Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hatefulness as a Gift of Love, Part I

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

“… problem patterns…are the result of one or more of three copy processes started in relation to an important early caregiver…Those are (1) Be like him/her (identification); (2) act as if he/she is still 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 purpose of the copying is to seek reconciliation, approval, love of the internalized representation of that original object (person). People unwittingly act accordingly to the "rules" laid down by these early relationships and even 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 a respected academic interpersonal psychologist and before he went off the deep end as a hippie guru telling everyone to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Don't hold it against her].


That people may mistreat themselves because of loyalty to their kin group and a sense of altruism in that context seems to me to be due to a biological imperative (see my post on kin selection), albeit one that we can consciously choose to ignore.

This idea is understandably difficult for most people to wrap their heads around.  Self destructiveness as a sort of altruism?  (I explained some patterns associated with this phenomenon in my posts of 2/6/11 and 2/11/11).  The idea that the biological forces of kin selection may lead individuals to act in hateful and/or frustrating ways to other people for altruistic purposes within the kin group (although certainly not altruistic to outsiders) is even harder to swallow.  But the idea that individuals are willing to sacrifice their own children as a gift of love to the family system is the most difficult of all.

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

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

That parents somehow still love their children even if they are acting out a hateful, nasty, and/or abusive family role is something my patients often have a great deal of trouble accepting, and understandably so.  In order to explain their parents strange hatefulness, which I also refer to in my post of July 6, 2010 as distancing behavior, they have usually come to the conclusion that their parents are heartless, evil, insane, or stupid

If I were in their shoes, I am absolutely certain I would have come to the exact same conclusion. Still, as they tell their stories to me in psychotherapy, I always hear of those rare times when their parents were not hateful but actually loving.  Sometimes such parents even will unexpectedly express their love directly, although often in a way which undermines their own credibility.  However, because of the total context of the relationship, these positive acts and statements are discounted.  Again, discounting such contradictory double messages is perfectly understandable.

Why would you believe the professions 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 much evidence to the contrary?

And who knows if they are not doing those positive things for you on purpose to set you up once again for disappointment?  Letting you start to hope that they could finally be the parents you always wished you had, only to dash those hopes to pieces.  Like waiting for your estranged father to come and pick you up as he promised, when he has broken such promises time and time again.

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

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

I have been corresponding with two women whose mothers are described as having many traits that are suggestive of the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.  While they both really want to believe that beneath all the horrible 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 for thinking that I am just a little bit crazy for thinking so.

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


  1. Having had a mother who was either a narcissist with borderline traits or a borderline with narcissistic traits, I am on tenterhooks for part II.

  2. Replies