Previously, we looked at our tendency to express our hatred instead of working with it more deeply. Often, we can become obsessive about our hate targets and project all sorts of troubling material onto them.
The fascinating thing about hatred is that you choose your hate targets not simply because they’re odious, but because they’re specifically odious in ways that cause specific, shadow-driven hatequakes inside you. Yes, I made that word up, and I like it!
Let me take a giant step back and say that projecting your shadow material onto other people is a common thing – 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, many of us project our deeply desired shadow material onto others just as frequently as we project our unwanted or despised material.
The shadow in adoration and idolization
For instance, when we admire famous people, we often project our best selves onto them – we let them hold our talent, our courage, our beauty, our skills, and our brilliance (these traits are suppressed into the shadow just as often as our more troubling traits are). This projection process is often useful, because most of us can’t just say (for instance), “My family raised me to be focused on business administration, but I’ll just ignore that and become an artist.” No, we may need to idolize and project onto artists in order to make room for our own artistic nature. We may even attach ourselves to certain artists (as if they personified art) in a form of shadow projection known as adoration.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung focused on the concept of the human shadow, and he 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 sometimes the only thing that will get us out of our parent’s houses and into the world. So adoring someone else’s talent can be a safe way to move toward our own.
However, you’ll notice that strong adoration often morphs into disappointment when our adored person acts like a regular schmoe and not a magical being. This is the point when the projection slips, and if we realize what’s happening, we can let go of our projections, shake off the adoration, discover our own talents, and begin to live our own authentic lives.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t figure this out
We remain attached to our adoration targets, and try to change them back into that shining, perfect vision (or we might fiercely defend them and ourselves from the truth of their fallible ordinariness) – which launches us on a roller-coaster ride with them. When we find ways to reattach our projections, everything is peachy, but if they slip, we have to start all over again. It’s an unstable attachment that can seesaw back and forth between ungrounded infatuation and painful 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
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 and the emotions being directed at the targets.
In the excellent shadow books of Robert Bly, Robert A. Johnson, and Connie Zweig, each author points out that we can easily find our shadowy, unlived material by closely observing the people we attach ourselves to through adoration or hatred.
If people live out the strengths and talents we suppress, we usually attach to them through adoration, idolization, or infatuation.
If they live out our unwanted or disowned aspects, 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 an obsessive 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 an intensely obsessive passion.
This connection between hatred and adoration (also called infatuation) is a concept that comes to us from art, poetry, and depth psychology. If you think about it, infatuation-based romantic love can be incredibly misguided, ill-informed, and even destabilizing. It’s not like the real and enduring love I wrote about in Love is Not an Emotion.
Real love isn’t a giddy carnival ride of projections and fantasies — in real love, you can actually see and understand your loved one as an individual with faults, problems, and difficulties, and you will continue to love them. In real love, there aren’t obsessive peaks and devastating valleys; real love isn’t a game.
But projection-based relationships are a kind of game
Whether we project our adoration or our hatred, we’re not truly seeing the other person; we’re playing games with them and with our emotions.
In hatred, our aggressive obsessions can even take on a kind of haunted party atmosphere, where 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 suppressed religious longings, our unwanted empathy – and we can almost feel a kind of wild party inside ourselves.
In hatred, there can be a kind of 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 suppressed and disowned (or were forced to suppress), things so unwanted, so dangerous to us, our parents, teachers, or peers that they couldn’t even be spoken aloud.
And in many cases, the hatequakes take over, and we go on a nightmare romp of hatred and obsession.
When these hatequakes occur, most of us don’t take this extraordinary opportunity to become aware of our own shadows and of all of the enforced suppression we’ve endured. No, most of us resist this deep movement and instead spew our hatred onto the people who live out our shadowy aspects – just as we spew our enmeshed adoration all over people who (for instance) sing, act, or do art for a living.
