Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 725–737 | Cite as

Addressing Moderate Interpersonal Hatred Before Addressing Forgiveness in Psychotherapy and Counseling: A Proposed Model

Psychological Exploration


This paper addresses the problem of pressure on a person to forgive that often makes forgiveness impossible or superficial. It proposes that clients who are unwilling or unable to forgive can still be encouraged to let go of interpersonal hatred because it is psychologically harmful to them. The issue of forgiving the person toward whom the hatred is directed can be treated more easily later, after the hatred has been removed or at least much reduced. The present theoretical approach distinguishes between anger and hatred; it provides a brief understanding of the origin of hatred from an object relations perspective with a focus on splitting. The emphasis is on moderate interpersonal hatred, since severe hatred raises special difficulties. The question of when a person has sufficient freedom to let go of moderate hatreds is addressed. This is followed by identifying reasons why people enjoy hatred, and how hatred provides some short-term psychological rewards. Finally, different psychological harms caused by hatred are identified. Overcoming interpersonal hatred by praying for those you hated is presented; the effect of such prayer on reducing splitting is especially noted. The conclusion is a descriptive summary of stages to be used in treating clients’ hatreds before addressing forgiveness.


Interpersonal hatred Self-harm Forgiveness Hatred Moderate interpersonal hatred Splitting Anger Prayer Psychotherapy model 


Interpersonal hatred is often treated in a therapeutic context by proposing that the client forgives the person who has harmed them. The process of forgiveness has been systematically developed as a helpful therapeutic intervention in the last few decades (e.g., Enright and Fitzgibbons 2015; Worthington 2006). One difficulty with forgiveness that occurs with some frequency, however, is that clients can feel pressured to forgive. The pressure may come from the therapist or practitioner; it may come from the client’s family; it may have a religious basis; or derive from other sources (Enright and Fitzgibbons 2015, p. 28). The problem with such pressure is that it often leads either to intense resistance or to a superficial, false forgiveness. As a result, the pressure can forestall or even prevent the psychological benefits of genuine forgiveness from taking place. The present paper proposes that a potentially useful way to avoid the pressure to forgive is to first address interpersonal hatred by asking clients to let go of hatred because of how hatred harms them and to leave the issue of forgiving the person who caused the hatred until later. Forgiveness involves a cost to the forgiver, namely giving up the justly owed debt that is owed them because of the harm caused by the other person. However, as proposed here, if the interpersonal hatred is removed or reduced, then at a later time if forgiveness is addressed it will likely be easier.

Before taking up the psychological harm caused by interpersonal hatred, some distinctions, theory and context are needed. Hatred has been somewhat ignored both as an important characteristic of personality, e.g., Sternberg (2005), and apparently no publications focus on hatred as a special barrier to forgiveness. The exceptions treating the importance of hatred are some psychoanalysts such as Akhtar and Parens (2014), Kernberg (1990, 1991), Klein (1975), Stekel (1939) and a few others such as Chester (2017), DeYoung (2009), Gaylin (2003), and Gilligan (1996). This paper is a modest attempt to remedy this relative neglect.

Anger and Hatred: The Difference between Them

Anger is a natural reaction to almost any real or presumed attack, hurt or threat. Anger is both the immediate emotional and behavioral response to such hurts, and it is familiar to all of us. This kind of anger is so immediate that I assume it is presumably part of how we are made and is a natural requirement for survival. Therefore, this immediate anger is often normal and appropriate and not psychologically harmful. Such normal anger, created by actually fearful and threatening stimuli, I refer to as reflexive anger.

