What Destroys Relationships? Love, Hate or Indifference?
Love and hate sound like opposites; however, the two emotions are quite closely connected in the brain. I would suggest that indifference is actually the opposite of love, and can kill any relationship faster than hatred. In order to explain, we need to look at how the brain functions.
Rage is linked to the centers in the brain that anticipate reward. Brain research has shown that stimulating reward circuits results in sensations of pleasure. When you withdraw the stimulation, the pleasurable sensations stop and there is an aggressive response. This response to unfulfilled expectations is known as the “frustration-aggression hypothesis.” This hypothesis was first proposed in 1939. Although there have been modifications over the years, the core theory is still accepted and believed to be true.
One of the times when the frustration-aggression response kicks in is when the drive to love is interrupted. The brain turns from love to hate. Love and hate share the putamen circuit in the brain. The putamen is activated and stimulated when we want to protect someone and when we are preparing to attack. This circuit is active when we love someone and want to protect them, as well as when we hate someone and want to attack them.
The part of the cerebral cortex that has to do with reasoning and judgment is deactivated when we think of love. That means feelings of love are free to flow unencumbered. On the other hand, hate does not deactivate as much of the cerebral cortex so we are free to judge and criticize, and in turn feeding the hatred.
The Brain and Love and Hate
The way the brain functions explains how we can simultaneously love and hate. When love is not returned, the frustration-aggression response kicks in to protect us from the unbearable pain of not being loved. It provides energy and resources to take the action we need to disentangle ourselves from the relationship, the person and our own feelings.
It also explains how we can hate a person you love when the love is reciprocated. We can hate the other even when we have a thriving relationship. I believe the number one reason we hate in relationships is due to disappointment. It could be a simple issue, such as disappointment that our partners didn't pick up dinner at a time when we are starving. It could be an overall disappointment that a loved one is not going to fill all our needs, fill the emptiness inside and help us live happily ever after.
Fear and Hate
Another common reason we hate someone we love is that we are afraid of our emotions and are unable to express them directly. We were taught that words hurt ourselves and others. Therefore, we must deny our feelings and stuff them deep inside. Those stored feelings of hurt, anger, and disappointment turn into resentment, bitterness and rage. From there, it is a short step to hate because the pain inside becomes too great.
How do we express hate in our relationships? We all like to think that we may get angry in relationships, but that we do not hate those we love and care about. We believe that we only hate those who have wronged us or deserve it.
Taking a Closer Look at Ourselves
Taking a closer look at how we hate and how that comes out in our relationships is a painful process. It takes courage, honesty and usually a third eye. Hate comes out when we are not willing to talk to someone who has hurt us and our anger takes center stage as a form of self-protection. We hide behind the fear of being hurt and hurting others. We keep silent.
The problem is not the anger we feel. It is that that we let the anger linger and fester. Anger is not the problem; the problem is that we would rather hide in the safe recesses of our hearts and minds where we have a false sense of safety. We are struggling to find the hope and courage to face what is needed to resolve the situation: the faith that we can face whatever the reaction is going to be when we talk about our feelings. Faith in ourselves that if we are wrong in thought, word and deed, if I am misunderstood, if I do an incomplete job of talking about my feelings, if I am not heard, I will be able to face my feelings of shame and guilt and move forward.
Unexpressed Feelings and Hate
We want to believe that we act out of love when we walk away with unexpressed feelings. We think we act in love when we do not confront a problem. We think that we are acting in love when we protect others from our “unjustified” feelings. That is not what is happening, instead we are building walls that contain a festering reservoir of feelings that will eventually turn to hate.
The opposite of love is indifference. When we do not talk about our feelings, when we do not address problems in a relationship, when we remain afraid and passive hate builds until we kill love by becoming indifferent. Relationships are not destroyed by hate; relationships are destroyed by silence that turns to indifference.