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.
I can’t put into words how meaningful this was for me. I’m only beginning to learn the craft of writing and as I struggle to write what I believe in my posts, my fear from expressing anger, hatred, even love, stumble and stutter and make me look like a fool, I suppose. But you. Your words come through strong, with conviction. Everything I would like to be, do. You hit everything on. the. mark. Thank you. A million times over.
Thank you for your kind words. It takes a long time to discover your writing voice, but if you keep at it, you’ll find what it is. 🙂
[…] that there’s no reason to feel guilt over my anxiety, or that I can embrace anger and even hate has probably been some of the most liberating realizations I’ve had over the past few years. […]
[…] For some reason, though, it still leaves me with the an emotional gag reflex (ooh, remember this post?). I want to smack anyone who asks me what my wellness plan […]
So what would you say to someone who tells you that hating a person means that you have a relationship to them through loathing them or that you have a connection to them or that it is letting the object of your hatred taint you? My bullshit detector went off strongly when I heard this in the past, but I have trouble shaking it. Thoughts?
A connection and a relationship are two different things, don’t you think? I think you definitely have a connection to someone you hate, but thats not a relationship. And I don’t think it taints you on its own. It merely means they did something wrong to you (the connection); you recognize it as shitty and emotionally respond as appropriate. Of course, that is opperating under the assumption the hate is based in something like abuse as opposed to prejudicial or learned hatred of a group without reason.
Yes, I am talking about one abusive individual. But what if the individual was so abusive that the very thought of being “connected” to them in any way terrifies you and makes you feel that there is no hope of ever conquering them or their abuse? I am talking about someone who never should have had a connection with the abused in the first place and whose very desire for a connection of any kind was wrong, abusive and inappropriate. The idea of never being able to escape–even if that person is no longer around–horrifies me. I feel that it shouldn’t have to be that way. The idea of anger and hate being disempowering seems wrong to me…
Where did disempowerment come in? I think anger and hatred can be very empowering in helping us claim our truth and stand up for ourselves. And having had a connection does not necessarily mean the connection continues. You can’t erase what happened in the past. That event will always be part of your history. And perhaps you have healing work to do before it feels like your abuser isn’t invading your present. But you should never feel obligated to hang onto a relationship or connection that is abusive. I wonder if some of your fear may stem from a fear of being connected to your abused self too? It sounds like even knowing the abuse happened is more currently upsetting than an actual relationship with someone. You are welcome to define what connection means for yourself, but I would encourage you not to disown your wounds in the process of distancing yourself from the person who wounded you. In my experience, the more we try to deny the painful parts of ourselves, the more they demand our attention. Loving those wounded parts helps heal them.
The thing is that an assha–ahem, “a person who was only trying to help” once said something to the effect that anger and hate are disempowering, and that it does continue the connection. This scared me. Some people insist that cutting off is basically the same as hanging on, even when the abuser is dead. That is confusing and upsetting. There was also the intimation that once a person is abused, the abusee is inseparable from the abuser, even if there is no longer any contact.
Some “helpers” can be extremely emotionally abusive (not you, just to be clear).
I think you can see how this makes PTSD worse.
Thank you for trying.
It definitely makes PTSD worse, and I’m sorry that your natural emotional response to what happened to you has been laden with such shitty connotations. I have not found what those people said to br true for myself. As someone who has PTSD, I have found that anger, grief, hate, etc have the ability to connect me more deeply with myself rather than with my abusers. Sitting with those emotions, loving them, loving me, celebrating my ability to feel things i wasnt allowed to feel for 20 years because they were “sinful”–it has been where my greatest healing takes place and has nothing to do with my current connection (or lack of) to my abusers. All I can offer is my experience plus the faith that others have found their emotions to be powerful as well. That doesn’t undo what your not so helpful helpers said, but I hate the idea of emotions being associated with abusers because I see my emotions as sacred aspects of myself. I hope that this post gives you other potential ways of approaching your feelings. ❤
I love this: “This week has been spent with me exploring what a healthy representation of hatred might look like.” You’ve challenged me to try that myself. I love how you’ve talked here and in other posts about reclaiming negative feelings. So healthy and freeing.
The thing about hatred is, although most people seem to be horrified by the word and the concept, they allow it and condone it and encourage it all the time! It’s socially acceptable to hate-as long as you never say that word! I saw that so often in my and other friends’ dysfunctional families–hatred is fine in the form of malicious slander, bullying, insulting, because the abusers would never ever admit to feeling hatred. Act hatefully and cover it up by labeling it love-that’s acceptable. But speaking honestly about feelings of hate that you have-that’s shocking!
So much to think about.
Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful posts.
Light to you,
You’re very right. People express hate frequently, but call it something else, which makes it seem more acceptable. And I think there is a consistent trend in abusers for every emotion–it’s okay for them when it serves their purposes. It’s always about control. Yuck! So glad I got out of that. Thanks for stopping by my blog!