Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Reflections on Hating

Originally posted on December 23, 2009

Hating is a mixed bag. Sometimes it can even be experienced as fun, or mixed with humor. Usually, though, it vaguely hurts the heart. The illusion is that it may seem better to hate than to feel powerless, to feel as if one is a victim, or even vulnerable to being victimized (or that those who are valued may be victimized). And one may even lose perspective and come to hate opponents in activities that at first were designated as forms of play, competitive sports.

The key to hating is the illusion of power that goes with a tightening of the body, the jaw, the clenched fist or teeth, the banging on the table, along with the mind’s flowing into chewing on the imagined “reasons” why the hated is “bad” and he hater justified in hating. (In actuality, this grumpiness does little to actually increase one’s power, for most people. It may add a bit to the one-pointed motivation and energy of the warrior, which is perhaps why it has been retained as an evolutionary atavism.) The mind is agile and easily gets caught up in self-righteous, defensive anger, which preserves it from having to humbly take stock of how the self might have been contributing to the conflict. The mind can do these tricks quite apart from conscious reflection; consciously, one can easily convince oneself that the intentions and character are noble. Indeed, one is extra-noble, considering how long one has “put up with” or suffered under the “badness” of those who are hated.

It is not readily apparent that hating is not just a bad thing to do spiritually, but also an immature defense against a more responsible stance.

Psychodynamically, hating is a mixture of several elements. It includes the natural emotional reaction or affect of anger, which happens when there is a sense of actual or threatened obstruction to one’s will. Very young babies can feel this. But hate involves the superimposition of imagination and attitudes, the way the growing complexity of the nervous system can elaborate images and ideas. Toddlers can learn to hate.

Some of the more obvious elements commonly found in hate include the mental maneuver called “identification with the aggressor,” in which the inner vulnerable child imposes a fantasy that he or she is the powerful one, the tough, strong, intimidating one. The body-mind follows as the person assumes an “attitude.” Another maneuver is displacement, which involves finding a target for one’s feelings of frustration that is more obvious, available, and less threatening than the original target. The classical example is the man who is yelled at by his boss and then comes home and kicks the dog for sleeping in the entryway. I see young people resenting parents and other known authority figures for not somehow (magically) making the wide, increasingly complex and problematic world better, for solving the challenges of ecology, overpopulation, war, etc.

Another major component is the dynamic maneuver of projection. Qualities that are despised in oneself are seen far more vividly in others! This is the meaning of the saying of Jesus that we should cast the giant, obstructing log out of our own vision field before we criticize the small speck in the vision field of someone else. Jung called this complex of what we don’t want to know about in ourselves the “shadow.” We need to do “shadow work,” to learn to recognize and come to terms with the less worthy parts of our own deep psyche, in order to reduce the compelling temptation to hate.

A more mature process requires the assumption of responsibility: It involves recognizing that indulgence of hate, what in the Star Wars movies is part of the Dark Side, is really a form of mental laziness, a short-cut, a cop-out from one’s own responsibility. First of all, the world is very incomplete. (I suspect it is only 5% civilized; we’ve just begun the process and have only the vaguest idea of what is entailed. Civilization requires the integration of kindness and courtesy, a relinquishment of the entitlement to violence in the service of so-called “ideals.”) So what is needed is a lot of compassion and a commitment to helping to make the world a better place. To relinquish the childish indulgence in hate takes self-discipline, a turning repeatedly to higher values and attitudes such as compassion and humility.

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