Hate is another one of those words that get thrown around these days, and thus has largely lost its meaning:
“Why do you gotta hate?” “Choose love, not hate!” “Stop hating on me!” “Haters gonna hate.” “Don’t be a hater!” “Don’t hate!”
These days, “hate” (not unlike “love”) has been distilled, watered down to mean “to disagree/disapprove”. It’s a label we slap onto anything and anyone who disagrees with us, sometimes to emotionally blackmail them into agreeing (that’s emotional abuse, btw).
It’s also something we label feelings. Those feelings like anger and aversion are often confused as hatred, just as feelings like affection and attraction are confused as love. Hate (at least in the English language) has been taken to be a superlative to “dislike,” just as love is a superlative to “like”.
To most people, this is confusing. For victims/survivors, this is very confusing. It’s something I’ve wrestled with my whole life. Like so many things, my understanding of anger and hatred has been twisted beyond recognition:
My abusers would often use words like “hateful” and “unforgiving” to deeply shame me for feeling any anger towards them for hurting me. Additionally, the spiritually abusive use of “unforgiving” equated those feelings of anger and “it’s not fair!” to something sinful.
To avoid being “hateful”, and worse sinful, I grew to turn all that anger inward, which in turn became self-hatred: I was very critical of myself, never forgiving myself for even the smallest mistake. I was constantly haunted by everything I ever said and did, especially if it resulted in hurt or abuse. I never expected any apology for when I was hurt, and would instead apologize for “making” them hurt me, begging for forgiveness (that I knew wasn’t coming). I would constantly punish myself, and am very self-destructive in the way I think and behave. I lived in fear and shame of anger, even now that I know it to be a natural involuntary reaction to hurt.
The self-hatred is still there, though as I made my way on this healing journey, that anger I turned on myself and/or hid away started to turn outward. Instead of being haunted by my own mistakes, I’m haunted by the mistakes and harm others have done to me instead. The anger I hid is knocking loudly from its hiding place, like a monster in the closet. It’s more than I know what to do with. I usually run.
I’ve been given lots of advice, usually amounting to “just let it go”. Someone (possibly the same someone who compared holding onto anger as holding onto hot coals) once compared hatred to drinking poison in hopes that the other person dies. Try as I might, I can’t understand it. I can’t bring myself to forgive. Whenever the idea of forgiving even one person of just one offense comes up, I’m flooded with all these memories of people hurting me. None of them ever said sorry for hurting me, or tried to make amends. They probably never will. It’s said no apology or reparation is needed for forgiveness. I don’t get it. I can’t.
This study on the true nature of hatred is just as much for my benefit as it (hopefully) is yours. If we put aside everything we’ve learned to be hatred, maybe we can find the truth to what it really means to “hate”.
Love, in the most elemental, purest sense, is “goodwill”; willing good for oneself and/or others. This will, distinctive from involuntary thought or feeling, brings about the good to the subject of one’s love, even at the risk of rejection. As the antithesis of love, it stands to reason that hate is “ill will“, willing evil on oneself and/or others. It brings about the bad to the subject of one’s hatred, even when it results in acceptance and approval.
Let’s be clear here: this is not to say that acceptance is a bad thing. “No man is an island,” it’s said, and we humans need each other. It also absolutely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have compassion. We should never go out of our way to shame or hurt someone, even (or maybe especially) when we’re in the right.
It’s just a very easy trap to fall into, the dilemma of choosing between the happiness of your beloved, and their wellbeing. It’s choosing between what’ll make your child stop screaming, and what’ll be good for him/her in the long-run. It’s choosing between a truth they won’t like, or a “white lie”. Oftentimes, when we love someone (or something, like a cause or organization), we have all this affection for them, and so want them to be happy, sometimes driving us to destructive enabling. We may have this loyalty/devotion to them that can keep us from seeing any and all fault in them for us, themselves, and/or those around them.
We may also try to convince ourselves that the unhealthy/harmful way we want to love, or were taught to love by way of culture, creed, etc., is in their best interests. This was often the case of my abusers, insisting they were doing those abusive things out of love (or even that it’s culturally right for them to do so); they convinced themselves that their hateful acts towards me was “love” so they can live with themselves.
It’s in cases like these that love is in actuality hate. There doesn’t have to be a single hint of anger involved, just as love doesn’t have to have any affection. Whatever one’s desires, feelings, beliefs, or intentions are, hate is poison, however sweet.
Now that we’ve reclaimed the simplest definition of hate, let’s look a bit deeper.
I remember when I first heard that part in the Gospels when Jesus said to hate one’s brother is to be answerable for murder (Matthew 5:22). As many translations of this verse used the word “anger” instead of “hate”, combined with what abuse taught me, I took that to mean “feeling angry is Bad“. It’s not unlike how I took the following verse about how looking at someone “lustfully” is “committing adultery with [him/her] in [your] heart” (Matthew 4:28) to mean “feeling attraction is Bad“.
When I look at these verses now, at least at a rational level, I can see that’s not what Jesus meant. Feelings, again, are involuntary; it’s what we do with those feelings that make us “subject to judgement“. Feeling attraction or anger isn’t good or bad; it only becomes bad when the feeling becomes a willful thought or act that detracts from that person’s dignity or wellbeing.
But whenever we think of hatred, we think of anger, right? The word “hatred” brings up those hot, violent feelings, like a storm thundering threateningly on the horizon. It’s not often that we think instead of a colder kind of hate that just doesn’t care.
