Landmark Confusion - seeking support
Date: September 02, 2016 02:27PM
Hi, I found this forum today after researching Landmark and cults. I apologize for the length, but I have a lot to say. I'll share my Landmark experience and why I think it's good / bad. I was introduced to the Landmark Forum 4 years ago. Since then, I've considered it the most important weekend of my life, yet I'm struggling to decide whether it's ultimately worth it. I don't have experience with any other LGAT or seminars, and I know very little about cults. However, I am a trained psychologist, and I'm interested in learning about how Landmark psychological helps and hurts. Here is my "story":
4 years ago, a 65 year old PhD friend brought me to a Landmark intro. I had just gotten through a psychiatric stay due to some major life changes, and my friend thought I would gain something from checking out what he had been telling me about for a few years. Regarding my psychiatric stay, I was diagnosed as bipolar-II, however the psychiatrists acknowledged that given my history, symptoms might have manifested due to a drug-related binge. My history actually suggests clinical depression off and on throughout the years. From 18 to 25, I was attending one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and CBT across many therapists, counselors, and environments. I never felt like I gained much from my sessions, even after having spent thousands of dollars.
At my intro, I was fascinated by the psychology behind the concepts. The story model (how we misinterpret events and snowball them into a fictitious reality), how we don't know what we don't know - and we don't know we don't know it, and whatever else the leader mentioned intrigued me. I had just finished reading a book on buddhist psychology, and the Forum seemed right up my alley. I was in grad school for psychology, and I had lost faith in professional psychology's ability to help people. Besides my personal experience, I encountered many people who were either changing therapists every month or were hooked on medication. As a school psychologist, I was also tired of relying on strategies that were validated with case studies of size 5 N or less. Without anyone pressuring me, I signed up immediately.
Everything the leader talked about over those 3 days spoke to me. Everything he said made sense with how I viewed the world, and he was filling my mind with obvious-yet-not-obvious concepts that I was either never exposed to or didn't understand during my years of therapy, schooling, and self-help reading. Here are some standout concepts that changed my view:
1. Story - standing in front of that room, I became aware of the thoughts and words I presumed people were thinking and saying to themselves. "He's an idiot", "He looks stupid", "stop wasting our time" - I was finally able to separate what I was making up about the situation with what was so. Just because someone appears to be frowning doesn't mean they have a problem or think I'm stupid. Yes, this might seem obvious, especially for someone heavily exposed to psychology, but only now at age 25 was I getting it. Over those 3 days, I looked in my past and saw so many examples of distortions and false memories that were screwing with me. I had it that girls don't like me, when in reality no girl had explicitly said that. My mind was exploding as countless memories were being refuted. I was suddenly applying critical thinking skills to so many memories. "How do I know that person didn't like me?" "What evidence do I have that I'm not a good person?"
2. Rackets - I interpreted this to mean complaining. It hit me how much of my time was spent making other people wrong and bitching. Heck, the entire content of conversations with some friends were based primarily on complaining. After the Forum, I stopped seeing value in this, and as a result I stopped talking to a few people because our relationship wasn't based on much else. I had a lot of extra time to be productive, and I started having more meaningful conversations.
3. Cost / Impact - Cost is the loss, and impact is the feeling. What's the cost of making my mom wrong? Less time spent with her. What's the impact? Sadness. This helped me become more clear about the results I'm getting from my actions.
4. You're not really * at what you think you're * at - For example, if a guy cuts me off in traffic, perhaps I'm not really mad at that person. I'm really mad that I could've gotten hurt or that I might be late. Or maybe I make bad drivers wrong, which provides me the benefit of feeling superior to other people. This is especially helpful when someone appears to be angry with me. I consider that maybe they're really just passionate about what they care about, and they don't know how else to communicate with me. It helps me empathize with others and find a solution.
5. Honor your word - since the Forum, I've worked hard to either keep my commitments or communicate with others when I can't keep them. This is another obvious one, but this helped me improve my relationships with others by showing my respect and for being accountable.
