“The opposite of love…

by Annie Kaszina on May 22, 2007

woman confused by opposing emotionsis not hate.”

When I asked my husband to leave and went into group counselling for abused women, one of the things that most struck me was the counsellor saying: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference”. At the time it was a revelation to me.

The point is that hate is simply the reverse side of the coin to love. You cannot hate someone unless you have very strong feelings about them. 

When you are consumed with hurt and rage hatred may feel like a more constructive outlet than love. 

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Sometimes it is helpful, in the short term, to vocalize all the things that drove you mad about your partner. The downside is, of course, that you remain just as focused, even
fixated, on the person as you were before. You are still hooked into powerful emotions that keep you locked into the relationship.

And let’s not kid ourselves here. The relationship doesn’t end when an abusive partner walks out of the door. (If only!)

I was friendly for years with a woman who had stopped living with her abusive partner years ago. Their only contact was weekly, or fortnightly, over their two young children, and yet the abusive relationship continued to be played out as powerfully as it ever had been. They were still locked into the cycle, he of exerting power and control over her, she of trying to get her voice heard. The children
were leverage for him, a hot button for her.

They were still stuck in the push-pull relationship of love and hate. Indifference wasn’t even on the horizon for those two, any more than it is for many women who are constantly breaking up and getting back with their ex. 

So how, you might ask, do you arrive at indifference? I remember thinking that I might as well trot off in hot pursuit of the Holy Grail as aspire to indifference. Still I flagged it up as a yard-stick by
which to measure my emotional involvement with him.

Have I achieved indifference? I realize that this is the first time that I have asked myself that question and thought carefully about the answer. 

The more time goes on, the less convinced I am that indifference is the full answer. First, nobody tells you how to arrive at indifference – and how can you possibly arrive somewhere without some kind of route map? Second, abused women are so used to being swept along on a roller-coaster of emotions that indifference is almost unimaginable. You have an emotional chasm, how will indifference fill it?

Third, the concept of indifference doesn’t even begin to acknowledge all the emotions that you feel; the love, the hurt, the sadness, the fear, the worthlessness. I won’t go on because you can name those emotions at least as well as I can. 

Working with women who know they have to put an abusive relationship behind them, I am always struck by the problem they have with the love they still feel. They love the investment they made in the relationship, they love the person they believed their partner could be and was at bottom. The shorthand they use for this is that they loved him

In a lot of cases, their supportive, caring friends and family will tell them what a jerk he was. He probably was, but that is not helpful to the grieving woman. It may even compound her problems by making her feel like the fool he has convinced her she is. 

The thing is, she is entitled to love her abusive partner. She is entitled to carry on loving him for the rest of her days if she so chooses. Love after all is a choice we make. It’s actually ok to carry on loving an abusive partner, if you choose. That doesn’t mean you should ever spend time with him again and expose yourself to the destruction he wreaks. 

 But you are free to love him. 

You are also free to send him loving, healing thoughts. Since you love him, you are free to wish for his healing, as well as your own. You don’t need to know what form that healing will take, you can
wish that he finds his path so that he can fully grow into the qualities that you found lovable in him in the first instance.

Not that it means that you will ever get back together. You both have healing to do. In the best Hollywood tradition, you two poor wounded soldiers would support each other along the same healing
journey. Two hours later you would both be whole, loving and just about to trot off into the sunset together to the accompaniment of a great soundtrack…

In the real world it takes longer – and it is actually a far healthier journey. There won’t just be one soundtrack, one person, one sunset. You will meet far more people along the way, you will discover so much about yourself and them. Your vistas will widen. It will take longer, engage more of your emotional resources and, ultimately, be a far richer experience.

And what about indifference? Will you have indifference for your abusive ex? 

In the best of all possible worlds I suspect you will not. Instead, you will have something better: detachment. You may be saddened that he does not fulfil his potential to be a loving, lovable person. But you will not be sad for your loss, because you will see that it is not a loss but a true gain. 

By allowing yourself to acknowledge the love you feel, you set yourself free. You also set the other person free. Loving them, if that is what you choose to do, means that there is no need to own or hold on to them.

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