This is what confused me when I realized (or remembered?) that I seem to hate those people who hurt me, or things like the criminal justice system, the abortion and sex industries, and even God and His Church, more than for my abusers. While I feel nothing but anger and enmity for all of them, I feel no such thing for my abusers, who hurt me much worse than they did.
Instead…I feel nothing.
No anger. No sadness. Nothing. There’s nothing there. Like how the memories of abuse became cloudy and less accessible when all hope of justice or empathy was lost, I can’t remember them; their voices, their faces. They’re all blurred out. I don’t think I could even describe in detail what my own parents look like. I reject the memory every time it comes up.
I don’t care where my abusers are, or how they are doing. I feel no satisfaction at the idea that they might be suffering (even horribly) in their abusive lifestyles, nor the prospect of them paying for their sins eternally if they die unrepentant. Those who are dead could be in hell for all I care, and those who are alive could die today or tomorrow. I don’t care.
They’re dead to me.
Realizing this, even though I can’t bring up any anger towards them, I think the truth is that it’s them I hate more, not those I have a boiling rage for.
It could be that some of this anger I have is displaced, actually rightfully belonging to those abusers I feel nothing for. It could be that I still have some hope for them, these other people, that they might come ’round and actually make amends, unlike my abusers. The memories and anger for my abusers died when that hope died in me; it makes sense if so.
At the same time, it’s confusing; there’d be times when I’d feel absolutely nothing for the few people I still consider friends. I’d message them, talk to them, and feel nothing. No affection. No attraction. Nothing. Sometimes, I’d instead be angry with them. I’d be angry when they’d forget about me, when they say/do something hurtful, or just do something dumb that results in them being hurt (often after I gave very compelling reasons why they shouldn’t).
The difference between them and these others is that they almost always made amends; otherwise, they wouldn’t be my friends. But what if they didn’t? Would I still be angry at them, too? A friend challenged me with that thought, noting that there were times that he hurt me; didn’t I forgive him? I feel little to no hurt about whatever harm he might’ve done, which was usually on accident, and he’d be sorry for it. He reminded me that, while it’s required in reconciliation, making amends isn’t required in forgiveness. It helps, but it’s not necessary.
I’m not sure if I know the answer to his question. I don’t know if I’d have forgiven him, or other friends who have slighted me, if they didn’t care enough about me to make it right. For now, I can at least see that sometimes love doesn’t feel very loving, just as hate doesn’t feel very hateful, or even angry.
Love can feel like hate. Hate can feel like love. Either can feel like nothing at all. Feelings don’t change what they are, not even the ones that encourage good or ill will.
So, how do we tell when hate is hate?
It’s like this one time in the parish garden: there was a very large plant that at first glance looked like a benign flower and wild carrot called Queen Anne’s lace. Closer inspection revealed it to be poison hemlock. One’s harmless and even edible, the other’s deadly from its flowers to its roots. They’re almost identical, save a suspicious number of flying insects (first hint), and the smooth, purple-spotted stem (final hint). This is an example of natural mimicry, where a living thing (plant, animal, etc.) that makes itself look like something poisonous or harmful to ward off predators.
There are a couple things we can take from this: we had to carefully look over this plant, keeping to a safe distance. We had to do some research. I’ve never seen hemlock, but I have seen Queen Anne’s lace; if I stubbornly didn’t open myself up to the possibility of being mistaken, I wouldn’t have discovered the truth (and its very heavy consequences). I also shared the truth on social media, warning any fellow parishioners who might think, as I did at first, that it’s a harmless plant a child could pick flowers from.
When it comes to sorting through what is and isn’t hate, we have to sometimes take a step back, and not approach the matter as a fight to the bitter end. We have to do our homework. We have to be open to being mistaken, even when we’ve only seen one side of the matter. We have to be willing to talk about it, warn others of any traps and pitfalls (as I hope I’m doing right now).
One of my abusers (ironically) liked to quote Alice’s sensible observation on the Drink Me bottle, shortly after she fell into Wonderland:
“If one drinks much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is certain to disagree with one, sooner or later.“
As my priest friend said, “We all have to pay for our sins now or later“. My hating them probably doesn’t help (or hurt) those people or organizations that hurt me, nevermind my abusers. Even if my ill will was like a great, angry storm, it wouldn’t reach them. Looking at it this way, it makes more sense that forgiveness is for my own good; it probably would make little to no difference to the likes of them whether or not I hated them.
What I do with the anger aside, it doesn’t seem that hatred does me, or anyone, any good after all. There’s a satisfaction in it though, knowing (for once) that I’m in the right. There’s a fear, too, that if I don’t hate them, I’ll be trapped again in all that self-hatred.
They say forgiveness is giving up that right, to truly “choose love, not hate”. I don’t have to accept them, untrustworthy as they are. I don’t (nor should I ever) have to accept what they did, evil as it was. Doesn’t matter if it was big evil or small evil; evil is evil, abuse is abuse. I can’t go by what the world calls a “hater” anymore, because it’s not in line with what hate even means.
But what does “goodwill” for an abuser, or someone who betrayed/abandoned me look like? I’m not sure, but at least I’m thinking about it.
I guess it boils down to the choice: bitter medicine, or sweet poison? Love, or hate? Having goodwill, or bearing ill will?
The storm is passing.