Why We Hate Who We Hate

Check out my evil death stare. Are you intimidated yet? Anyone? Anyone??

“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


= hatred


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.)


Final Thoughts

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.)

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12 Responses to Why We Hate Who We Hate

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  4. Davitor says:

    We hate because it may be in fact part of a survival mechanism that we probably inherited by our animal ancestors where we fought off our predictor less we become their food. But now that we’ve developed this huge cerebral cortex we’ve made this predictor (who’s just hungry) an evil colossal enemy who plans to end the world less we kill it before it kills us which by technicality means the end of the world.
    Ever wonder why all the best movies always need an evil, evil, villain that everyone hates and the more evil the more the gloriest hero will come rescue us.
    Does this mean we will always need to hate? I hope not. Less we figure out a way we can all become vegetarian. ;D

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Very good point. I actually lecture on this topic when I teach social psychology, and you’re right – there’s a theory that humans’ aggressive instinct has survival value and evolutionary significance.

      It’s all a slippery slope though. While it’s not “wrong” to get angry or feel threatened by people, we take it to another level when we feed and dwell on our own hate. Which is a problem because hate often leads to unnecessary aggression and violence. You’re right — in the movies the defeat of an evil enemy adds to the story of the glorious hero. But I don’t think we need hate (or lethal forms of violence, for that matter) in order to do heroic acts, either. Phew! ;)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Sheryl says:

    For me, the biggest thing I have noticed in past experience with “enemies” is really recognizing that when someone bugs me that darn much, what I’m reacting to is really myself. To me, most hatred tends to me where I see something I don’t like of myself in the other person or that they bring out something I don’t like in me.

    For example: I can come off as really haute-y, aloof and a little superior … as a reflection of my own insecurities and shyness and occasional inferiority complex. Sometimes I don’t get along with people who really interest me because I’m scared I’ll bore them or that I’m too weird for them (although that last one has some basis), and unintentionally create distance from them.

    But at the same time, when people are a little distant I often subconsiously make the assumption that “s/he’s ignoring me or not engaging with me because s/he thinks s/he’s better than me.” Ummm … double standard much? Because I’m willing to bet that that’s how my distance comes off sometimes, even if unintentional.

    Or sometimes people who are super confident and sure of themselves can really grind on my nerves … because I’m too often afraid to present myself the way they do. People who are blunt can bother me because I’m afraid to be blunt. Obvious that’s not hatred, it’s getting to the idea of reacting based on our internal baggage as much as the external factors.

    The thing I find interesting about these relationships though is that they can help highlight areas where I can focus on self-improvement. They point out the qualities that I wish I had but don’t (giving me an idea of what to cultivate in the future) or the qualities that I do have but need to be careful of.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Those are great examples – thanks for sharing so openly and honestly. It’s fairly common for people to hate in others that which they hate (or lack) in themselves. Envy plays a big part in who gets on our nerves too. (I used to be such a Gwyneth Paltrow hater…turns out I was just jealous of her fabulous blog and her music. But once I started working on my own creative projects I stopped getting annoyed by her success.) Everything you shared goes back to the idea of insecurity and shame about our own flaws.

      You’re right – all of this stuff provides us with direction for self-improvement. Relationships are such great teachers.

      • Sheryl says:

        Oh man until I looked back there I didn’t realize how long winded I’d gotten!

        What’s that old saying though, hate and love are two sides of the same coin? I think that in a lot of ways this is true – the people we love tend to be people who make us feel like better versions of ourselves around them, or and people who make us feel stronger despite our flaws.

        People we hate? Maybe what’s going on there is we feel our flaws all that more strongly around them, and it makes us feel worse about ourselves. Some of the time, at least.

        • Kimberly Eclipse says:

          No, no…not long-winded at all! I really appreciate your comments – they’re smart and they def get me thinkin’.

          By the way, what other blogs do you read? I’m looking to connect with writers who run sites with similar content/ style.

          • Sheryl says:

            Aw! Thank you!

            I have to say, you’re blog is fairly unique on my list. My rundown goes: food blogs, a couple wedding blogs (that was how I found yours!), personal finance, style blogs, the occasional culture blog and a couple of “hey this is my life” blogs. Geeze, I didn’t realize how many I read!

            I’ll read a little bit more critically the next few days, see if anything rings as running along the same lines as your blog, but I’m not sure there’s anything similar to yours. You are unique in the best way.

            If I do come across any blogs that I that remind me of yours (be it style or content) I will definitely let you know though.

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