powerlessness and "i hate you"

"Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to."  

Harriet Goldhor Lerner, The Dance of Anger

Zion National Park, photo: Andy Bruner

Zion National Park, photo: Andy Bruner

"I hate you!"

Why do kids say this to their parents?

I was pondering over that with some friends this week, and it occured to me that "I hate you" is a way for kids to gain power in situations where they feel powerless.  

Kids are often unable to achieve particular outcomes in situations they face, but if they say, "I hate you," they may gain power over the parents' emotions.  If the parent feels hurt enough, the child knows, they may be willing to renegotiate toward the outcome the child is seeking.

  • Some parents will ignore the signal of anger and punish the child for saying, "I hate you!"
  • Some parents will cave to the pressure of "I hate you!" and give the child whatever they wanted to begin with.
  • Other parents will see past the "I hate you!" and be able to engage with the child in loving, caring connection, even if they can't renegotiate the outcome.

It really all depends on how families think about power in the relationship:

  • I have all the power.
  • You have all the power.
  • Power serves Love.  We will use our mutual power to serve Love.
Bryce Canyon National Park, photo: Andy Bruner

Bryce Canyon National Park, photo: Andy Bruner

Kids are not the only people who say, "I hate you!"

Adults say "I hate you!" too.  Up until recently, when adults said "I hate you" it was expressed in more socially acceptable ways.  At this point in American political history, the line of "socially acceptable" is in great flux, especially in social media, but I think "I hate you!"--however it's expressed--is still all about that same feeling of powerlessness that children experience.  

People feel powerless, they feel afraid, and they say, "I hate you!" to whoever seems to be holding power over them.  

It seems like the more one side says, "I hate you!" the more the other side needs to one-up with wilder expressions of hatred.

I wonder if we could reframe "I hate you!" as a signal, and listen to it, what would it tell us?

If I see "I hate you!" as an expression of powerlessness, I start to find a way forward.

Instead of blaming someone else for how badly I feel, I can take responsibility for myself.  

No matter how many phone calls I make, I can't control Congress, the President, or the Texas State Legislature.  It's easy to get into "I hate you!" mode.

But if I think of "I hate you!" as a signal of my helplessness, perhaps I can deal with my helplessness in healthier ways: 

  • I can control what I give to my local foodbank.
  • I can control whether I show up at a march to be with the suffering.  
  • I can control what I buy, and whether it's fair to the people who produced it.
  • I can control my presence on social media. 
  • I can speak truth, even when my voice shakes, and make space for others to speak truth as well.

Like Mr. Rogers always said, when bad things happen, look for the people who are helping.

I think BEING the people who are helping can give us a legitimate sense of power in a situation that otherwise feels out of control. 

Again, I think it's all connected to how we look at power in our lives:

  • You have all the power ("I hate you!")
  • I have all the power ("Nanny nanny boo-boo!")
  • Power serves Love, and I will use my power in the service of Love.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

You heard the cry of our hearts
And You came down
Freely You gave us Your love
Showing us how

Make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is darkness let me shine light and
May Your love cause us to open up
Cause us to open up our hearts
May Your light cause us to shine so bright
That we bring hope into the dark

All that we do without love
It means nothing
Grant us the courage to give
As You’re calling

Make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is darkness let me shine light and
May Your love cause us to open up
Cause us to open up our hearts
May Your light cause us to shine so bright
That we bring hope into the dark

Hope for the hopeless, Your love is
Strength in our weakness, Your love is
May we love, as You love
Hope for the hopeless, Your love is
Strength in our weakness, Your love is
May we love, as You love
(As only You can love, oh God)
May we love, as You love
May we love, as You love

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