome to you or to us, I will have failed me, and that’s the worst thing that could occur.)

Anyway, back to the Forum…

Sunday Night


After the dinner break, previous graduates were invited to attend the evening session.  I guess this is so they can embrace your breakthrough, or so they can be there to support you in it and push you through (or in some cases, maybe just so they can see you haven’t wasted their money).  So my boyfriend met me for dinner, with the intent to attend the evening session with me.

Over Thai food, I let him know just how horrible of a time I had had, and how I had quietly seethed the previous night about him being ready for bed when I got home, and about the suicide contemplation, and a host of others things.  Several times I had to shut him down when he tried to defend his actions or downplay my concerns; this was my time to talk and no matter what he thought about the events, the “truth” I had to deal with was what I had to deal with.  Whether distorted in one way or another, my feelings had validity which had to get out so that they could then be dealt with.

Bless his heart, when we were done with dinner and heading back to the Forum, he told me I didn’t have to go through the rest of it, that he could see how depressed and angry I was, and that my attending the rest of the Forum that night (and on Tuesday) wasn’t going accomplish anything positive.

We then left and headed to the bar (actually, I headed to my office to pick up some work stuff and then met him at the bar), had a couple of beers, and went home.

Aftermath


The next two days (Monday and Tuesday), I called in sick to work.  I was still so wound tight and angry about the weekend that I didn’t trust myself to engage well with other people.  (Is that “playing hooky” or is it a “mental health” day?  I say the latter.)  And since some knew I was going to a weekend “conference”, I didn’t want anyone to ask me questions that I might end up having to answer, with all the emotions that would resurrect.

I have avoided talking further about my experience with the Forum with anyone other than my boyfriend, and not even with him since that Sunday.  I think he knows that it is a subject to avoid, big time.  It took a month for me to start writing this lengthy blog post, and over two weeks for me to write it, a section at a time.  And then another 6 weeks (including two weeks out of the country) to edit and revise it to where it will be able to be posted to the blog.  (I will eventually revise it again and put it up as a regular article on my website, and revise this blog post to be a pointer to that page.)

In late January, my boyfriend made a comment about someone opening up “possibilities” in his life (that’s a jargon term from the Forum), and I instantly bristled.  When I made an edge-tinged comment back about “Just don’t say it as ‘inventing possibilities’,” we almost had a little spat about whether I was “afraid” of the Forum, with him saying that he knew it wouldn’t work for me going in because I had made my mind up ahead of time.  (I stopped short of saying “Then why did you waste your money?”, but I sure thought it.  I wanted to add “And why did you put me through that?”, but that’s not completely fair; he didn’t envision quite the reaction I would have.)  Regardless, all hints of Landmark’s jargon and directions are obviously going to be very raw for me for months and maybe years to come — you don’t get past suicide thoughts just like that.  I think I’m going to have to develop protection modes to deal with it, like just leaving the room when subjects too close to that come up.  So yeah, maybe I am afraid: afraid that I will lash back at even reasonably innocent connections to Landmark that come up.  (In fact, I found myself doing that earlier today.  I read this article on ex-gay conversion therapy in the UK, and found myself getting irritated when I came to the last few paragraphs, as they hit too close to the experience I had with Landmark, with all the feelings of being inadequately fucked up that I got from doing the Forum.)

As noted or alluded to earlier, I will have taken away from this experience three things:
  • A refresher on some methods for examining how and why things go wrong, both for myself and for others, including some shorthhand terms for those methods.
  • An even deeper distrust for group programming, organized religion, and other programs which try to mold how people see themselves and the world.
  • Hopefully the ability to say “No, and fuck no!” when someone tries to badger me into doing something that I really don’t want to do and think may even be bad for me.

Is Landmark a Therapy Fad?


I encountered a fair number of gays and lesbians during the Forum, some solo and some couples.  As a rough measure, and since there were a lot of people I never interacted with at all, I would say that well over 10% of the attendees were queer, higher than random population sampling would lead to.  What would cause this?  Are queers just more fucked up than most people?

