Jesus said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”.
Yet, how many of us actually commit to this each day? I certainly haven’t been able to point to myself as a shining example of this quite often enough. However, I do happen to have a little psychological secret to share that may help.
Herman Hesse articulates this secret best when he says,
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part yourself. What isn’t part ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
If that sounds improbable to you at first, I will give an example:
There was a period of time when I felt really loathsome towards someone in my family. I was very critical towards her for many years, and sometimes still catch myself remembering something she did or said years ago and get a brief little jolt of white-hot fury. I used to say things about her like “she thinks she knows everything absolutely!”, “she has no respect for other peoples’ perspectives”, “she makes me feel small for not believing the things she believes”, “she makes me feel shallow, superficial, and vapid”, “she regards me with suspicion and contempt”, and/or “she doesn’t love or respect me”.
This went on for years.
Eventually, I had the merciful opportunity to study the experience of “hatred” from a psychological perspective, and something begin to change for me. During this time, I learned that hatred – different than anger or constructive criticism or fear – is basically useless, other than to signal to the hater that some aspect of themselves has fallen into shadow. (<– click on that link before reading any further). According to psychological theory, hatred arises to alert us about some shadow aspect – or unconscious part – of ourselves.
So then, what did I do with this new knowledge about hatred? Thankfully, I decided to use this insight to re-examine my feelings towards the family member I mentioned above. It may not surprise you to learn that I soon began to realize that SOOOOOOOOOOO many of the things that bothered me about her were things that bothered me about myself.
Here’s the abbreviated list:
- I too was guilty of withholding love and respect from her.
- I too was guilty of minimizing her perspectives, and thinking that mine were superior.
- I too was guilty of regarding her as one-dimensional and shallow.
- I too was guilty of treating her with suspicion and contempt.
“Well, hot damn”, I thought, “she and I were the same!”. I hated her behavior towards me precisely because I was doing the same damn thing to her. Not wanting to admit this to myself, I had spent years caught up in these really awful feelings towards someone I wanted to love.
A Peruvian Shaman once said it to me this way:
“That which we won’t admit about ourselves comes to possess us”.
But, here’s the good news: we have a way out of this trap! When we are caught up in hatred towards anyone in particular or any group of people, the best hope we have for softening that fury is to try to acknowledge the unconscious, ugly parts of ourselves that we might be projecting onto them.
Many times, when we are able to sincerely soften ourselves towards someone else, in time, they too will soften. Sometimes they may even soften almost immediately. I mean, just think about how disarming it would be for you if someone walked up to you and said, “I need to apologize for feeling all this ugly stuff towards you for years. I didn’t realize that a lot of that ugliness was really about me, and not about you”. Boom. How open do you suddenly feel? Maybe for some of us it would take more time, but for me, a confession like that is so relatable – and so brave – that I am inclined to start thinking of that person in near-heroic terms.
As the Buddha says,
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love”.
I admit it. This is a hard teaching. It’s hard for me. It’s been especially hard for me in this current political climate at times. It’s hard for most people I know. It’s probably been especially hard for most people I know in this current political climate too. But. Show me the person who can regularly soften their heart and mind towards the people whom they could also readily hate, and I will show you a person who has genuine communion with something Holy. Or, as Jesus says, “to show that you are children of your Father Who is in heaven“, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. (Matthew 5:45,44).
Grace and peace,