Magyar Szó

"Documenting the life of the Hungarian community in New Zealand"
- Az új-zélandi magyar közösség lapja.

Issue 80 - July 2005

The Roots of Hate and Aggression

At a dinner party the hostess turned to me, asking if aggression was an innate human trait or if it was a product conditioned by a run-away world. I answered that the problem was too complex to be discussed at the dinner table. Disciplines, studying human nature, like Psychology, Biology, Anthropology and Sociology have been grappling with it and - no surprise, their theories differ.

According to Freud, man's main motives are instinctual in nature, the most prominent ones being Eros and Thanatos. The latter incorporates fear of death and the struggle for survival. Eros compels the person to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, especially mental suffering. The Unconscious is there to contain all the unpleasant unwelcome feelings, thoughts and urges. Eros and Thanatos are instincts. They are inborn, inherited aspects of human nature with a biological base. Thus the urge to avoid pain and the struggle for survival are primitive parts of our psyche.


Let us imagine a businessman who is proud of his success. He is admired or envied and he craves admiration. His work demands freedom of movement and autonomy. He often travels overseas. He regards socialising a business necessity. In his private life, he shuns company. In contrast, his wife likes people and when she is not surrounded by them, she feels an inner emptiness. She demands that her husband spend more time with her.

She is the only child of a busy, professional couple. She was a sickly child and even now, as a grown up, regards a touch of "flu" an impending catastrophe. She does not realise that her excessive demand on his time springs from underlying dependency needs. Her craving for company is to take care of her fear of separation, abandonment. The husband labours under the impression that the only way to earn the respect of people is to appear successful. He needs freedom and autonomy not only to carry on with his business activities, but to deal with the unconscious memories of childhood restraint and of constant criticism.

They both dig themselves into a trench, taking up rigid defensive positions, i.e. negative frames of mind. This state of affairs is a power struggle, each side trying to take advantage of the other to make sure that his or her needs are given preference. Once their views of each other become polarised, the pictures they carry in their minds of each other become darker and darker. Both of them feel victimised, believing that their own demands and behaviour are justified and blame the other party for the problem. The "refrain" is played over and over: "I am right and you are wrong, it is you who makes me feel unhappy and I hate you for it".

My kind hostess! Did I manage to answer your question fully? Whether hatred or aggression are instinctual reactions, it does not matter. What matters is to know what triggers off our own hostile reaction. In any a situation one can feel angry, anxious or sad. The cause of it is the interpretation of the situation. The important word is interpretation: the meaning one reads into a comment or happening. The best thing is not to wear our glasses and to have a clearer vision of the world.

Reference: The original title of the book is "Prisoners of Hate" written by Aaron T. Back, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1999. I read it Hungarian, the title being "A gyulölet fogságában" translated by Dr Zita Berghammer, Hattér Kiadó, Budapest. I would be curious to read it in English to see the different conceptualisations and terminology. I found the Hungarian text heavy reading.

Dr Endre Maurer

Magyar Szó Issue 80 - July 2005