The Creation of Hatred
The phenomenon of parental alienation offers clues.
Posted Jul 08, 2019
I hear many of my friends stating emphatically, "I hate President Trump." As a psychologist who focuses on teaching skills for building mutually collaborative and respectful relationships, this stance of hatred stuns and worries me.
I can understand disliking the President's personal style, or disagreeing with certain policies, but hate suggests a wholly different phenomenon.
To hate, as the song from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific once said, "You have to be carefully taught."
What is the syndrome called parental alienation?
Parental alienation, as I have explained in several earlier PT articles on the subject, is a syndrome in which one parent turns the children against the other. Think of it as a triangle in which:
(1) An alienating parent convinces
(2) the children to hate and help them to destroy
(3) the targeted-other parent.
This hatred is unwarranted. That is, the targeted parent is generally a plenty good enough parent. The hatred instead is "carefully taught."
How does alienation clarify how hatred can get taught?
In post-divorce families, an alienating parent teaches the children to hate the other parent primarily in the following ways:
Blocking parenting time with the targeted parent, as opposed to allowing normal interaction, enables an alienator to brainwash children. Children's normal attachment to both of their parents that way can be replaced by hatred of the targeted parent.
- One parent conveys that the other has negative traits that merit hatred. Alienating parents may insinuate via subtle innuendos that the targeted parent has negative attributes. For instance, they may sigh, "What a shame it is that your Dad/Mom never goes to any of your soccer games," when in fact the targeted parent seldom goes because the alienator withholds information about when and where the games are occurring.
- Or an alienator may be more direct, saying outright and often repeating, for instance, that the targeted parent is hurtful, selfish, frightening, and does not really love the children.
- The critical comments about the targeted parent often are pumped-up versions of reality, that is, exaggerated and overly-generalized negative interpretations of normal behavior. For instance, if one day a dad's refrigerator is low on snack foods, an alienating mother might say to the child, "Your dad doesn't care about you. He doesn't even feed you."
- Most of the accusations tend to be what therapists refer to as projections; that is, the traits, in fact, describe the alienating parent rather than the accused targeted parent. In the political sphere, noticing the extent to which those who hate President Trump attribute to him the qualities their own political party is exhibiting can be thought-provoking.
- Negative beliefs and hatred of the other also tend to be instilled via false narratives, that is, lies. The false narratives can be, as described above, pumped-up distortions of reality, for instance, taking a minor situation such as a parent losing his/her temper when children act disrespectfully and pumping it up to sound like something dreadful. Alternatively, the false narratives may be totally untrue fictions designed to make the other parent sound dangerous or otherwise deserving of fear and hatred. An alienating parent may accuse the targeted parent, for instance, of having divorced the family when in fact it was the alienating parent that initiated the split. Or totally false accusations of sexual or physical abuse may be repeated enough times to the children that they become "false memories," that is, events that never occurred yet that the children come to believe are actual memories.
- False allegations as the basis for court motions.
- Spreading of negative, exaggerated, and outright falsehoods about the other parent to others such as teachers, coaches, and extended family members.
Alienation in other contexts
Alienation can occur in work situations when one employee does splitting, that is, turning as many colleagues as possible against the targeted worker or manager.
Alas, a whole country can engage in alienation. Witness Hitler's successful campaign to turn good Germans against their fellow Germans who happened to be Jewish, or gay, or Gypsy, etc.
Is hatred becoming instilled in our American citizenry?
Induction of hatred in a country also has three players:
(1) a political leader or group that aims to convince
(2) a population such as citizens of a country
(3) to hate another political leader or group that the alienators want to harm.
Here in the USA, who benefits and how from promoting hatred within our country? One goal is political power. The more that Americans hate President Trump, the more the chances that the Democratic party will gain power in the next election. Similarly, convincing citizens on the Right to hate the Left could give more electoral power to the Right.
Or is the goal money? Pumping up hatred may prove to be an excellent political fund-raising tactic.
In addition, does promoting hatred of the other political party and its leaders attract viewing audiences for major television outlets? Most seem to act that way, with their too-frequent tone of derision, contempt, and ridicule for opposition party leaders.