6. We all have blind spots and things we don't know that we don't know - this has helped me accept my fallibility as well as others'. For a long time, I criticized people and myself for being stupid. The Forum helped me empathize better with others' limitations.
7. Being unreasonable - this is about doing what you want in spite of reasons why not. I used to habitually say, "I want x, but I can't have it because of y." The Forum helped me turn that into "I want x, and y is in the way, so here's how I'm going to get x anyway." Might seem trivial, but it was a major shift in my attitude and approach.
Those are my 7 biggest takeaways from the Forum. Say what you will about how obvious they are or how I could've learned them in other less expensive ways. Perhaps, but I had read a lot of the prominent self help books, and for whatever reason, what I gained only sunk in at the Forum. There's something to be said for the environment. That's probably why students learn better in the classroom than by just reading the textbook.
About half way through the Forum, I knew I wanted to be the leader. Seeing so many people improve so quickly was amazing. I spent the rest of the Forum studying the leader closely and immediately signed up for the Advanced Course for the following weekend and the SELP a month later in order to expedite my path toward leadership. I started the complimentary 10 night seminar the week after the Forum, and I even assisted a Forum a few weeks later because I wanted to help others and meet more people. The way I saw it, I wasn't volunteering for no pay. I was getting an entire 2nd Forum for free along with extra training.
Out of the Forum, I improved my critical thinking skills, self-awareness, and empathy; reduced my fear of public speaking; erased substantial anxiety that plagued me for years and wasn't cured by professional help; and realized that I no longer wanted to pursue a career in psychology. I quit my graduate program and moved to New York City with no job, not much money, and a new girlfriend I met online (searched Landmark on a dating site). Without Landmark, I don't know how I could've pulled all that off. I didn't have the belief in myself or the enthusiasm. I was considering big possibilities.
I guess I was high, and I kept it rolling by staying in Landmark from May through October. In my Advanced Course, I don't recall gaining anything valuable. The leader was an old bitch who must've been a carry over from the EST days of abuse. People weren't getting the same benefits as they did in the Forum, and I've never recommended it to anybody. When people ask me if they should do more than the Forum, I tell them no - the Forum is enough.
The seminar was a positive extension of the Forum, and I was in front of the room sharing every night.
In the SELP, I came up with an idea for a business that put the nail in the coffin of my psychology career. I spent day and night working to make it a reality. I also found myself with amazing resolve - one morning before an all-day SELP class, my car was missing. I didn't have time to do anything about it. Instead of worry and letting it bother me all day, I got clear about what was so and was able to get through the day without anxiety. When I got home, I found out my car had been moved around the corner by police for a parade. Before Landmark, I would've let that bother me all day, making up stories about where the car went and how fucked I was.
For the last all-day SELP class, I was complete with Landmark. I felt empowered and didn't need them anymore. So, I skipped. My leader and coach went crazy, pleading with me to finish the program. When it hit me that I'd never be a leader if I didn't finish that program, I decided to complete it. But that was my first experience with using Landmark against itself.
The second instance happened after the SELP when my coach asked me to join the coaching staff for an upcoming SELP. They insisted that I wear dress shoes, which struck me odd considering another coach was a gay man wearing a kilt and high heels. Why is this guy allowed to express himself how he wants, and I can't express myself by wearing my stylish running shoes? This was the first time I came up against Landmark always being right. Ironically, it wasn't me with the problem - it was them. They asked me to coach - I didn't ask them. And now they weren't accepting me as I am and wanted me to change. Since they claim anything is possible, I asked my coach to consider the possibility of letting me wear my running shoes. He declined, so I smiled and got up to leave. He pleaded with me to realize that I'm making Landmark wrong and I should consider what I have to gain from coaching if I simply give up being right about my shoes.
I told my girlfriend about it, and she said she had the same dress code experience when training to be an SELP coach. As you go higher in Landmark's ranks, suddenly their whole "fully expressed, anything is possible" mantra only works in Landmark's favor.
In September, my girlfriend convinced me to do the money seminar. Out of that, I gained the courage to play guitar in the NYC subways. I ended up making more money per hour than I ever had before, and my confidence skyrocketed. That truly transformed my life. There was zero chance of me doing that before Landmark.
