Yesterday, we looked at the projection we do when we hate. We choose our hate targets not simply because they’re odious, but because they’re specifically odious in ways that cause specific, shadow-driven ragequakes inside us. Yes, I made that word up, but it feels quite apropos.
Let me take a giant step back today and say that projecting material onto other people is a common practice – and it’s not always horrific. Projection isn’t a terrible thing – it’s a human thing. We all project our shadow material, because we usually can’t work with it in straightforward ways. (If we could, it wouldn’t be called the shadow, would it?) In fact, most of us project our “good” shadow material onto others just as frequently as we project our “bad” material.
For instance, when we admire a public figure, we often project our best selves onto them – we let them hold our talent, our courage, our beauty, our prowess, and our brilliance (these traits are suppressed into the shadow just as often as our uglier traits are). This is often a necessary passage, because most of us can’t just say, “My family raised me to be scientific, but I’ll just ignore that and become a painter.” No, we may need to observe and idolize painters in order to bring our own art forward. We may even attach ourselves to certain painters (as if they personified painting) in a form of projection known as adoration.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who contributed massively to the understanding of the human shadow, pointed out that projection is sometimes the only way we can become aware of our shadow material – he even went so far as to say that projection is the only thing that gets us out of our parent’s houses. So adoring someone else’s talent is a safe way to move toward our own suppressed talents.
However, you’ll notice that strong adoration often moves to disappointment when our adored person acts like a regular person and not a divine being. This is the point when the projection slips, and we’re supposed to let go and move into our own talent (and get back into our own lives).
Unfortunately, most of us don’t figure this out. We remain attached to our adored person, and try to change them into our perfect vision once again – which launches us on a roller-coaster ride with them. When we find ways to reattach the projections, everything is peachy, but if they slip, we have to start all over again. It’s an extremely unstable attachment that seesaws back and forth between infatuation and disillusionment. In many cases, this sort of adoration will even drop into hatred – into a fierce and shadowy attachment (think of stalkers, internet trolls, and crazed fans and you’ll get the picture). This intense form of adoration, then, helps us understand what hatred is all about.
Hatred is a twisted form of adoration – and that’s where that strange enmeshed glee comes in. Hatred is the underside of adoration – where the intensity, the shadow projection, and the enmeshment are identical in intensity, but different only in the material being projected.
In the excellent shadow books of Robert Bly, Robert Johnson, and Connie Zweig, each author points out that we can easily find our shadowy, unlived material by looking closely at the people we attach ourselves to through adoration or hatred. If people live out the beauty and talent we suppress, we usually attach to them through adoration, idolization, or infatuation. If they live out our ugliness, we usually attach to them through hatred, contempt, or resentment.
But in either case, whether we hate our targets or adore them, we’re attaching ourselves in a leech-like way and asking our targets to live out our repressed, ignored, shunned, or unlived shadow material.
Most of us can understand the enmeshments we create with our idols and our adoration targets, but when we flat-out hate people, we’re usually not aware of the strong and enmeshed attachments we create. Even hearing about it gives us the willies.
Yet these are the facts: If we dislike someone, we can walk away; if we fear someone, we can run away; but when we hate someone, we do neither of these things. When we express our hatred, we attach ourselves to our hate targets with fierce glee.
TRACKING HATRED IN THE BRAIN
This connection between hatred and adoration (also called romantic love) is a concept that comes to us from art, poetry, and depth psychology, but the connection has also been found neurologically.
Neurobiologists Semir Zeki and John Paul Romaya from University College London scanned the brains of people in the act of viewing a hated person’s photograph, and found that the brain regions involved in hatred (the putamen and the insula) are the same ones activated in romantic love. Professor Zeki said this:
“Significantly, the putamen and insula are also both activated by romantic love. This is not surprising. The putamen could also be involved in the preparation of aggressive acts in a romantic context, as in situations when a rival presents a danger. Previous studies have suggested that the insula may be involved in responses to distressing stimuli, and the viewing of both a loved and a hated face may constitute such a distressing signal.
A marked difference in the cortical pattern produced by these two sentiments of love and hate is that, whereas with love large parts of the cerebral cortex associated with judgment and reasoning become de-activated, with hate only a small zone, located in the frontal cortex, becomes de-activated. This may seem surprising since hate can also be an all-consuming passion, just like love. But whereas in romantic love, the lover is often less critical and judgmental regarding the loved person, it is more likely that in the context of hate the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise extract revenge.” Science Daily
Here’s something fascinating about this study: We’re smarter, it seems, when we hate than when we engage in adoration and romantic love. I mean, if you think back to people you adored or fell violently in love with, you know how clueless you were. However, it’s nice to have the reality confirmed by neurology! In the book, when I say that Love is Not an Emotion, I’m talking about real, enduring love, and not that romantic nonsense!
