Apr 09 2019

The Shadow of the Victories for Men Shadow Weekend

Published by at 8:04 am under Counseling & Psychotherapy

Writer’s disclosure: I was part of the VOH leadership team, staffed one of the original Shadow weekends and had a terrible experience. The VOH Wisdom Years and Breakthrough weekends are recommended and have the potential to be life changing.

I recently gave a positive review to the new Victories website. I like it and think it conveys the appropriate message about their programs.  The photos are of real men who participate and work within the organization to make it better. I believe them.

The good news is the organization seems to be thriving at this point, offering many different programs each year, including workshops like the Psychodrama workshop I helped to create.

What’s remarkable about this positive point in Victories is it has survived the internal conflicts of bright, but very defensive leaders who battled each other clandestinely for decades.

Buddy Portugal was at the center of all internal conflicts. His fingerprints were all over the organizations failed attempts at organizational development in the post 2004 Strategic Planning process.

Key to this failure was Buddy Portugal and Bob Mark’s decision to unilaterally select and develop a separate team of Wisdom Years leaders in about 2006-07.

In an organization rife with conflict between self-contained and entitled leaders, Portugal, et al greatly increased the fragmentation and chaos by this highly damaging move.

The Wisdom Years “new guys” then set out to berate the Breakthrough weekend leaders for not attending one of their weekends.

An insider view might have been Portugal was trying to appear as intelligent as Bob Mark. This is a charitable idea.

It was more like Portugal with Bob Mark’s support set out to damage any attempt to unify this struggling organization, create chaos everywhere, and adding to the stress of all those working diligently on behalf of Victories mission.

Here’s an example: for several years, I led follow-up groups for Kevin and Paul’s weekends. When I became a leader and Board member, I worked with several other volunteers to create trainings and a workbook for group leaders and participants to follow.

At the Board meeting where I presented the draft workbook, Buddy Portugal almost interrupted me to inform the Board that he and Bob Mark were writing a workbook for partipants of the Wisdom Years.

I looked at Bob Mark and guessed he hadn’t heard of this idea either before Portugal reported it.

Portugal must have been so envious of this workbook idea and upset some others would get credit it for it, he couldn’t control his impulses and blurted out a message which seemed untrue.

It is true that Portugal’s workbook was never written and never discussed again. Perhaps Portugal’s true believers would just say, “well that’s just Buddy.”

The workbook our team developed never was used either. Even though Paul Kachoris was on the team who developed the workbook, he and Kevin Fitzpatrick ignored the effort.

So, even with these few examples of the chaos and internal sabotage, Victories has pulled it together.

For many years, I have not recommended the Victories of the Heart Shadow Weekend. I still do not, even though the original leaders, Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick, are no longer leading this weekend.

The Shadow Weekend claims to help men shine the light on their shadow, or unconscious selves. However, the program itself is shrouded in secrecy making it a leap of faith for participants and potential referral sources to support the program.

An organizational crisis occurred about 2007 when excessive and confusing nudity and silence on the Shadow weekend was discovered after the fact by organizational leaders. I myself found out about the nudity from one of the 4 men who attended the experience. It was not good for them and I was shocked and appalled by what they told me.

The rigidity, defensiveness and blowback I experienced when trying to create change in this program constructively was one of the reasons for my resignation from the organization in about 2008.

While I have been assured men have not been asked to be nude since about 2008, I still do not recommend this experience. The VOH website’s attempt to describe the experience is more “hype” than substance. No research citations are offered, and Jung’s writing about the “persona and shadow” are presented as if they are widely accepted and research proven concepts. They are not.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Shadow weekend had evolved with available neuroscience research and helped participants understand the powerful way life experiences, especially trauma, are stored implicitly and are constantly operating like a software program influencing our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Implicit memory has often been described as procedural memory, things we learn to do something later. It’s stored below our level of awareness, yet has a powerful impact on our lives. Learning to ride a bike is an example of implicit memory.

Explicit memory, the other type of long-term memory refers to the information we store consciously. Examples of this are the date of our birthday, upcoming doctor’s appointments, the times tables, information we study for school, and so on.

My discussion of memory here is very important. Jim Hopper, PhD, a Harvard professor, researcher and clinician, has an educational website devoted to the research about trauma. It’s wonderful and highly recommended. Click here to take a look.

One key point made by the research so nicely summarized by Dr. Hopper is a large number of women and men who are abused, especially sexually abused, have no conscious awareness of the abuse. So, to put this simply, men who go to a Shadow weekend who have no conscious memory of being abused and those who do have an awareness, can possibly be re-traumatized. I know I was re-traumatized by my participation as a staff person at this weekend. I could say more.

I will not go into detail here about my own negative experience as a staff person and the negative experiences of other men. I’ve written about it before and every word I wrote was true.

In using more contemporary science, the Shadow weekend could be an empowering experience where men could begin to better understand themselves. Without more information, I have to assume the bear bones structure of the program remains the same, lots of self-disclosure.

At best, the Shadow weekend is not a memorable, life changing experience. At its worst, it may be possibly retraumatizing for men who are trauma survivors.

Certainly, the program has received enough organizational support over the years and the original leaders had plenty of opportunity to build something that could last without their popularity and charisma.

Time to let it go. It’s not really the “next step” for Wisdom Years and Breakthrough weekend graduates. It’s a step, but a precarious one.

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