Hatred is among the feelings I call “obsessive emotions.” Like other forms of obsession, obsessive emotions increase the propensity for aggressive and violent actions. Adolf Hitler, for example, a quintessential example of a hateful person, had a lifelong obsession with the Jews.
In his 1962 novel Island Aldous Huxley indicated through one of his characters Dr. Robert that Hitler may have suffered from a severe case of delinquent Peter Pan syndrome. Peter Pan syndrome, also known as Puer aeternus (“eternal boy”), has traditionally been thought of as a phenomenon in which a grown man is childish and immature. Despite his age he acts as if he is a selfish child, a narcissistic teenager, or an irresponsible young adult, and he feels entitled to behave as he sees fit. Huxley’s fictional character Dr. Robert mentions Hitler as an archetype of a delinquent Peter Pan:
A Peter Pan if ever there was one. Hopeless at school. In capable either of competing or cooperating. Envying all the normally successful boys—and, because he envied, hating them and, to make himself feel better, despising them as inferior beings. Then came the time for puberty. But Adolf was sexually backward. Other boys made advances to girls, and the girls responded. Adolf was too shy, too uncertain of his manhood. And all the time incapable of steady work, at home only in the compensatory Other World of his fancy. There, at the very least, he was Michelangelo. Here, unfortunately, he couldn't draw. His only gifts were hatred, low cunning, a set of indefatigable vocal cords and a talent for nonstop talking at the top of his voice from the depths of his Peter-Panic paranoia. Thirty or forty million deaths and heaven knows how many billions of dollars—that was the price the world had to pay for little Adolf's retarded maturation (Island, p. 185)
Peter Pans who become power-loving troublemakers are normally driven by a lifelong hatred of a particular identity group that they see as similar to their childhood bullies or the kids who were subject to their childhood envy.
In addition to hatred, the group of obsessive emotions include morbid jealousy, unreciprocated love, and complicated grief. All of these emotions are typically characterized by obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. Like hatred, unreciprocated love does not infrequently lead to homicide. Just before Thanksgiving 2016 20-year old Florida resident Melanie Eam stabbed her 21-year old ex boyfriend James Barry to death at his home after he decided to end their relationship. She couldn’t bear thinking of him out on the dating scene, available and single, when she couldn’t have him and felt comfort in the thought of him not existing at all. Morbid jealousy—also known as the Othello Syndrome or Delusional Jealousy—can be equally gruesomely compulsive in nature. Morbid jealousy is a psychological disorder in which a person obsesses about their spouse or romantic partner cheating on them without having any evidence for these thoughts. Like other kinds of obsessive emotions, morbid jealousy frequently leads to abnormal or violent behavior. Mail Online featured the following story about Kate who thought she finally had met her dream man.
For Kate, alarm bells were ringing within weeks of her meeting Luke. He showered her with jewelry and clothes. But she also woke up one night to see his silhouette at the end of the bed, looking through her phone. “It felt slightly sinister, but I didn’t say anything because by that time, the charming side of Luke had very much charmed me,” she says.
Only much later did she discover that as they snuggled on the sofa, he would clock her typing in her pin and passwords so that he could check through her texts and emails.
He started questioning her about her male friends and insisting she take them off her Facebook page. He was like Jekyll and Hyde – one minute he would be sweet and attentive, the next threatening and intimidating. Says Kate, “He told me he loved me and wanted me to have his children, and because I wanted to make the relationship work, I made excuses for his erratic behavior.”
Once Kate found the courage to leave Luke, he bombarded her with text messages and emails, followed her interminably and showed up at her workplace without prior notice. The psychological consequences of the stalking were severe: Kate needed psychological and medical treatment for generalized anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive thoughts of suicide.
While morbid jealousy is more likely to lead to seriously dangerous behavior than non-delusional jealousy, non-delusional jealousy can also be obsessive in nature and consequently leads to compulsive or violent behavior. Research has indicated that jealousy (morbid or not) is one of the major triggers of domestic violence (Puente & Cohen, 2003).