The twisted love affair
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, we throw our focus outside of ourselves, and we lose our interpersonal boundaries. We also dishonor our targets – whether we hate them or adore them – because we force them to become something other than everyday, fallible people.
Luckily, there are ways to address obsessive hatred or adoration behaviors, and surprisingly, many of them are just plain fun.
Fun with your hatey shadow
You can do some very useful shadow-retrieval work without being overtaken by full-fledged hatred or adoration. You can do this by approaching the territory of obsession in a somewhat distanced way.
Taking a shadow inventory
In this writing exercise, you list all of the qualities you see in a famous person you adore (or adored when you were young), and then list all of the qualities you see in a famous person you just can’t stand.
Your shadow is specific to you — and it contains specific information that can help you become integrated, functional, and whole.
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 can use the Rejuvenation practice from The Language of Emotions), you’ll be able to begin integrating them into your life.
Similarly, if you can describe or write out all the nasty qualities in the person you can’t stand, 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 the person you hate and then make room for these unwanted qualities inside yourself, you’ll begin to integrate your lost aspects and become a more integrated person.
I did this process a few years ago with an actress that I couldn’t stand — I mean, I would hear her voice and it was like nails on a chalkboard, she cheesed me off so much. When I wrote down all of the detestable things about her — primarily having to do with what I perceived as her dainty weakness and her extreme focus on her appearance, I saw a list of things I had never allowed myself to be, or admit to, or come to terms with.
When I burnt my contracts with that poor actress and began to deal with those shadowy issues in myself, I was able to look at some very painful issues that had their roots in my childhood, and I was able to deal with them and become more integrated and functional in the present day.
I also became able to watch this actress without reacting, obsessing, or feeling aggressive toward her. I fact, I felt protective toward her, and I also felt gratitude, because she showed me something in one minute of shadow work that I might have spent years in therapy trying to figure out. I see her as an individual now, and I understand her in a way that helps me have empathy for her, myself, and others.
Hatred is truly brilliant if you know how to work with it. Win!
Eating your shadow
The poet Robert Bly, in his Little Book on the Human Shadow, suggests that you eat your shadow, and of course, he’s speaking poetically. However, my husband Tino and I found some 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 went on long trips, we’d break open a bag, think of people we hated, pretend the chips were them, and we’d eat them.
This is very silly, but with hatred, you’ve got to find ways to lighten things up so that you can begin 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 obsessive or aggressive toward others. You’ll also become more able to tolerate previously hatequake-causing people, and your capacity for true empathy will increase. Plus, you’ll 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 shadow work, eating your shadow, creating art or comedy about your shadow, or just by 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 genius ways that your hatred uncovers your deepest issues and pushes you in the direction you actually need to go.
Doing art with your shadow
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?
AWESOME Karla, thank you….this is timely and very useful
Thank YOU, Betsy!
Breathing big sigh of relief here. I can work with this!! Thanks for the eye-opening articles. There’s plenty in my shadow, and creativity that I’ve yet to integrate.
Does this work with self-hatred too?
Hi Alison, that’s a good question. I’m thinking that self-hatred is more like shame than it is hatred, in that it’s focused inward on you. With shame, I like to use Burning Contracts so that you can identify the shaming messages and get some separation from them.
In hatred, you are separated from the troubling material because you’ve projected it at someone else, but in self-hatred, you’re attacking yourself. You’re owning the material, but it’s gotten out of hand. In that case, I think working to make separations from the shaming and self-hating messages and behaviors is a better tack.
I hope that helps!
Just saying thank you for writing so clearly, and in such a lighthearted way about emotions… you always help me understand things because of the examples you give. Especially how to process hatred and shadows; I didn’t get it until just now after reading your newsletter. You are one smart and funny person, and you share that with us. Thanks.
Thank you Sarah!
Thanks for this article, Karla! So helpful. I’m struggling with feelings of hatred toward my MIL and I know I need to turn this around and look at the deep stuff it’s bringing up for me. Big, big stuff.
