Hatred can make you unwell, both physically and mentally. (Photo Credit: fizkes via Adobe Stock)

“I hate beets,” I said.

“Hate is a strong word,” my friend Ron replied.

“You’re right. I abhor them.” Because, you know, sometimes hate isn’t a strong enough word.

All kidding aside, the two most powerful emotions we experience are love and fear. And whereas we at qnotes do at minimum two special issues each year dedicated to various types of love (Valentine’s Day, Pride Month, etc.), we don’t necessarily dedicate so much concentrated space to fear. Unfortunately, our community has been the brunt of far too much of it, and we have to report far too often on those consequences. But this particular issue is looking specifically at hate groups, and I wanted to touch a little on the mechanics of this emotional state.

But why is hatred so unhealthy? Beyond the psychological and sociological fallout, hatred makes us physically sick. Before we dig a little deeper into why, let’s first consider how to define hatred. According to Robert Sternberg, a Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, there are three main elements: “1) A negation of intimacy, by creating distance when closeness had become threatening; 2) an infusion of passion, such as fear or anger; and 3) a decision to devalue a previously valued object.” Additionally, Freud said that hatred is “an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness.” Note the violence and fury inherent to those descriptions. Both therapists also include the idea of self-preservation as an underlying motivation, and this compounds the health risks.

As I discussed in two previous entries about stress (bit.ly/3vYnNnv and bit.ly/3w6MSgb) and another about inflammation (bit.ly/3hdxVVb), our bodies speak in the language of hormones. And the only response to stress of any kind is “fight or flight,” and its accompanying stew of adrenaline, cortisol, and other triggering agents. Although we needed this response thousands of years ago to escape from lions, tigers and bears, we don’t need it now for the comments section on blogs or a job interview. Unfortunately, it’s the only response we’ve got, and it’s because the primitive parts of our brains are on constant patrol for life-threatening events. So, whether it makes sense or not, we often perceive that situations are more important than they are, and that those experiences are potentially more dangerous than they are. This is where the connection between hatred and survival comes into play.

It is common to hear that such-and-such groups “threaten” to cause all sorts of chaos to the world in general, cultures more specifically, and individual people particularly. The “homosexual agenda” (Did you get your copy yet? I cannot find mine.) will interrupt the continued existence of humanity by reducing the birthrate, which will result in smaller Judeo-Christian populations, and thus place Baptists in the minority (which would then expose them to the same abuses they have been inflicting on others for centuries — and they wouldn’t want that!). So, then LGBTQ people must be “stopped” (i.e. erased, criminalized, isolated, murdered), so that we… won’t… do that… to straight people? I mean, I guess… 

But that is essentially the logic that feeds hate groups. Whether it be people of color, immigrants, women, religious minorities, queer people, etc. ad nauseam, bigoted organizations perceive a risk that “their own kind” are being abused, attacked or eradicated by the targets of their loathing. That certainly qualifies as a source of stress that would then invoke fight or flight. Hatred is a form of anger, and anger is a defense mechanism. If a person who is full of hate is by definition also full of fear, that person is also saturated with stress and inflammation. As far back as 2007 the professionals at Psychiatric Times have wondered whether bigotry itself isn’t a mental disorder (bit.ly/3b9DfFl). The National Institutes of Health wrote in 2002 that bigotry “can be a delusional symptom of psychiatric disorders” (bit.ly/3bePRLk). Systemic racism very clearly undermines the health care people of color access and receive; however, white supremacists also experience increased risk for heart disease.

According to Science Daily (bit.ly/3uxntvu), in addition to the risk factors associated with chronic stress and inflammation, white bigots are also less likely to form strong social bonds and have a tendency to trust institutions less. They often treat medicine in general, hospitals specifically, and doctors in particular with suspicion, and thus tend to seek care less frequently. But that is a generalized statement about broader racist attitudes that might not be specific to hate groups.

But this is: According to April Celeste Robinson Leviton, a sociology researcher at the University of California at Riverside, White Supremacist Terror groups (WST) “thrive on emotional energy — even if this energy is produced by violence and hatred… In fact, WST groups are strengthened by the shared anger, hate and violence of their members because the adrenaline associated with WST activities cultivates a shared energy that bonds the group” (bit.ly/2RI2RC4). Because heightened emotions are a very specific cause of inflammation, it is easy to surmise that the corrosive nature of their feelings can literally exacerbate mental, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and endocrine system illnesses. Addiction is also a common risk factor for members of WST groups.

Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

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