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How Are Hate and Anger Alike and Different?

Hate is distinctly different from anger yet shares a number of similarities.

Key points

  • The word "hate" conveys meanings with different emotions and varying emotional intensities. It is firmly rooted in shame, fear, and humiliation.
  • "Splitting" is often the major defense associated with hate and involves idealization and demonization.
  • Strategies to move past hate include identifying positive aspects of an individual and clarifying your expectations about the person.

“I hate him! I have for many years!”

“I hate broccoli!”

“I hate that the plane has already been delayed for an hour!”

“I hate those people. They shouldn’t be here!”

“Hate,” like the word “love,” is a word that covers a wide range of emotions and emotional intensity. Sometimes it is used to describe intensely negative feelings and attitudes that have been experienced over many years. Or, it can be short-lived and merely mean “I don’t like something.” In some circumstances, it is a reflection of frustration and disappointment. And for others, hate is deep and lasting and carries an impetus to harm and even eliminate others. At times it seems to be used interchangeably with an expression of anger, hate being a word that accentuates its intensity.

But while hate may have some similarities to anger, it is also distinct from anger. As explained by one researcher, we hate persons or groups more because of who they are rather than what they do (Fischer et al., 2018). Real late is a far more global, negative evaluation that entails an ongoing hostility.

Hate, like anger, is about pain and inner suffering that is powerful and accompanied by physical tension. As such, hate, like anger, is both a reaction to and a distraction from internal suffering. However, hate lives in a deeper place than anger and can involve disgust. And whereas anger might be a reaction to a broad range of negative feelings, more intense hate is often most strongly rooted in shame, fear, and humiliation. Like anger, it is a reaction to a perceived threat, not just to specific aspects of our comfort or safety but rather to our entire well-being.

123rf Stock Photo/belchonock
Man expressing hate
Source: 123rf Stock Photo/belchonock

Hate involves the demonization of the other without regard to the complexity of being human. It may be a response to repeated experiences of humiliation that contribute to a feeling of powerlessness (Sternberg, 2005). And, unlike anger, hate may entail a perception of negative intention by others, a mindset that may only strengthen and become more resistant to change over time.

While it may be denied or minimized, hate is part of our human experience, like anger. However, while it is challenging enough to step back and observe our thoughts and feelings when angry, the experience of hate becomes entirely too consuming for self-reflection. In effect, while anger impairs our capacity to consider the bigger picture, hate makes it even more inaccessible to our awareness. And, unlike a moment of intense anger that constricts our ability to brainstorm alternative viewpoints, the constriction triggered by hate is even more pervasive and enduring.

The potency of hate also rests upon experiences that might include learning about attitudes. This applies to hate in personal relationships as well as hatred toward groups of “others.” As described by the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein in the movie South Pacific:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

In effect, hate is also a cognitive response, one that is shaped by and shapes our thinking and attitudes. While anger may originate from our more primitive minds, hate derives from both our rational and emotional minds. Studies using imaging suggest that whereas anger is reflected primarily in the threat response areas of our brain, hate includes greater activation of parts of the cortical areas of the brain, areas responsible for motor planning, and those strongly associated with contempt and disgust (Zeki & Romaya, 2008).

Hate and “Splitting”

Even our most loving relationships can be complicated and complex. As such, they may lead to moments of frustration, disappointment, anger, and even hate. It requires psychological flexibility and emotional intelligence to recognize and manage the tension associated with such ambivalence. But when these negative feelings are intense and pervasive, they may be minimized, suppressed, or even denied.

One resolution is to “split.” This psychological coping strategy may involve idealizing our loved ones or the close “tribes” to which we belong–while redirecting anger and hate toward others. Splitting is one form of disavowal of our feelings when they are too threatening to our image of ourselves–when they have to potential to arouse shame.

Hate as a Motivator

Hate burrows deep within us, fueling hostility that may lead to feelings and thoughts of revenge. It can be a powerful impetus to take action–to hurt or even destroy the target of our hatred. Hatred may actually support our self-protective nature in times of warfare or when reacting to domestic violence.

But hate may also be a response to what or who exposes us to experience unbearable shame. Shame encompasses a strong inclination to hide from oneself and is strongly associated with an intense sense of isolation and perceived alienation. It is a massive fracture in our sense of belonging and hope of belonging. The observing “I” is so caught up in self-doubt, self-criticism, and the desire to hide that it is unable to reflect more objectively. It is then easy to understand how, when intense, hatred may lead to a sense of being cornered and feeling that aggression is the only way out.

One comprehensive review of the literature concludes that hate is distinguishable from anger or feelings of revenge. It emphasizes that each has a different focus: “anger focuses on changing or restoring the unjust situation caused by another person, feelings of revenge focused on restoring the self, and hatred focuses on eliminating the hated person/group.” (Doorn, 2018)

How To Move Past Hate

The following are strategies to address individual hate in our personal relationships. (Exploring strategies for dealing with hatred directed at groups is beyond the scope of this post.)

  1. Learn skills to practice healthy versus destructive anger–as by doing so, you will be more open to psychological and emotional flexibility needed to practice the following strategies.
  2. Reflect on what a person did that caused you to hate them. Identify a specific behavior(s) that prompted your hate. Be detailed in describing them.
  3. Try to identify the negative feelings aroused by their action, including that fueled your hate. For example, have they led you to feel fear, powerlessness, rejection, shame, or a sense of abandonment? Might they have contributed to your physical injury?
  4. Try to identify any ongoing feelings of insecurity, jealousy, envy, or shame that might make you vulnerable to hate. Remember, every moment in anger or hate is a reaction to and distraction from deep emotional pain.
  5. It takes courage, but try to look at the bigger picture, the person as a whole, rather than demonize them. Make up a list of explanations for their behavior that might have nothing to do with you.
  6. Try to identify any positive aspects of the individual.
  7. Clarify your expectations about the person, i.e., their willingness or capacity for change.
  8. Ask yourself, are there any assumptions you have regarding the person you may want to reconsider?
  9. Engage in self-care, including grieving and mourning the hurt you experienced.
  10. Professional help may be indicated as another strategy for dealing with hate.

Hate, like anger, can be a reaction to and distraction from deeper personal suffering. It can become an obsession that constricts our flexibility in thinking and feeling essential to address the deeper wounds that are uncomfortable to acknowledge.

Hate is a debilitating and complicated emotion that, more so than the other person, can hold us hostage and inhibit our capacity to live a more fulfilling life. Absolute freedom can arise only when we choose to understand and move past our hate.


Fischer, A., Halperin, E, Canetti, D., et. al. (2018). Why we hate. Emotion Review, 10(4), 309-320.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005). Understanding and combating hate. In R. J. Stern- berg (Ed.), The psychology of hate (pp. 37–49). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Zeki, S. and Romaya, J. (2008). Neuro correlates of hate. PlusOne, 3 (10)


Doorn, J. (2018) Anger, feelings of revenge, and hate. Emotion Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, 312-326. DOI: 10.1177/1754073918783260

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