Hatred, by contrast, is not an immediate reaction, but commonly, perhaps always, it depends upon the cultivation of anger set up by our fear. This cultivation, often expressed in mental rumination, creates supporting cognitive structures, which produce new non-reflexive anger and negative affect long after the original reflexive anger has ended. For example, a person might collect all the negatives that can be found about a perpetrator and weave them into a summary of that person’s character. Then various scenarios where the victim triumphs over the victimizer or gets even might be built up and enjoyed. There are many such possibilities. Such chronic anger or resentment is really a response to our personally constructed cognitive structures and will be called cultivated anger—that is, hatred. The anger created by cultivating the original reflexive anger is a kind of secondary anger found in resentments, revenge scenarios and bitter memories, etc. The general understanding of hatred proposed here is a kind of “personalized anger” as identified by Royzman et al. (2005, p. 30). Unfortunately, it is common for such cultivated hatred of a person to be supported by friends, families, even religious and political groups.

For present purposes, such cultivated hatred will be restricted to hatred by one person and focused on another person, not hatred of injustice or harmful social structures or of evil. These latter hatreds are, of course, often valid. What is being addressed here is only interpersonal cultivated anger or hatred (Shapiro 2016). The scriptural injunctions “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26) are presumably aimed at preventing reflexive anger from developing into cultivated or secondary anger—and the resulting personal hatred with the serious problems which go with it.

Hatred in Psychoanalytic (Object Relations) Theory

It is important to note that for object relations theorists, two of the infant’s earliest psychological states are also moral in nature since they involve the experience of internal mental representation of good and bad.(e.g., Greenberg and Mitchell 1983; Klein 1975, 1946/1975, 1958/1975; Summers 1994). These early representations as posited by object relations theorists are either innate (Klein), or based on the experience of the good mother (originally the good breast) and the bad mother (bad breast) or more likely a combination of nature and nurture. Theorists emphasizing the actual experience of the mother include Bion (1957), Meltzer (1974), and Segal (1981). For these theorists the good mother (or mother figure) is set up by the child’s experience of being well-mothered, beginning with nursing at the breast, but also including, from the start, the experience of the mother’s loving face and body. This experience of being nursed, spoken to soothingly, stroked, comforted, looked at sweetly and so forth is presumably the major source of the good mother. The term refers not to the mother herself but to the child’s internal psychological representation of her. The good mother is an internalized mental object. The bad mother is the infant’s internalized representation or experience of the mother as delaying or denying gratification, often by not being present. Other negative experiences such as communicated anxiety, impatience, rejection or coldness also contribute to the bad mother. Again, the bad mother is the internalized representation of these negative experiences.

The presence of the internalized bad mother is shown by the infant’s overt anger and hostility when some need is not being met. In addition, psychoanalysts postulate that the infant’s internal experience of the bad mother results in angry fantasies directed against her. In contrast, the experience of the good mother makes the child feel contented and good. Normally, for most children, the experiences of the good mother far outnumber the opposite, those of the bad mother.

Melanie Klein (for a summary see Greenberg and Mitchell 1983, p. 124–136, 141; Sollod et al. 2009, p 211, 222–232) has argued that the infant is born with an innate prototype of the bad mother and along with it prenatal rage, hate and envy. This implies that we are innately and significantly bad. (Klein often implies that whatever goodness we develop comes from the love we receive from our mother and others.) Such an extreme position can be interpreted as a kind of psychoanalytic “vote” for the doctrine of “total depravity.” However, this theoretical understanding is no longer accepted by most psychologists, and as noted above also by many object relations theorists. However, the opposite extreme—the popular idea of our natural, complete, innate goodness—is also rejected. Psychologists observe far too much evidence of our strong tendency to hatred, envy, anger and extreme narcissism to accept the idea of the complete goodness of human nature. Infants may be born without any freely willed badness, but the underlying negative potential is present and makes the idea that infants are only affectionate and loving a sentimental and false notion. And since this potential for bad is observable in infancy, there is little reason to believe it requires an especially dysfunctional family or culture for badness to manifest itself.

