“I hate cauliflower!”
“I hate doing this!”
“I hate those people!”
The word “hate” is everywhere, especially in recent times. It has become a label we use without thinking too much to designate a wide range of emotional states that often have little to do with hate. In fact, sometimes we use that word simply to describe very negative feelings that we experience, but which are not hate. And sometimes we even use it to emphasize something that we don’t like or that is extremely uncomfortable.
Social networks, the media and television sets have been responsible for validating this “hate”. Specific laws have even been made to tackle hate crimes. But in reality we often confuse hate with rage or anger. That confusion can lead to more extreme posturing and functional rigidity, so knowing the difference between anger and hate is important, both personally and socially.
Anger passes, hate remains
Rage and anger are emotions that we have all felt. They usually arise as a result of a situation that irritates, bothers or annoys us to such an extent that it generates frustration. However, being anger a primary emotion, it usually leaves us as soon as it arrives. Anger and rage do not usually persist, so they do not “cloud” our emotional state for a long time.
When we are angry, we are likely to do something to vent that anger, so many times an action is enough to eliminate it or at least reduce its intensity. Therefore, anger is usually a spontaneous and brief emotion.
Instead, hate tends to persist for longer. It also has its roots in unpleasant experiences, but it is a feeling, not an emotion, which implies that it is more lasting and profound. In fact, hate is usually a feeling “fed” on a slow fire. It is not a simple response to circumstances, but implies an active contribution from us.
Hate is also a cognitive response, which is molded and shapes our thinking and attitudes. While anger usually originates in the most primitive part of the brain, hate stems from both our rational and emotional minds. Neuroscientists at University College London discovered that anger is mainly reflected in brain areas that are activated in response to a threat, but hate includes a greater activation of cortical areas of the brain, both those responsible for motor planning and those associated with contempt and disgust.
This difference between anger and hate allows us to understand that it is easier to get rid of anger than hate, especially once it has taken root.
Anger is fuel, hate is cancer
Anger, although it has been a reviled emotion and often described as negative, can provide us with certain benefits. In fact, it has an extraordinary motivating power, so it can push us to act to defend our rights or to escape from a situation that is harming us.
Anger and rage come and go, providing us with an extra dose of energy that helps us to face an obstacle or threat with determination. In those cases, anger can be fuel while hate is more like a cancer because it has negative consequences for both the experiencer and recipient.
In this sense, a study carried out in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revealed that the real obstacle was hatred. These researchers found that anger was not such an obstacle to reaching compromises and agreements, so they concluded that “anger can be constructive in the absence of hate.”
Unlike anger, hate is usually more intense, so its consequences are too. The longer the hate lasts and the more it becomes pervasive, the more likely it is to overshadow other emotions and obscure everything we can feel. Hate is usually the ground where resentment and revenge grows, which is why it often pushes us to hurt or destroy.
Hate also usually ends up “taking over” the person who hates. It becomes an obsession that destroys the person who experiences it. By closing his vision, preventing him from seeing anything beyond his vital narrative, circumscribes him to an increasingly narrow circle, distancing him from the person he was, taking away both his capacity for discernment and the possibility of experiencing positive emotions that can counteract the attacks of hate.
Hate prevents us from seeing the moon behind the finger
A study conducted at the University of Amsterdam revealed that we tend to hate people or groups more for who they are than for what they do. Hate is a stable disposition that starts from a negative perception of certain people, who immediately become the object of our anger and the scapegoat on which to project all our discomfort and frustrations.
We usually direct hatred towards those people or groups that at some point we identify as the cause of our discomfort or suffering – whether that is true or not. In fact, it is a response to repeated experiences of humiliation that generate a feeling of helplessness. Thus, hate is often associated with feelings of anger, disgust, and deep disappointment toward those we think are hostile to us.
In this sense, another difference between anger and hate is that the latter usually involves the perception of negative intentions from others, a mindset that can become stronger and more resistant over time. We hate whoever we see as our enemy – whether real or imagined.
For that reason, it implies the demonization of the other without taking into account the complexity of the human being. It implies caricaturing, simplifying and objectifying it. Thus we have carte blanche to lash out at that person or group without experiencing empathy or guilt.
Indeed, these psychologists acknowledge that “Hate can be reassuring and self-protective because its message is simple and helps confirm people’s belief in a just world.” In other words, it allows us to look for culprits on which dumping our problems, shortcomings, insufficiencies and errors. That is the reason why hatred is promoted on a social level, since it is a mechanism through which the reasoning of the masses is clouded and, at the same time, their attention is diverted from those who are truly responsible, preventing them from understanding the situation in all its complexity.
Hate, however, is nothing more than a distraction from internal suffering, whether on a personal or social level. It is nothing more than a smoke screen that we raise so as not to have to reflect on our thoughts, feelings and attitudes. In fact, while anger can blind us and impair our ability to see the big picture, hate makes it even more inaccessible. Unlike a moment of intense anger that restricts our ability to see and understand alternative points of view, the constriction caused by hate is even more pervasive and long-lasting. It blinds us.
Obviously, if we don’t address hate, it can become an obsession that constrains our flexibility to think and prevents us from addressing the deepest, most uncomfortable hurts. Hate is a debilitating and complicated sentiment that can hold us hostage, limiting our ability to build a fuller life and to live in harmony as a society.
Martínez, C. A. et. Al. (2022) Hate: Toward understanding its distinctive features across interpersonal and intergroup targets. Emotion; 22(1): 46-63.
Fischer, A. et. Al. (2018) Why we hate. Emotion Review; 10(4): 309-320.
Doorn, J. (2018) Anger, feelings of revenge, and hate. Emotion Review; 10(4): 312-326.
Halperin, E. et. Al. (2011) Anger, Hatred, and the Quest for Peace: Anger Can Be Constructive in the Absence of Hatred. The Journal of Conflict Resolution; 55(2): 274-291.
Zeki, S. & Romaya, J. (2008) Neuro correlates of hate. PlusOne; 3 (10): e3556.