Our country is so broken and torn apart. The recent violent bloodshed, unbridled rage and hatred has inspired me to write about the psychology of the Bad Other. A detrimental element in human relationships is the urge to make other people bad or wrong, and then to judge, reject or harm them. This desire to make other people bad and dangerous causes us to carry grievances: a mixture of grief, shame, fear and rage.
Nursing a grievance or resentment can lead to destructive, hateful acts. At the core of all grievances lies deep pain and anguish concerning loss of love and connection. What we fail to understand, process and grieve turns into grievance, and even deep-seated hatred of the Bad Other.
Feelings of grievance are created in our implicit memory in childhood. As children, we struggle to reconcile the fact that our parents are both good and bad. When feeling wounded, the vulnerable child cuts offs from love and creates the Bad Other. Yet to survive, children must maintain connection with their parents, and also the belief that their parents are safe and blameless. Hence, the painful feelings are repressed and driven into the unconscious. The Bad Other is also created when we are shamed just for being our authentic selves.
In the microcosm of my therapy room, I have noticed in my work with couples that they are often far more invested in making each other wrong than in setting things right between each other. When our partner disappoints us, we may overreact and project the Bad Other onto them through explosions of rage, blame, attack and withdrawal. Thus, we reenact the child’s original core wound by continually generating fresh evidence that the world is indeed a loveless place. Grievance and the Bad Other can become so entrenched in our identity that we are unaware of the contemptuous behaviors they inspire. In an extreme form, grievance can manifest as hatred and the desire to annihilate the Bad Other.
Hardening around grievance, and standing in judgment of others, provides us with a sense of righteous strength. By holding ourselves as superior, we attempt to avoid the pain and fear of feeling unloved, rejected or misunderstood. This archetypal experience of the Bad Other also applies to groups; it can be seen in how diverse ethnic groups, marginalized people and oppressed nations define themselves. The groups’ worldview is colored by the suffering and injustices experienced, and they respond and react to Bad Other groups to hate and to exact revenge upon. Hatred is a sign of disempowerment and helplessness; it is a devastating weapon to use against others and ourselves.
If we as individuals are not ready to relinquish or at least question our personal grievances, how can we expect others not to act on theirs? In an ideal world, we would meet grievance with love and compassion, and seek peace in the face of violence, but this takes work. To effect change, this country desperately needs to democratize mental health services so that all citizens can understand, process and transform their anger, pain, rage and shame. By examining our own grievances, we can become mindful rather than reactive in our interactions with others. The courageous task of understanding our own psychological identity, and holding our grievances and pain with self-compassion, can gradually bring a more all-embracing love into this world, and as adults this is our responsibility. We must each be the change we want to see in the world, since the world is a mirror reflection of our collective state of consciousness.