Hatefulness as a Gift of Love, Part I

Lorna Smith Benjamin, a well-respected researcher on therelationship between interpersonal psychology and personality disorders, has asaying that “Every Psychopathology is a Gift of love.”  In other words, she believes people developmaladaptive traits because, as she explains on her website:

“…problem patterns…are the result of one or more of three copy processes startedin relation to an important early caregiver…Those are (1) Be like him/her (identification); (2) act as if he/she isstill around and in charge (recapitulation);( 3) treat yourself as he/she did (introjection).Sometimes the copying is in negative image (e.g., be the opposite)…The purposeof the copying is to seek reconciliation, approval, love of the internalizedrepresentation of that original object (person). People unwittingly actaccordingly to the "rules" laid down by these early relationships andeven when they believe they hate the original copy person. Every psychopathology is a gift of love.”

If you're looking for a therapist, find one who knows this stuff

[Some trivia for you: Dr.Benjamin started out as a student of Timothy Leary, way back when he was arespected academic interpersonal psychologist and before he went off the deepend as a hippie guru telling everyone to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Don't hold it against her].


That people may mistreat themselvesbecause of loyalty to their kin group and a sense of altruism in that contextseems to me to be due to a biological imperative (see my post on kin selection), albeit one that we canconsciously choose to ignore.

This idea is understandablydifficult for most people to wrap their heads around.  Self destructiveness as a sort ofaltruism?  (I explained some patternsassociated with this phenomenon in my posts of 2/6/11 and 2/11/11).  The idea that the biological forces of kinselection may lead individuals to act in hateful and/or frustrating ways to other people for altruistic purposes withinthe kin group (although certainly not altruistic to outsiders) is even harderto swallow.  But the idea thatindividuals are willing to sacrifice their ownchildren as a gift of love to the family system is the most difficult ofall.

I think that the attractionof the Biblical story of Abraham nearly obeying a command from God to kill his ownbeloved son, not to mention the story of God being willing to sacrifice hisonly Son for the good of humanity, stems from the pervasiveness of thisphenomenon within our species. Certainly, the common willingness of parents to send their children offto war illustrates how powerful this human tendency is.  

The military in this country honors themothers of fallen soldiers as “Gold Star Mothers.”  The government gives them a folded flag and adead son or daughter, and usually they somehow consider it quite an honor.

That parents somehow stilllove their children even if they are acting out a hateful, nasty, and/orabusive family role is something my patients often have a great deal of troubleaccepting, and understandably so.  Inorder to explain their parents strange hatefulness, which I also refer to in mypost of July 6, 2010 as distancing behavior, they have usually come to theconclusion that their parents are heartless, evil, insane, or stupid

If I werein their shoes, I am absolutely certain I would have come to the exact sameconclusion. Still, as they tell theirstories to me in psychotherapy, I always hear of those rare times when theirparents were not hateful but actually loving. Sometimes such parents even will unexpectedly express their lovedirectly, although often in a way which undermines their own credibility.  However, because of the total context of therelationship, these positive acts and statements are discounted.  Again, discounting such contradictory doublemessages is perfectly understandable.
Why would you believe theprofessions of love of anyone who generally tends to treat you like sh*t?  That would really be insane. Why should you believe them when there is so muchevidence to the contrary?

And who knows if they arenot doing those positive things for you on purpose to set you up once again fordisappointment?  Letting you start tohope that they could finally be the parents you always wished you had, only todash those hopes to pieces.  Like waitingfor your estranged father to come and pick you up as he promised, when he hasbroken such promises time and time again.

Still, what does one makeof a mother who, for the first time, admitted to her adult daughter that shehad severely verbally abused the daughter when she was very young, but then toldher not to bring it up again because she would deny ever having admitted it?  

And therapists tell patients whose parents dothis crap that they have “trust issues” as if somehow that indicates that thereis something wrong with them.  If such patients did not have trouble trusting people, then there would be something wrong with them.

I have been correspondingwith two women whose mothers are described as having many traits that are suggestive of the diagnosis of borderline personalitydisorder.  While they both really want to believe that beneath all thehorrible distancing behavior their mothers really did and do care about them,they of course find that the idea induces a lot of cognitive dissonance.  Again, I do not blame them one bit forthinking that I am just a little bit crazy for thinking so.

In part II of this post, I willdescribe some of the “maternal” behavior that one of them described to me, aswell as translating some of her mother’s behavior and verbalizations into whatI think is really being expressed covertly.


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