Why we hate
Extract from Openmind 113, Jan/Feb 2002
Hatred has been in the news. We've seen pictures of Muslims in the Middle East and in Indonesia demonstrating their hatred of the USA, and Americans plaintively asking, "Why do people hate us?"
Both kinds of scenes are examples of the virtue we associate with hatred. If an enemy attacks our national or religious group we are allowed, indeed expected, to hate our attacker. In the Second World War the British were encouraged to hate the Germans and Japanese, and in the Cold War Americans were encouraged to hate the Communists.
However, we are not allowed to hate anyone within our group, especially our parents, so we try not to hate those close to us, and if we do, we try not to acknowledge this hatred.
Hatred is an emotion, and emotions are one way in which we give meaning to our experiences. Emotions are meanings which we create immediately, without consideration, and in that moment they are our own truth. The emotion, be it hate, love, fear, anger, joy, tells us how we see that situation.... All our emotions can sustain and protect us, even hatred.
Whenever other people threaten us, not just physically but as a person - that is, when they demean, belittle, humiliate us, treat us as an object, not as a person - we defend ourselves by becoming angry. If we have any power we strike back, one way or another, but if we have no power and the threat goes on and on, our anger turns to hatred. This hatred serves to defend us from the threat of being annihilated as a person....
We all know what it is like to be humiliated because we have all been children, and children are humiliated by adults. Children, being powerless, can defend themselves only by hating. However, children are forbidden to hate their parents, and thus many children, though given good reason to hate, feel that they must deny their hatred.
However, to deny an emotion does not dissolve it. An unadmitted emotion grows stronger and reveals itself in many ways. Hatred is present in all those forms of mental distress which psychiatrists call mental disorders.
In depression hatred for others becomes hatred for oneself; in agoraphobia it becomes fear; in mania it becomes that from which the person must flee into greater and greater activity; in obsessions and compulsions it becomes murderous fantasies; in schizophrenia it becomes vicious, torturing voices; in anorexia and self-harm it is directed at the body; in addiction it is that which must be dulled and silenced....
Hatred which goes on and on, whether acknowledged or not, becomes part of the person's sense of identity. The person sees forgiveness and compromise as a despicable weakness. His world is structured by his enmity, divided into good and bad, his territory and his enemy's territory, and his every decision takes his enemy into account. His enemy becomes more important to him than his friends and family. Such a person comes to feel that if he gives up hating his enemy he will lose his identity....
We cannot deal with our hatred unless we acknowledge it, and from there go on to understand its origin in our sense of being powerless. When we don't value and accept ourselves we feel weak and powerless, and so we resort to hatred. To give up hatred we have to accept and value ourselves.