“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
I know what some of you are thinking: What do mean, Why do I hate the person I hate? Because she is an annoying jerk, that’s why. Duh.
But hatred is far more complex than that. If you hate someone (as opposed to merely disliking her), it means that you play just as large of a role in the unfolding drama as your enemy does. Which is just no fun to hear but it’s true.
The left side of my brain would now like to present you with a math equation:
your enemy’s flaws and offenses
your own issues and baggage
If the problem were solely our enemies’ flaws and offenses, we’d simply avoid these people. Dislike would suffice. But we bring out the big guns because our perceived enemies often remind us of a person who has hurt us in the past. Sometimes our enemies represent a larger group of individuals who have made us feel small. Sometimes they remind us of who we wish we were but aren’t. And other times, we see in our enemies a part of ourselves that we hate. But whatever our enemies symbolize, their power over us can be explained by a single fact: they trigger dormant feelings of inferiority and shame. The deeper your insecurities the more often you’ll feel personally attacked by others, regardless of whether or not they are indeed attacking you.
Hate is a desperate (and often unnecessary) act of self-preservation.
Dislike vs. Hatred
First, let’s distinguish between mere dislike and hatred. When you dislike someone, you prefer not to be around her. You avoid interacting with her because it’s simply unpleasant. But ultimately you do not wish any ill will upon this person. In fact, you don’t give her much thought at all. If anything, you’re apathetic about whether or not she finds success and happiness.
And all of this is fine – it’s normal to dislike a small number of people throughout your life.
On the other hand, if you hate someone it means that you consider him a threat and an enemy, and therefore, you are invested in his demise. When it comes to this person you:
- can’t stop thinking about him. You replay his offensive insults over and over again in your mind.
- smile a little on the inside when he experiences a small setback or failure. Yet if he reaches a goal or has achieved an admirable accomplishment, you attribute his good fortune to lucky breaks and undeserved assistance or attention from others rather than to his own skill or talent.
- stalk him. But instead of stalking him out of creepy fascination or obsessive admiration, you stalk him because you enjoy gathering data to support your theory that he’s a terrible person.
- try to convince others of how evil he is. You feel that everyone must know “the truth” about him. You seek confirmation from others that this awful person deserves your hatred.
In short, the difference between dislike and hatred is that the former involves apathy while the latter involves your time and effort.
Case Study: My Husband & His Nemesis
I got permission from my husband Brian to write about his experience with a former enemy– an ex-coworker who I’ll call Nick.
Everything Nick said and did annoyed the you-know-what out of Brian. At least once a week my poor hubster would come home fuming with a litany of offenses committed by his nemesis.
To me, the solution to the problem was simple: Stop talking to the guy. Focus on your work. Limit your interaction with him. These are easy to do when you merely dislike a person. But when you hate someone you can’t help but become a bit obsessed with him. You feel compelled to verbally spar with your enemy not necessarily because you want to win, but because you don’t want to lose. (Again, the reason: enemies trigger our feelings of inferiority and shame.) And so it happened that dramatic confrontations between Brian and Nick would occur on a regular basis.
That’s when I knew that something was up. Upon digging deeper, I discovered that Nick and Brian were very similar. Specifically, they seemed to have the same insecurities regarding their work and professional lives. Nick’s way of coping with his own insecurity was to act superior to Brian. Brian’s way of coping with his own insecurity was to go out of his way to tell Nick “Hey, you’re not superior to me!”.
Although they would never acknowledge it, both men are opposite sides of the same coin. (Note: Most enemies are.)
Late last year I made my first enemy. This person’s superiority complex activated my inferiority complex, and as I result I lost my cool a few times, mostly in passive-aggressive ways.
I’ve since been told that I’m officially on this person’s sh*t list. So as I conclude with the following thoughts, I think I’m writing mostly to myself:
All any of us can do when we find ourselves with an enemy is to figure out how we contributed to the problem. Why were we so damn defensive in the first place? What exactly were we fighting so hard to defend and protect? What are our insecurities really about? And what is it about our enemy that highlights the flawed parts of ourselves that we work so hard to hide from the public eye?
So often we think that our enemy is trying to expose our flaws to the world. But most of the time they’re simply trying to hide their own. It’s all a game of secrets and shame. We all play and we all lose.
The only way to stop making enemies is to begin making friends with our own imperfection. Through self-awareness, courage, and hard work, we can diminish the power of our own insecurities. When we’re at peace with ourselves we will stop being at war with others.
Your turn: What have you learned about yourself from past experiences with “enemies”?
(Obvious fact: The “enemies” I describe in this article exclude bullies, abusive people, and violent warlords. They don’t highlight or expose other people’s insecurities, issues, and baggage; they create them.)