Saturday, February 14, 2009


Sometimes the one you Love is the one you Hate

Cheating lovers, neglectful mothers, abusing fathers, ungrateful children -- they’re out there. Sometimes it seems like the big Hallmark Special Day campaigns are just ways of taunting people who are trying to cope with their feelings about people they are supposed to love but can’t help hating -- with good reason.

And yet, some writers and psychologists will suggest that it’s possible to love your torturer, admire your oppressor, forgive those who crucified you. Pretty unreal.

For one thing, it’s not just an act of will. Hatred, REAL hatred, is embedded in the cells and neurons, coded to trigger reflexive jumps in adrenaline: rage, fear, despair, opposition. REAL hatred is trauma-based, not arguable, not accessible to therapy in the ordinary sense of talking it out. It takes up the entire foreground and leaves no room for anything else. It is obsessive, teaching that only one reaction is enough: total warfare.

And yet love is not the opposite. Love is the same thing: obsession, total arousal, except that this time the move is towards inclusion -- maybe control. Constant contact.

The opposite is stillness. Not indifference, but rest, patience, quiet. It can feel like death.

Well, those are the beliefs I work with. I don’t think they’re true for everyone. I think some people just don’t have any strong emotions; they haven’t got the energy or focus. And others have such strong emotions that they are torn apart with violence, drugs, and accidents they didn’t see coming.

My own solution has been in large part to withdraw from other people. I’m criticized for this as though it were a disability, a failure, but I see it as a choice. I’m not withdrawing from society, I’m coming to a place where I can see it more clearly, where I focus on one small piece and address it as truly as I can, stepping aside from ideas of obscenity or success or charity. Sure, you can call it cloistered if you want to.

Some cloister! No protection. Pretty exposed here. On the other hand you have to want to come here.

The most difficult love/hate knots are the ones from infancy, maybe from implantation in the womb wall. That first umbilical lifeline is the first ambivalence, the child sucking what it needs from the mother and the mother -- what does the mother do? It could end there. I’m pro-choice.

But if the choice is made to continue, either because of social pressure or simple passivity or real desire and love, then the next commitment has to be to the living child and that’s where the problem has been in our affluent society. Once that baby is born, it is the possession of an individual and too often no longer defended by the community. It is at the mercy of caregivers except for being able to squall which may not be a helpful strategy. You mother may strike you, throw you, bash your head. And if you die? She may double bag you in garbage plastic and stuff you in the trunk of the car. (Notorious case in progress at the moment.)

When both love AND hate are present in the same bond, it is twice as strong as one or the other. The emotions draw strength off each other and pretty soon the person carrying them is blinded and bound by the sheer power, never able to leave that cathexis without missing it, feeling empty. And yet the ambivalence can become unbearable, demanding relief even if the only escape is suicide.

The good news is that not all or even most people get into this extreme a fix and then mostly in youth so they can “grow out of it” -- although it’s more like “fade out of it.” I mean, one’s juices do eventually become diluted. Or dry up. Something.

But Heathcliffe/Kathy relationships fascinate us all, draw us in, warm us with their unreasonable heat. So there’s another good thing -- if you think powerful art and writing can come from irresolvable love/hate. Some people can do it and others can’t. One wonders what was so intense in the Bronte household. (The movie in which Michael Kitchen plays the brother who died young suggests some answers. Alcoholism. Calvinism. Too much emphasis on success.) I don’t think one can really write about it from the outside all that successfully. But maybe.

Maybe that’s the only real way it can be written about because anyone who is in it is often rendered mute or babbling or so full of cursing that the message can’t be tolerated. They attack helpers. They can’t think of options and can’t accept help from outside the deadlocked emotions. Especially in a child there’s a sense that the child is to blame and therefore -- connected in weird logic -- they ought to be able to undo the problem if they could only hit upon the right approach. It seems to be their task. Therefore, they don’t want an outsider who couldn’t possibly understand to mix things up.

Oh, hell. What do I know about it? I’m talking nonsense. Not Freud, not Jung, not Perls, nor anyone else really knows what works. They have some theories, try them, adjust them, and sometimes they work. Now we’re into brain function and running people through the scanner to see what that can tell us. Not much.

All you can do in life is to present yourself, be as open as possible, and see where it goes. No guarantees, no red hearts or boxes of chocolates. If you find you are locked into a true love/hate relationship -- take notes. Try to stay alive -- worry about staying sane some other time.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

I've always believed that the opposite of love was not hate, but indifference.

I think you say it well. I'm also reminded of some Buddhist commentaries that point out that love is a positive attachment, and hate is a negative attachment, but both are the same kind of attachments. That's why it's possible to flip from love to hate and back again: the attachment remains the same, even if the kind of attachment has changed.