Photo of a sun dappled valley

Hatred and Shadow Work

In preparing to talk about hatred, we’ve looked at the shadow, which is the part of us that is suppressed, disowned, or dishonored. The Jungian tradition of  shadow work shows us how to retrieve material that has been forced (or has fallen) into the shadow. If we don’t know how to work with it, our shadow material can become quite toxic.  We can even create entire social movements around our toxic shadow material (think of homophobic or racist groups). If we don’t understand what we’ve exiled to the shadow, we tend toward unthinking reactionary behaviors, and we become perfect dupes for manipulators and activists who sell the hate-filled idea that there is an “us” that is better than “them.”

Photo of hating cat

And so the shadow brings us to the territory of hatred.


Though humankind’s expression of hatred has created unrelieved suffering throughout history, hatred is actually a necessary and exceptional emotion — but only if you know how to work with it.

You are going to feel hatred. In fact, there’s no way to stop feeling it, unless you really want to hurt yourself with a steady diet of enforced repression. Hatred arises for very important reasons, and it should never be ignored. However, you’ve got to understand what you’re doing.

In the 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 the disgust: that lip-curling, backward leaning recoil from something foreign or unpleasant.

However, hatred takes things a step further than the mere reflex of disgust. In hatred, there’s also a forward leaning, anger-expressing tendency, where we want to attack the hate target for being … so … repulsively … wrong!

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 was once important, but now requires a more nuanced, intelligent, and cognitively-moderated 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 – 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 a dangerous (and endangering) position.

And what depth psychologist have found is that when you hate, you’re signaling a serious problem — not in the world outside you or in the people 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 – which is to alert you to specific interior issues that thwart and endanger you. This is where the need for cognitive moderation comes in, because if you know what hatred says about you, you can use its power to make powerful changes in your life.

If you can immediately 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 target. 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 hatred initiates.

Bunny who loves hatred

Again, hatred is not mere dislike, which goes away when you separate yourself from people who behave badly. No, hatred is a focused attack on another person (or group of people, if your hatred has decayed into racism, homophobia, xenophobia, or any other form of bigotry). Though it might seem fun to create a community of hate, 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 and unlived life.


We’ve looked at some simple pathways from emotion to feeling and action. Now, with the ground of that knowledge to rely upon, let’s look at hatred more closely.

If you recall, a consciously felt emotion requires an emotionally evocative stimulus and your capacity to feel and identify the emotion that is evoked. When you can feel and properly identify your emotions, you can utilize your cognitive skills and take intelligent actions based on the information your emotions provide (or you can chose not to act if the stimulus isn’t valid or the action isn’t ideal). Here’s a very simplified flowchart for emotions in general:

Emotionally evocative stimulus → Emotion → Feeling → Naming → Questioning the emotion → Acting on the information the emotion provides OR deciding not to act because the stimulus is invalid

As I wrote before, I know this seems like a long pathway, 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, think through, or understand.

For many people, however, the movement in hatred is much quicker, and it goes something like this:

Emotionally evocative stimulus → Disgust→ Ramping up into seething rage→ Hating hatey haters gonna hate hate hate

The cognitively moderated pauses that help us question 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 the addition of seething rage to the initial disgust. It’s a very quick movement — it’s much faster than cognition — which is why it’s so important to understand the shadow and catch yourself before you devolve into expressing your seething hatred onto some poor soul, group, or idea.

I wrote in the book 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 mensch, IF you know how to use it properly. Anger can give you the strength and resolve you need to work through extremely painful 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 vomit our hatred outward and fill the world with ugliness, violence, and despair.  Nice.

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 have been diminished. If you can’t access your hatreds in a conscious way, you won’t be aware enough to truly individuate – and you won’t be able to integrate the suppressed and lost parts of your entire, 360-degree 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.


Photo of crowd-hating crowd memberI’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 groups and 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 evolution.

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, though, we’ll be unable to even tolerate these surging movements – and in most cases, our lack of agility 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 through the expression of 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 projection squanders our intelligence and the power that anger tries to bring us – which means we won’t be able to focus ourselves, restore our boundaries, protect ourselves, identify our true emotions, or respect others. When we project our material onto others, we lose our integrity, our empathy, and our social intelligence.

If you can catch yourself at this point, 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 totally lost my way.

Knowing that, we can take advantage of all the intensity inside anger, and we can use it to face the shadow. In the chapter on hatred, I give you two questions to ask your hatred, so the flowchart would look like this:

Emotionally evocative stimulus → Disgust → Feeling the disgust and adding the rage → Naming your hatred→ Questioning 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 courage. Hatred rocks — IF you know how to work with it!

Tomorrow: The twisted love inside your hatred, and how your hatred tells smart people exactly what is wrong — not with 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!

6 Responses

  1. Aleksandra
    | Reply


    I like your portrayal of hatred, I think every emotion has a message that, once decoded, enriches our being. I am interested how you would work with self-hatred? Is it the same as hatred for an external target? Somehow it seems a bit more difficult to navigate, would you still allow yourself to feel it and wait for the message?

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hi Aleksandra. I’d say that self-hatred resides more squarely in the area of shame (here’s a post on shame). In the book, I have people make distinctions between authentic, appropriate shame and shame that was dumped on them by others and that leads them to attack themselves. When emotions are out of whack and creating misery, I suggest that people try the five empathic skills from the book, and especially Burning Contracts. If those don’t work, I suggest that people seek the support of a counselor or therapist. Self-hatred is toxic, so you have to be really careful with it!

  2. Aleksandra
    | Reply

    Thanks Karla, that makes sense. Self-hatred seems to be a bit like guilt, by itself it can never be fully processed, you can spend days trying to feel it but in the end it’s like a mental game, but when you look behind, there is usually a whole bunch of other emotions hiding: shame, grief, anger, sadness. I see a lot of sadness and grief especially.

    Your book is a balm on my soul, I wish I knew about it years ago, but everything has its timing I guess. Like you I have always been an empath, in many ways my survival dependent on it. I learnt very quickly to recognise what is happening with the adults around me so I could act appropriately, hide, get out of the way or relax. I was born to an intellectual father who thought emotions were a sign of weakness, so I learnt very quickly to pretend I couldn’t see or feel them in myself or others. The dissonance between what people were saying and what they were actually conveying with emotions was so hard for me I stopped trusting myself completely. It took me years to discover it’s actually a gift rather than a hindrance. The biggest gift was that I couldn’t lie to myself very effectively either so the level of denial was always low for me, I just couldn’t really suppress my emotions.

    I am so happy that this work is being more and more recognised and that there are people out there who have been ‘promoting’ the acceptance and ‘normalisation’ of emotions. Yay!

    I am wondering if you ever heard of ‘Emotional Clearing’ by John Ruskan, very similar approach to yours, it was a huge eye-opener for me. Taking the spiritual ideas aside, it’s just an amazing book on processing emotions by tuning into them and allowing them in the body. ‘The Presence Process’ by Michael Brown is similar.
    Another amazing resource is a psychiatrist called Bob Johnson in the UK who used to work in maximum security prison treating people with personality disorders. I think he is now opening centres training in Emotion Education.

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