Hi Nikki — yes, hatred is an invitation to do really important, life-changing work. It makes me so sad when people run from it and just express their hatred instead.
Thank you for bringing more emotional genius into a waiting world!
Thank you Karla for you insight, grounded knowledge, but most of all for making all of us just people. I always enjoy your work and it has opened me in new ways each time. Blessings………
Thank you Marggie. Blessings to you, too!
Hi, I wanted to say first that I have found your work very useful to get me out of almost drowning in a swamp of chronic intense state emotions, and am now normally at some kind of peace which is quite a change. Even though I had for a very long time talked about emotions as a signal system of sorts, I had not really taken that view into practice. I was still doing either repression or expression mostly, though I was starting to understand the origins of the emotions. So I had gotten to the “identify stimulus/mechanism” part, but not the resolve part. Now that I know how to resolve them, peace is more easily available.
Anyhow, it’s made it more clear to me now what it feels like when something emotional comes up, since I am not in a constant intense state, and recently I’ve been experiencing a lot of something I tentatively identify as resentment, but I don’t know what to do with it. It wants to lash out very viciously at people who I perceive as having caused me hurt or harm, and I’m having serious trouble keeping myself from doing that, especially with a person close to me. There have been some uncaring and real stuff happening, but this resentment, if that is what it is, also adds a lot of lies on top of that: that they don’t care at all, that they’ve been deliberately using me, that they are blind to my needs/boundaries. I can see the projections in these lies, and I know I have not myself been God’s best child in the relationship, but I’m finding it very hard both to find the right angle for shadow work to do its work and to decide to detach from this person who is not always good for me. I am very fond of them and it usually brings me a lot of clear, innocent, peaceful happiness to be around them until the resentment volcano goes off.
If you have time and inclination to give any specific comments on resentment following hurt in close relationships, and how it differs from anger and hatred, I’d be very grateful.
Many thanks again for your work and insight, they resonates well with me and have helped me immensely.
Hello Janna, and thanks for your question.
I’m glad that you’ve been able to develop a more comfortable relationship with your emotions! Your awareness seems very keen.
Your question about resentment, anger, and hatred is interesting, because when people experience a lot of intense emotions, it generally signals an issue with boundary-impairment and hyper-sensitivity. And these anger-based emotions coming to the forefront when the others have been settled down seems sort of perfect, and by that I mean that the actual boundary-building emotions seem to be displaying themselves, rather than there being an overall emotional cacophony.
Resentment is a part of anger and hatred, and in intimate relationships, it can speak to boundary loss. The thing is, however, that intimate relationships require boundary shifting, and boundary dropping at many times, so anger can come up in any of its forms during this process.
So grounding, setting boundaries, and focusing on communication are ways to rebuild boundaries and deal with possible violations in relational ways. Resentment tends to want to take the nuclear option, and sometimes that has value, but it’s not a great overall strategy.
Hello again, and thank you for your reply. I think you’re right about what’s been going on with sensitivity and boundary issues, and I like the image of resentment wanting to go nuclear. I think the humour of it will help me disarm the resentment somewhat. Thanks for giving me a sane view to ponder.
Looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future, and I wish you well.
I can see how this could be true some of the time, but it doesn’t seem to fit all situations–like, say, a person who was badly wronged who reaches the point of understanding what happened and becomes enraged and hate-filled as a result. That kind of outsized emotion is less fun than frightening–and it seems arbitrary and to call it a reflection of our own outsized shadow-propensity for wronging others. I mean, I can’t prove that it isn’t…and it’s probably true that everyone has all these negative traits in some measure…but why point to the mere existence of, say, my potential capacity for verbal or physical violence as the source of my hatred for a workplace bully or a police murder? Wouldn’t it be simpler to say that when people hurt us or the people we love badly, we do (and should!) hate them in self-defense?
