Psychiatry and Hate: Projected, Scapegoated, and Realistic Hatreds

H. Steven Moffic, MD

What are the 3 different types of hatred?



As reported by monitoring authorities around our country that track hate, this past Saturday was designated by extremists as a Day of Hate against Jews. The extremists were apparently recommending protests and harassment on this particular Shabbat Day.

Although hate is a frequently used word, its definition is elusive. Simply put, it is intense dislike toward individuals or groups. More subjectively, you probably viscerally know what hate is when you feel it. Hate can be a brief feeling, like a child saying “I hate you” to a parent, or something ongoing.

For such a common and destructive feeling, it has been understudied by psychology and psychiatry.1 Freud, though, did posit a psychological mechanism for hate, that being projection. In projection, perceived personal badness is psychologically transferred upon others. In other words, for hatred, we can consciously or unconsciously dislike things within ourselves and want to disown them, as in: “I’m not terrible; you are.”

Now where that hatred goes depends on individual and group relationships. Usually, it is psychologically easiest to be part of a group that hates others, in this case, hating Jews. The hatred of Jews is thought to be the longest-running hatred.2 Cultish ways of controlling and distorting thinking can intensify the hatred.

Another type of hate derives from our inborn perceived risk response of fight, flight, or freeze. The fear of the “other” can elicit fight and a blame of some vulnerable “other,” but not necessarily the cause of the risk. This scapegoated hate is also inappropriate for the target.

On the other hand, the hatred toward the other can be because the other is—or was—in fact dangerous. This can be deemed a realistic hate. For instance, I have long hated Hitler and Nazis—past and present—for their unprovoked murderous attacks and genocidal intentions against not only Jews, but also psychiatric patients, homosexual individuals, and ‘gypsies,’ among others. Nevertheless, I could still cognitively put my hatred aside for some compassion to help treat a patient with Nazi or other extremist identification.

In this causative conception, there are at least 3 different kinds of hate based on different mechanisms: projected, scapegoated, and realistic hate. They can be combined, of course.

What can reduce hate? One social movement that has been trying is called Hours Against Hate, started by the US Department of State in 2011 as a campaign against antisemitism. Over the years it spread to combating bigotry across all segments of society. Recommended was devoting one hour to do something good for someone different. The results of this campaign are unclear. Hate has apparently still increased in our society, though perhaps it could be worse without this campaign.

The basic psychological damage of hate can be substantial. It can damage self-esteem and a basic sense of security. It can also hurt the perpetrator by not solving their own sense of internal badness.

So how did the Day of Hate go? Here, the hate seemed to be of the projected and scapegoated types. What happened may provide useful information for prevention and intervention of such hate. Certainly, just the threat itself caused unease in many. Yet, the early warning gave some time to prepare interventions, and in some ways and places, the day became one of defiance in counter protests and the continuation of the Sabbath as usual.

Primary prevention of hate will be much, much harder in order to overcome the psychological tendencies to hate. As in Maslow’s pyramid of psychological needs, it will likely take a combination of raising children with more security, appropriate self-esteem, and opportunities to self-actualize through good-enough parenting, school education, and societal resources.

Psychiatry itself can be—and is—hated by some, often inappropriately. Whatever psychiatry can do to learn more about hate and what to do about it can benefit not only the public but us too.

Dr. Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. Sternberg RJ, ed. The Psychology of Hate. American Psychological Association; 2005.
2. Moffic E. First the Jews: Combating the World’s Longest Hate Campaign. Abington Press; 2019.

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