Hate relief: What to do if you’ve been a victim of hate

If you prefer to listen, here’s the podcast version of this post on iTunes and Soundcloud.

For those who have been assaulted in some way by hatred, maybe by a peer or a stranger on the street. Or maybe it wasn’t you – maybe you’re just upset because of something you heard on the news and it hurt or upset you. Or maybe you’ve been full of hate, yourself, and you are trying to help yourself out of that emotion because it doesn’t align with what you WANT to feel. So this is an episode addressed to everyone who has been suffering from hate or hate’s sibling, fear: two sides of the same coin.

There is a lot of intense emotion being felt all around the world because of the upheaval of war, the threat of “other” and the fear of change.  This intensity is like a virus in how it affects a sense of community. The outward expression of hatred anywhere in the world affects everyone, not just the targets or perpetrators.  Hate divides. It causes people to close off as a way to self-protect.  It causes people to build higher walls and push others down as a way to strengthen self.  Openness and tolerance is privilege that comes with safety, self-awareness and confidence: I can love and trust strangers because I live in a place that has fostered that in me as an individual.

This one was a request, so it’s in part dedicated to the people who are suffering right now in the US from hate crimes and general feelings of hate toward others.  I know that those of you reading this are all over the world –you’re in hundreds of different cities, with all different cultural climates.  Hate and bigotry is something many contend with, so this is for everyone – as a way to give you some resolve.  Because truly, hate is a virus: it spreads through fear, blindness and powerlessness. When you feel insecure or unsafe or just weak and unseen as a human, it’s the easiest way to get the hurt out of your body. When you externalize the feelings, you give yourself some power– some control: this is wrong, this is right.  The act of labeling and separating yourself from this other gives you grounding in suffering. However, in that process, you exacerbate and spread it. You promote fear and create a reason for others to cut off from humanity. Hate encourages others to isolate and mistrust. Racism and hate go hand in hand. That is because hate is a form of blindness. It’s a way to self-protect and maintain a stronger self. People block themselves to the humanity of another as a way to empower themselves in the face of intense anger, powerlessness and a lack of comfort in ones self. And though it gives people relief to spew the feelings outwards, hate erodes the safety and confidence of society – inspiring more of itself.

Hate and anger are primitive: it’s a survival mechanism built into us by nature. It’s a way to stave off suffering from low self-worth and remain safe, within the tribe.  Hating something allows you to point to something that makes you feel better about yourself while bonding you to others. It’s the reason that people commiserate at work about a shared gripe, but on a larger scale. There’s a lot of hate coming up in large part because there’s a large amount of change happening, currently. It’s something that has been there all along, but it’s exacerbated by the shared reaction – like the virus has flared up. There’s a lot of upheaval, which inspires fear, which inspires many to attempt to get grounding by pointing to right and wrong, good and bad, self and other. All change is cyclical – and when a wave of hate and fear comes, it must be reset by an opposite and more powerful reaction: of love. Of tolerance. Of wisdom and strength.

If you are someone suffering from hate – yourself, or you have been victimized by the hate of another, I want you to remember that hate isn’t personal. It’s just a feeling that gets paired with a label. What label depends largely on cultural circumstance. It could be a hate of something foreign. It could be a hate of something religious. Depending on where and when you grew up, you’ll hate and fear different things. A lot comes down to what you witness and are exposed to, growing up – because this is what allows you to empathize and understand that which is beyond your life.

Hate and anger, let’s call it rage for short – is one of the most difficult emotions to tolerate, and that’s why a lot of people are bad at it. It just feels intolerable and therefore usually people cannot do anything but release it.  Most don’t have the tools or coping mechanisms to do so properly, so they’ll vent it any chance they get. At its core, it’s an intense feeling of threat, one that takes on big labels, but it’s still just energy in your body. It can take on certain ideologies, reasoning, and logic – but in its essence it’s all the same: a powerful feeling. I say that to remind you that it’s not personal, and the form it takes is somewhat arbitrary in that it could be over anything. For example, the color yellow. Or cats. For most, hate roughly translates to, “fear of what I don’t understand.” It’s a feeling that feels really overwhelming and you just want to get rid of it because you want relief for yourself.  Otherwise you feel small, victimized, attacked, low or depressed. However, when you’re in it, often you can’t see that. To our consciousness, we only see a desire to block, push away and constrict. When you can focus on a target that will solve these bad feelings, it makes them much more manageable. It’s over there, not in here.

