Yes, we adults, many times truly like to hate our enemies. We enjoy creating fantasy scenarios and sometimes even real scenes where we get back at those who have hurt us. Indeed, revenge is so popular that it is one of the major themes in great literature from the Iliad to Star Wars. Why is hatred so much fun? Well: How do I hate you? Let me count the ways! (Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning) Or at least begin to identify some of the more important ways (Kernberg, 1990).
1. People filled with hatred for someone who hurt them commonly benefit from self pity or the “sick role” that the hatred maintains (Fitzgibbons, 1986). The self-pity and victim status that are so popular today often express this benefit of hatred. That is, a person’s victim status allows one to rationalize inadequacy and failures (see Sykes, 1992). “I am an adult child of an abusing alcoholic whom I hate for ruining my life. How can you expect me to be a normal functioning adult?”
2. Hatred of others can provide lots of social support and with it friendships. Many of us enjoy the special feelings of support that come from being in groups that have our enemies. “We all hate the boss” or “We get along fine. We all hate President Bush or Obama.” We all know the psychology of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Many times that is how we get and even hold friends.
3. There are the wonderful direct positive rewards from hatred. For example, hatred gives us both energetic purpose and the basic pleasure of expressing anger. After all, hatred is fueled by the primary drive of aggression and its expression is often intrinsically “fun” in its own right. This joy of the direct expression of violence and anger has long been known. Very simply, hatred and revenge provide purpose to life and make people feel alive and powerful. For those who have seen the movie “Princess Bride” you may recall the oft repeated: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Or more generically “Take that you rat and that and that!”
4. Finally, and probably the most common reason for the joy of hating, is the feeling of moral pride in one’s self. After all, you are morally superior to the “immoral” or “truly horrible” person who hurt you. Such gratifying feelings of moral superiority are probably the most frequently observed rewards of hatred. This moral superiority builds our self-esteem. “Liberals are hopelessly immoral, look at their stand on abortion. I am so glad I’m not like them” or “Conservatives are really immoral look at their position on the war. I’m so glad I’m not like them.”
In short, hate gives us the benefits of self-pity, maintains social support from friends with the same hatreds, and it provides both energetic purpose and the sheer pleasure of morally acceptable aggression. Best of all it fuels our self-esteem with wonderful feelings of moral superiority. No wonder we love to hate!
Fitzgibbons, R. (1986). Cognitive and emotional use of forgiveness in the treatment of anger. Psychotherapy, 23, 629-633.
Kernberg, O. (1990). Hatred as pleasure. In R. A. Glick & S. Bone (Eds.) Pleasure beyond the pleasure principle (pp. 177-188). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Sykes, C. J. (1992). A nation of victims. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Paul C. Vitz, PhD
The Institute for the psychological Sciences
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