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Hate Q&A

1) Sometimes people say they hate something when they really dislike it. What defines the word hate?

     One way of defining hate is to say it is an intense disliking of someone or something. However, the intensity with which we dislike something that is unpleasant is often commensurate with how unpleasant it is. For instance, we may be slightly annoyed by a boss’s or professor’s specific mannerisms or ways of speaking. On the other hand, a negative performance review or a non-passing course grade may cause us to strongly dislike these people, especially when we feel their actions are unwarranted. These are all very normal and healthy responses, and we may even go so far as to say we “hate” these people.

     The true line between intense disliking and hate parallels the line between rational and irrational thought patterns. Irrational thought patterns include analyzing the person’s actions based on incomplete and/or biased information, as when we attribute their behavior to personal characteristics such as race, religion, political affiliation, or social class. Constant dwelling on negative feelings directed toward another person can become an all-consuming passion, which can cause us to contemplate taking measures to harm, injure, or exact revenge against them. This is the essential difference between disliking and hate.

2) I have heard that when you hate you do not feel guilt? Is this correct?

     This depends on the situation and person. Everyone has experienced hate and many people have acted out on hateful emotions at some point in their lives. However, some people believe that their hatred is justified because of some characteristic of the hated person or because of something this person said or did. In this case, they are not likely to view their hateful actions as wrong of their own accord.

3) Why is violence almost always connected to hate?

     As was mentioned above, hate has a tendency to be an all-consuming passion with the capacity to impair rational thinking. This has to do with the way the brain is wired. The regions of the brain known as the putamen and the insula have been identified as the “hate circuits” of the brain. A study done at University College, London demonstrated that these areas became activated when subjects were shown pictures of people they hated. These same regions were found to contain structures responsible for carrying out aggressive behaviors, that is, for translating hateful thoughts into violent actions.

4) Is there a difference between hating a person and hating an entire people group? Or is the feeling the same in both situations?

     Sometimes a person may hate an individual who is part of a larger people group (ethnic, religious, or otherwise) and the perceived negative characteristics of this group are used to justify hatred of the individual, regardless of whether they actually hate the group as a whole. In other situations, hate is directed toward the group as a whole and all of its members, not a particular person. These two types of hate are similar in that they are both based on irrational thinking and stereotypes. However, hate of the second type tends to be more widely publicized and associated with fringe elements of society (i.e. hate groups such as the KKK). Hate of the first type is more relevant to everyday people because, while many people would repudiate hate of the second type, these same people are frequently susceptible to hate of the first type. It is a more subtle form of hate that affects people often without them even realizing it, and in this sense it is more significant from a psychological perspective.

5) Hate is very destructive to everyone involved, but I have heard it is more destructive to the person who hates than to the person they hate. What are some things that can happen if you have hatred for someone else?

     Hate is an unhealthy emotion that is accompanied by a state of sustained stress and tension. When we think about things we hate, it often “makes our blood boil.” Research has established a causal link between stress and medical conditions such as digestive problems, high blood pressure, substance abuse, and a weakened immune system. Additionally, the impaired judgment associated with this high stress state can lead to poor decision making and memory problems. And from an interpersonal perspective, hate prevents us from seeing the good in people and keeps us consistently focused on the negative. Anything that the hated person says or does reinforces our own hateful beliefs about them, making it a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break free from. Given these destructive effects of hate, it makes sense to have strategies for dealing with it before it develops into a serious problem. With the help of a counselor or pastor, we can learn to identify the irrational thought patterns, dismantle them, and replace them with positive thoughts that bring us peace rather than stress.