Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Love and Hate

Love and Hate: Illustration by Zelly Restorick

Drama of love & hate

Continuing with his discussion of the changing nature of human relationships (Forever in our hearts, Sept 2014) Sean O’ Shea considers the drama of love and hate. Drawing on a variety of sources such as psychoanalysis, nursery rhymes and popular culture, he asks: is love possible?

 It’s a thin line between love and hate.

Song, the Pretenders

Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

Nursery Rhyme

 The mundane rhythms of love and hate are grist to the mill in the ongoing drama of interpersonal relations. In our daily interactions we may be recognised and treated with respect, empathy and forgiveness.  We may also be misrecognised, devalued, objectified and treated with animosity. We in our turn may experience similar conflicting emotions of affection and hostility towards others, a process which Freud called ambivalence.

In the world of emailing and tweeting we may be the recipients of kisses and endearments one moment and later ignored or become subjected to hostile messaging. When affection turns to steely coldness our sense of self may be thrown temporarily out of kilter. We are the same person, so by what strange alchemy are these transformations effected?

For part of the time we inhabit an ordered world in which at least some of the rules appear rational and transparent. However, we also inhabit an absurd theatre in which our lives seem disordered and prey to forces completely outside our control. And in our dreams the boundaries of space, time and selfhood are entirely dissolved and we are delighted, terrified and bewildered by the images that bubble up from our unconscious mind. One discourse that deals head on with the irrational, conflict-ridden and troubling dimensions of our psychic and emotional lives is psychoanalysis.

The psychoanalyst’s chair

Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?

Three Little Pigs, Disney cartoon

Oh Grandma what big teeth you have!
All the better to eat you with!

Little Red Riding Hood

According to psychoanalysis the child’s relationship with its mother or primary caregiver is its first experience of a love relationship and the foundation on which its identity and future love relationships are based. It is an experience charged with conflicting feelings of frustration and satisfaction. When its needs are met the child feels sated and in unison with its carer. When its needs are denied it feels and expresses both anxiety and rage. The object that simultaneously satisfies and denies its needs becomes a focus of love and hate. Given the child’s utter dependency, the withdrawal of affection or sustenance by its caregiver is a matter of life and death, as it has yet to develop the ability to comfort itself and feel secure enough to survive temporary absences.

The child’s perception of self and orientation to the outside world is informed by a continuing process of externalization (projection) and internalization (introjection) of experiences and feelings. There are a range of mechanisms by means of which the child defends itself against anxiety. These are associated with different stages of the development of the ego or self.  One such orientation is referred to by the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein as the paranoid schizoid stage (Developments in Psychoanalysis, Hogarth 1958).


Love and Hate comic

Love and Hate transmutations: Illustration by Zelly Restorick

Love & hate – a strange alchemy

Here negative and positive impulses are split off and segregated into idealized, all-good categories and hated all-bad categories, with no room for ambiguity. At this stage the infant may literally experience the world as ‘in bits’. Its own hunger may be experienced as an insatiable devouring wolf. Its rage may be expressed through biting, wetting and dirtying. Through her extensive observations of young children at play Klein learnt that their phantasies of tearing, gouging and devouring were such as to make many adults recoil. Bad experiences and the associated feelings may be spat out. Anger and hostility may be projected and disowned, and the mother or caregiver may for a time be transformed into ‘a wicked witch’ or ‘bad stepmother’. At an adult level this mechanism may be evident in the discarding of people who were once a focus of love or affection, or at the societal level it may be manifest in the process of scapegoating  entire groups, races or countries (‘Let’s bomb Russia’ – Kenny Everett, Tory party conference 1983).

It seems a miracle that this broken universe can, unlike Humpty Dumpty, be put back together again. According to Klein this task of integration is the work of the second stage of psychic development referred to as the depressive position or ‘stage of concern’. In time the infant realizes that the source of its satisfaction and frustration is the same object and seeks to repair the damage, real or imagined, caused by its own rage. This impulse towards reparation is at the root of our moral sensibility, artistic creativity and capacity to reconcile differences or conflicts with others. Whilst interpersonal relations remain charged with a degree of phantasy they do in time – at least in the view of some psychoanalysts – become more reality-based and enable us to achieve and maintain healthy, mutually sustaining attachments.

There is a third character in this childhood drama, the father, who is in competition for the mother’s affections and attention. The dynamics between these three is referred to in psychoanalysis as the oedipal triangle and accounts for the emotional significance and tensions often associated with triads. Two people may fuse in symbiotic union but there is always the threat of the third, be they real or imagined, who has the potential to upset the dyadic bond.

What the psychoanalyst D W Winnicott refers to as ‘good enough mothering’ enables the child to navigate these emotional storms and complete the maturational process towards increasing autonomy, an adequate sense of reality and mature interdependence (Collected Papers: Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis D W Winnicott, London:Tavistock, 1958). However if the child is raised in an anxious perfectionist environment it may internalise a harsh critic and may attack itself for not meeting high standards. It may also look outwards with an equally critical gaze and project these standards on to others. If it is neglected or cared for inconsistently it will find it difficult to establish a secure base from which to enter the wider world

Whatever the specific circumstances, if the child lacks a nurturing, empathic environment it is likely to have difficulty in developing emotional relationships that are reality-based and involve an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure.  When in adult life we suffer rejection, loss and separation early anxieties are reactivated and primitive defence mechanisms such as splitting may be mobilised in dealing with these stresses.

