Wed | Nov 20, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Hatred…Bad for your health

Published:Monday | October 21, 2019 | 12:17 AM

“I hate him.” “I hate her.” "I hate them.” How often do you say, or think, things like this? Hopefully not frequently. Hatred is one of the most negative and destructive emotions and can lead to dysfunctional behaviour and severe and unpleasant consequences. Being human, you would likely have felt it at some points in your life. Sporadic and brief episodes of experiencing such feelings are unlikely to case much harm.

The persistence of hatred, however, is to be discouraged. When we hate, we dehumanize those our hatred is directed at, and in doing so, remove moral barriers, enabling violence and other destructive behaviour. So, our hatred has the potential to harm others. Physical assault, murder, wars and genocide are often fuelled by hate.

But what many of us do not realize, is that hatred can also wreck the haters themselves. If the emotion takes hold of and resides in us, not only our minds, but also our bodies are at risk of being damaged. It affects our mood and relationships and can ultimately lead to pathological changes in our physical selves. By affecting our physical, mental and social well-being, hatred makes us unhealthy.

The changes in brain chemistry that accompany hatred and other negative emotions are well documented. Hatred stimulates the premotor cortex, which is responsible for the planning and execution of motion, increasing the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. It also triggers the autonomic nervous system, creating “fight or flight” responses, in which stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are increased, leading to weight gain, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of chronic illnesses. And if illnesses already exist, the presence of hatred in the psyche has the potential to exacerbate them.

When hatred controls your mind, it induces you to try to predict what the person, or persons, being hated may do. When these hypothetical scenarios are constructed, thoughts of them lead to further anxiety, restlessness, obsessive thinking and paranoia, affecting your behaviour, your physical health and the way you interact with or engage in relationships with others.

The reality is that hatred has the potential to affect the hater way more than the hated. As a matter of fact, if the hated are unaware of the hatred being felt toward them, they may not be affected at all. Meanwhile, the hater’s nervous, immune and endocrine systems, and their mental state, are thrown out of whack.

WHY DO WE HATE?

But why do we hate? There are multiple reasons. Being hurt by others, fear of those who are different, seeing in others things we despise about ourselves, our socialization, cultural and religious beliefs and filling a void by being part of a group that hates, are all factors. But whatever the reason, hate damages us.

Siddhartha Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” The same can be said for hatred.

In order for us to free ourselves from the clutches of hatred, and be healthier, we must first admit to ourselves that we are hateful, then try to understand where the hatred is coming from and identify the cause. For example, if it is resulting from fear, insecurity or mistrust.

It is also important not to feed the hatred. According to a Native American anecdote, a grandfather talking to his young grandson tells the boy he has two wolves inside of him, struggling with each other. The first is the wolf of peace, love and kindness. The other is the wolf of fear, greed and hatred.

"Which wolf will win, grandfather?" asks the young boy.

"Whichever one you feed," is the reply.

For example, repeatedly telling yourself, or others, how much you hate someone only fuels the negative emotion and ultimately affects you. Many times, while people are up at nights fuming and entertaining negative thoughts about others, the subjects of those thoughts are sleeping comfortably in their beds.

It would be wise to consider practical solutions for dealing with your hatred. If you harbour these feelings for someone and can stay out of their space, or keep them out of yours, then do so. Try to forgive, if you can. Also be aware that a person’s behaviour is out of your control. You cannot control the way they think and behave but you do have the power to control how you react to them and the scenarios they create.

And if, despite these measures, hatred still resides within you, do not be afraid to seek professional help, such as speaking to a therapist. Remember, hatred is like a sore that, if untreated, will fester and make our lives miserable.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams