"Sometimes love unites everything into one, and sometimes hatred divides everything into two," said the Greek philosopher Empedocles in the 5th century BC. Would he be surprised to find that these two movements with very different consequences nevertheless share some common roots...?
This is exactly what a team of researchers from the neurobiology laboratory of the University College of London* has brought to light by demonstrating, with the help of scans, that the subcortical activity involved in hatred involves, among other things, two distinct structures: the putamen and the insula, both of which are also activated by feelings of love...
However, it is likely that this discovery would not have surprised Sigmund Freud. More than a century ago, he already speculated that two major forces** coexist in us, for better or for worse: one that tends towards creation, towards love, and the other, towards annihilation and hatred... He symbolized them with the use of two mythical figures: Eros, the one that builds and Thanatos, the one that destroys.
From now on, it is commonly admitted that these incessant oscillations of the affect scandent the psychic life of any individual but the proof by the image (of the X-rays to be more precise) that the circuits of the hatred and those of the love share two structures in common attests, if it was needed, the entanglement of these two feelings within a single psychic apparatus.
Love stories do not escape this fluctuation but fortunately for the majority of us, the hostile movements that we feel are more similar to detestation than to hatred, an accuracy that has its importance...
Because the opposite of love is not hatred, as we like to proclaim, but rather indifference according to Stendhal or perversion according to Jung. Hate aims at exterminating the other. It aims at its annihilation, its erasure. It is often cold and calculating; it is not separated from a certain rationality, necessary to the implementation of its destructive goal.
The detestation on the other hand, that of this ex who left us, is much more disordered, bubbling and irrational.
To detest comes from detestor in Latin which means "to curse, to utter curses by taking the Gods as witnesses" (hence the root of testor which means to testify). Even today, it is not uncommon to hear some people "curse" their ex with their friends or their new girlfriend or boyfriend, for lack of being able to address the Gods of Olympus.
But what really differentiates detestation from hate is its effects. While hate consumes us and dries us up, detestation has beneficial effects! It helps us to take distance, not to sink and to raise our head, in a way.
The study reported in the journal Cognition and Emotion*** is interesting in this regard, since it indicates that individuals (precisely those who did not initiate the decision to break up) who have a negative judgment of their ex-partner present a reduced depressive affect immediately after the breakup... On the contrary, they observed that those who had less negative judgments of the person who left them, presented a more important depressive affect. According to these researchers, negatively evaluating one's ex-partner plays an important role in post-breakup psychological adjustment. In a slightly provocative way (I grant you), one could almost wonder, not if it is possible to hate someone you loved, but if it is not preferable to hate a person you loved... to get better!
It is common in therapy to observe the cognitive readjustment of a love story when things go wrong. The beginnings recounted are often pale and without ecstasy: faced with disappointment, the story is rewritten, a story in which the blindness of love has totally disappeared! It is therefore not surprising that this "rewriting" also occurs after a break-up, the discovery of infidelity, or any other disappointing event, and where the evaluation of the partner is much less flattering than it may have been before. We can then observe quite distinctly how detestation allows us to draw a line on the other, to detach ourselves, to overcome faster the pain of the break-up or the infidelity and to project ourselves forward.
The modalities of detestation
In the face of pain, detestation is positioned as the defensive organization of the ego in the light of an invasive event (a break-up, an infidelity, an intense disappointment) that has come to invade the psychic space.
It becomes a resource (in a way compensatory) to restore and energize a bruised ego. If the one who hates his ex stands upright, it is because he is supported by the anger directed towards the outside (his ex). The detestation carries him and supports him, prevents him from being annihilated by the loss or the betrayal: facing the psychic collapse, the detestation is for some the only possible answer. These are the ones, most certainly, that we find in the above-mentioned study and who thus avoid remaining frozen in pain and disarray, and sinking into depression.
To be able to (finally!) detest him/her
But not everyone detests their ex, you may say, and it is true, to a lesser extent. Because detestation always takes hold (a little) of the one who is hurt even if it does not always go outwards and sometimes turns against him. Few people clearly identify this love/detestation oscillation because if detestation knows how to appear, it also knows how to disappear.
We can suppose that those who get caught up in it without being able to get out of it are individuals already damaged by abandonment or betrayal, often by another person they did not (could not?) hate. The separations or betrayals in love that are insurmountable (and where detestation persists for a long time) are often reminiscences of older wounds, strongly weakening. This new experience only adds to another trauma already experienced, but the difference is that this time, they can hate another, without guilt (unlike a parent for example). If some hatreds seem disproportionate in their magnitude and duration, it may be that old pains find (finally!) a way out in a more recent conflict.
However, in many cases, this detestation often ends up disappearing when the ego is reconstituted, strengthened, or when Eros reappears again under the features of a new lover.
The little hates of everyday life
And then there is the ambivalence of everyday life, the one we love and the one we sometimes dislike. In general, we don't hate the other person for what he or she is but for what he or she does... or doesn't do. The lack of recognition and reciprocity, among other things, is an inexhaustible source of small everyday detestations that sway us to one side and then to the other. We can also hate the other for being too absent, insufficiently available, or on the contrary too suffocating, hating him because he occupies too much space and leaves us with so little of it (which some people have experienced during the various confinements). "When you feel like hating someone, you never run out of reasons to do so," Jane Austen so rightly said...
We can easily hate a behavior but it is more difficult to hate a person, especially a person with whom we project ourselves. Indeed, detestation consumes energy: jealous people, often prisoners of detestation, know something about it... Reasoning in a logic of "everything", they cannot distinguish being from doing. Detestation as a symbol of their powerlessness (to keep the other person under control) devours them and disintegrates their relationships.
There is no doubt that detestation lives within us, ready to pounce and ready to lie down. It heals those who are disappointed, helps to overcome break-ups. It protects us but can destroy us. It looks like a wild animal that we tame but which we are always a little wary of...
* Zeki, Semir & Romaya, John. (2008). Neural Correlates of Hate. PloS one. 3. e3556. 10.1371/journal.pone.0003556.
** Sigmund Freud, « Pulsions et destins de pulsions » (1915)
*** Christopher P. Fagundes (2011) Implicit negative evaluations about ex-partner predicts break-up adjustment: The brighter side of dark cognitions, Cognition and Emotion