What’s the Purpose of Hate?

Hate as retribution in an unjust and senseless world.

Posted Mar 28, 2018

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hate is prevailing in our current era of intolerably frequent traumatizing incidents: trucks plowing down pedestrians on walking streets, in department stores and at Christmas markets; innocent children getting shot by other kids in the school hallway and classroom; bombs going off in subways, at pop concerts and at airports—even outside your front door.

Hate may not always be the motive behind the terrorizing actions of the perpetrator(s). But the constant reports of more death and destruction on television and in social media ignite a persistent feeling of hate in those directly implicated and those who deeply emphasize.

When we hate, we search for a target of the emotional cocktail of grief, fear, disgust, rage and resentment we experience. But there isn't always one. The perpetrator may not be alive when caught, which leaves us without answers—without ever knowing why. When caught alive, the villain can provide answers but not closure. Nothing they or others say can bring us closure. None of the words that well-meaning people whisper in our ear can make us heal. We are forced to live with a semi-persistent visceral hatred—a hatred without a real target to confront, a hatred that never finds the answers it seeks.

Our hatred may send us into deep depression and despair but more often than not, the more severe the disruption of our lives, the stronger the hate and the stronger our feelings that we need to act to make things right. Hate is in part what keeps us going when our lives have been put on hold. It makes us fight with our bare fists to repair the cracks in our sick society—the crevasses that have taken our loved ones and have made us question ourselves, our fellow humans and our future.

What’s the Purpose of Hate?

How do we manage to stay afloat in this sea of hate?

Hate is the cause of our suffering and our bereavement. It’s also what motivates us to stand up for ourselves and those who can no longer speak because their lives were brutally cut short. Surprisingly, however, hate can sometimes be the only thing that can heal us. 

Hate is not a single unified emotion. It is a composite of many other emotions, such as moral disgust, rage, resentment and fear. But the components add up to what may ultimately come to feel like a single integrated emotion—an emotion that is overwhelmingly negative and very often (but not always) exceedingly intense. When we feel it, we typically have no doubts about what we are feeling.

When your hatred is intense, you immediately know what you are feeling is hate, because you immediately have that visceral sense of repulsion, rage and resentment. You may or may not wish to express your visceral hatred in words because those words are going to be ugly. You may not feel proud of yourself when you hear the sound of your own voice in your head and its unmistakable desire for destruction or elimination: “I hope the monster responsible for this tragedy is truly hurting this very moment—or if he already passed, that he truly suffered during his last moments here on earth." 

We only rarely want to actually destroy the people we hate, and it is even rarer that we intend to make the hated person suffer, but we may nonetheless still wish it upon them. Of course, intense hatred can be accompanied by an intention to retaliate by causing widespread fear and misery. This is, after all, what triggers hate crimes, terrorism and genocide. Even when hate amounts to an intense bodily feeling accompanied by a wish to see the hated person in agony or destroyed (or a belief that they were pained before they passed), hate can serve as a kind of retribution through restoration rather than violence.

Hate to Heal

Hate can be restorative by rebuilding our sense of self and by speeding up the healing of our emotional wound—the wound triggered by the heartless or desperate person who continues to terrorize us by making a surprise appearance on the stage of our mental theater, thus forcing his semi-visual presence on us, even when we close our eyes and try to erase him. His dark shadow keeps picking at our oozing wound. When a scab begins to form to allow new tissue to grow underneath, the wound swells and reddens and becomes more painful than ever. 

We become feverish as we try to come to terms with the incomprehensible thought that our loved ones were prematurely deprived of their bright and promising future and all the wonders of growing up and growing old.

Feigning acceptance of what has happened is will only feed the fever. To starve it we must embrace our feelings of hate and their inherent aim at retribution. When the hated person has received the  punishment he deserves for his cowardly act on our imaginative inner space, our hate can still serve us by urging us to ignore or eliminate the villain when he pops up in our thoughts uninvited.   

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love.