On a biological level, when you go into a hateful or fearful state, you are not fully conscious in that you are in a survival mode. Your reflective brain is the slowest, so it’s cut off from operation in favor of the faster, more primitive “reptilian” brain.  This self-protective state readies you for survival by jacking up your adrenaline and releasing testosterone: you have more physical strength while you remain hyper-focused on the danger/target. In other words, you are on high alert. Your heart rate quickens, your blood pumps to your arms and legs, and you stop digesting food. It’s a way of readying our body to fight or run from a bear, so it creates tunnel vision. This state separates you from the full experience and understanding of life – including your wisest self. Your access to reflective thought, patience and decisions that require self-control is hindered. When you see an angry mob or hate on a mass scale, it’s like the baseline of insecurity that exists within all people has been tapped into, fueled and then given an outlet. Through a popular hatred, a weak person can finally expel the feelings of powerlessness and get relief via the shared aspect: it’s like finding strength in numbers. Hate gives people a sense of shared power, of “better than” – a way to collectively bond over a common foe. When fear makes us feel defensive, anger makes us feel powerful.

If you are the target of hate or you witness it – first of all, protect your physical safety and the safety of others. Step 1 is to get to a place where no more injury will be caused. Step 2, nurture and collect. Although it feels alien, beneath that scary blindness is something very raw and human. It feels personal and devastating because it is an assault and therefore you must mourn. Mourning is a part of processing and it means you are sensitive and human. Know that civilization is compassionate and peaceful when it’s safe enough to understand others not like yourself. Without that safety, we shut off and fight.

When you are a victim, it can make you feel small – reduced, subhuman, fearful and ashamed. If you’ve been the victim of a hate crime, allow yourself the time and space to get back to your self, outside of the act. But because it’s a blind assault, it can remove your humanity and your access to life before it.  Something so dehumanizing can make you feel defined by the act, itself, or believe that you were wrong about the world, before it.  Allow yourself access to the bigger picture as you put things back in order: do not isolate or turn it inwards.  Surround yourself with family, friends, kind strangers and those who have walked in your shoes.  You’ve got to get back to your wisest self: the person who exists above this state. The same person you were before, including your love and compassion. In other words: stay human. Because you cannot be owned by something so beneath you. You are much MORE than this act – as are all of us. To overcome a wound, you’ve got to remember that your truest self exists no matter what happens to you. Love and tolerance and wisdom are yours, always. Coming back to them will be a choice. And that choice begins with the awareness that it exists in the first place.

In times of strife and overwhelm: know thyself. The you who is not threatened or running, who is not motivated by hate or defined by the hate of others. Because when you are fully conscious, you are kind, thoughtful, rational, tolerant, loving, striving for compassion and understanding. Know that when you are safe, secure and happy– this is your truth, not the reduced person who is reacting from the corner like a threatened animal– biting and untrusting.  Know that at any given time, those who are blind and angry and cruel and violent are the minority. Because when you remember yourself, you help others to remember their selves, too. It’s easy to put negative feelings outwards: to give yourself some relief, some security. It’s much harder to sit with them and witness them – without acting based on them. But this “sitting with the fear” is where you can honor yourself and your highest values as a wise, compassionate human. By focusing on positive actions that further the good of your cause, you create space and access for others. Because what you focus on expands. I am reminded of the dinner I had with friends a few nights ago. How simple and powerful it was to be welcomed into my friend’s home. She fed us and gave us drinks and hugs. She prepared a mochi and fruit desert. It was profoundly healing to me. Because it reminded me of the truth of the world. It reminded me where to place my focus and energy: on my own power.

What you focus on expands: what you expect to see, you see. So make sure you’re looking for the right things. It’s so dramatic to see what your attitude gets in return. It’s a reflexive experience: we create our experience and also the experiences of others. If you are in an angry state, you inspire others to feel angry. When you are open and present, with unconditional love: you soften others. It takes two to fight. When someone engages you, they successfully externalize their virus. By reacting with wisdom and compassion, you don’t allow the virus to catch. And you remind others around you – who they are. Simply by remaining in a loving state – unmoved and unafraid, consistently yourself, you hold up a mirror to another’s blindness and pain. When you see them as they are – they cannot hide.