The separation of the good and bad representations of the mother in the very young infant is called “splitting” since the mother is represented as split into two opposites. This split is presumed to occur because of the very primitive cognitive capacities of the infant. Along with this split of the mother comes a split of the self, “good me” and “bad me.” (There may also be other splits representing parts of the self.) The experience of one’s self as good comes from the positive response of the good mother and likewise the experience of one’s self as bad comes from her negative response to the child. Thus, the initial, primitive self derives from our first interpersonal interactions with our mother or other mothering one.

The major costs of this initial splitting of the mother are first, that the accurate perception of reality is compromised; unless the infant progresses beyond splitting, there will be long-term serious difficulties in reality testing, since people, including the mother, are mixtures of both good and bad. Second, the infant has constructed an internalized world with a bad mother, and probably other bad people as well, from whom the infant fears attack and retaliation. This fear-based internal condition is described as both paranoic and depressive (Klein 1935/1975; Summers 1994, 88–89) and creates a serious fear of trusting others in the infant.

Under normal developmental conditions, with a reasonably good mother, the infant’s cognitive capacities mature which results in an integrated and realistic perception of the mother and others. That is, as the infant grows and develops mentally, he or she comes to understand that the good mother and the bad mother are the same person. Exactly when splitting is overcome does not bear on our present discussion, but we should keep in mind that understanding a person as a mixture or integration of both good and bad properties is an important early developmental accomplishment, and this first occurs with respect to the mother or mother figure.

There is, however, a psychological cost to the integration that comes from putting together the two conflicting representations of the mother. Klein describes this as a kind of guilt caused by the child’s anxiety over injuring the loved object, the good mother (Summers 1994, 89). Putting the good and bad mother together results in a kind of remorseful response. That is, the infant now recognizes that the mother with whom it was so angry is the same person as the wonderful, good mother. This causes remorse or a kind of primitive or proto-guilt. This guilt (here called proto-guilt) “is the bridge between the destructive desire and reparation.” (Summers, p. 89). It causes a desire to repair the relationship with the mother. This reparation is presumed to take place in unconscious fantasy but might show in the child’ seeking out the mother and connecting with her, often through touch.

But, if the early experiences of a mother’s aggression, anger and emotional distance are too intense, the child may never bring the good and bad experiences of the mother (or of the child’s self) together into an integrated whole; the result will be psychopathology and a continued reliance on splitting. As a more or less permanent aspect of personality, this splitting response is found in seriously disturbed individuals and is fortunately relatively uncommon.

How do psychologists know about splitting in the minds of 1–2-year old children? Young children don’t usually talk about it although expressions of splitting can be displayed in how roles are shown in play therapy. Other evidence comes from listening to older children who can report the content of their dreams and fantasies. But much of the evidence comes from psychological observations of adults, in particular seriously disturbed patients such as those with borderline personality disorder who commonly split their representations of self and other.

There is some additional cultural evidence to support splitting, especially as focused on the mother. This comes from the many fairy and folk tales containing all bad and all good mother figures: The wicked queen in Snow White, the evil witch in Hansel and Gretel, and, of course, the bad step-mother in Cinderella and the many all good fairy godmother figures. More recently, there has been Ursula the Sea Witch in the Little Mermaid. Also the all good heroes like Superman and the all bad villains like Lex Luther who are paired with them. Children quite naturally seem to split, that is to think in terms of the all good and the all bad with respect to people.

For present purposes, it is important to keep in mind that the tendency to split the internal representation of someone also can be found in almost all adults especially when very painful experiences caused by others occur. Even normal adults tend to see their enemies as all bad and their friends as all good. This kind of splitting is especially common during war; in cases of intense political conflict; and it also occurs when one has been deeply hurt by some individual. This is to justify our constructed anger, i.e., interpersonal hatred. In short, splitting has reemerged. A major sign of this splitting is the presence of internal scenarios of revenge; more on this below.

