The twisted love in hatred
Previously, we looked at the connection between hatred, disgust, and rage. Rage is the aggressive aspect of hatred that can make you obsess over your hate targets and project all sorts of troubling material onto them. The fascinating thing about hatred is that you actually choose your hate targets not simply because they’re odious, but because they’re specifically odious in ways that cause specific, shadow-driven ragequakes inside you. Yes, I made that word up, but it feels quite apropos.
Let me take a giant step back today and say that projecting your shadow 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, many of us project our “good” shadow material onto others just as frequently as we project our “bad” material.
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 prowess, 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 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 worked 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 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. 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 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 obsessive passion.
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 in our neurology.
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, idolized, or fell violently in love with, you may recall how clueless you were. Adoration-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 him or her. 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 — because 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 mildness – and we can almost feel a kind of bacchanal inside ourselves.
In hatred, there can be 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 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 ragequakes take over, and we go on a nightmare romp of hatred and obsession.
When these ragequakes 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.
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 removed 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.
For this second person, don’t look for someone who is universally reviled as horrendous, such as Hitler or Idi Amin — instead, think about an actor, singer, sports figure, or renowned person whose success just makes you cranky or enraged.
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 disdain and then make room for these unwanted qualities inside yourself, you’ll begin to integrate your lost aspects and become a more whole 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 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 ragequake-causing people, and your capacity for true empathy will increase markedly. 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 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?
In the next post: The intuitive and instinctive genius inside Fear