TL;DR: I’m not comfortable “owning” other people’s loathsome traits as if they were also mine (especially in extreme cases) just by default; I’d need a strong reason to think that it was justified. Otherwise I’d probably be afraid to criticize anyone at all lest it “say something about me”…which strikes me as a very neat way to deflect criticism, but not necessarily an accurate one.
Hatred is a very different animal to rage at being wronged, and many people don’t hate those who have wronged them. Neurologically, hatred and infatuation, both of which involve projection and dehumanization of the other, seem to stem from the same processes. Not liking someone, being enraged at them, feeling wronged and hurt — these are all understandable responses. But they’re not hatred.
Shadow work is a trip, and yes, some people become really annoying about it and blame any conflict you might have with them on your shadow. Or, when you bring up something they’ve done wrong but don’t want to hear about, they claim that you are projecting. I have patience for this, because it’s a sign of the person having a poor relationship to healthy shame, but it’s tiring.
Shadow work is also difficult, because it separates you from the crowd. We are all supposed to hate a certain type of person, depending on our socialization. Child molesters, Nazis, liberals, conservatives, etc. If we attempt to do shadow work and rehumanize the hated ones, people will almost always turn on us. Many people desperately need their shadow figures so that they don’t have to face the truth about human nature, which is that we’re all capable of jaw-dropping savagery and jaw-dropping majesty. It’s easier to place human evil into a tidy grouping and separate ourselves from it.
This is a brilliant article, thank you so much for sharing!
I live life rather dissociated, but I engage very deeply with fiction. In the jargon of the similarly afflicted, we speak of book hangovers. When I get hooked on a book, often there’s this one character I get so deeply invested in that I start virtually living through them, it even bleeds into how I act and it takes up most of my thoughts. I know it may sound silly, but to those with those experiences, obsession is not too strong of a word. Your article has given me a clue that this is likely the projection of shadow material onto fictional situations. I feel far less apprehensive to start a book now, knowing that I can avoid being completely dysfunctional and even learn a thing or two about myself.
Back when it was having a deep negative impact on my life, my search for understanding and support online didn’t yield any meaningful results. In our hyper rational, emotionally-illetrate culture, what is expressed through hypothetical, fictional settings and the feelings that live in our bodies and react to everything we engage with are treated like they simply don’t exist. Your work on empathy made me view emotional attachment as far more wide than the restricted narrative that simply equates empathy with concern for people in your immediate environments, as if anything beyond that is a hallucination. I know this is a bit rambly and potentially out of topic, but I’m incredibly grateful for your work and for how far I’ve come in understanding my experiences thanks to you making this available.
Welcome CatLady. It sounds to me as if your hyper-empathy and Einfühlung are directed a fiction. Interesting!
One thing that’s suggested for people with hypo-empathy is to read fiction and imagine themselves in the place of the characters, and to identify what they might be feeling, thinking, etc. This can help people develop most of the aspects of empathy, but specifically the capacity for Perspective Taking. It sounds as if this happened for you, but on overdrive!!
The way you describe your experience of fiction is similar to what I call “state-matching,” or a full-body hyper-empathy. I usually see it in body workers, who sort of put on their client’s body or pull it into themselves so that they can understand viscerally what’s going on. If state matchers don’t know that they’re doing it, however, they can develop trouble and burnout symptoms.
I had one state-matching Pilates teacher who would put on my damaged body and get cranky toward me and other students. I understood it, but I didn’t stay in the class! She did it with everyone and was very controlling. If you think about it, it makes sense, because she was super-enmeshed and didn’t see the difference between herself and her students. Her anger, which is the emotion that sets boundaries, was trying to help her create healthy boundaries, but she didn’t know how to work with it, so mostly she was just overbearing and spiky.
Empathy, hypo-empathy and hyper-empathy are SO poorly understood. It’s sad that people don’t even have language for what’s occurring. I’m glad you found yours!