How Americans are being indoctrinated into hatred
The indoctrination begins with media that give only one side of the political spectrum or the other. That's like a parent who blocks contact with the other parent.
Politicians and their media enablers then hyperfocus on ostensible negative qualities of the other, pumping up hysteria about how bad these qualities are and even issuing false narratives about the evils of the other—just like alienating parents do about their ex's supposed bad qualities.
The hatred that is currently infusing itself into our country then gets amplified by the media.
With regard to hating President Trump, cable TV news programs, for instance, often feature personalities who discuss political events with a constant drumbeat of "Look at what the President has done wrong now." They focus on scare stories, over-hyping the dangers of the President's actions. At the same time, they omit the good news of the President's positive accomplishments. This is alienation, not news reporting or analysis.
Newscasters and their guests on the right of the political spectrum, unfortunately, also sometimes foster hatred. They too sometimes encourage hatred by presenting their viewpoints in a tone of disdain and contempt or overly-emotive hysteria rather than in straight-forward descriptions and analyses of the issues.
For a detailed academic article on how the current hate-filled political atmosphere has developed in a manner so strikingly similar to the way alienating parents teach their children to hate the targeted parent, see the comprehensive article here by parental alienation expert Joseph Goldberg.
Do the TV, internet, or radio sources that you get your news from give fair coverage?
The disdain and contempt of so much political newscasting parallels the tone by which alienating parents turn their children against the targeted other parent. Now that you have become aware of the dangers of fostering hatred, can you hear when newscasters and their guest interviewees are promoting speaking in these hate-promoting ways? Can you spot attitudes of disdain and contempt, and/or hysteria, that are breeding hatred?
When cable TV, radio, and internet news sources promote hatred, all citizens become at risk for succumbing to their manipulation. Citizens, unlike young children, do have the potential to rise above this manipulation. The tendency of too many Americans, however, is to watch, listen to, and read only the newscasters who sustain their views, and even to cheer on the contemptuous broadcasters, further spreading and intensifying feelings of hate.
What can prevent the spread of hatred?
Healthy parents, whether married or divorced, refrain from saying anything negative about the other parent. They may espouse different views and even express disagreement with respect to specific actions or ideas, but they do not speak disdainfully about the person of their ex. Healthy parents support whatever is best for their kids. Kids need to love and be able to benefit from the best of both parents.
How relieving it would be if politicians ceased bad-mouthing each other like warring ex-divorce spouses. Maybe then they could focus instead on analyzing the problems our country faces and explaining the merits and drawbacks to their and others' ideas for responding to them.
In what additional ways are the current practices pathological?
Alienating parents—and likewise alienating politicians —act in a manner that is profoundly narcissistic, i.e., selfish. They use the kids—ie, the viewers and citizens—as footsoldiers, enlisting and manipulating them into fighting their battles against the hated other.
Alienating parents and participants in political discourse also usually exhibit the phenomenon of splitting. Parents—and news media—who indulge in splitting model either/or thinking: It's either me or your other parent, my ideas or theirs. My ideas are right; their's are totally wrong and dangerous. I am an angel and the Other is a devil. I hate the Other. The Other is an enemy.
Alas, far too often in the USA now, with so much hating, many folks refuse to talk about the political situation with others—even friends and family—who do not share their hate perspective. Without a return to normalized discourse, our country will stay inflamed by hatred and divided. Normal is good when normal is the mutually respectful give and take of political ideas. Normal sustains a healthy democracy.
What is the outcome of the hatred spawned by alienation?
Alienation is considered to be a potentially severe form of child abuse. The damage shows up in the children as they become highly anxious, angry, or depressed. They also develop lifelong higher risk for addictions and suicide.
Is hatred, splitting, and alienation a direction you want our country to head? If not, think again. Have you have been convinced to hate, to hate either President Trump or his opponents?
Remember: United we stand. Divided we fall.
All of us would be the beneficiaries of a more peaceful, safe, and mutually respectful union.