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The psychology behind hatred

People often assume that the word “hate” means a strong negative feeling and aversion to something or someone.This is because it is commonly associated with being the cause of negative emotions such as anger and can sometimes be perceived to harm people’s interpersonal relationships, confidence, freedom of expression and health. In the dictionary of psychological lexicon it is officially defined as a “deep, enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger and hostility towards a person, group or object. 

Researchers like Royzman, Mccauley & Rozin (2005) however believe that there is no clear definition of the word “hate” because of two main reasons. Firstly, due to every culture, group and community interpreting the word differently, and secondly because various renowned philosophers have contradicting definitions of it. For example Spinoza, Hume and Darwin believed that hate was associated with a “negative feeling toward the object of hatred” while Descartes and Aristotle believed that it was associated with “a negative judgement about that object”. 

To make things even more diverse “Aristotle believed that hatred was associated with attacking” whereas Descartes suggested it has more to do with “withdrawal due to fear or disgust” of the person, topic or object.  I find this interpretation interesting because the phrase “people hate what they don’t understand” gets thrown around often and in my experience I do believe it to be true in some everyday situations. For example a common scenario I’ve observed and personally experienced is, hating some aspects of maths when they are hard to understand. 

Some more intense examples that I have not experienced but have tragically heard of are those highlighted by Perry (2003) like the 1999 “Los Angeles and Chicago shootings and the synagogue burnings in Sacremento, which began from racist and extremist manifestos of white supremist hatemongers”. Another example that comes to mind from modern times is the heart-wrenching 2019 Christ Church Mosque shootings from yet another white supremist. It is clear that negative feelings and negative judgements were made from the perpetrators towards the victims (all of which were very bias, distorted and derived from ignorance and racism). All of which are in line Spinoza, Hume, Darwin, Aristotle and Descartes’ definition of hate. 

YouTube group ‘Get Psyched’ hold the same beliefs too as they explain that according to the ‘in group, out group’ theory humans supposedly do not like anything different from us. This is because we are believed to have love for our ‘in group’ which consists of people who share our same beliefs and interests and express aggression towards our ‘out group’, consisting of people who are different. Another motivator for hatred according to this group is feeling fearful or rejected and Freud touches on this when he talks about projection. For example people who hate asylum seekers might only express aggression because they are scared that they will be replaced in their role by an asylum seeker (who could be better than them at their role), therefore they project their feelings of hatred onto asylum seekers as a defence mechanism.

Others like Ekman (1992) and Shand (1920) share similar beliefs to one another, claiming that hate is a “syndrome” that involves more than one emotional reaction. Elster stated that hatred is “caused by a judgement that another is evil”. I can understand this perspective as well because when reflecting upon historical dictators like Adolf Hitler, It is clear that he was (and still is) one of the most hated men in the world due to all of the evil things he did. 

As outlined by ‘FarFromAverage’ some people might hate other people because they are so scared to admit that they have flaws within themselves, that they start to accuse other people of having them. This is why some people believe in the saying “a persons biggest flaw is always the flaw that they see in other people”.  This aligns with Freud’s teachings on projection too. This group continued on to add that another reason some people express hatred towards others is because they are “too insecure to watch those around them exceed and do well.” This is because they are feeling really low so they want to “bring others down too” so that they can feel low together. If however one person is feeling low and another is excelling then the two no longer have anything in common and this is why the individual feeling will be “uncomfortable in their own skin”. This form of hatred supposedly comes from “your closest friends and family because we are influenced most by the people we are closest to so if a friend sees you succeeding the hatred will be even stronger because your actions have a greater impact on them than on a random stranger”. This is why they say “your haters are your biggest fans because deep down they cant to be you or want to have what you have”. ‘FarFromAverage’ concludes that “every single moment of hatred a hater experiences is like a mini escape from their own flaws” and for this reason it should never be taken personally. 

Berke (2012) highlights that “Greed feeds envy, envy breeds jealousy and jealousy reflects self-hatred” which in turn often results in external hatred or as referred to by Freud as “projection”.  He continues on to highlight that you cannot love someone and experience hatred at the same time due to jealousy (or any other reason) because then you cannot balance two very intense emotions without experiencing emotional turmoil within. This can result in a shift within the “dynamic relationship between love and hate, with hate predominating”. So my interpretation of this is to be very alert when around people who express even an ounce of envy towards you because according to Berke that is yet another root cause of hatred. 

In conclusion it is clear that there are many different motivational factors behind hatred. The common denominator among all seems to be a lack of understanding and bias views. It seems like the solution to hatred is simple right? If every closed minded individual out there just made a solid effort to understand opposing views, beliefs and respected the fact that everyone is different then there wouldn’t any more hatred. Unfortunately we cannot control how other people operate, but what we can control is our own reactions. We get to choose whether we will fuel hatred by retaliating or not. As Martin Luther King Jr said “Darkness cannot drive our darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”, so next time you come across a hater (which you will at some point) respond with empathy, because you understand that their hatred stems from their own subliminal self-hatred to some extent or pure ignorance. 

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