The Issue of Severe Hatred

Severe or extreme hatred raises special problems that are not treated here. Such hatred can be so powerful and difficult to master that it can overwhelm the patient and often be expressed toward family members or lead to public explosions of rage. The DSM-V (American Psychiatric Association 2013) has many examples of extreme anger and hatred, especially in descriptions of Personality Disorders and also in describing serious depression, extreme anxiety and substance abuse. The present discussion is probably not relevant to such hatreds; as the present proposal addresses less severe, more moderate levels of interpersonal hatred.

Another Qualification

In the case of certain close relationships, such as marriage, there is the danger that letting go of hatred will result in distancing the couple and facilitating one or both to moving on. Hatred means that the person is still connected to the other and has a motive for improving the relationship because the other still has meaning for them. In such cases, the present proposal of reducing hatred may not be appropriate.

Hatred as a Choice

Hatred in childhood can exist primarily as an affect with associated thoughts, and not as a willed decision. It can be a response to abuse, trauma or parental divorce. Very little true volition is involved in the experiences that set up developmental arrest and pathological conditions in children. An essential point, however, is that hatred in most adults is at its core not just affect and thoughts but intrinsically involves volition. Of course, the emotional or affective component of hatred, plus the associated cognitions, remains a major part of adult hatreds—but with maturity the will now becomes a crucial and little acknowledged part of hatred. Adults often willfully enjoy developing thoughts of revenge (Vitz and Mango 1997a, b).

The point is that adults either freely decide to accept their previously built up hatred and to maintain it, or to work at rejecting it. In psychotherapy itself, the patient is often explicitly confronted with this kind of choice and may freely decide to start, or not to start, the process of letting go of hatred. Also, as previously noted, in adults, the affective component of hatred is connected with previously built cognitive structures, at least some of which involved acts of the person’s willing acceptance of constructed scenarios of revenge and resentment. Continued adult hatred, therefore, involves a decision—and a refusal to love—and often a refusal to request, accept, or give forgiveness. In the sense that it is willed, I assume that hatred for others is never healthy. It is natural in the sense of being common, but it never produces or promotes psychological health.

The patient does not have full freedom to stop hating; it can be extremely difficult to abandon hate-filled structures built up over many years. But people do have the freedom to begin to stop hating, although the process is hard and requires sustained effort. One of the major aids provided by a psychotherapist, and also by a spiritual advisor, is to focus people on their need to let go of hatreds—and to maintain that focus over time, since it is common that the choice to let go of hatred has to be made many times and with respect to different memories and interpretations of the enemy. This emphasis on the patient’s will can be interpreted as an example of Meissner’s (1993) self as agent. Meissner, a psychoanalyst, interpreted the self as a superordinate structural construct representing the whole person and containing the willing or responsible self as agent, as actor. The recovery of the will in psychology is also represented by Bandura’s (2001) concept of agency, and in Baumeister and Tierney’s (2011) explicit emphasis on the will. The introduction of the will into treatment of mental disorders is addressed in Alvarez-Segura et al. (2017) and Álvarez-Segura, Echavarria, and Vitz (2017). In any case, the patient’s intentional action must be frequently operative in the struggle to let go of hatreds.

As noted, it is assumed here that hatred of a person, not of a behavior or injustice, is ultimately harmful to mental well-being (Shapiro 2016). From a psychological perspective hatred can be viewed as a type of unhealthy defense mechanism—which is not to imply that all defense mechanisms are inherently pathological. Some of them (e.g., sublimation) are healthy when employed properly. The development of a person’s basic ego strength and an adequate measure of self-worth often require defensive or protective psychological responses—rather as the body wards off threats to its safety and integrity. This is especially true in childhood when many defenses are set up because few other options are available or known to the child. However, let us now turn to the reasons why many adults like hating other people.

The Joys of Hatred

Adults often truly enjoy hating their enemies. (Kernberg 1990). They enjoy creating fantasy scenarios and sometimes even real scenes where of getting back at those who have hurt us. Indeed, revenge is so popular that it is one of the major themes in much popular culture, especially in TV and video games. Let us begin to identify some of the more important ways we find hatred rewarding.
  1. 1.

