The Neuroscience of Hatred
Hatred often causes people to want to fight. The neuroscience of the fight response involves many things. Rage will cause muscles to tense, breathing to become fast and cortisol to be dumped into the system so that quick energy can be created. Rage raises the heart rate. Pupils become dilated. Rage makes access to the frontal cortex more difficult. It is harder to think with our more executive reasoning. When enraged, we believe that threats must be contained, and this becomes our preoccupation. When our emotional response is disproportionate to the stimulus, this process is called an amygdala hijack. Just like a hammer might only see nails, if we allow ourselves to stop thinking with our prefrontal cortex and instead succumb to seeing the world as threat, then we may opt to fight against it. Anger is often the result of fear. If we see that we are angry or have hatred, we might want to ask ourselves, what is it that we fear? If we see someone else with hatred, we might also ask what it is they are afraid of.
Through love, large parts of the cerebral cortex that govern judgment get de-activated. This is exactly the opposite of hate. Through hate, the brain works to calculate revenge and judgment. Numerous studies have shown that the neurology of hate “involves the premotor cortex, a zone that has been implicated in the preparation of motor planning and its execution.”[i] Hatred mobilizes the motor system for defense or attack.
This is why the Lord’s Prayer calls us to forgive others daily: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us”. Hatred toward the other prevents us from loving them. We get locked into our own poison. Regardless of what the hated person is doing, the reality of our hate is within us. It prevents us from feeling love ourselves. That is why one of the most profound though challenging commandments of our Lord is to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Neurologically hate actually harms ourselves more than the person or object of hatred because we poison our bodies through a cascade of destructive neurochemicals. Stress hormones, high blood pressure, and intense ruminating are not good for us. Forgiveness is then truly a gift to not only the one whom we hate, but also to ourselves so that we can break the cycle of destructive neurological poison.
What is hated is often feared. It can be seen as dangerous. It could be many things. The amygdala plays a role in governing what is considered a threat and what is not considered a threat. Through hate, the sympathetic nervous system might be drawn into the fight mode where adrenaline starts to course through your system. Heart rate goes up.
Where hate directed at the outside world creates pain, self-loathing and shame directed inwardly produces pain, too. Shame is sometimes defined as anger turned inward. Anyone who has felt shame knows that it has a real effect of deep pain.
[i] “Neural Correlates of Hate,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, accessed August 13, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569212/.