“Negative Love is intergenerational pain that is passed down from one generation to the
next. Everyone is guilty and no one is to blame.”
Bob Hoffman (1921-1997)
The Negative Love Syndrome and the Interpersonal Rupture
The Negative Love Syndrome is one of the main concepts of the Hoffman Process. It was Bob Hoffman’s main contribution to the human potential movement. Heinz Kohut (Self–Psychology) arrived at a similar perspective when he realised that the Self has ‘healthy’ narcissistic needs (self-love) and Daniel Stern (Developmental Psychologist) also sees the Self as a relational construct.
We are born as defenseless, innocent beings with an innate need for love and connection. As developing humans we have a multitude of needs: we need others to acknowledge what we do competently; we need assistance in situations that are beyond our competency (if there is a deficit in this area we can go into trauma reactions); we need to be able to go into adversity to people with whom we have formed a bond, without destroying the relatedness; we need a sense of belonging. When these needs are able to be met by a functional adult toward a child or developing adult, we call it, ‘Self-object functioning’.
While disjunctions occur regularly, a ‘solid’ sense of self can be established by a caregiver repairing the interpersonal ruptures, giving the developing person a sense that they can ‘survive a breakdown with a ‘Self object’. This dance between junction and disjunction, establishes a sense of agency in regards to repairing relatedness. Called ‘optimal frustration’, this inevitable frustration of needs, when repaired, creates resilience. This ability to repair requires empathic attunement from the caregiver to the child, in order to detect the disjunction.
Pseudo-love vs Unconditional Love
The Negative Love Syndrome explains the existential abandonment wound experienced in childhood. When our caregivers are not able to give ‘unconditional love’, the egocentricity of the child, who lacks the cognitive ability to differentiate self from other, unconsciously takes on the blame for this disjunction, developing a ‘core shame belief’ that there is something inherently wrong with them. Driven by this core deficiency, the developing Self abandons the connection to their essential lovability (what Hoffman calls Essence) to establish a ‘pseudo-love connection’ with the caregiver by adopting their behavioural patterns, attitudes and moods. These adaptations become compulsive dysfunctional behaviours, driven by the fear in the ‘emotional child’ of losing this pseudo-love connection and therefore having their needs unmet.
The unmet needs in the child result in a justifiable frustration and anger, which when unexpressed, becomes a ‘cold rage’ that goes ‘underground’ and is often manifested in a vindictive mirroring of dysfunctional behaviour back to the parents. This vindictiveness of the ‘emotional child’ continues to drive the repetitive compulsion of bad behaviour.
The Transformational Power of Empathic Attunement
The Hoffman Process addresses the Negative Love Syndrome through various processes that deal with the adapted patterns, the unexpressed anger and the core shame – with empathic attunement being central to the therapeutic alliance.
We begin with a cognitive behavioural inquiry, underpinned by psycho-dynamic theory, by identifying the adopted patterns and tracing the patterns back to the family of origin, building awareness and therefore agency over the compulsivity of the patterns.
Through the expressive work of the Process we begin to shift the way anger was socialised in the family system. The Emotional Child can express its repressed need for power, justice, authenticity, freedom and love and in doing so re-embraces its instinctual energy. This anger work is unique in its specific focus on the adopted patterns which encourages participants to take responsibility for their behaviours. It moves the ‘locus of control’ from the external authority of the family of origin toward the autonomy of the individual. The result of this cathartic work is a possible retrieval of and reconnection to a ‘me-consciousness’ that is lovable.
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Healing Through Attuned Facilitation and the Benevolent Witnessing of the Group
The sharing of toxic shame secrets and core-shame beliefs establishes an environment of benevolent witnessing in which participants are able to see the ‘face of humanity ‘in one another. This deep sense of compassion informs the teaching style of the facilitation team, providing for many participants a corrective, healing experience akin to ‘process-oriented’ therapy.
As facilitators we are able to describe the phenomenological context of the ‘experiencing’ of the participant. This can enable the facilitator to give inter-subjective reflection to the participant that is grounded in describable ‘reality’, creating clarity for the participant to locate his/her own subjective interpretation. This can diminish the inherent power differential within the teacher-client relationship. In that sense we would facilitate rather than teach. The facilitator can function more as a guide through the Process, rather than a potentially dangerous authority.
Through ‘vicarious introspection’, facilitators establishes how a participant’s patterns are functioning as compensations for the unfulfilled needs of the Self.Not only the recognition of patterns and the reflection of these are helpful to the client but also the motivation generating the patterns, for example, ‘Jim’ might be a pleaser in order to make it safe, while ‘Sue’ might please in order to create peace, or ‘Leo’ pleases in order to become successful. Being able to recognise the underlying motivation and to give kind reflection of these motivations to participants, will create higher levels of empathic attunement. This ability to be empathically present to the client is one of the most healing elements of the Process.
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