    People filled with hatred for someone who hurt them commonly benefit from self-pity or the sick role that the hatred maintains (Fitzgibbons 1986). The self-pity and victim status which is so popular today often expresses this benefit of hatred. That is, a person’s victim status allows him or her to rationalize inadequacy and failures (Sykes 1992). “I am an adult–child of an abusive alcoholic whom I hate for ruining my life. How can you expect me to be a normal functioning adult?” These persons enjoy having intense interpersonal empathic support—the pity party. They also enjoy feeling they are justified in their anger and hatred; the victimizer deserves it because of what they did to them. This also keeps them from any sense of guilt about their hateful fantasies.

  2. 2.

    Hatred of others can provide much social support—and with it friendships. Many of us enjoy the very familiar but special feelings of support that come from being in groups of people who have the same enemies that we have: We all hate the boss and we get along fine. We all hate Trump; so we get along fine. We all hate Obama; so we get along fine.

  3. 3.

    There are the direct positive rewards from hatred. For example, hatred gives many people both energetic purpose and a feeling of control (DeYoung 2009, p. 134). Hatred also gives the basic pleasure of expressing anger. After all, hatred is fueled by the primary drive of aggression and its expression is often rewarding in its own right. This joy of the direct expression of violence and anger has long been known. (Chester 2017) Very simply, hatred and revenge provide purpose to life and make people feel alive and powerful.

  4. 4.

    Finally and probably the most common reason for the joy of hating is the feeling of moral pride in one’s self. After all, you are morally superior to the “immoral” or “truly horrible” person(s) who hurt you. Such gratifying feelings of moral superiority are probably the most frequently observed rewards of hatred. This moral superiority builds our self-esteem. “Liberals are hopelessly immoral, look at their stand on …. I am so glad I’m not like them” or “Conservatives are really immoral look at their position on … I’m so glad I’m not like them.”


Related to this enjoyment of moral superiority is the case where someone gives an unrequested forgiveness based on their hatred, in order to make the other person be seen as an aggressor who should feel guilty; “I am the suffering victim, but still I forgive you.” This often arises from a narcissistic or egocentric dynamic. (Pacciolla, May 2016, personal communication.)

Thus, it is the case that hatred gives us the benefits of self-pity, maintains social support from friends with the same hatreds, and it provides both energetic purpose and the sheer pleasure of morally acceptable aggression. Best of all it fuels our self-esteem with feelings of moral superiority.

The Cost of Interpersonal Hatred

But there is a cost to all this pleasure. A visitor to a retirement home talked with a woman in her seventies who was still bitter and preoccupied with a cutting remark made by her sister at her own 16th birthday party which took place over 50 years earlier. He described this woman as having been “pickled” by her life-long resentments and hatred

Hatred provides only temporary or short-term psychological rewards. The first problem is likely to be that those we hate will hate us back and attack us in retaliation. This often sets up an unending cycle of revenge and the painful costs of a cycle of animosity including ongoing anxiety, tension, conflict and violence.

A second common problem is that hatred traps us in a mental prison in which we obsessively spend time, energy and thought fueling the hatred, all of which reduces our freedom to love others and grow in more positive ways (Shapiro 2016). In short, for many people, hatred creates a kind of intense internal mental pain. Psychotherapists treating abuse victims have told me that a few of their patients have recognized this, usually as a sudden insight, and explicitly explained that they have stopped hating the abuser but often could not forgive them.

It is also ironic to realize that the person you hate is, in a sense, controlling you and causing you to waste your life. You trap yourself in the role of victim. Wasted years are a greater wrong than whatever hurt started the hatred. This is especially ironic as the victimizer often was unaware of hurting the person or has long forgotten it.

