The Morphed Psyche : Developmental Perspectives on Hate

Hate!  Such a strong word, vibrant and alive in its texture, like a crudely cemented floor, so uncomfortable to walk on bare foot. It causes wounds whenever and wherever your feet touch it.

What is it? How do we get into it? How is it first created? How is it perpetuated? And what can we do to eliminate the first formations of it? What do we do to contain it?  And *can* we contain it? Thats a handful of questions, even for me, so lets first explore the nature of hate, and the very early traces that enable a groove on which later hate feeds and flourishes, and we’ll take it from there…

How is hate created?

Lets examine the fetus in the mothers womb all over again. It is a paragon of innocence, and purity, and being-ness. It lives in a blissful paradise, the metaphorical garden of eden that comprises of a union with the seemingly all powerful mother/god.  It has access to all resources, all its needs are taken care of, life is a peach.

And then, wham! All that bliss is taken away as it is subjected the birthing trauma of the worst kind, hung upside down in a universe of touch, smell, sounds, lights. And then smacked hard on the bottom!!! Along with this welcome into a second universe, it is also thrown into the world of feelings. Terror is born. And helplessness. And vulnerability.

And then it is again contained within the arms of the mother, and its ravenous hunger, an entirely new sensation, is satisfied. It tries to go back to its previously held blissful state, but every now and then its expectations are thwarted, the needs can be anticipated by the mother, but not perfectly met. Only the infant’s distress – the screams of hunger related agony – allows these needs to be understood and met. So pretty soon the infant learns to vocalise its discomfort. It has just learnt a new skill!

Over time, it comes to “understand” there is an object – the nipple/breast – that is responsible for satisfaction of its hunger. It is a magical object that contains almost everything to alleviate the infant’s distress. But it isn’t always available – is it? It has a mind of its own and it can choose to become available, or it can choose to stay away. This idea, that something that can make for blissful state of existence, can be denied to the infant, is trauma inducing. Why would the nipple/breast not present itself ? The infant knows on some level that its hunger, and hence life, depends on the breast/nipple. It feels helpless – it cannot fend for itself, it has to depend on this object for its continued existence. To be away from the object is distressing. And yet, the object refuses to alleviate the discomfort!

It is here, in that state of extreme need, dependence, “love,” and the painful awareness of separation that the emotion of hate is first born. The union provides bliss, the separation is painful. The otherness of the mother causes deep anguish, and the infant’s need for it, and vulnerability to it, causes extreme resentment, that slowly gives way to hatred. In that sense, hatred is just a different side of love, and need, born of hunger for nourishment, and the realization that the other is indispensable for the satisfaction of that hunger, and for the infant’s survival. Yet the infant has no control over it. So the infant loves and hates the breast equally vehemently.

If the mother has been erratic, and less giving, these memories and behaviors of the mother are also etched on the psyche, and carry into childhood as memories of depravity. The earliest hunger and craving for nourishment is unconsciously displaced in later life, to hunger for materialistic “stuff.” Such early deprivation makes for an adult who loves to hoard, to become stingy – there is a deep, debilitating memory trace that the nourishment may be denied in the future. This fear may be totally irrational, but it is a groove that is cast in infancy, and all enactment is unconscious. So any hoarding behavior, even if it reflects the horading of material goods, or money, is often representative of early disillusionments and disappointment. It is a manifestation of the dread of uncertainty, of future.

What is the purpose of this hate ?  The purpose is to make the infant aware of his need, and his hunger. The emotion of hate arises to create a division, or the awareness of separation. This separation is either defended against, or desperately needed and wished for. If recognized and handled well by the duo (infant and the mother), this hate will enable the infant to become more tolerant, resourceful and self sufficient. It will make the mother become more attuned and empathic towards the needs of the dependent infant. It enables growth and understanding in both parties. Hate become a helpful emotion in the journey to self sufficiency and empathy for the other. If the purpose remains unaccomplished, or is thwarted, the infant does not grow from the experience, neither does the mother. Instead, he or she remains trapped in the obsessiveness that hatred begets, focussing on the “bad breast/nippple” and mother is not able to develop the capability to form a deeper connection.

This emotion of hate in the infant creates a metaphorical groove in the infant’s psyche, into which the subsequent experiences of disillusionment and disappointment fall.  The groove is like a magnet and attracts all the subsequent information/events in life. The deeper the groove, the stronger the magnetic attraction. It will attract more and more information into itself. In Jungian psychology, this metaphorical groove, or magnet is called a complex. The complex devours all that falls in it, deriving its energy from it, and growing in power. In the external world, this is experienced as “being obsessed with hatred.”