Critical or generous gaze

               It is a joy to be hidden and a disaster not to be found.

D W Winnicott

The acquisition of a viable sense of selfhood is a fragile achievement and we remain in adult life dependent on others for ongoing recognition, affirmation and support. To have affirmation withheld, particularly by someone who once treated us with affection, is a powerful passive aggressive response and is, even for the most thick-skinned, an unsettling experience. Given the importance of these processes for the maintenance of personal identity and wellbeing, it is no surprise that, even for the most hardened inmates in the prison system, isolation is one of most dreaded punishments.

In summary from this perspective it seems that we create the world we see but not in circumstances of our own choosing. We may look upon ourselves and others with critical or with generous gaze. The perceptual choices we make, and which others make in relation to us, are often unconscious, are influenced by early childhood experiences and may have decisive implications for both our physical, mental and social wellbeing.

Obscure object of desire

Obscure object of desire: illustration by Zelly Restorick

Obscure objects of desire

People in love are in fact condemned to go on learning the other’s language indefinitely, groping around, seeking out the keys – keys that are always revocable. Love is a labyrinth of misunderstandings whose way out doesn’t exist.

 Jacques Alain Miller, psychoanalyst & writer

With regard to our capacity to love and be loved the psychoanalytic tradition has its optimistic and pessimistic wings. While we can never completely know another person the British object relations tradition represented for example by D W Winnicott and John Bowlby seems to believe in the possibility of loving relations which are more or less grounded in reality (objective), and are relatively free of phantasy, idealization and hate.

The continental school represented by figures like French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and influenced by thinkers like philosopher, novelist, playwright, and political activist, Jean-Paul Sartre is more pessimistic, and seems to view the quest for love as a theatre of cruelty and delusion.

For Sartre, for example, the human drama is portrayed as a battle unto death between opposing consciousnesses demanding recognition. On this view the other is seen as a freedom which confronts mine and Sartre goes on to describe three possible orientations of self and other. In the first I may make a person an object of my regard. Sartre sees this as a manifestation of sadism which deprives the other of their freedom. In the second I make myself an object for the other thus abdicating my own freedom. He calls this stance masochism. He also speaks of a third orientation, indifference, which he regards as just a further manifestation of hate (Being and Nothingness, Methuen 1957).

Yet through his relationships and political activism Sartre’s biography testifies to forms of care and engagement which seemed to transcend the apparent cul de sacs of his own philosophy.  For over fifty years he maintained an intellectual and affectional bond with French feminist, activist and writer Simone De Beauvoir which, though flawed, seemed robust enough to accommodate freedom, change, difference,  intricacy and vulnerability – without loss of rapport (Witness to my Life: Sartre’s love letters to Simone De Beauvoir edited by Simone De Beauvoir, Scribner 1992).

Lacan whose writings are acknowledged to be among the most difficult in the psychoanalytic canon, seems to dwell on the destructive rather than the creative dimensions of love. Echoing the orthodox Freudian view, and to the chagrin of some feminists, he describes how women may turn to men to get some of the nurturing and affirmation they may not have received from their fathers. Men may likewise turn to women to compensate for the severance of the maternal relationship. But both are on impossible quests. As they look towards each other for the satisfaction of their desire they encounter a troubling and insatiable ‘lack’.

Love seemed to be viewed by Lacan as a misplaced emotion infused with narcissism and brought about by an imaginary ego. He goes on to maintain that love cannot be found through any form of sexual activity: ‘It’s impossible to heal your own emotional brokenness through the body of another person as mortal and broken as you are.’ (Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Jacques Lacan, Karnac Books 2004)  However, whilst appearing sceptical about the prospects for loving relationships in conventional terms, Lacan was known for his interest in Buddhism a key feature of which is loving kindness. So, it would seem that he sustained a belief in the possibility of compassion i.e.  non self-centred love. Indeed without some such a belief, or faith, it is difficult to imagine how he could have made much sense of his role as a psychoanalyst.

Paradox of attachment

Bowlby and others have stressed the importance of forming healthy attachments if we are to become human beings at all. Yet even in optimal circumstances the maintenance of lasting emotional connectedness with others can still be a challenge.

The message from perennial philosophy on the other hand, as exemplified in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, emphasises the need to overcome or transcend our attachments to persons, places, possessions, and symbols if we are ever to achieve lasting peace of mind (The Perennial Philosophy, Aldous Huxley 1946). So we are left with a paradox.

Existence requires that we bond with, care for and collaborate with others as we navigate our way through the challenges associated with love, hate, conflict, loss, separation, illness and death. We may be successful in armouring ourselves against at least some of the ‘slings and arrows’ which may befall us along the way. However we may also occasionally – whether by choice or default – have to leave our bunkers, risk dropping our masks and standing naked in our frailty before another human being. These are the kind of situations in which we can’t avoid but find an answer to the question: is love possible?

SOS December 2014

I would like to wish all readers and colleagues in HOT a peaceful Xmas and New Year.

  • Illustrations by Zelly Restorick, Hastings Online Times
  • Zelly’s website here or email her at



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Posted 10:46 Friday, Dec 5, 2014 In: SOS

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