Hatred: The Shadowy and Necessary Emotion
As we take a tour through the emotional realm, we’ve started with the emotions that help you set boundaries: Anger, guilt and shame, and apathy (the mask for anger). Now, we’ll look at an emotion that can set boundaries in very troubling ways if you don’t know how to work with it: hatred. Actually, we’ll continue to look at hatred in the next post, too, because it’s such a complex emotional state.
Though humankind’s expression of hatred has caused intense suffering throughout history, hatred is actually a necessary and worthy emotion — but only if you know how to work with it.
In our current psychological and neurological understanding of emotions, hatred is connected to the reflex of disgust, which is often classified (along with anger, sadness, surprise, happiness, amusement, and fear) as a primary or universal emotion. When I examine hatred empathically, I certainly feel that disgust: that lip-curling, backward leaning recoil from something rotten or unpleasant.
However, hatred is distinct from the simple reflex of disgust. In hatred, there’s also a strong, forward leaning, aggressive, rage-expressing tendency, where we want to attack our hate targets for being … so … repulsively … wrong!
In disgust, we want to get away from the disgusting thing, but in hatred, we often become obsessively drawn to our hate targets. It is this obsessive attraction, and not so much the disgust, that can make hatred so very dangerous.
Neurologist Antonio Damasio, in his book Looking for Spinoza, says this about emotional reactions that can be dangerous:
I am thinking, for example, that reactions that lead to racial and cultural prejudices are based in part on the automatic deployment of social emotions evolutionarily meant to detect difference in others, because difference may signal risk or danger, and promote withdrawal or aggression. That sort of reaction probably achieved useful goals in a tribal society but is no longer useful, let alone appropriate, to ours. We can be wise to the fact that our brain still carries the machinery to react in the way it did in very different contexts ages ago. And we can learn to disregard such reactions and persuade others to do the same. (Damasio, 2003, p. 40)
So let’s look at hatred as something that may have once been important for basic survival, but now requires a more empathic approach. Let’s also identify hatred clearly.
Hatred is not mere dislike, where you see something unpleasant that leads you to separate yourself from another person. Hatred is also not fear, where you intuitively pick up on another person’s improper or threatening intentions. No, hatred is an intense flare of disgust and anger/rage – which (as we know from working with anger) means you’re dealing with boundary devastation and the near-complete loss of your sense of self and your equilibrium. When you hate, you haven’t just identified difference; you’ve ratcheted yourself into an aggressive state as well.
And what depth psychologists have found is that when you hate, you’re signaling a serious problem — not only in the world outside you or in the people (or ideas) you hate — but in the shadowy areas of your own psyche. Hatred signals boundary devastation, certainly, but its pinpoint focus also has a brilliant secondary function (if you know how to do shadow work) – which is to alert you to specific interior issues that thwart and endanger you. This is where the need for intelligence and empathy come in, because if you know what hatred says about you, you can use its power to make powerful changes in your life.
Embracing and detoxifying your hatred
Shadow work is a specific practice you can use to understand and work with your hatreds so that they won’t endanger you or others. Let’s look at hatred empathically in order to understand what it’s doing.
HATRED: The Profound Mirror
ACTION REQUIRED: Hatred arises in the presence of shadow material (things you cannot accept in yourself, and therefore demonize in others). Shadow work helps you detoxify and reintegrate this material so that it no longer activates your hatred response.
GIFTS: Intense awareness ~ Piercing vision ~ Sudden evolution ~ Shadow work
THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What has fallen into my shadow? What must be reintegrated?
If you can grab onto your hatred and bring your full awareness to bear upon it, you can use its intensity to learn absolutely astounding things about yourself, your behavior, and the behavior of your hate targets.
In fact, it is possible that many deep and buried issues cannot be fully revealed until the fierce emotion of hatred arises – because without its intensity, acute awareness, and strong convictions, you might not otherwise be able to make the profound leap from business-as-usual complacency into the sudden and piercing awareness that hatred initiates.
Again, hatred is not mere dislike, which goes away when you separate yourself from people who behave badly — and it isn’t fear, which will recede when you get away from a frightening situation.
No, hatred is a focused attack on another person (or group of people, if your hatred has decayed into racism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, extreme partisanship, or any other form of bigotry). Though it might seem fun to create a community of hatred, everyone in it will be injured by tearing other people down in order to build themselves up.
When hatred arises, you’re in some ways reacting with disgust to differences you see in your hate target, but you’re also shining a rage-powered spotlight on serious boundary issues buried in the shadows of your own unacknowledged issues and areas of unfinished development.
How your emotions work
We’ve looked at some simple pathways from emotion to feeling to action. Now, with the ground of that knowledge to rely upon, let’s look at hatred more closely.
If you recall, all emotions involve an emotionally evocative situation, and (if you’re emotionally aware) a process of feeling and identifying the emotion that was evoked.
When you can feel and properly identify your emotions, you can engage with your skills and take intelligent actions based on the information your emotions provide. You can also chose not to act if the stimulus isn’t valid or the action isn’t ideal.
As a reminder, here’s a very simplified flowchart for emotions:
Emotionally evocative situation → Emotion arises → You feel the emotion → You name the emotion → You engage empathically with the emotion → You act on the information the emotion provides OR deciding not to act because the situation does not require action
As I wrote before, I know this seems like a long process, but you can actually do it in a split second once you get your empathic skills under you. It’s not hard.
It’s actually much harder in the long run to careen haphazardly through your life, being pushed around by emotions you can’t identify, feel properly, think your way through, or understand.