A third problem is that when we are filled with cultivated anger and hate we often “bubble over” and lash out at innocent bystanders displacing our aggression onto them and creating new enemies by accident, leading to more people who hate us and whom we may also enjoy hating. Such hatred also sets up in us and others attitudes of cynicism, pessimism, depression; even physiological disorders and substance abuse (Izadpanah et al. 2017; Munhall 1993).

Yet a fourth problem is that the sense of moral superiority set up by looking down on hated enemies commonly creates a kind of moral arrogance that makes others withdraw from any kind of relationship with us. A fifth problem (Fitzgibbons, personal communication, May 16, 2016) is that without letting go of hatred there will be no resolution of the sadness and mistrust associated with it, which makes the hater vulnerable to depressive and anxiety disorders. There are still other problems associated with interpersonal hatred. In short, on reflection, we can see that hatred and violence create more of both and in the process hurt us and others—and psychologically trap and stunt us.

The Problem of Hatred for Christians

For Christian clients there are very clear scriptural injunctions dealing with interpersonal hatred. These may be of use in counseling Christians but, as was the case with forgiveness, these injunctions should not be used to put pressure on a patient or even be introduced before the person is ready. (See the Stages described below.) Examples of relevant scripture include:

Jesus tells us: “You have heard it said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute (hate) you.” (Mt. 5:43–44). Other verses are equally clear: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn 3:15); “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 Jn 4:20). Or as St. Paul writes about the pre-Christian life “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient …. passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men, and hating one another…” (Ti 3:3–4.)

Of course the rejection of interpersonal hating follows from the two great commandments “You shall love the Lord your God…. and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10: 27). The dramatic explicit rejection of hatred in the words of Jesus is clear, and this obviously undermines morally justified hatred at the personal psychological level. And, of course, Jesus was taking his words from Hebrew Scripture implying a moral law for Jews as well.

Discussion and Theoretical Conclusion

The command to pray for one’s enemies provides a profound understanding of how to overcome splitting. To pray for your enemies starts the process of making them human and not evil, not aliens. It is the beginning of love. To pray for them is to pray that they be blessed, and this begins the process of seeing them as also being loved by God and thus as having some good qualities. Such prayer starts one on the road to overcome splitting. Furthermore, the recognition that we have hated someone who we now see has some good characteristics (since we started praying for them) taps into that primitive remorse found in the young infant but who is now an adult capable of recognizing that he or she has hated someone who has some good qualities, just like the original good/bad mother. This remorse also signals in the adult guilt about one’s hatreds and an awareness that one’s own self is not all good. This begins overcoming the splitting of yourself into all good, and enabling you to see yourself as both good and bad—hence morally as more like your enemy. It may, in some people, even open the door to ‘self-acceptance’ and ‘self-compassion’ as a person who has both good and bad behaviors, but who strives to do good (e.g., Ellis 1962, 2001); (Pecorara, personal communication, June 21, 2017).

At this point, there is also now a possibility of some desire for reparation on a person’s part, as found in object relations theory and previously noted by Summers: “Guilt, then is the bridge between the destructive desire and reparation” (1994, 89.) We can now understand that there are good psychological, as well as good theological, reasons for us to pray for our enemies. Praying for the enemy is insightful psychology because it undermines splitting: it overcomes all or nothing thinking about the self, as well as about others.

Jesus also said “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). A recent non-psychoanalytic theory of hatred by Gilligan (1996) provides strong evidence that much hatred, especially, that found among imprisoned criminals, is a response to people who were seen as disrespecting them, especially their fathers. To love and to do good to such disrespected people is thus the very best kind of response since love and doing good are seen as fundamentally respectful of the other.