When we find someone who can really live out our unwanted material – our selfishness, our power, our arrogance, our brilliance, our ignorance, our sexual appetites, our stiffness, our dark religious longings, our mildness – there’s almost a bacchanal in our souls. There’s a kind of wild dancing and shouting inside us: “Look at that vile person! Look at them living all the things we can’t!” We’re mesmerized and fascinated, and we can’t take our eyes off of them. We watch in sickened awe as they live out things we were forced to suppress – things so unwanted, so dangerous to our parents, teachers, or peers that they couldn’t even be spoken aloud.
We also watch in an angry disbelief – because the ground doesn’t open and swallow these bad people, God doesn’t smite them dead, and night does not turn into day. In response, our own shadowy material begins to vibrate wildly, our suppression-formed self-image begins to crumble, and our angers and rages (not to mention our fears and terrors) pour forth in response to the incredible earthquakes erupting inside us.
When these earthquakes occur, most of us don’t take this extraordinary opportunity to become aware of our own shadows and the enforced suppression we’ve suffered. No, most of us resist this deep movement and instead vomit our hatred onto the people who live out our shadowy aspects – just as we vomit our enmeshed adoration over people who sing, act, or paint for a living.
Whether we hate or adore people, we’re igniting a twisted love affair in which our projection targets are forced to live out our shadows for us. When we enforce these shadowy contracts with others, our boundaries are stripped, our focus is thrown outside of ourselves, and our psyches are in complete disarray. We also dishonor our targets – whether we hate them or adore them – because we force them to become something other than human.
FUN WITH YOUR HATEY SHADOW
You can do some very useful shadow-retrieval work without needing to be overtaken by full-fledged hatred first. You can do this by writing down all of the qualities you see in someone you adore, and in another person you gossip about now. Your gossip target will hold shadow for you (or you wouldn’t spend time gossiping about him or her), just as your adoration target will – and both will bring startling insights to you.
If you can fully describe all of the qualities you see in your adoration target, you’ll see a mirror image of your own deepest wishes, dreams, and aspirations. You might not believe it at first, but it’s true. If you can burn your contracts with your adoration target, and then imagine filling yourself with these beloved qualities, you’ll be able to begin integrating them into your life. Similarly, if you can describe or write out all the nasty qualities in a person you gossip about, you’ll see a mirror image of the things you’ve been unable to express or live out. If you can burn your contracts with your gossip target and then make room for these unwanted qualities, you’ll begin to integrate your lost aspects and become a mensch instead of a tool.
Robert Bly, in his Little Book on the Human Shadow, suggests that you eat your shadow, and of course, he’s speaking poetically. But Tino and I found these chips at Trader Joe’s a bunch of years ago — they tasted like Pirate’s Booty, but they were shaped like little people. When we traveled, we’d think of people we hated, and we’d pretend the chips were them, and we’d eat them.
This is very silly, but with hatred, you’ve got to find a way to lighten things up and show your emotions that you’re attempting to integrate all of your lost, suppressed, and unlived material. When you can do that, you really do become less heavy with shadow, and therefore less likely to become dangerous and violent toward others. You’ll also be protected from manipulation by people who want to create a community of hate. Plus, you get a nice snack. Score!
It’s vitally important to work with your shadow when you’re not in the throes of hatred or adoration — and you can do that through reading and writing about your shadow, eating your shadow, creating art or comedy about your shadow, or just becoming aware that you have a shadow. When you can perform this preemptive shadow-retrieval work, you’ll most likely be struck by the dark comedy of your shadow, and by the ways your hatred pushes you in the direction you actually need to go.
I wrote this poem about hatred in my late twenties. It’s a true story, though the names have been changed to protect the ignorant.
As a child I despised orange,
hated its intensity, didn’t want it near me –
hid in the soothing coolness of blue.
Got my colors done; no blue,
but orange, red-orange, orange-red, peach, melon, apricot!
After a while I swallowed my pride….
All right! I look good in orange!
As a teenager I despised scientists – scientists and college boys –
wrote anti-science fiction, huge immorality plays
about their cold, emotionless lives.
At 26, slammed into college
after finding out what life was like without it –
graduated valedictorian with a degree in….
All right! Science!
As an adult I despised poetry – poetry and advertising,
both equally excruciating, embarrassing ways to promote a viewpoint.
Now, I’ve won an award for….
All right! Advertising!
And two for poetry.
Knowing all this, what do I now dare to despise?
You can create your own version of this creative process: When you feel hatred, contempt, or resentment (or clingy adoration) rising up inside you, just ask yourself, “What is it in this person that I’m about to become? What essential part of me – what lost or suppressed aspect or talent – does this person represent?” Then, set your own boundaries very strongly, avert your gaze from that poor soul to your own, and get to work. The questions for hatred are: What has fallen into my shadow? and What must be reintegrated?