The Difference Between Anger, Hurt and Hate—it's about power
February 3, 2015
Emotions motivate us to act. They perform a regulatory function, in guiding us how to respond to something. In this article, we talk about three key negative emotions, why they are so different and just what they're motivating us to do.
A lot of people use the terms interchangeably; anger, hurt and hate. But if you're any kind of therapist, there are important differences between them. Here's why. Emotions are, at their core, about regulation. Regulating your environment by motivating you to act. Different situations spark different emotions and motivate you to act in various, quite specific ways. By examining closely the emotion, we can see what caused us to feel it in the first place. This allows us to gain control over these wily phenomena, and often over broader aspects of our lives. In the case of these three emotions, the difference lies in the power or control we feel we have over the situation. This matters to the therapist because power is largely a matter of perspective.
Anger is an appraisal of unfairness and injustice. The core feeling is that 'something isn't right, I feel exploited'. It implies that the angry person feels like they have some kind of power over the situation: like you 'should' be treated in a certain way, and weren't. You see this often in relationships when a social exchange rule has been violated, like when you're always the designated driver and your friends never appreciate it. The power thing is important, because without a sense of power you're more likely to feel one of the following two emotions here.
While anger is an 'injustice' emotion, hate is caused more by a perception of being diminished or humiliated. This comes alongside a strong feeling of low power or control over a situation. Instead of thinking 'that was wrong, I feel hard done by', you are thinking 'I feel humiliated and trapped'. Think of times when your boss or a teacher puts you down: there's very little you can do. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of material out there on hate (that has been tried and tested anyway), so there isn't much more to say. What is interesting is that work by one Professor Julie Fitness with married couples found that women enjoyed talking about hate and found it almost cathartic. Women often demonstrated a desire to talk about times they 'hated' their husband and to fantisise about accidents that could happen to them. Men, however, were far more reluctant, associating hate with more powerful emotions, sometimes to the point of homicidal thoughts. As such, they were far less comfortable with the idea. It's not clear what this suggests beyond a difference between genders about the definition and the scope of hate.
The core attribute of hurt is unexpectedness, often alongside a perception that your relationship is devalued. Hurt also involves a feeling of low power or control of the situation. You're more likely to feel hurt than the other emotions here when the thoughts echo a sentiment of 'how could you do this to me?', or 'you must not care about me'. It's that 'kick in the guts'.
All three of these emotions however, can be experienced together or in various combinations. Since emotions arise from your appraisal of a situation, as that appraisal changes, so will your emotions. Indeed, emotions rely solely on the links you make between the events and your attributions, which is part of what is called the 'two-factor' theory of emotion. So where at first you may feel anger at a friend for taking advantage of you, over time it may resolve into hurt as you start to wonder why they would do something like that to you. Or perhaps humiliation at a boss might turn into anger as you realise you don't need your job quite as much as you thought you did.
So, Gandhi's (possible) quote:
No one can hurt me without my permission.
Is perhaps not so true. It's really the lack of permission that sparks the feeling. But therein lies the rub: it's by examining the feeling we can understand what went wrong, and from there, take control.