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My Hakomi Psychotherapy Journey, Part 2: Helplessness vs. Healing

The second day of the three day Hakomi workshop was like coming home.  I relaxed considerably once I realized that Vicki Emms was not in attendance.  I had found my safe place.

During high school my only safe place was the library.  Among many others I read Gerald Durrell, James Herriot, the Silver Brumby series, Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer series and eventually discovered Stephen King.  I sought refuge in books but not in schoolwork.  I was the quintessential library refugee.  Vicki Emms and her henchmen were not readers or deep thinkers.  For these damaged girls, mindless violence equated to wholeness, self-satisfaction and soul-integration. 

Sometimes the library was closed and I had nowhere to go, no one to play with, nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, and I was at the mercy of the band of sisters who constantly roamed the school looking for the weakest links.  So, contradictorily, and something my mother never understood, there were times when I sought these people out deliberately so I could become one of them.  I had not been abducted, nor was I a hostage but I was suffering a form of Stockholm Syndrome without the necessary prison bars.  If you can’t beat them, join them and become like them, or in Anna Freudian terms, “Identification with the Aggressor.”

There was a similar identification process going on at the Hakomi workshop but there were no aggressors there.  Only people like me, professional people who had learned to turn negatives into positives and were seeking to gain and understand meaning in their life.  I identified with these beautiful, gentle and kind people who embraced and hugged me, didn’t judge me for my past and accepted me for who I was.  I fitted in.  The fit felt right.  My body was calm and relaxed and my breathing and heart-rate was at an all time low.

My tormentors at high school were all good-looking girls who could have won any beauty competition, but with vacant expressions in their eyes that only came to life when they were hurting other people.  If there was an Inner Beauty Competition then all of the Hakomi people would have won it hands down.

Essentially for the three-day workshop, we started off sitting in a circle where the facilitator talked to us about being in the present moment of mindfulness.  We then formed into small groups or pairs and did body-work through eye contact, listener/talker and observer experiments.  I sat with two others while I was the observer and observed a very intense conversation with tears and lots of silences while maintaining long stretches of eye contact with each other.  We would then debrief on what was experienced and what was observed.  It was extremely powerful but in a good way, but come lunch-time I retreated into my books before falling asleep on a couch and gently snoring myself awake when we were due to start again.  I simply needed that space to process who I was and how I felt.

That sort of processing never happened at high school, my head was never still enough.  I ran with the gang and was quickly assigned the role of scapegoat.  When the muse took them, I was humiliated, degraded and debased and for inexplicable reasons I am now only beginning to understand, I kept going back for more and more.  I had no guardian angel and no hope of looking after myself.

After a while this all felt like normal experience and normal behavior.  My mother and father were simply not available for me at that time, not emotionally, not mentally and sometimes not physically.  I was always highly anxious to the point of sheer terror and one day when I was walking down the street with these girls on my way to a swimming hole I knew that it was a really bad idea but I just didn’t listen to my fears.  It was the worst decision of my life and what happened still affects me to this day.

So during group Hakomi experiential exercises where the focus is on you, I experienced that same fear, the fear that is not relevant to present-day experience but arose out of my past and created a body sensation where I thought attack was imminent but logically I knew I was safe.  Re-experiencing this gave me a chance to overlay new experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions over the old ones thus creating a solid foundation of strength and healing which had been aided and abetted previously by my therapist.

I was able to feel safe enough to say that I had shared too much of myself the first day, so on the second day I decided not to be the client in listener/talker experiments.  I told the group I had lost my Hakomi virginity the day before and I did not want to become emotionally promiscuous, much to the amusement of several of the older/wiser attendees, people who had practiced Hakomi therapy for many years.  I wanted to experience self-created boundaries and concentrate more fully on others and their experiences.

I felt safe, warm and protected in that nurturing environment in a way I never experienced at high school.  The library was a shelter from the storm but I could still feel it raging around and inside me.  The rage/hate I felt during high school I projected onto others and I am ashamed to say I once joined in with a group of girls egging others to bash someone up.  That is not me, that is not my normal behavior, but I was caught up in the moment, succumbing to group-think, running with the pack of vicious wolves in school uniforms.  I was ordered to punch someone in the face and I just could not do it. I could not raise my fist in anger and hit someone who was my best friend at the time.  Scorn and derision was poured over me.  The hysterical young girl ran helter skelter into the road and oncoming traffic screaming at the cars to run her over.

It was not one of my finer moments and many years later I learned she became a heroin addict, and had been murdered in prison on the other side of Australia.  She was a sitting duck for the low-lifes in society. I was lucky — my drug was not heroin, it was books, writing, authors, the Bay City Rollers, horses, dogs and cats, a curiosity about learning and an increasingly insular personality where I withdrew and retreated into fantasy.  The perfect fodder for becoming a therapee wishing to become a therapist in later life.  My therapist told me that with my background I could have become a drug-addicted prostitute.  I said that I could have gone two ways, I would either become a school shooter or a writer/author.  I chose the latter.

There were many Vicki Emms in my life until gradually they all faded away and have been replaced with people who are not dissimilar to my therapist.  I choose my friends very discriminately now, but I can only count them on one hand.  Attending Hakomi and meeting people like myself was like entering the gates of Heaven and knowing that we were all one.  The best part is that there is an all-encompassing sense of not-knowing and letting everything unfold in the manner that is safe, gentle, non-invasive, non-violent and full of loving/kindness.  You are allowed to feel whatever you want; people-pleasing is not encouraged.  Sitting around in a circle we are allowed to feel, emote and experience whatever we want, whatever comes up and sharing incongruent feelings lends itself to an awakening where all feelings are genuine and authentic and if it is wanted they are worked through.  No one told me what to think, what to feel or how I should experience something.

My most enduring and loving memory was spending a good fifteen minutes staring into the eyes of a man while he stared back and opening and shutting our eyes at will.  What I experienced was benevolence and a quiet, strong but gentle curiosity and intelligence, not unlike what a mother/baby dyad feels, following which we had a most enlightening conversation on meta-awareness, being aware of being aware.  It was like diving into the clear blue ocean naked and swimming with dolphins.

I only wish Vicki Emms was there and got to experience what I did.

My Hakomi Psychotherapy Journey, Part 2: Helplessness vs. Healing

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). My Hakomi Psychotherapy Journey, Part 2: Helplessness vs. Healing. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Mar 2010
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