If I said that I intensely dislike my family, would it make you uncomfortable? If I said I had an aversion to fundamentalism, would it make you cringe? If I said Bob Jones University disgusts me, would you think I was out of line in that emotion?
What if I said I hate my family/fundamentalism/Bob Jones University?
In a conversation with a friend the other day about negative emotions, I was surprised to find myself defending hatred as a valid emotion. Six months ago I would have said that hatred was toxic and dangerous, the antithesis of love and the root of destruction and violence. Even when I was able to reconcile the empowering, positive aspects of anger and reject the unhealthy prescriptions of forgiveness that victims encounter at every turn in our society, I still felt afraid of hatred.
I thought of hatred when I saw Westboro standing on a street corner holding up picket signs or when someone murdered an ex-lover out of spite. I thought of hatred when I saw fighting in the Middle East. I thought of hatred when I saw the callous disregard for human rights.
I thought of hatred when I thought of dysfunction, prejudice, and abuse.
But is that really what hatred is?
I only recently realized that the connotation I had surrounding hatred was so strong that I didn’t even know what hatred was. It was just “bad.” When I looked up the definition, I discovered that it was essentially an emotional gag reflex.
Disgust, aversion, dislike…none of those held negative connotations for me. In fact, it seemed rather healthy to be able to experience them.
So why was hatred so scary in my mind? Why was I afraid to acknowledge that I hated my family, despite having more than plenty of reason to feel an aversion to them? If I operate with just the definition of hatred, rather than the word itself, I think having an aversion to my family is as healthy as heaving when I eat rotten meat. I know they’re going to harm me if I carelessly ingest them. So, why the guilt over such a healthy response?
When I moved away from my religious background, I needed to believe that God was love, and that love was safe, not harmful. Love became my spiritual guiding light (still is to some extent), so I clung to verses like 1 John 4:20 and 3:15:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen….Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
If love was the “greatest commandment” and the whole of spirituality, I assumed hatred was the root of my abuse, overlooking the fact that the majority of my abuse was justified as love. Love couldn’t be the motivation. Love wasn’t supposed to hurt. Love didn’t seek to do harm. Love never failed. Love was the fulfillment of the law; as long as there was love, it was perfect…right?
Yes, but that’s an idealized version of love. It’s a model of love that promotes a healthy expression of love, but it’s not the only way that love can be expressed. Love can be dysfunctional, just like hatred. Love can be destructive. It can motivate callousness to the rights of others or extreme selfishness.
I can recognize that certain expressions of love are unhealthy and reject those particular scripts without rejecting the idea of love entirely because I also have healthy scripts of love on which to draw. Over the last two years I’ve developed the ability to do that with anger too. Now it’s hatred’s turn. How could hatred not get a bad reputation when they only face of it we see are from those embroiled in dysfunction?
This week has been spent with me exploring what a healthy representation of hatred might look like. The first step came with admitting that I do hate, and recognizing that my hatred hasn’t turned me into a sadistic sociopath. I hate, but I do not want to kill those I hate. I hate, but I don’t view those I hate as less human as a result. I hate, but it doesn’t consume my life or interfere with my other relationships. I hate, but it doesn’t prevent me from loving.
Rather, hatred sets me free, just as anger did, to acknowledge where great harm was done. It releases me from familial obligations that tell me I should let an unhealthy person close to me. It strengthens me to set boundaries and stand up for myself. It clarifies where my values lie. On a broader front, because I hate bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia, etc., hate reinforces my love and respect of humanity. On a personal front, because I hate abuse and manipulation, it reinforces my love for myself.
If anything, my fear of embracing the natural emotions to my abuse has kept me disconnected from my own humanity, preventing me from fully embracing love, life, and relationships. My emotions are not my enemy. They are the tools that allow me to heal. Wholeness and balance come with the recognition that every emotion has its purpose and time.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.