Who among us hasn’t had the feeling, shameful as it may have been, that someone else’s happiness has highlighted our own misery so piercingly that we hated him or her, even for a moment? I’m not proud to say it and I now have self-compassion for it, but I know I had this reaction back when my eating was out of control, my body was far from what I wished it to be, and my life was full of longings for things I didn’t, and thought I would never, have.
I was reminded of how easy it is to slip into hate and envy mode when you’re unhappy with yourself while listening to a radio interview of Lindy West, outspoken feminist, fat acceptance movement advocate, journalist, and author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, a book I have not read. She was talking about the nasty social media insults she’d been slammed with for her outspokenness, and how she’d connected with and had a meaningful interchange with a virulent male critic of hers—with some surprising compassion-inspiring results on both sides. This critic admitted that her happiness and the positive power she seemed to have over her life so contrasted with his misery and inertia, that he had needed to hate her in order to feel better about himself.
Of course, spewing hate is a way that people often react to their low self-esteem and personal disappointment. These days especially, our cultural message reinforces this tendency: It’s fine to drag someone down in order to give yourself a leg up and practically de rigueur to make yourself feel bigger by making someone else feel smaller. Where does such intense outrage come from? Why do we have it?
Its roots are, in part, from a failure of imagination and a dearth of hope. In terms of food and body, eating or even other aspects of our lives, we are unable to fathom how we could ever be as happy and satisfied as others seem to be. Our twisted, ugly thinking goes something like this: I hate my body/eating/lifestyle and I hate that you have the kind of body/eating/lifestyle that I would kill to have. By hating you for having all that I want, I can transfer some of my own overwhelming self-loathing on to you—which then makes me feel a whole lot better.
The more you focus on what someone else has that you want, the less energy and drive you’ll possess to work on your own self-improvement. If you often hate happy or healthy people because you are neither, it’s time to turn the negative vibes you’ve been projecting onto others into positive energy to transform yourself. If you feel powerless, rather than hate people who have power, work on moving your own life forward and doing things that make you feel stronger and more confident. Give yourself the gift of self-efficacy. If you hate people who seem to “have it all” because you believe you have nothing, take steps to acquire more of what you desire.
Hate makes us feel powerful and superior, but it’s a stagnant, ultimately self-abasing emotion because it doesn’t get us anywhere and diminishes our humanity in the long run. The life of the male critic cited above didn’t grow happier from hating Lindy West. In fact, his hate undoubtedly added to his misery. Only when he stopped hating her and started taking his own inventory was he able to feel better about himself and change. We’re each responsible for our own happiness, so stop hating others and make room for loving yourself.