As I think back to the early 1990s in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember that being in therapy was a huge fad at the time.  You just weren’t a full-fledged queer unless you were forking over money to someone once a week who was trained to ask you about your relationship with your parents and such.  At the time, my joking comment was “I already know I’m fucked up, I don’t need to pay someone to tell me,” but my real thought at the time was “I don’t think I have any problems that warrant seeing a therapist.”  My opinion in this matter hasn’t changed in the past nearly 20 years.

While that fad eventually went away, does this weighting of the attendees toward queers indicate that it’s either back or has shifted from solo therapy into group?  And does it imply an inherent searching for something on the part of queers — either searching for something to give meaning or explanation, or searching for something to “fix”?  Does it indicate something about gay culture that makes us into perpetual victims, where the more success the community has, the more individuals look to find something else to blame for holding us down?

(Now take that idea and run it through the sieves of women’s issues, black issues, or Jewish issues.)

Recommendations


As I said earlier, I’ve tried to be as fair as possible in this toward Landmark Education and their Forum workshop.  The bulk of the “blame” for my bad experience has to lie with me, with what I brought (or failed to bring) to the table and how I reacted to it.  I have no question that the Landmark Forum can have great value for some people.

(Then again, I also think that the concept behind ex-gay conversion therapy has value.  There unquestionably are people in the world for whom accepting homosexual urges at all, much less embracing them to partake of the “gay community”, is a mentally and spiritually “painful” concept.  Without judging those people and what causes the difficulties they have with that, counseling of varying degrees can be invaluable, and some of that counseling could and even should be on how to control those urges and move into a place when the mental and spiritual pain is minimized.  In other words, on how to not be gay.  God knows, if you don’t want to be gay, I don’t want you to be gay, either.  [fantasies about hot construction workers aside].  After the concept of such “counseling”, though, you get to the implementation of that counseling and therapy, and that’s where my support for the ex-gay concept goes away.)

(In no way am I saying that I equate Landmark to ex-gay conversion therapy, of course.  I’m only trying to connect the ideas that (a) there are people it is meant to serve and people it is not meant to serve, and (b) even for people it is meant to serve, how it is run may not be right for all people.)

At one point during the weekend, where they were suggesting that we invite friends and family to the Tuesday night final session/sales pitch (which is what it would have been, I’m sure), and my first thought was “There’s no one that I hate enough to wish this on.”  And then I thought of my ex.  (>ba-dump ching<)  More seriously, although that was at a point in the weekend where I was very angry and depressed, I was still able to think of the pieces where I saw value, and which people I knew who would probably thrive on the interactions with other people, the group sessions listening to others working through their problems, possibly the issues that I knew they had, and so on, and I could see the Landmark Forum (or similar series) being perhaps just the thing those people could use.  My ex is one such person.

But it’s 100% not for me.  I definitely won’t go out of my way to recommend it to anyone.  And I would strongly (strongly!) recommend going into it only with the belief that it can help you and with some idea of what it can help you with.



Updated on May 22, 2010
My boyfriend broke things off with me at the end of March, connecting with someone else, someone whom he said was more “emotionally available” and who could give him what he needs.  It’s hard not to think that my failure to complete the Landmark Forum played into this.

So maybe I need to change that title:
The Landmark Forum DID destroy my relationship!

25 comments:

  1. Oh Jim. My ex took Landmark four years ago and he hasn't been the same since. He tried so hard to get me to do it that I had to ban him from mentioning it or I would sever all ties. God knows how many courses later and he is unrecognisable. He has distanced himself from our daughter and all his friends from before Landmark. He makes no sense. He, like other Landmarkees, believes that integrity is not actually having integrity, but is actually convincing others that you have integrity. He has become pompous and humourless. He has no self awareness. He is pouring his money into the organisation. I can walk away, but my heart breaks for our daughter.

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  2. So sorry to hear that, Lilith. My boyfriend -- now my ex, see the update above -- was never quite that bad, fortunately.

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  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your negative experiences. The Forum was a huge eye opener for me and allowed me to better appreciate my own relationships with loved ones and to also explore new options for my own life. Obviously it doesn't work for everyone, but it has certainly had a positive effect on my life and others that took the forum with me. And no, I'm not drinking the kool aid!