That winter, I moved home to help my parents move and to take care of my ailing mother. Prior to Landmark, I had given up on my parents and wasn't close. Now, I had rebuilt our relationship, which is much stronger to this day. Also, after sharing what I got from Landmark with a friend, he went with me to an intro and signed up for the Forum. Out of it, he moved to his dream city and left a career he no longer wanted. I also moved away and created a new life in my own dream city. And for the first time ever, I ended a relationship with a girl on good terms. We're still friends today.
I had been severely depressed from ages 12-25. Professional therapy didn't help. In 3 days of the Forum (and 5 months of nonstop Landmark), I had cured my depression and anxiety. I went the next 3 years without a day of feeling great. I had cleared my canvas of all the crap and finally had room to create something special. Last month, I filed my first Trademark and am living with a lot of freedom and expression.
Yet, 4 years later, my life isn't going great. Thanks to a lot of circumstances, I'm currently back at home with my parents, working to make my business profitable. I'm physically healthy, but mentally I feel run down and occasionally very depressed. It's not surprising - I see Landmark as a form of skill building. If you don't use the skills as often and aren't in the classroom, you might lose it. My old self has come back to a large extent. I'm forgetting to apply some of the distinctions and have again taken pleasure in complaining and making others wrong. I also don't have the courage I had when I was surrounded by people filled with possibility. I'm still passionate about my business and am thankful that I got out of psychology, but I'm not where I want to be.
Let me explain what led me to search for this site. There's a Facebook Landmark group that I contribute to. A while ago, I came up with an idea for a foundation called Purentegrity, emphasizing the value of the striving for utmost integrity. I asked the group what they thought of the project, and they surprised me with their response. "You either have integrity or don't. There is no in between." I said, "Let's say I promise to meet you at 8 with a cake. I show up at 8 but don't have the cake. I have 1/2 integrity. If I show up at 9 without the cake, I have 0 integrity. If I show up on time with the cake, I have full integrity. Surely having 1/2 integrity is better than 0, right?" Their response: "No. Anything less than full integrity is 0 integrity." I said, "so, you're saying there's no difference between being late with the cake and being late without the cake?" They said yes. This was childish to me. Life doesn't work in black & white absolutes. They proceeded to ask if I've done the Advanced Course and then told me to continue on with the ILP.
On more occasions, discussions led to people telling me to do the ILP. This drove me nuts. Fuck doing more courses. Let's have a real discussion - I've done enough Landmark to keep up with what you have to say. I shouldn't have to do another course to get whatever it is I'm missing here.
Last night, after another argument and illogical hypocrisy, I quit the group and found myself questioning Landmark's overall value. What exactly had these dumbasses gained from putting all that time and money into this crap? What had I truly gained?
I read through every Landmark thread on this forum and felt confused. Lars' explanations of what goes on at the leader level was revealing and confirmed what I already knew - that Landmark gets shittier as you go further up the ladder. It's why I gave up on being a leader. But does that discount the benefits I got out of the whole thing? I never felt pressured to invite people, but maybe that's because I never let them pressure me. I never felt like I was being brainwashed, but maybe that's because I stopped progressing once I started seeing the hypocrisy. I never had a problem with the nominalized language, but maybe that's because I looked past it and never bought into it. I never say things like "in integrity" or "I'm a stand for x" or any of that crap, and I hate when I hear people say it. It sounds convoluted and unnecessary.
Here's the thing. I've told you what I gained from Landmark. For me, it was about the self-help skills and self-awareness. But only now am I wondering what the point of Landmark is? Landmarkers say the point is to help people live a fully expressed life they love. But which Landmark employees actually care about this? It seems more like every volunteer, leader, and staff member is in it for themselves. And that's not necessarily bad, but it leads me to wonder how the company can maintain its focus on its goal if there's no unified team committed to an outcome. I guess that unified team is the top group of leaders - or maybe the stockholders?
