Why do we hate?

By Manal Almahanna

Why do we hate? The reasons are many and complex, and in the following article we will address some of the factors that may help us understand why we hate and, hopefully, guide us towards change. But before we look at the factors, let’s talk about one of the oldest arguments in psychology history: nature vs. nurture. Is hate inborn or taught?

An extensive amount of articles have been written in psychoanalytic literature on the topic of ‘hate’. Early on in psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud wrote that hate is an instinct, a natural inherent aptitude present at the moment of birth. Later in 1976, Dr. Walter Bonime, another psychoanalyst, claimed hate to be a result of pent up rage. He wrote: “the daily difficulties of getting about, getting ahead, getting fed, getting enough time to rest or to think, both material and emotional deprivations are forces that lead to an angry culture.” But hateful adults are not simply shaped by culture, what happens in the family clearly matters according to Freud’s developmental ideas. Well-nurtured children who are encouraged and loved generally develop a healthy sense of self; whereas children brought up in stressful environments and have dysfunctional families tend to hold on to anger and carry deep resentments into their adulthood. We may also look at the ideas of psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, who studied unconscious irrational processes in groups. He wrote that hate arises in large populations because of powerful, regressive emotions that are activated within group members. Bion called this group response “fight-flight”, which he described as having an emotional sense of being in danger – the group feels it must fight against something, or run from it. The leader of this kind of group can only succeed if he/she believes and supports this sense of being in danger. This kind of totalitarian leader was carefully studied by a group of researchers headed by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who created a psychological scale in their attempt to understand authoritarian personalities and explain how racism led to events such as the Holocaust. The measure they created was called the F (Fascism) Scale. On it were statements designed to assess people’s tendencies toward the idea of “we are good ” and “they are bad”. Therefor, to summarize the results of years of research into one sentence, we can deduce that dysfunctional families, differing cultures, and in-group/out-group conflict can sometimes activate this inherent hate within us.

Now that we have come to the conclusion that hate is a combination of both inborn traits and learned behaviors, we can focus our attention on some of the factors that may play a role in why we hate. The first factor is fear of ‘The Other’. According to professor A.J. Marsden, one reason we hate is due to our fear of things that are different from us. Patrick Wanis, a behavioral researcher, cites the in-group/out-group theory to be the reason why we hate others. Similarly, Wanis explains, “Hatred is driven by two key emotions of love and aggression: One, love for the in-group—the group that is favored; and two, aggression for the out-group—the group that has been deemed as being different, dangerous, and a threat to the in-group.” He believes that when threatened by perceived outsiders, we instinctively turn toward our in-group—those we identify with—as a survival mechanism. The second factor is fear of ourselves. According to clinical psychologist Dana Harron, the things people hate about others are the things that they fear in themselves. Her idea being, “I'm not terrible; you are.” This technique is known as ‘projection’. It’s a term coined by Freud to describe our tendency to reject what we don’t like about ourselves. Psychologist Brad Reedy further described projection as our need to be good and to do so; we tend to project badness outward onto others. He went on to say, “We developed this method to survive, for any 'badness' in us put us at risk for being rejected and alone. So we repressed the things that we thought were bad and we employ hate and judgment towards others. We think that is how one rids oneself of undesirable traits, but this method only perpetuates repression, which leads to many mental health issues.” Lack of self-compassion is the third factor. Self-compassion means that we accept our whole self. “If we are okay with ourselves, we can respond to others’ behaviors with compassion. If I hate another, I would have to hate myself as well. It is only when we learn to hold ourselves with compassion that we may be able to demonstrate it toward others.” Says Brad Reedy. In the end, the antidote to hate is compassion. The forth factor pertains to the idea that hate fills a void. Psychologist, Bernard Golden, believes that when hate involves participation in a group, it helps build a sense of connection that fills a void within one’s identity. He describes the act of hating an individual, or a group, as a way of distracting oneself from the difficult task of creating one’s own identity. “Acts of hate are attempts to distract oneself from feelings such as helplessness, powerlessness, injustice, inadequacy and shame. Hate is grounded in some sense of perceived threat. It is an attitude that can give rise to hostility and aggression toward individuals or groups. Like much of anger, it is a reaction to and distraction from some form of inner pain. The individual consumed by hate may believe that the only way to regain some sense of power over his or her pain is to preemptively strike out at others. In this context, each moment of hate is a temporary reprieve from inner suffering.” (Golden, 2003). Finally, the fifth factor is societal and cultural factors. According to Silvia Dutchevici, “We live in a war culture that promotes violence, in which competition is a way of life.” She goes on to say, “We fear connecting because it requires us to reveal something about ourselves. We are taught to hate the enemy — meaning anyone different than us — which leaves little room for vulnerability and an exploration of hate through empathic discourse and understanding. In our current society, one is more ready to fight than to resolve conflict. Peace is seldom the option.” Dutchevici believes the reason we hate lies in our cultural and political history more than our psychological makeup or family history.

The major dilemma, then, is what can we do? How can we overcome this hatred and promote kindness instead? One way is to challenge ourselves, to unlearn what we have learned, to struggle against hate’s pull. Golden says: “We are all born with the capacity for aggression as well as compassion. Which tendencies we embrace require mindful choices by individuals, families, communities and our culture in general. The key to overcoming hate is education; at home, in schools, and in the community.” Another way to overcome hate is to be vulnerable, which allows us to connect, feel, and love. Dutchevici suggests connecting with a neighbor, talking to a friend, protesting, or seeing a therapist as a way to crack this learned system. She believes this is how people are able to begin to understand what hate and love are. In other words, compassion towards others is the solution to hate. Like Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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