By Stanley Stefancic
I first met Bob Hoffman through a mutual friend in the early ’80s. At that time, the Quadrinity Process (as it was known then) was a 13-week, non-residential course, but Bob was working with a few people to format it into an eight-day, in-residence course. Through some reading about the Process, I knew that “Quadrinity” was the term for the whole person: body, emotions, intellect, and spirit. The Process dealt with negative parental programming, and involved cathartic exercises in which one expressed repressed anger, resentment, and vindictiveness. It was where one could identify self-destructive feelings and recognize and de-energize the behaviors that they express.
I had little experience identifying “emotional” patterns or tracing them to childhood experiences. I was coming out of a traumatic church experience, and I didn’t know how to process or understand the psychological dynamics of the situations. I was not able to objectively examine my own behavior. I was also aware that I wanted to have a better relationship with my son than I had had with my father.
During our meeting, I shared with Bob my attitude toward my father, who I despised, and how I was determined not to be like him. I did not want to treat my son the ways in which I was treated and abused. My wife, Jean, and I were married almost 14 years when Benjamin was born. I had assumed that I had been away from my childhood environment long enough, became educated, and had grown emotionally. But when Benjamin was about three years old, I discovered that I was treating him in some of the same negative ways that my father had treated me. Whenever Benjamin asked for anything, my initial gut response was to say “NO,” the same way in which my father responded to my requests and desires. His “NO” was accompanied with the statement, “We can’t afford it.”
I also had to learn how to repress my anger when Benjamin did not obey me. I was shocked at my responses. How could I, who had been a victim of that kind of behavior, become a perpetrator? No matter how hard I tried, I could not get rid of my initial reactions; I could only repress them.
The Negative Love Syndrome
After hearing my story, Bob said what I was experiencing and acting out was “adopted negative parental programming.” He called it “the Negative Love Syndrome.” He then explained how it operated:
As children, we imitate or rebel against positive and negative parental traits (behaviors), moods, attitudes, and admonitions. We adopt parental negative love traits out of “negative love;” that is, the desire to win the love of our parents by reflecting their behavior, moods, attitudes, and admonitions back to them. “See mom and or dad, I’m behaving just like you. Now will you love me?”
We yearn for love and affection from our parents on a subconscious level and we imitate their positive and negative traits and behave negatively toward them out of vindictiveness. The “negative traits” become adoptive compulsive behaviors. In addition, when someone treats us negatively in the way in which a parent treated us, we get involved in “transference,” that is, we react to the person as if he or she was our parent. We can become submissive, withdrawn, or rebellious depending on the “behavioral complex” that is invoked.
Bob assured me that if I experienced the Quadrinity Process I would get rid of the negative love syndrome and the negative traits that went with it. I could pull the plug on negative adoptive programming and become free and autonomous. It would enable me to respond to Benjamin, Jean, or anyone else with intentional behavioral choices rather than with programmed compulsive behaviors.
I decided to take the Process, to find out if it could deliver what Bob said it would. I wanted to be the kind of father and partner who could be present and listen instead of getting into conflict with my immediate “NO.” I also wanted to examine and change my perfectionism, workaholism, my inability to get real satisfaction from work well done, and my inability to accept praise. I would learn that those negative traits were all related to the internalized belief that “I am not good enough.” I had a perfectionist father for whom nothing was “good enough.” I was constantly being criticized, which drove me to achieve, but with little pleasure when there was accomplishment. I always had to find the next case of injustice and unfairness.
No One Is To Blame
In addition to doing the pre-Process material, I was given a book written by Bob Hoffman: No One Is To Blame: Freedom From Compulsive Self-Defeating Behavior. I went home and started reading.
The first chapter is titled, “How’s Your Love Life?” This was a very provocative opening. Another way of asking the question is, “(H)ow are you living your life right now?” I felt defeated. I was angry about my experience at my church and I was anxious about the future. I had been so preoccupied with church issues that I didn’t know how to have fun. Jean and I had become distant. At that time my answer to “Do you love yourself?” was “Not much.”
In order to really love others one must be able to love one’s self. In the book, Bob wrote, “Lack of self-love is like a locked cage, and the intellect is not the key.” The key is to get in touch with feelings and to repair the injuries that lead to self-defeating attitudes, behavior, and beliefs. I was determined to find my way to genuine self-love and hopefully become a more loving person.
I was in the July, 1985 Process along with 18 other people. It was hard work! The homework was challenging; it forced me to go through a rigorous self-examination to look for “negative traits.” What had seemed to be “natural behavior” was exposed as compulsive patterns of observing, reacting, and behaving. Even moods were adopted behavior.
During my struggle with the pre-Process work I began to wonder if free will was a myth. It seemed that virtually all of our behavior was programmed during childhood in order to “buy” the love of our parents. Our only choices seemed to be “imitate to be loved” or “rebel to establish autonomy.” Rebellion is determined by the object of rebellion and, by definition, is not autonomous. In rebellion we are trying not to be like someone else, not simply being who we are.
Change is difficult because our habits become hardwired in the neuro-networks of our brain. The structure of our brain assists in the resistance to change in order to preserve the integrity of our identity. Yet, in order to grow, we must change. We can change because we have the ability to self-reflect, evaluate our behavior and attitudes, and we can choose to change our beliefs, attitudes, behavior, and world view. Neuro-scientists have discovered that the brain can change. When I change my mind, I also change my brain. This is called neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience. The brain can be rewired; it can change!
The most significant way we change is through transformation. Transformation is a direct, experiential way of knowing reality, which challenges one’s previous ways of interpreting experiences. It involves a paradigm shift in which many beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and moods are recognized as being ineffective, self-defeating, or outmoded. It necessitates significant changes and adjustments to old compulsive behaviors, and requires being fully present and conscious so that we learn to “respond” appropriately rather than “reactively.”
The Process transformed me by opening me to new ways of thinking, behaving, and feeling. I learned how to say “YES” to Benjamin, even though there were times I really wanted to say no. Though my marriage to Jean did not last, I did remarry and I began to have fun, enjoy my life, and love myself. More than 40 years later, the Process still has a profound influence and impact on my life!
Stanley Stefancic has a Masters of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, and was a Unitarian Universalist minister for over 30 years. He held many positions with the Institute including teacher, coach, and Director of Research before retiring in 2011. He currently lives in San Rafael, CA with his wife, Marianne, and loves being a father and grandfather.
For more information about the Negative Love Syndrome, go to our Media page and scroll down to the Book section. Click on “The Path to Personal Freedom and Love” to download it, or click on the link below it to hear the audio version of “The Path to Personal Freedom and Love”.