There’s been a lot of family talk lately about a relative of mine who left one abusive marriage only to recently end up in another. She has endured so much assault and abuse that what little of herself remains is embittered, territorial, and angry—even towards her own children.
But how did her path turn out so different from mine? What about my friends who survived traumas only to forge ambitious career paths and healthy relationships?
How can we transform post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth?
From my purely anecdotal, personal experiences, I’ve got a hypothesis that isn’t pretty: a brief period of hatred facilitates healing for many people.
Because hatred—when you are emerging from trauma—has its uses.
The benefits aren’t many, and they’re short-lived.
But it’s a distinguishing factor between those who made it out versus those who didn’t.
When I left my abusive father’s home, I was angry and suspicious of all men for about five years. That hatred gave me a space in which to begin to examine my father’s character and the qualities that signaled abusiveness—manipulation, narcissism, explosiveness, entitlement, and a hunger for power over other human beings.
I then became hyper-alert to these qualities in other men.
And while I traveled through this dark tunnel of man-hating bitterness, some very constructive things happened:
- Because I was so suspicious of men, I could no longer depend on them. As much as my conservative upbringing had taught me to hand off the steering wheel to men, my own hatred forced me into self-reliance. I had to take care of my own life.
- I realized not all men have these qualities. But some do. And I learned how to tell the difference.
Does this mean I’m now safe from harassment, abuse, assault, and rape? Absolutely not. Life is a learning process, and sometimes you get thrown a curveball. But I know my father’s profile inside and out. So I can make male friends and associate with male colleagues with the security of knowing I will never again put myself at the mercy of a man with that specific cluster of abusive traits.
But my relative suffering from repetition compulsion—
She places herself again and again in situations that leave her vulnerable to similarly aggressive, abusive men because she never went through a withdrawal from them. She never gave herself that time to feel anger. She typified her abuser as a monster, an isolated case that could never possibly be repeated. She persisted in her idealization of all men as protectors and caregivers. And she didn’t examine how society, genetics, and personal history might shape certain types of people that should be avoided.
Hatred as modus operandi is toxic and self-destructive. But hate-flooded rage after a shattering trauma is a self-defense mechanism. It erects six-foot-thick concrete walls, behind which survivors can begin to reassemble the pieces they’ve been shattered into.
It’s best, of course, if you can manage that without hatred and rage. And eventually, those walls will have to come down. Eventually, you learn to distinguish between human beings who are willing to abuse you and those who are not. Not all men are abusers. Not all drinkers are addicts. You start to see the world with more nuance, and you become better equipped to identify potential abusers the next time around.
But for a while, if you have been abused by a certain class of people, your best bet for healing might be to seal yourself off for a while. So you can process your feelings, take responsibility for your own self-protection next time around, and stand on your own two feet. If hatred is instrumental in helping you do that, go for it. Just be sure to shrug it off and step out of the darkness when it has served its usefulness.