Why can’t I stop hating?

I remember a conversation initiated by a middle-aged divorced woman I’ll call Barb. In it, she told me that she had been a life-long practicing Catholic. She had had Catholic schooling through college level, She had been quite active in her local parish prior to her divorce which she had experienced as personally devastating. While in her initial state of feeling like “road-kill” on the road of life, she had pulled back from her active participation in her parish. She said she now felt healed sufficiently to begin building back up to her former level of participation (since she truly missed her friendships and personal connections there), but she had a major personal obstacle to doing that. In the aftermath of her divorce, she felt filled with an ongoing deep hatred for her former “weak” husband and the “other’ woman whom she blamed for her incredibly painful unraveling of her marriage. She told me that she believed that she would be hypocritical if she appeared to be actively involved in her pariah’s pastoral ministry while secretly concealing her inner core of hatred. She seemed distraught because she felt powerless to move beyond her “hot hatred” as she called it.

Many people who are dealing with the painful aftermath of the devastating end of their marriage in divorce discover that they are filled with intense feelings of anger or even of hatred. They may never to this point in their lives have seen themselves as chronically angry persons filled with hatred (“I’m not that kind of person!”), and indeed there may be no personal history of ever before being almost overwhelmed by such intense negative feelings.

What is hatred? Broadly considered for the sake of this reflection, hatred is intense anger focused on another person. (There js also self-hatred as well as hatred of a group. The first usually requires a trusted counselor or wise friend to help resolve, while the second is usually based on one’s personal bias and prejudice, so the present reflection excludes both of these other kinds of hatred.) First of all, hatred is a feeling. Thus, no one decides to hate. Rather, one discovers that one’s intense feeling of anger is focused on another person. There may not even seem to be a conscious or logical basis for one’s intense anger, but even if there js a clear reason, many conscientious people find it personal disturbing to discover that their heart seems to be filled with hatred. The difficulty is that since one’s feelings of intense anger were not chosen, these feelings cannot be directly eliminated by simply willing it.

Unfortunately, hatred in one’s heart hinders true inner healing after a personally devastating experience such as one’s discovering the infidelity of a spouse. There is a popular bit of life-advice: t’Forgive and forget!” Is that even humanly possible? Even if one intentionally chooses to forgive the person who is the focus of one’s hatred, no one can intentionally erase a memory. Powerful personal memories tend to fade over time, but can still return later with new intensity, and both of these possibilities seem to be out of our control. Still, consciously and intentionally choosing to forgive the hated one js the essential first step to opening oneself to true inner healing. In the end, for anyone to truly move on (no matter how slowly) from an extremely painful experience, one needs to choose to forgive in spite of intense feelings of anger or hatred (which one, in any case, cannot directly eliminate) fueled by a very painful memory involving the hated person. Many people associate true forgiveness with feelings like peace and tranquility, but actually forgiveness is a decision we can make in spite of feelings of hurt or anger! To choose to forgive is not the equivalent to claiming the terrible hurt (from personal betrayal, for example) doesn’t matter! It is not even a matter of assessing proper blame. The bottom line is this. Unless one consciously and intentionally chooses to forgive (and indeed probably to re-forgive and re-forgive) the hated person in spite of fingering feelings of hurt, resentment, anger, or hatred, one will continue to be forever chained to the painful past and its deep wounds of the heart. Healing of the heart can only happen from the inside-out, but each time we choose and re-choose to forgive, the feeling of hatred tends to heal more. While It may seem counter-intuitive, but it js possible to truly forgive while not forgetting, since intentional forgetting is beyond one’s control anyway.

Barb told me that she had believed that since she could never forget what someone had done as a part of her devastating divorce, she could not see how she could ever truly forgive. She expressed her amazement as I helped her see that the two actions were not only quite distinct, but initially not even linked at all! Contrary to how the popular saying links them. She expressed her gratitude for this insight which now gave her much to ponder. She said she hoped that this little “kef’ might open the door to her former close connection to her parish community. I told her I joined her in that hope.