It is worthwhile to mention that hatred isn’t expressed only thru aggression and “bad” behavior. Hatred is often, more commonly, expressed thru passive aggressive behaviors if during childhood the person was denied ways of expressing anger. We all know of people who are externally sweet, and gentle in the office settings, with seemingly high moral and ethical values, but go home with them and their partners, children and dogs will have horror stories to tell about them. We all also know at least some people who may not behave aggressively towards their partners, but will debilitate thru passive aggression, disallowing their partners financial freedom, personal freedom and personal growth.  In all such cases the hate is latent, buried deep within that psyche, even though they may not be aware of it, or may deny it. It is usually a developmentally induced hatred of their parents that they have been unable to express, and they carry it with them like a cross hung around their neck. It either sabotages all their subsequent relationships, or makes their relationships superficial and lacking vigor and commitment of a healthy relationship. Trapped in a repetitive compulsive pattern, such people flit from partner to partner, repeating the same patterns of overt or covert aggression and hatred, without even being aware of it.

It is also worthwhile to express that it would be a fallacy and an act of naivity to assume that all hatred can be eliminated with love, compassion and empathy. Once a certain threshold of hate is crossed, there seems to be no going back. Hitler and the Nazi Germany is but one example of that threshold of tolerance that once exceeded, becomes a process that has a mind of its own. However, all such acts of violence – like the hatred towards Jesus – also lead us towards creation of a new consciousness, and it is that lesson that we must always carry within us when we look at hatred and its victims. Personal boundaries, morality and ethics, verbalised by authors like Paulo Freire, become important in dealing with hate, and its crimes on humanity.

Lot more could be written about this emotion, and the process that begets it, but this outlines pretty concisely how an infant develops the capacity to hate, and this capacity lies dormant in the individual psyche until it is called upon by a similar and disappointment oriented separation wounds in life. When such situations arise, they fall into the original wounds, and are experienced with the same intensity.

So what is the solution?

If the infant is well taken care of, and attended to on a regular basis, the capacity to hate develops in moderation. It is not excessive. Such children will be co-operative, peaceful and friendly and though streams of consciousness may involve a strong dislike which they may label as hate, these children are incapable of the hatred that becomes the norm for others whose needs and desires are frustrated in childhood. Tough love really toughens the infant/child/adult and is antithetic to child development (in my humble opinion, of course!). Adults who have had a reasonably comfortable early relationships with their caregivers, will not develop the ability to hate very deeply, they do not be obsessed with hatred. Such emotions remain an undeveloped faculty of the psyche. This developmental perspective creates a context for us to understand why some individuals, societies, races and nations are more tolerant of distress and disappointment than others. Childrearing practices impact adult development, and the individual psyche becomes an extension of the collective.

So how do we deal with someone who has strong feelings of hatred towards us or another? By recognizing that the child, or the adult within them is in desperate need. Often we will find that such children/adults are dependent at the very core, and have some needs that are essential for their survival are being denied by the environment, or they are oppressed and prevented from becoming autonomous. Hate arises of the need to have their needs met by the “other,” or it may arise as a rebellion against their own dependency – it seeks a way to create an inviolable self, and self sufficiency. As long as these people are denied the process of need satisfaction, or self sufficiency, they will remain stuck in hatred.

The quickest way alleviate the situation is to understand and acknowledge their internal and external needs, and seek mutually beneficial ways to satisfy those needs. Our behavior towards such people needs to be that of compassion and understanding, not of straight-jacket punitive control, for the feeling of hatred in itself isn’t bad – it is just a messenger of a deeper unresolved issues between any two parties. Trying to control voiced or acted out hatred only thru law, order, or discipline – which is mostly what is done, and hence there is never a resolution –  is like shooting the messenger. It only only exacerbates the feeling of oppression, and dependency and oppression that is being felt, and rebelled against. Usually the one who hates has been a victim of the one against who the hatred is directed.

If you do have the capacity to hate deeply and obsessively, how do you control yourself if you are engulfed with hatred? By recognizing that it is not the external environment, or the person(s) or idealogy, or country, or race that is worthy of your hatred, but your own needs, and your own dependency on him/her/them and what they may have to offer. This may sound unbelievable,  but if you begin to explore it deeply, the exploration may open new areas of cognition and exploration of the psyche for you. The degree to which you can feel the emotion of hate is a relative phenomenon, based on early experiences as discussed. But whatever the degree of such felt experience, such an exploration will create more consciousness that helps to alleviate the discomfort, and allows you to put the current, external situation in perspective.

This understanding, and process of alleviating distress is true not only for individuals, but also for couples, families, societies and nations. In the last analysis, most hate is but a morphed emotion of love, and dependence.  It is made of the same texture as love.

About the rest of the earlier questions….all that is for you to reflect on ! But some more thoughts that people hold on the subject of hate are documented here. Islamic perspectives on violence are discussed here.


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