It is thought-provoking (and scary) that people are more forgiving of domestic violence when it has its roots in jealousy. Many people treat jealousy and resultant domestic violence as a sign of love. This is a very saddening and frightening finding. Some degree of jealousy in a relationship is no doubt appropriate and to be expected if you really love your partner, but as blogger Anna North aptly notices, it is hard to determine where the fine line is between normal jealousy and emotional abuse. Her thoughts were sparked by a letter to Slate's advice columnist Prudie. Here is the letter “Scared” sent to Prudie:
I am in my early 20s and was recently dumped by my long-term girlfriend. This shocked me because of how in love with me this girl seemed to be and because of the revelations it brought about. Even though 90 percent of our relationship seemed blissfully happy, the remaining 10 percent was miserable because I was extremely verbally abusive to her and gradually restricted her social world because of my jealousy. I insisted she avoid contact with guys she had slept with (and I promised to do the same with my previous partners); I used her romantic past to make her feel awful when she wanted to spend time with friends at places where her past flings would be; I held the fact that she'd had casual sexual partners against her. At the time, I thought I was a good guy who simply held his girlfriend to the same standards he imposed on himself. I did the same thing in my previous relationship. Now it's painfully obvious what a monster I was. I've pored over self-help books and tried to make sure I do not revert to being this horrible person, but I always do. Now I am in a fresh relationship with a girl-we've fallen quickly for each other-and I'm keeping quiet about my discomfort that she's friends with guys she has slept with. But I know something will eventually slip through the cracks. I'm sure a therapist would help, but I'm an in-debt college student and can't afford it. Is there anything I can do to avoid ending up the monster that I seem destined to become?
North raises the question of when jealousy really becomes abusive. She thinks some level of jealousy is normal in relationships and admits to having felt uncomfortable and jealous about romantic partners’ exes; hence claiming to be a little bit chocked by Prudie’s hard-core approach. Prudie doesn’t waver in her agreement with the young man. His jealousy is morbid and pathological and his jealousy-based behaviors are emotionally abusive. Before dating anyone new, he needs professional help, Prudie argues.
While Prudie may be right about Scared’s case, I must admit I am on North’s side regarding jealousy. Even if you decide to go beyond the restrictions of monogamy, a certain amount of jealousy is expected if you love someone romantically. Jealous behavior can be abusive regardless of whether the jealousy is justified or not, but it is when the jealousy becomes morbid or pathological, that is, when it is not merely a reaction to actual threats to the relationship, but is also a reaction to remote or non-existing threats, that it becomes an obsessive emotion.
Research shows that the neurochemical profile underlying the obsessive emotions has strong resemblances to the profile underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder. This profile is characterized by low levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, leading to the obsession, and high level of the motivation and reward dopamine, associated with the compulsive action(s).
It is also a striking feature of obsessive emotions that they are not entirely distinct. As an old saying has it, the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. When someone we love hurts us emotionally, love can become infiltrated by hate. This happens more often when a person is close to us. One type of action may trigger hate when committed by a person close to us, whereas the same type of action may only trigger anger or annoyance when a person is not close to us. This is because we expect more from those close to us. So, our negative feelings are bound to be more intense when they repeatedly (or occasionally only once) inflict unjustified harm upon us. The hate that infiltrates love can also be seen as “unhappy, disappointed, embittered love,” as philosopher Andreas Dorschel puts it (“Is Love Intertwined with Hatred?”).
People sometimes feel hate so strongly towards loved ones that they are prepared to take revenge of the most gruesome kind or behave in incredibly spiteful ways towards the loved one who wounded them. In 2000 Gail O’Toole invited her ex-lover Ken Slaby over to her Murrysville home to rekindle a friendship but then got furious when she heard about Ken’s new love. Gail waited until Ken was asleep. Then she glued his penis to his stomach, his testicles to his leg, and the cheeks of his buttocks together. Finally, she poured nail polish over his head. When Ken woke up Gail threw him out, and he had to walk one mile before he could call 911. He was taken to the hospital where the nurses had to peel the glue off. Ken had several treatments from a dermatologist afterwards. Later Ken filed a lawsuit against Gail, which he won.
Do people like Gail stop loving the person who left them behind? Not likely. When you no longer love someone, you don’t care about them. You abhor your former love, because you take an interest in them. They still matter to you. They occupy your thoughts and dreams. You wanted them to be in your life like they used to, but they had their own reasons for leaving you behind with unfulfilled dreams and hopes for the future, thus unintentionally ruining your life—at least temporarily. As a result, you feel a painful hatred toward them. As Dorschel puts it,
No hatred is more burning, more sharply personal than hatred towards a previously loved person which has frustrated the lover, a person who has so to speak punished the lover for his “falsely” recognized love, and has thus turned him into a hater (“Is Love Intertwined with Hatred?”, p. 275).
Both passionate love and hate are obsessive emotions, whereas indifference is a a kind of numbness that likely sparks an absence of action as opposed to a reaction taking the shape of stalking, emotional abuse or physical violence. Of course, none of this shows that love and hate are simultaneously intertwined but only that hate can rapidly replace love, when the love becomes too heartbreaking and complicated.
Berit "Brit" Brogaard is a co-author of The Superhuman Mind and the author of On Romantic Love.
Dorschel, A. (2002). “Is Love Intertwined with Hatred?”, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 33:3, 273-285.
Puente S & Cohen D. (2003). “Jealousy and the Meaning (or Nonmeaning) of Violence,” Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 4:449-60.
Zeki S, Romaya JP (2008). “Neural Correlates of Hate”, PLoS ONE 3: e3556.