Let’s look now at some of the positive psychological responses that are possible alternatives to the harmful short-term rewards of hatred. In place of self-pity and the victim role, there is one of compassion and helping the other. Certainly, this is better and more rewarding than pathetic egoistic self-pity that traps you in years of wasted time. In place of social and group support based on mutual enemies, there is social support based on a mutual positive goal. In place of the energy and purpose given by hatred, there is energy and purpose based on positive purposes and self-giving. With a loss of internal anger and rage, we are less likely to bubble over and hurt others, and at the same time we become less scary and more attractive to others. Moral superiority may build self-esteem but most people find moralistic people condescending and often pharisaical. A humble, non-egoistic and loving attitude is welcomed by all and brings far more friendships, happiness and peace.

Existing Interpretations of Forgiveness and the Relation to the Present Approach

Many theorists have addressed forgiveness in useful ways but only two forgiveness theorists will be addressed here: Everett Worthington and Robert Enright. The issue is how does the present proposed treatment of hatred prior to forgiveness connect to their positions? Enright and Fitzgibbons 2015 propose a process of forgiveness involving four phases: (1) Uncovering the injustice, hurt and anger, e.g., pp. 59–64. (2) Decision to forgive. (3) Work at understanding the offender. (4) Deepening the meaning of suffering and understanding. Each phase has from 3 to 8 sub-phases. The present approach assumes that some uncovering has occurred. This means that the anger and hatred have been experienced by the client and to some extent discussed. However, any decision to forgive has been rejected or possibly made in a very superficial way. That is, the present approach starts if the process stalls in phase 1.

Worthington 2006, also has a stage-type approach and some concepts to be used depending upon the client and situation. His five step model is summarized as REACH. Step one is R = Recall the Hurt. (It is similar to Enright’s phase 1). It is here the client addresses anger and hatred. And it is when this first brings the person to a halt that the present approach starts. His next step is E = Empathize with the person who hurt you and is assumed to be rejected by the person under consideration here. Next is A = give an Altruistic gift to the hurting person; the next steps are C = Commit to emotional forgiveness; and H = Hold on to forgiveness. Keep in mind that both of these models usually assume the person has at least tentatively agreed to forgive. If agreement to forgive has not occurred, as in many cases, the present model starts with its own stages even if with similarities to the preceding models. The basic similarity is that letting go of hatreds is a necessary precursor to forgiveness.

The Present Model: Pre-forgiveness Stages

The previous understanding of interpersonal hatred can be integrated with the process of forgiveness proper as proposed by this writer in the following stages. These proposed stages may also be integrated with the well-known approach, motivational interviewing (Miller and Rollnick 2012) with its four basic processes. These are (1) engaging, and establishing trust and respect. This is needed in all forms of mental health practice. (2) Focusing on the issues, in this case letting go of hatred. (3) Evoking the desire to change and hope. This seems to an especially relevant issue for the ability to let go of hatred. (4) Planning a method once the commitment to give up hatreds has been made.

Pre-forgiveness Stage 1

The patient/client agrees to a general, perhaps not very strong, decision to work toward letting go of hatreds. An early issue is to address the possibility of denial of their hatreds since some people are unaware of hatred based on early childhood, and other, hurts and abuses. Patients in denial about their negative past may have created a falsely positive image of their parents, siblings, family life, etc. This stage, as noted above, is very close to the uncovering phase or recall step of the forgiveness process (Enright and Fitzgibbons 2015; Worthington 2006). But here it should be clear that forgiveness is not going to be addressed, only anger and hatreds.

Some people may not be consciously aware that some of their negative affects like depression stem from anger. This is particularly so in those who were “parentified” and had to protect their parents in childhood. These individuals tend to turn their anger in on themselves as self-blame and may not even be aware of their anger toward others. They may only be aware of their inner pain and self-rejection, which they experience as depression, agitation or anxiety. Such clients need time and help to go over their family dynamics. They may discover that anger toward abusive others which was not expressible during their childhood has been turned inward and now fuels forms of self-rejection. The therapist or counselor should explore the person’s anger and hatreds especially using ways that enable the client to clearly experience it. (Pecorara, personal communication, June 23, 2017). When, as is usually the case, the source or cause is a truly unjust action by the offender the practitioner should make clear the injustice and the naturalness of their reaction of anger and hatred, especially when based in childhood or youthful experiences

Pre-forgiveness Stage 2-a

Discuss the previously described understanding of interpersonal hatred, including the rewards of hating but begin to emphasize the many long-term costs and basic irrationality of hatred. The various ways in which hatred can cause self-harm and the frequent tendency for hatred to set up such emotions as anxiety, depression, fear and self-criticism and even self-injury should be discussed.

