Why Hating Is Too Easy and Forgiving Is Too Hard
Psychologist Considers the Reasons People Choose Bitterness
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ARLINGTON, Virginia, NOV. 29, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Though hatred ferments within a person and prevents positive achievements, still, it seems to be on the rise. Doctor Paul C. Vitz, associate professor and senior scholar at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, is asking why.
"Hatred sort of 'pickles' a person," he says, "filling them with resentment, bitterness, and even depression." But a glance at the news reveals that hatred is active in the world today.
Vitz is researching hatred and its role as a barrier to forgiveness. ZENIT spoke with him about his research and some of the underlying causes for hate.
ZENIT: You've been researching the topic of interpersonal hatred for some time. How did you first become interested and involved in this topic?
Vitz: I've been interested in forgiveness for many years, especially due to the relatively recent work of Bob Enright and Everett Worthington and others. From that, I got interested in the barriers to forgiveness by themselves. Why is it so hard to forgive? Certainly one of those barriers is hatred, especially hatred between people.
ZENIT: Why is this such an important topic today? Are there unintended and perhaps even long-term consequences of interpersonal hatred?
Vitz: All you have to do is read the newspaper to see how active hatred is in our world today. That's a "no brainer." That's why the issue is so important. And it is also possible that the increase in narcissism and feelings of self-entitlement, so common in our country today, has led to an increase in the experience of anger, frustration, resentment and even hatred. After all, if you are the "most important person in the whole world" and you subscribe to the Burger King philosophy of "Have it your way," any failure of others or the environment to satisfy you is cause for rage. Unfortunately, there are also many long-term consequences, and unending cycles of revenge are one of them. And for individuals, hatred sort of "pickles" a person, filling them with resentment, bitterness, and even depression. And of course it keeps people from doing anything positive with their life.
ZENIT: What does the psychology of hatred and forgiveness say to a planet increasingly marked by terrorism and by violent outbreaks in schools and other public places, such as last summer's tragedy in Norway?
Vitz: What it says is that we had better find out why hatred is so common, and how to remove it, or at least reduce it greatly. On the other hand, one of the reasons for the general awareness of violence and hatred is the media's love affair with it. Apparently most news is bad news, and certainly any report of violence and hatred seems to get into the media a thousand times faster than any report of love and forgiveness. Now perhaps the media is just pandering to a kind of universal human nature. But I suspect that there is something special about recent history in this country and in much of the world that shows an increased preoccupation with hatred and violence. It would be interesting to do a study on the proportion of violent news items in today's media, as compared to 100 or 150 years ago.
ZENIT: You speak of hatred as something that, in some way, people enjoy. How can this be? And how can it be overcome?
Vitz: People certainly enjoy hatred, or it wouldn't be so popular in the world's literature, and on television and in movies today. In a temporary way, hatred makes you feel morally superior and gives you energy and purpose, but at the price of long-term debilitation. In many ways, interpersonal hatred is a kind of defense mechanism protecting the ego or narcissism of the individual. And presumably, as Christians, we all know that this interpersonal hatred is wrong, and was explicitly rejected by Our Lord. We are called to love our enemies, not hate them, as difficult as this is. This is a complex topic that needs much more coverage, and I have spoken about this elsewhere, but one good way to start overcoming hatred for your enemies is to pray for them.
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Dr. Vitz is Associate Professor and Senior Scholar at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS), a Catholic graduate school of psychology in Arlington, Virginia. He is offering an online seminar titled "Interpersonal Hatred and Other Barriers to Forgiveness" on Friday, Dec. 9, for mental health professionals, priests, and other interested individuals. For more information and to register click here.