The Psychology of Hate

Formally, the psychology profession doesn’t recognize hate as a mental disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition, the manual for the profession, simply doesn’t include it, treating hate as a social disorder.

Some doctors disagree, notably Harvard University psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint.

“Extreme racism is treatable, and sometimes even lesser forms of racism are treatable because they have psychodynamics to them. They don’t exist as a social problem, they … exist as psychological problems inside the individual.” [“Nightline” interview](1)

Critics if including hate as a mental disorder believe that it would provide a “convenient excuse” for horrific behavior.

Why do people hate?

Abrams give several reasons for hate:

  • Fears about those who are different
  • Insecurity and fears about oneself — projecting one’s deficits on others
  • Lack of self-compassion
  • Filling a void in one’s life — instead of hanging out at a bar with friends, you hang out with friends who threaten others(2)
  • Societal and cultural factors

Schafer agrees that “all haters are insecure people.”(4)

She may have missed an important one: blaming others for one’s own poor life choices. There’s a reason hate festers among the poor, less educated and underemployed. Stopping education is a quick root to low income and unemployment. Blaming an immigrant is easier for a person than making the admission that he or she screwed up.

What several sources agree is that hate is a learned behavior. The lyrics below are from the 1949 musical, “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 ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Rogers and Hammerstein(3)

Hatred may hurt others, but it is guaranteed to hurt the hater.

Research shows that hatred changes the chemistry in the brain as it stimulates the premotor cortex which is responsible for planning and execution of motion. This prepares us to act aggressively when feeling hateful, either to defend or as an attack . This activation also triggers the autonomic nervous system, creating “fight or flight” responses, increasing cortisol and adrenalin. Both these hormones deplete the adrenals and contribute to weight gain, insomnia, anxiety, depression and chronic illness. (5)

Kleovoulou argues that this makes for a cycle of hate. The physical impact of hate adds to the factors that promote hate.

The bottom line appears to be that people don’t want to associate hate with mental illness lest we give the evil-doer an “easy out.” However, the roots of hate are to some expect in the person’s mind and detection and prevention has to start there.






  1. This is like the debate between free speech and hate speech. If people want to communicate how much they hate something, are they allowed to and doesn’t it fall under the free speech amendment? And if they aren’t, then isn’t it unfair to call the amendment “free speech”? Catch-22, if you ask me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not at all. Nothing in life is unlimited. The number of sunrises you see is limited, you just don’t know what that limit is. Most boundaries are set where words or activities begin to affect others. Hence the uproar about cyberbullying.

      Europe has sophisticated libel rules that the US lacks. Under European and Brazilian laws, you are liable for millions of dollars for attacking someone online or for taking someone’s picture without permission. The parents of someone who does cyberbullying could lose everything they own. People have a “right to privacy” that others are required to respect. The US is way behind on that, just like it is on healthcare. But then, the US doesn’t really care about helping its people.

      Justice Holmes defined limits on free speech famously in a USSC decision decades ago.

      The US is less free than it used to be — you can be jailed for verbal attacks on the president, for example, when in the 1800s, people conducted mock lynchings of office holders.

      Even the Internet creates problems for free speech. First, it allows anyone to say anything. But second, through the magic of IP addresses and facial recognition, it can hold them responsible for what they write. So you can lose a job based on what you write even if you use a pseudonym.

      “Free” is a relative term, not absolute.

      Liked by 2 people

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