Remember that the world was a far different place when your parents were your age, and that is because knowledge and truth cannot be undone. The civil rights movement in the US was successful because of peaceful protest: love and tolerance win when you remain in a state of love and tolerance. Even if someone is spitting hate in your eyes, you can respond with compassion: because that is who you are and no one can take that away. No one can fight it. Compassion is the most powerful force in the world and it’s yours, at all times. Sometimes coming back to it will be a choice.

In moments you feel afraid or alone or that you don’t understand others and their opinions, remember to stay wise: nothing is as simple as it seems. The story is always deeper: people are not stupid or evil, there’s a reason they are blind– a complicated one. Rigid and closed beliefs are attempts to create a sense of order and stability in the face of uncertainty. The young are more open-minded and tolerant because their beliefs are not fixed and they have not yet built walls around who they are. Know that each era and culture have their own stigma and intolerance comes from a lack of tolerance for ourselves. We are gifted openness and tolerance by those who raised us. You don’t have to accept the hate of others as okay – but take comfort in knowing there’s more to the equation. You are more connected to strangers than it feels like you are and if you lived their life, you would likely feel exactly as they do. Just as if they lived your life, they would feel as you do now.

Stay aware and stay above hate – by choosing love: love of others in their suffering and their blindness. Remember you share your humanity and connect to your intelligence. And acknowledge that sometimes it’s really hard: when you have every reason to hate, or to be afraid, to believe the world to be evil, and people to be cruel. Choose love. No one can make you small. No one can make you stupid. No one can make you less loving and open and accepting and WISE than you are. No matter WHAT they do! There is no power in the world that can take that away from you- no form of violence, no mass too large or too angry. Because who you are and the brightness you possess is yours forever. It is a truth – that can always be known.  In times of doubt, injury or suffering, come back to that truth – that you are one among many just like you. You are loved by strangers, and you are never alone. The humans who are capable of seeing outside their virus, exist and there will always be good in this world.  It’s your responsibility to them – to stay connected to that truth, so that you might inspire them in their moments of need. At times we all need reminders of who we are and the good we possess, deep down.

So if you see someone today who looks different than you do – pay them a compliment.  If you catch yourself judging someone else or building collective negativity against them, choose to alter your habit to align with a positive goal. Give a stranger a warm greeting – one that inspires connection. Open a door for someone or help them carry their stuff. Now more than ever, we all need each other – to remind us of our truth: the one we share. If you see a person who is much different than you, smile their way or start a conversation about the weather. Outwardly show your love for humanity. Because the power of perspective gains strength in numbers. We all look to our neighbors to see the collective consciousness – it’s how we get grounded in ourselves. When you empower yourself, you empower humanity. Strength inspires strength –when you find it in yourself, you illuminate it for others.

If you’re able, I want you to close your eyes and picture someone who came before you who inspires you.  Someone who honored the right thing to do, even when it wasn’t popular or accepted by others.  Maybe that person even had to endure a lot of intolerance or hardship, and they persevered despite it. Imagine that person smiling upon you and telling you to have hope. Now, picture other individuals past, who spoke from their hearts and did not lower themselves to hate, who changed the world. Who used knowledge and respect as their power. Who created conversations for shared meaning to be brought about. Think of those who suffered greatly so that all humans could be treated with equality and respect. Who against all odds, never gave up. Imagine them smiling upon you, and giving you their strength – reminding you to come back to hope. Because hope is where you own your own power. When you come from your own power, you have access to clarity and wisdom. You can open your eyes now.

Remember that there are so many who have walked before us, who have overcome great adversity. They can remind us that change and growth are inevitable because wisdom can never be unknown. There is always good reason to have hope and it’s your job to remember that – for the good of all of us. We have a powerful connection – us humans, across time and culture. The connection that is our humanity.

Never forget to have hope – because truly, you change the world and our ability to see things clearly – by doing so. Don’t give in to the darkness of fear, remind us all to be wholly ourselves – by bravely loving.  No matter what part of the world you are in right now, what gender, race, religion you are, you and I share a community.  We feel the same things, want the same things, struggle with the same things. And that is because we are all connected – through our humanity. And I don’t know you, but I love you. I am invested in your happiness. Never forget that this connection and love exists throughout the world.

Ultimately, humans are good. They mean well. But sometimes they get blocked by things and they don’t have the tools to get help. Try to remember that, even when you can’t understand someone else. Come from your wisest truth, and remember that there will always be a force of good in this world. Have hope. And outside of this post, you can head to yaywithme.com/love for a list of support-based organizations – it’s an ever-growing list on Googledocs.

And don’t forget to smile.