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  4. I'm experiencing a similar situation. I took the landmark forum earlier this year because my bf wanted me to. I can say that I did get some things out of it but I don't want to commit to the education for the rest of my life. However my bf is getting involved more and more and now he's doing the Introduction to the Landmark Forum (ILP) course where you can potentially become an intro leader. I feel our relationship has turned 180. Every time we talk, it's about landmark. He applies Landmark to every situation and it makes me really frustrated. He says he's doing Landmark to build the best relationship for us but I feel our best relationship was when he wasn't doing landmark. I feel so lost and confused and I'm actually thinking of breaking up.. What do i do??

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  5. I'm not a couples counselor, and I only have your side of things to go on (so it is by definition an incomplete picture), but one thing strikes me from this:

    • One person does not build a relationship for the two of you. A relationship is built on communication and shared experiences. If you aren't participating in this "building", then it is not going to succeed.

    Obviously, there is some "We need to sit down and hash this out" which the two of you need to do. The worst thing that can happen there, though, is to come to that from a position of emotional reaction/rejection. That will only allow him to use the Landmark techniques to dismiss your issues and put you down even further. So take the time to outline the issues you've got -- 3 to 5 bullet points -- and self-analyze them from the viewpoint he'll be seeing them from. Apply the techniques he'll be using to strengthen your arguments ahead of time. (And you may end up discarding some along the way.)

    Good luck!

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  6. Thank you for this, Jim! I had a similar experience in the "80's" with LifeSpring. I am now doing the Forum this month as a promise to a colleague of mine. I really appreciated your recommendation - having an idea of what I want to get out of it and focusing on that. I did not do that with LifeSpring and had to deal with side effects of shame, humiliation and ANGER for a long time (I stayed until the bitter end). In retrospect, those have been my "issues" all along (hmmmmmm). Fortunately, I recently found a therapeutic model to let go of some of this stuff and now feel less reactive. Back then, I did the program with my partner and began to view him differently afterwards. I left the relationship eventually (probably the only positive outcome). Hopefully, I'll be more open and mindful for this round. If not, I'm sure the Forum will be a good experiment to test my progress (going solo this time). Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

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  7. I read your blog post with great interest, and want to thank you for sharing your experience. My 27 year old son, whom I was previously extremely close with, began dating a woman last year who has a black belt in Landmark. She told him that she would never again date a man who hadn't been through it, so of course, he joined... and sadly, I don't really know him anymore. :-( He is disappointed in me for refusing to go beyond the Tuesday night he guilted me into attending, and he is no longer the compassionate, fun guy I used to know. He seems somewhat arrogant (as if he knows something no one else does), and uses language that is not his own. I wonder how on earth I will ever get him back, and just hope that when and if his relationship runs it's course, he will realize what he's left behind. **sigh**

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  8. Aiyo. Such an old thread and now that I'm at the bottom of it I feel like I should post. Here's the quick and skinny: Landmark takes all of 20th century philosophy and pretty well the main tenets of every religion (at least that I've studied) and mushes them together into a quick, 3-day session. If you don't like any of that stuff (you know, like asking what the phrase, "I am" means) then you probably won't get much. End of they day, people who watch wrestling are as brainwashed as people who take landmark. Always depends on the person. The strong of mind take what they hear, process, and toss what they don't need. The weak end up drinking the kool aid and acting like they know something other people don't. But then again, us saying that they think they know something that we don't is kind of like... I dunno... EXACTLY WHAT THEY'RE DOING. D'oh! And the world turns... Coming from someone who has chased religion, thrown it away, chased philosophy, thrown it away, and then taken this course, the LEAST that it is is a really interesting academic exercise. The best that it is is life-changing. The worst that it is people take away the cult attitude just like those people at Wrestlemania.

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  9. I dated a girl that was really into the forum. She was super cute, bubbly and stole my heart for almost a year. In the end, the bullshit language she used and the self centeredness that Landmark encouraged destroyed any hopes that we could have had. Like your boyfriend she constantly pressured me trying to get me to enroll even offering to pay for the forum herself. After going to an introductory session, I figured that she was totally brainwashed and a lost cause. A couple of weeks later I ended up breaking up with her and the Landmark intro was one of the biggest motivations.