Pacciolla has identified many possible relevant harmful aspects of hatred. (May, 2016 personal communication). He suggests the following relevant issues in investigating the self-harm of hatred in different patients. Patients should check on their own personal meanings of anger and hatred and see possible links to the following states, listed in alphabetical order: “aggression, apathy, bitterness, chronic sadness, euphoria, frustration, generalized distress, guilt, horror, impairment in occupational or interpersonal functioning, negative financial or legal consequences, jealousy, resentment, shame, tension, vengeance, violent behavior, withdrawal.” If some hatred is genuinely let go, bring attention to the positive consequences, such as reduced anxiety, reduced depression, reduced resentment, reduced obsessive thinking, and other possible benefits based on the Pacciolla list.

Patients should be asked to rank the harmful states listed above in terms of their own personal importance, and the therapist should explore the possible relevance of each. Let the patient/client know that the task may often be difficult and that they may often have to pause while they return to previously discussed material before they are again willing to go on with the letting go of hatred.

Pre-forgiveness Stage 2-b

For Christian clients, note Our Lord’s clear position about hatred. But, do this only when they are ready since again pressure will rarely work and can be counterproductive.

Pre-forgiveness Stage 3-a

For all clients: Work on getting them to think objectively about the good or positive aspects of their enemy and, again, the harm hatred does to them. This stage is aimed at a psychological distancing from the hatreds and the memories of their sources. Pre-forgiveness stages 3-a and 3-b also include aspects of empathy for the enemy or hurtful person as found in the models of Enright and of Worthington. For both Stage 3a and 3b, a Worthington (1999, 2006) concept may be useful. Worthington provides much evidence for his hypothesis of emotional replacement. In the present case anger and hatred are the emotions to be replaced by another and a positive emotion. It is proposed that by focusing the client on reasons to be grateful, or ways to be altruistic to others that these emotions are good candidates for replacing hatred. The same is true for empathy. In short, exercises in gratitude, empathy for others and altruistic behaviors can replace much of the person’s hatred and provide positive meaning.

Pre-forgiveness Stage 3-b

For Christian clients: Ask them to pray for their enemy; perhaps do this together. Remember this is really not hard to do and is always an available strategy.

Also, remember their enemy may also have been abused, deprived, etc. Help the client reconstruct reasons why the abuser may have acted as he or she did. Remember your bad parent probably had a bad parent also. See if the client can recall anything good that the abuser did. All this should result in the overcoming of splitting.

After these pre-forgiveness stages and if much—or even some—of the hatred has been let go, then it may reduce the reluctance to forgive and allow a direct approach to forgiveness as presented by Enright and Fitzgibbons (2015) and Worthington (2006) and others. However, much clinical work and research should be done, including on this proposed model. We need examples of case histories that demonstrate the principles and steps actually involved in unpacking particular hatreds and in letting go of them

Finally, the widespread presence of hatred and revenge in almost all societies clearly implies much more psychological study of hatred is needed. Something Melanie Klein saw many years ago when she noted, “The repeated attempts that have been made to improve humanity—in particular, to make it more peaceful—have failed, because nobody has understood the full depth and vigor of the instincts of aggression innate in each individual.” (Quoted by Wolberg 1988, p. 247).


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Dr. Paul C. Vitz declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the Psychological SciencesDivine Mercy UniversityArlingtonUSA

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