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8 Ideas for Managing Hatred

Hatred is fundamental to the human experience.

Key points

  • Acknowledging that hatred is part of human nature makes it less likely to come out untamed and unmanaged.
  • Instead of generalizing about what others do, it's better to say "some of these people" and "some of the time."
  • Feelings are important, but it's best not to put them in charge.

It feels good to hate people (Fischer, et al., 2018). We don’t always like to admit that sordid fact about ourselves, so we imagine the people we hate to be evil, and then we can feel virtuous about hating them. Hating people may be baked into our DNA; humans and chimpanzees form tribes and attack members of other tribes. And who gets the best ratings on TV and the most traction on social media? People we love to hate.

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of hatred disguised as a concern for social justice. I don’t wonder why people hate each other so much in our polarized country. Hate is fundamental; my only question is who will receive it, who will be demonized, who will be shot or beaten or intimidated or investigated.

Many clinical psychologists entered this field to promote social justice; it matters to us that people are marginalized and oppressed by society, by their families, and by themselves. By themselves? Psychology—or really, therapy—seeks to integrate the repressed and rejected self with the acceptable self we show the world.

Society can be made better—the world can become more just—only if we acknowledge that hostility, rage, and hatred are a part of human nature. Otherwise, hatred comes out untamed and unmanaged.

People are often kind and cooperative, but people are also scary. A shark will leave you alone if it’s not provoked, but a human might kill you for sport. When people started to live together in villages and cities, they had to learn not to physically attack strangers; society wouldn’t have worked otherwise. But we could still satisfy that innate aggression by dominating, belittling, and excluding others. For countless examples, check out world history. Or, go online and hang out on social media for 10 minutes.

Violence is often dressed up as love—from beating children ostensibly for their own good, to stalking a reluctant lover, to going to war under banners of peace. Hatred in America and elsewhere has sometimes spread under the sign of the cross. Many political progressives feel about social justice the way many Christians feel about Christianity: deeply proud of its core philosophy and dismayed at seeing it twisted to hurt people.

Hatred wants others to suffer as we have suffered. Love wants to spare other people those agonies.

We stop our worst impulses from getting out by creating a blockade around ourselves. The ships in the blockade fly some prosocial flag like Morality or Social Justice, and then we smuggle our hatred on board any vessel that can get through the blockade by flying the same flag. In this manner, our own hate is often invisible to us. It feels like justice, not like hatred.

Hate hates context; hate requires us not to understand or relate to the hated individual.

Hate is pure and simple; people are complicated and mixed up. You have to dehumanize people to hate them. Contemporary psychology dehumanizes people by treating them as examples of the categories they’re in instead of treating them as individuals.

If you’ve ever seen practically any action movie, you know that hatred feeds on injustice. In the audience, we watch the heroes suffer one injustice after another until we’re rooting for them to kill the bad guys. Hatred breeds hatred. This is well-known, but we still mistreat people because it feels good.

Hate thrives on division and separation: us and not them. In my field, you might be surprised at the way contemporary psychotherapy training programs lay a foundation for hatred, by teaching future therapists that White men can’t really understand or relate to Black women, straight people can’t really understand or relate to gay people, and civilians can’t really understand or relate to military personnel. The list goes on and on. In fact, there’s a whole area of knowledge meant to help us understand people who aren’t like us. It’s called “psychology.” Of course, literature does the job, as well.

The acknowledgment that hatred is fundamental matters because the greatest force for good for hundreds of years has been, under one name or another, a sense of fairness and inclusion in human relations, the ongoing effort to expand the tribe to include all humanity. But what begins as a pursuit of fairness and inclusion keeps turning into inquisitions, inquisitions against people whose crime was … they already felt included. Exclusion is the new inclusion.

Eight ideas:

  1. Let us wake up to hatred, especially our own.
  2. Instead of making even more people feel like they don’t belong in different spaces, let’s try to make more people feel like they do.
  3. Change policies and not people. Stop attacking people and assuming the attacks put you on a moral high ground.
  4. Do unto others and all that. If we think other people cannot know us by looking at us, let’s assume that we can’t know other people by looking at them. Even if they’re White men.
  5. Stop saying these people are like this or those people are like that. Instead, say “some of these people, some of those people.” Or even better, “some of those people, some of the time.”
  6. The best therapists help people find inner peace, not inner victory over some protesting part of themselves. Let us likewise do what we can to help society find inner peace, with malice toward none, with charity for all, remembering that allies are people who defend each other.
  7. Feelings are really important but don’t put them in charge. Instead, let’s promote humanity’s glories; among these are empathy, critical thinking, humor, creativity, and forgiveness.
  8. When our tribe tells us to hate someone—you know this—it doesn’t mean we’re good people if we hate them; it means we’re good people if we don’t.


Fischer, A., Halperin, E., Canetti, D., & Jasini, A. (2018). Why we hate. Emotion Review, 10(4), 309-320.

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