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  10. It's somewhat comforting to see that I'm not the only one in the "tried to date a Landmarker Club." The woman I dated was fun and social and relatively self-aware, but she had been involved in Landmark for several years before we met, and I just wish I would have known her before that. I, being an open-minded, curious person, agreed to take the main forum course. It was interesting and pushed me to have some heart to heart conversations with people in my life, but beyond that, I had no interest in continuing involvement. The pressure and persistence they put on folks, plus the strange attitude of exclusivity, and robot-like use of their language and "technology" just left a bad taste in my mouth and soul. My ex is/was heavily involved with Landmark and devotes many hours a week and probably hundreds of dollars a year to the organization. I felt like nothing else in the world could compete with her devotion to it and it was too much of a turn-off for me to continue the relationship. I really tried to reason my way through the negative feelings, but I'm relieved to now have some distance from Landmark now that I don't have to hear about it every day. The ex gf is a wonderful person and there were certainly other things besides Landmark that caused me to hesitate about the relationship, but it definitely had an impact.

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  13. A friend of mine called me up at 11pm last night and started apologizing to me about how he wasnt there for me and how I was always there for him etc. In thought it was sweet until he said I have been to this landmark forum and they taught me this about myself and I know what your thinking and trust me its not a cult. I didnt think it was a cult until those works came out of his mouth. So after 10 minutes of him telling me how life changing it was for him, he then started telling me how I needed to do it too because I have things going on in my life. I couldnt help but giggle. I manage to not commit to going with him and soon as I got off the phone I started researching. Imhave let him know I have no interest in going the workshop but I have a feeling this may not be the end of it.

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  14. It's really interesting to read all of these comments. I have done the landmark forum and I honestly can say it's massively helped me have closer, more loving and open conversations with people. It has given me a lot in my life. But I've always been aware that Landmark doesn't do jack all; I make the changes and I'm the one that makes the difference...Landmark in a way gives you the chance to look at yourself and your life in a light that you've never seen it before and in some cases, simply would have never seen it before doing the Landmark Forum. I share what I've gotten out of my participation in Landmark with other people, because it really lights me up. But I'm really careful not to manipulate or try to push people to do anything. If they want to do landmark, great. If not, still great! I understand some people really push others though, and it leaves a lot of people upset and feeling left behind. Not cool! My advice is to be honest with those people and say, "look. I have to have an honest conversation with you. I feel _______ and it makes me feel like Landmark is a ________" . And really ask that they listen to you. And they consider where you are coming from. Now, I don't know how they are going to react or what they are going to say, but it at least gives you a start to change the relationship with the person; which obviously some of you guys that posted care about. Give it a go!

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    1. Well... some people are naturally more self-analyzed than others. Some of us have no fear of following the rabbit hole of truth wherever it might lead us and for many, this leads us to and more often AWAY from a lot of things others might cling to for comfort.

      My personal feelings on this based on observing colleagues and others in my life... is that the majority has no interest in psychology, philosophy; a deeper understanding and/or exploration of self; who we are as people and what our core principles are.

      That's why I'm not surprised when anyone tells me, "I've taken 'the forum' and it opened up a would of possibilities in my life that never existed before"...

      Welcome to the world of self discovery. Many of us have been here a long time. Some need to spend ~$600 to find it in a group setting and others might find it on their own...

      Lots of ways to arrive at the same destination.. but the journey is important too.

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  15. I do believe there is truth in the statement that the forum played a part in the breakup. Could it be that he was ready to leave and this was his last attempt for you benefit and take responsibility of your life? But instead you came back and missed almost everything the forum was about which is evident from your blog. I commend you for at least trying and you are 100% right. It is not for everyone.

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  16. May I suggest to the author of this post that you entered the forum in bad faith?

    There were two responses you could have chosen in integrity when asked to participate.

    First is to say "Nope. I'm sorry, but I see no value in this, and I respectfully decline, notwithstanding your passionate insistence that I attend."

    Second is to say "Okay, I am skeptical, but I trust you, and for that reason alone I will temporarily suspend my skepticism, participate 100% of the way and only judge the outcome at the end."

    You did neither of those things.

    Instead, you spent the entire forum (from what I can see) collecting evidence to justify your pre-existing point of view: that it had nothing to offer you.

    It didn't matter what the content was. It could have been the most awe-inspiring spectacle in the history of humankind and you would have fought tooth and nail to be "right" about the pointlessness of it, because that's what you were committed to believing.