Facebook's board doesn't care about the world becoming more connected. Maybe some employees care, but their goal is money. And so it is with Landmark. And I guess the same goes for universities, right? Colleges have a goal of bringing in customers to maximize profits. But for each university, it's easy to find a mission statement, who runs the school, and who is accountable. With Landmark, at no point is it made clear who is calling the shots and for what purpose. You're told to consider Landmark as a set of ideas for you to either accept or reject; and if you want to continue being in the Landmark family, you have to accept that Landmark is right and you're wrong if you disagree.
Going further, I'm curious to know exactly what Landmark's money-makers gain. Couldn't they run a business that's more profitable? It seems like a lot of work to maintain a life-coaching company that depends on word-of-mouth for marketing. Is there some other motive? Do the people at the top really want to transform the world? Why run a company that requires indoctrinating and barely paying employees to such an extent? It's not like Landmark is its own country with a dictator. It's a company that depends on its product being so good that it convinces regular people to become salesmen.
For a long time, I justified Landmark's business model because of the results my friends and I got. Professional therapy cost me thousands of dollars and arguably made me worse due to frustrating me with its limited results and hours upon hours of time invested in an office. The Forum was like turbo therapy that in 3 days did more than years of licensed therapy ever did. So, regardless of Landmark's problems, how can I knock it?
And yet, this forum rips Landmark to shreds. The benefits as I see them are seen as psychological abuse to others. The language, the environment, and the methods are portrayed as tools to hypnotize and brainwash people. I'm trying to wrap my mind around that. Was I really brainwashed all this time? Is Landmark actually evil? Yes, many people have had bad experiences. Many people have also had bad experiences from college and professional therapy. Countless people commit suicide as a result of their experience in school or from medications prescribed by licensed practitioners. Plenty of people could blame college for being unemployed. Does that mean universities and counseling are bad? I'm not saying they are, but it makes me wonder if the bad results from Landmark automatically make it bad.
Here's why I'm leaning toward Landmark being bad. From one point of a view, Landmark is a sales training program. You're brought in and taught how to reach a certain level of awareness, clarity, and enlightenment that makes you coachable. The coaching boils down to getting you to bring other people in to come and continue the cycle. The only way I can see this as a good thing is if this is some guy's experiment for positively impacting the world. "Let's spread enlightenment by getting people to bring in more people to get enlightened!". But that goes back to my question: who is running the show? Who cares about other people being transformed?
A couple years ago, I sent an email to my seminar leader, SELP leader, and SELP coach, telling them about my business and how much I got out of Landmark. The seminar leader didn't respond; the SELP leader said "that's great!" and nothing else; and my SELP coach congratulated me, I think he genuinely cares, But none of those guys are paid by Landmark. They're there for their own transformation. At least professors and counselors are paid to teach and counsel. Maybe they don't care about my success, but they have a clear purpose: pedagogy, do no harm, and money.
I don't know where to go from here. Part of me wants to disregard everything I learned from Landmark and disassociate from every friend who still participates. I've left the Facebook groups and will no longer recommend the Forum to people. More seriously, I'm questioning my own judgment and sanity. If I've been brainwashed all these years, then what is real? Is my appreciation for rackets and filling conversations with positive discussion rather than complaining a bad thing? Should I stop distinguishing between story and fact?
If Landmark's goal is to provide sufficient awareness to coach future salesmen / coaches, then maybe that doesn't make the awareness bad. Perhaps I should "take the money and run" - make use of what I gained and be thankful I never got pulled too far into Landmark's grasp.
On this forum, I read a post about how Landmark squashes critical thinking skills. This shocked me because I see the distinctions such as separating story from fact as a perfect example of critical thinking. "Is that true?", "Did that really happen?" Are invaluable Socratic questions for a healthy mind. Maybe the following is what you mean by squashing critical thinking: Landmark's goal is to get you to distinguish between story and fact but then to trick you into believing the story they want you to believe - that Landmark is right, and any critical thought against this is wrong.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to continue discussing this. I hope this isn't taken as some veiled attempt to convince you that Landmark is good. I might play devil's advocate, and I will defend certain aspects of Landmark, but I'm more interested in figuring out why Landmark is dangerous. And I want to discuss the psychological mechanisms and theories behind their practices.