This year has witnessed a slew of violent incidents and inflammatory protests which have challenged the constitutional rights of assembly and free speech, most ironically, some of these have occurred in the alleged bastion of peace and free speech, Berkeley, California. It turns out that hate is an equal opportunity phenomenon. Violence has been perpetrated by persons espousing a variety of political and social perspectives, thus demonstrating that it is clearly not caused simply by any particular worldview or belief system.
Though not the sole purview of the young, it is concerning that many who are participating in the “hate-fests” are young adults who have seemingly lost hope of the possibility for a bright future. (This has frightening parallels with terrorists groups who capitalize on youth who are vulnerable and indoctrinate  them into hate.)
Why has the level of hatred become so extreme that violence and destruction are becoming common occurrences?
The Psychology of Hatred
Eminent psychologist Paul Vitz has put forth an understanding of hatred which provides a foundational framework to begin answering the question. He states that hatred is a cultivation of anger . Anger is a natural reaction to any attack, threat, hurt or injustice. It has an appropriate role in protection and survival, and, properly understood and expressed, is healthy. Hatred, however, moves beyond the understandable emotional reaction, and moves to the realm of volition and choice to detest. That is, hatred results from an intentional decision to identify and amplify  all the negative aspects of a person or group with whom one disagrees or whom one fears. The motives for hatred may vary, but commonly distill down to a desire to have power and control , though ironically, the aggression it feeds is, by nature, chaotic, primitive and quite uncontrolled.
Despite the obvious impact hateful actions hold for those on the receiving end, the consequences of such a choice for the person who is cultivating the hatred are significant as well. The choice to hate is self-destructive  and nonsensical as people who are chronically bitter and angry have been found to be at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and depression.
Who Does That?
There is no one profile of a person who hates, but there are some consistently-discussed dynamics  that seem to be at play.
- First, it is important to recognize that those who cultivate hatred are, at base, insecure , and lack a firm sense of self and purpose. There can be a sense of moral superiority for one who “hates” the “immoral” or “truly horrible” other who has perpetrated some perceived great wrong.
- Second, hatred gives the person both energetic purpose and, if he asserts a sound reason, a basis for claiming innocence in seeking restitution or even vengeance. Furthermore, as things escalate, verbal aggression or actual violence can provide an adrenaline boost which is reinforcing and potentially addicting.
- Third, hatred protects and distracts a person from feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, inadequacy and shame.
- Finally, hatred of others can provide social support and with it putative friendships. Many enjoy the special feelings of support that come from being in groups that have a similar view of the enemy and promise a panacea for all that ails society or themselves. It fosters a sense of connection and camaraderie that fills a void in one’s identity.
Hate can fill many needs. But it’s not the best way.
Compassion toward others is what will heal, but, compassion is generally learned by receiving it during the critical years of formation in the home. Children raised in homes without stable, married parents, all too often fail to experience compassion and are at risk for a host of social  and developmental  problems, including most fundamentally an impaired sense of themselves and their own inherent self-worth . Fragmentation and disconnectedness in the families of many young people, and the consequent fears and vulnerability, leave a void where the experience of love would otherwise support an understanding of their worth. Extreme groups offering belonging, support and understanding seek to fill this void.
Being a part of a group both provides validation of the person and a clear sense of meaning and purpose (no matter how objectively distorted it might be). Furthermore, on a psychological level, group activity distracts a person from being introspective and having to deal with the insecurities and anxiety which are a part of his inner life.
Overcoming these insecurities and anxieties likely requires healing in the family: forgiveness of parents by children, of sibling by sibling, of children by parents. Forgiveness  is well known to be the best antidote for anger, and while hatred is more complex, forgiveness still would be a foundational starting point. In forgiving, one can reclaim a firm sense of self in one’s family, experience a true sense of belonging based on love and not on power, and plant some seed for genuine peace. And where there is genuine peace, hate is not possible.