For many people, however, the movement in hatred is much quicker, and it goes something like this:
Emotionally evocative situation → Disgust → Ramping up into seething rage → Hating hatey haters gonna hate hate hate
The cognitively moderated pauses that help us engage with our emotions don’t happen for many people who hate. In fact, there is an emotive step in hatred that really interests me, which is that seething rage is added to the initial disgust, bam!
It’s a very quick movement — it’s much faster than mere thoughts can travel — which is why it’s so vital to understand hatred clearly, and catch yourself before you express your seething hatred onto some poor soul (or group).
I wrote in The Language of Emotions that anger only arises in relation to things, people, and issues you care very deeply about. You don’t get angry about things that are unimportant!
If you can pay close attention to your angers, you can discover the central themes and issues in your life. Anger can help you become a fully functional and fully aware person, IF you know how to use it properly. Anger can give you the strength and resolve you need to work through extremely difficult situations. But most people don’t realize that (at all). When many of us feel the rush and heat and power of anger, we mistakenly think we have the right to attack others with it.
And sadly, when we feel the seething rage that arises alongside the disgust in hatred, we don’t realize that we are actually being given the strength we need to finally do our shadow work. Instead, we think that our hot rage gives us a license to spew our hatred outward and fill the world with ugliness, violence, and despair. It’s revolting, but it happens every day when people don’t know how to work with their emotions.
The expression of hatred completely ruins the subject of hatred – and that’s a terrible shame, because if you aren’t aware of your hatreds, your name-calling, and your pettiness, you won’t be able to discover the ways in which you yourself have been diminished.
If you can’t access your hatreds in a conscious way, you won’t be aware enough to truly individuate and mature – and you won’t be able to integrate the suppressed and lost parts of your whole self. If you stomp on your natural hatreds, or vomit them all over the place, you’ll completely miss the profound movements your psyche is trying to make.
The message in hatred
This is an excerpt from the hatred chapter in The Language of Emotions:
I’ve always wondered, when we truly hate someone, why don’t we just move on and live our own lives? Why do we stay so massively involved – with attacks and name-calling and endless complaints? Why can’t we just let go? Why do we create hate groups and hate-filled movements to intensify our hatred? Why does hatred make us attach ourselves like parasites to the objects of our hatred?
Counselor and author John Bradshaw answered these questions for me in a lecture with this saying: “Resentment is the strongest attachment.” It’s stronger than love, and stronger than blood (I’m placing resentment and contempt into the hatred category, because they carry very similar feeling – they’re not identical to hatred, but they’re close enough for our purposes).
I’ve seen and felt – when resentment, hatred, and contempt are present – a bizarre dance of glee and obsession. There’s distinct relish in hatred, and an utter craving for engagement and enmeshment that I couldn’t grasp until I understood the fierce attachments beneath resentment and hatred.
When we express hatred, we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re totally separate from our hate targets – that we’re nothing like them, that we’re stronger, truer, better, and more righteous. If this were the case, though, we’d have appropriate boundaries and the ability to treat people with respect. But we don’t.
Resentment, hatred, and contempt don’t arise when we feel strong and whole. No, they arise when our self-image and stability is ravaged by intense trouble within us, and they bring with them the most concentrated anger possible. If we can channel hatred instead of expressing it, we can instantaneously reconstruct our boundaries, focus ourselves intently, and perform amazing feats of shadow-retrieval and emotional genius.
If we have internal skills and agility, we can raft through these powerfully disruptive moments and slingshot forward in consciousness and intelligence.
If we have no skills, however, we’ll be unable to even tolerate these surging movements – and in most cases, our lack of skills and awareness will send our shadowy aspects on a seek-and-destroy mission. Most often, we’ll find people who typify our lost and stomped-on material (this is not a very difficult task, since all humans carry all human traits) and we’ll project our troubles outward by expressing our hatred.
In a very real sense, we’ll use our hate targets as baggage carriers – because these acts of projection can lighten our internal load for a while.
The problem, of course, is that projecting our hatred squanders our intelligence, and it squanders the power that anger tries to bring us – which means we won’t be able to focus ourselves, restore our boundaries, protect ourselves, identify the situation that evoked our emotions, or treat others with respect. When we use our hatred to project our shadow material onto others, we lose our integrity, our empathy, and our social intelligence.
If you can learn to catch yourself before you project your hatred outward, you’ll be able to perform the brilliant task of individuation – which begins the moment you realize that each of us carries all things human. Each of us carries greed and generosity, weakness and strength, bitterness and grace, tenderness and brutality, and on into infinity.
You are all things – and the process of individuation is a process of remembering your whole self and making conscious peace with all of your emotions, all of your tendencies, and all of your capacities.
When hatred arises, it’s a signal from a watchful, interior part of you: Here are the things I can’t live yet. Here is where I have utterly lost my way.
Knowing that, you can take advantage of all the intensity inside hatred, and you can use it to face your shadow — and protect yourself and everyone around you in the bargain.
Working with hatred
In the chapter on hatred, I give you two questions to ask your hatred, so the flowchart above would look like this:
Emotionally evocative situation → Disgust → Feeling the disgust and adding the rage → Naming your hatred→ Engaging with your hatred: What has fallen into my shadow? What must be reintegrated? → Acting on the information your hatred provides and doing your shadow work, finally!
I’m telling you, shadow work is not only do-able, it’s necessary — so thank your hatred for showing you the exact problems you have and bringing you the exact intensity you need to face your shadow with empathy and courage.
Hatred can be awesome — IF you know how to work with it!
In the next post: Understanding the love that’s twisted inside your hatred, and how your hatred can show you exactly what is amiss — not in the world or with your hate targets, but with you.
We’ll also look at some fun ways to do shadow work before you’re overtaken with hatred!