    That's totally inauthentic. If you were committed to hating it, why did you even bother to show up?

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    1. sounds about right to me, take it for what it is to you... be open.

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  17. I feel sorry for the sheep in the world. Like children and the pied piper. Landmark is evil. The corporate greed aspect of it alone is enough to make one want to vomit. Don't lose your life and destroy your relationships to enrich a corporation.

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  18. My ex husband went to landmark forum many years ago now. The first couple of days he came home and didn't feel that anything was happening for him. But on the third night he came home and was so filled up with his experience like he had seen the light. He wanted me to attend one evening with him. I was torn between seeing what he was up to and spending the evening with our three children. I stayed home. It felt like he was out doing some secret thing. I had no interest in it. It definitely was bad for our relationship.

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  19. Its an awesome experience,,,, when it says transforming life,,, It is. Trust me. And please don't follow random bullshit comment. Just go and experience this. I wish you all the best.

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  20. Look. I understand that you see Landmark as the thing that was between you and your partner. But, have you once considered it is your attitude and who you believe you are? When you look for the negative, that's what you will find. Maybe your boyfriend saw that about you and saw a way for you to start moving away from that point of view. And, if he left you because he couldn't stand your defensiveness, I think he made a good choice for both of you. You didn't do the program as designed, and these are your results. No one else's. I did the Landmark Forum a few months after my husband. I made him go first because I was tired of being the only one in the relationship committed to growth and being blamed for all his faults. He came back as the person I would marry over and over again. That lasted about 2 weeks. When I did it, I no longer cared what he was doing. He had freedom to be and so did I. For about 3 months. Then we did the Advanced Course. There is zero room for selfish and self serving mindsets in that course. It's the juice, as they say. It gets you to start looking past the end of your nose and all your petty significance, and create something for the world, as you. It's quite extraordinary. So, consider, for a moment, that this whiny diatribe is the actual reason he left. Not Landmark. My husband and I ended up divorced, even with the technology. But that's not because of the technology. It's because we couldn't use it in an empowered way from where we were at. It has been 4 years since that split. Now he is in a place where he can acknowledge all the BS he brought that destroyed the marriage. I'm able to receive it graciously. I apologized and took responsibility for my part a long time ago. Whenever something comes up, I can do more of that cleanup. Life doesn't happen in a classroom. It happens out in your regular every day life. Landmark is the only place i know that encourages you to go take real action in your real life with what you're developing in their work. I've done other programs and courses within and outside Landmark. Life is a growth process. You can get busy growing, or get busy dying.

    And for those who think it's a greedy corporation, I've seen the numbers. It's an employee owned company and all profits, if any, are returned to the employees. The finance department carefully assesses the logistical and human resource needs for these seminars, and the pay is in the 25th-50th percentile for the industry. They all fly coach. They spend hours away from their families to make a difference for people they don't even know around the world. That's more than most people I know. Try generosity, honor, and respect. It will get you much further in life.

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    1. What a nasty comment to that woman: "Try generosity, honor, and respect." There is no honor or respect in that snide I'm better-than-you tone. Plus it's incredibly rude, arrogant and self-serving to tell a stranger that a "whiny diatribe" caused her divorce.

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  21. I’m here to share: Landmark Forum has completely kicked my life in a different direction. I now have much closer, more open relationships with everyone in my immediate family, am more capable of directing my own life. I run a successful business and make way, way more money than before I got what I got there. (Ialso don’t have a bug up my ass about people who make money, which contributes to this) I refer to what I learned about myself at Landmark daily, and it has been years since I went to the Forum.
    My background has been in philosophy, psychology and myth. My participation in the Landmark Forum felt like the key I needed to unlock everything I held in the conceptual realm and use it.
    As a comment to the blogger: this entire post seems to come from a victim mentality. You also seem to have gone into the Forum feeling forced, not owning your choice. The entire message of what Landmark teaches is of self responsibility, even of the events around us that seem to have no causal connection. This is a means to an end, where you did not arrive apparently.
    There are many ways up the mountain. Landmark feels like a chairlift.

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  22. My dad went this past weekend, now he has a cult mentality. This is supposed to bring families together but it has started to have the opposite effect! If he keeps up with that bull s. My sister and I will not be speaking to him until he gets back to his norman self. Fkn cult

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