Hate is one of those subjects that binds us to the emotions of the collective. Together we decry it, and, we participate in it as well. When hate spreads through a group, or a country, or an ideology, it mostly happens at a safe remove, out there somewhere. That’s a perfect way to keep us from thinking about our own relationship to hate and what it actually feels like.
Merriam-Webster says hate is an “intense hostility or aversion, usually deriving from fear, anger or a sense of injury.” This definition helps us see that hate is really a defense, protecting us from vulnerability and hurt. When we lash out, it can feel good, especially if others are doing the same thing. We all know what it’s like to get a good hate on. It often comes as a package deal, with anger, a story of victimization, and perhaps lashings of self-righteousness.
There are less obvious pleasures to hate too. I get small squirts of dopamine on learning that something bad has happened to someone I don’t like. It’s so subtle I may not even catch it. And there are times I have nasty mental chatter going on just below the surface, like Gollum muttering away about his precious ring.
And sometimes, when I’m in a soft, open-hearted state, some hateful thought intrudes like a quiet, deadly flash of lightning. That’s when I get a direct hit of what hate really feels like. The isolation and condemnation it carries breaks my heart. And the thought that I would wish that for myself or anyone else makes me want to cry.
Hate can feel good, until it doesn’t. And no matter where it’s aimed, hate is always an attack on ourselves. We think we can get rid of our unwanted feelings by putting them elsewhere, but that only works for so long. Eventually we get sick of hating because, even if we don’t get to the level of complete heartbreak, sooner or later we see that hate comes at the price of our physical and emotional well-being. That’s the point where we can start making a different choice.
Some hate we can let go of quickly, just by tracking it. Other times we may have to look at what the hate is protecting and go through a healing process. As we get practice in seeing how it comes up in ourselves, it becomes less of a big deal and we get better at working with it. We learn to choose, again and again, to spare ourselves and others the pain it causes. From there we can disconnect from the madness out in the world around us.