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8 Responses to Anger and Hatred

What are your options when hostility is directed at you or your group?

(c) Central Stock/fotosearch
Anger and hatred can wreak tragic destruction.
Source: (c) Central Stock/fotosearch

In my clinical work with couples, I sometimes find that one partner has stiffened into a frequent or fixed stance of anger, even hatred, toward the other. When a spouse or ex-spouse locks into anger, he or she also may attempt parental alienation, that is, to convince their children to view the other parent with anger and hatred like they do. In both of these situations, anger and hatred harm everyone in the family.

Similarly, on a societal level, you may hear others speaking badly or fixed in a hostile stance toward a group you identify with—Catholic, Jewish, Hispanic, Black, gay people, or any group.

In all these cases, what can a targeted person do? This article explores the options.

A broader perspective

To learn more, I recently asked my friend JB, who studies the rise of Jew-hatred in Germany before World War II, about the various ways that Jewish recipients of hatred responded.

DrH: What tended to be the situation of Jews in Germany in the years of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party?

JB: Germany's Jewish citizens were, for the most part, well-educated and relatively prosperous. Much like Jewish people in today's America, many were doctors, lawyers, musicians, psychotherapists, business people, and college professors. No Jews anywhere loved their country more than German Jewish citizens loved Germany.

DrH: What were their reactions to the rise of anti-Jewish hatred, discrimination, and violence?

JB: At least eight reactions were particularly common.

1. Wait it out.

At first, most German Jews believed that the Jew-hatred they began hearing in the late 1920s and early 1930s was an aberration. After all, Germans were polite, civilized, and cultured, and Jews made such important contributions to German society. Jews assumed they could wait it out, that it soon would pass.

2. Lay low.

Many German Jews chose silence, aiming to keep a low profile. Alas, as Agatha Christie once said: "Silence can be exactly the same as telling lies."

3. Be a better you.

Some Jews decided they needed to become better Jews, to delve deeper into their study of Jewish wisdom, and to expand their religious practices.

4. Hide who you are.

Others took the opposite route, aiming to become less identifiably Jewish. They shed Jewish-identifiable clothing or Jewish-sounding names. Some even looked for non-Jewish spouses, lest being Jewish become a burden they would pass on to their children.

5. Fight back.

Some German Jews put their time and finances into self-defense—more gates, more locks, training in physical self-defense, organizing self-defense groups. Others spoke out against the hatred in spite of the dangers of this strategy.

6. Problem-solve.

When Jews were no longer allowed to participate in German schools, workplaces, or other organizations, they established their own orchestras, athletic teams, schools, and hospitals. This strategy of providing for themselves also served to minimize their contact with haters

7. Leave.

Many chose to exit the country, in spite of major challenges: leaving their savings, businesses, and possessions behind; abandoning elderly parents or other relatives too weak to survive the long voyages; finding a country that would take them in.

8. Turn to third parties.

Some relied on the goodness of their German non-Jewish friends, many of whom did help, even at extraordinary risk and costs to themselves. Ultimately, third-party intervention by the Allied Forces put an end to the Nazis' power.

DrH: I see all eight of the reactions you've just described when a spouse has a hostile partner:

1. Wait it out.

Unfortunately, wishful thinking, clinging to unrealistic beliefs that their spouse's hostile stance will pass, blocks early intervention—often a big mistake.

2. Lay low.

Silence, either from victims or from bystanders (third parties who observe the hatred), clearly is not golden. On the contrary, silence enables continued aggression.

3. Become a better me.

Self-improvement is a worthwhile project—but ineffective at halting hatred.

4. Hide.

Giving up on being yourself—on saying or doing what you really think and want to do for fear of triggering the angry spouse—invites depression.

5. Fight back.

"Standing my ground" by defending against insults perpetuates arguing. Believing that the best defense is a strong offense can prove even more dangerous.

6. Problem-solve.

Interacting as little as possible with an angry spouse and investing instead in children, work, friends, and activities outside of the home may minimize the harm from receiving anger. Still, if the relationship is abusive, this response will be insufficient.

7. Leave.

Gracefully exit the discussion and/or the room. Respond later with therapist Bill Eddy's BIFF formula, that is, stay Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm.

Or, leave the marriage.

8. Seek third-party help.

Reach out to friends, family members, mental health professionals, social services, the police, a lawyer, and the court system. Help can empower you.

What triumphs over hate-driven anger?

When anger and hatred are severe, exits may provide some safety. At the same time, third-party intervention generally makes the biggest difference. Nazi persecution stopped only when the Allied forces totally vanquished Hitler. In today's America, police, government, and court responses to hate crimes and also to domestic violence are essential.

Within marriage and families, exits from the room or from the marriage may bring some safety from angry outbursts. Still, strong third-party interventions from a therapist, police, and/or the courts are critical when anger and hatred are severe.

What can help until anger and hatred against you have been vanquished?

My book Prescriptions Without Pills offers self-help for easing the anxious, depressed, angry, and addictive responses to receiving anger or hate. The 10 Mantras for Managing Emotionally Challenging Situations can help as well.

Meanwhile, thank you, JB, for offering us your historical perspective on dealing with anger and hatred.

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