Why We Hate (November 2001)

Friday, 01 April 2011 17:44

OpenMind - Journal of the mental health association MIND

November 2001


Dorothy Rowe

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 hate. We can demonstrate our virtue by saying, 'I don't hate anyone, so why should anyone hate me?'

Hatred is an emotion, and emotions are one way that 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. We can then destroy our truth by mislabelling it, by calling our anger fear, or our guilt love, and we can lie to ourselves by telling ourselves that we aren't angry, aren't jealous, don't hate.

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 feel threatened, and 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.

The history of the Middle East from the Crusades onward shows how the people in the Middle East have been humiliated, first by the major European nations and later by the USA. For millions of people, especially those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihood, their hatred of their enemy is their only defence, their only source of pride.

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. Many people kill themselves in order to express their hatred, not just of themselves but of the people whom they feel have failed them.

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. This is why many people in Northern Ireland reject the peace process even though a successful outcome to the process will increase their security and wealth, and why many people refuse to examine, much less give up the mental distress they suffer.

We cannot deal with our hatred unless we acknowledge it, and from that 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.