Joseph H. Berke
Karnac Books Ltd, 2012
Reviewer Beth Glanville
Why I Hate You and You Hate Me takes us deep into the heart of the commonly split-off darker part of the self that, as a society, we are often quick to disown and attribute to ‘the other’. Delving into the concepts of envy, narcissism, rivalry, destruction, gratitude and malevolence, Berke brings a controversial area into more general awareness in a way that remains accessible and relevant to therapists practising across all modalities and disciplines.
Berke draws on a wide range of references – from Greek mythology, the Bible and traditional tales to literature, arts and even Playboy – in demonstrating how hatred can rule and ruin. Also, in highlighting the prevalence of hatred in the world around us – while demonstrating the complexity of the role of the darker side to life, intricately entwined with love, gratitude and relationality – Berke helps the reader to start to develop a deeper analytic understanding of some of the otherwise inexplicable acts that surround us. (As an aside, I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t something Junigan in the air when I start reading the book on the day of the arrest of Oscar Pistorius).
Berke introduces the topic with an examination of fables and stories revolving around evil, hatred and fear, tied up in projection, fantasy and play, as well as a brief run through of the development of the child-parent dyad throughout the ages, including the development of “psychic assault” (p.20) throughout the Victorian era. Moving on to talking about sibling rivalry – in my opinion an area of undervalued importance when it comes to child psychology and development – Berke draws on object relations theory, as well as fairytales and stories from the scriptures in developing a discussion that, although often presented as somewhat distant from the therapy room, remains as relevant to psychological development, systems theory and analysis in the contemporary clinic as it was in Freudian times.
Envy and greed – considered as components of love and love scorned rather than of hate itself – are brought to the fore in chapter three, with a rather chilling examination of the shadow side of love and the frequently resulting jealousy, insecurities and possessiveness, demonstrating how these phenomena can poison our relationships. Concurrently, love scorned and ensuing rejection – potentially leading to a desire for retribution and revenge – are explored as we get a taste of what happens when love becomes obsessive and yearning destructive.
In On Seeking the Source (chapter four) Berke illustrates the role of guilt and anguish in the development of malice, with the “vicious spiral” of greed + envy → guilt → denial + projection → vengeful rage (p.80), which unfolds in the baby when good objects become the pretext for annihilating attacks in the face of the hyperarousal of anguish. Later on in the chapter, Berke explores how envy can become directed at good objects, rather than necessarily bad objects, as narcissistic rage, impotence and dependency are brought into the equation, often under the pretext of a partner or peer becoming “the imagined rival, [which] is a much more serious threat than a real one” (p.85).
A chapter on womb envy prefaces the more widely recognised theories and ideas around penis envy, before Berke examines the links between envy and narcissism, with a rather pointed conclusion to the chapter stating how attempts to depress an internal conflict and escape from feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and impotence can present in a draw towards the destruction of others. “For all too many this convergence of envy and narcissism may be their finest achievement”, says Berke, “and serve as the final stage in a long history of unhappy self-assertion” (p.170).
A very valid point to those of us working with such forces is raised in chapter eight, Gratitude and Grateitude when, writing from an attachment approach, Berke expounds on Freud’s notion of “negative therapeutic reactions” (p.186). Clients who struggle to receive any form of beneficence may struggle so deeply with experiencing gratitude, and thus developing an attachment, that they may experience fragmentation or disintegration through feelings of humiliation and despair at feeling such thanks. This notion is expanded upon in the succeeding chapter where Berke explores sulking as passive aggression – another phenomenon that has often been overlooked in literature.
At times I found the book slightly too abstract and far removed from the therapy room and caught myself drifting, but overall Berke’s insights, intonations and ideas are certainly applicable to the therapeutic world and, in my mind, make for essential reading. Not one of the lightest of reads, for obvious reasons, Why I Hate You and You Hate Me is nevertheless a fascinating exploration into a darker side to humanity that, in my opinion, too frequently remains cut off. Bringing the concepts of hate, evil, envy, rage and destruction into the human spectrum of experience, rather than leaving them as phenomena of ‘the other’ and the ‘not me’, helps to integrate a fuller range of what it means to be human which, after all, forms the cornerstone of our work.
Beth Glanville is completing the Diploma in Counselling at the Minster Centre in Queens Park, London. She is setting up a private practice in Queens Park and Waterloo and will also be working from The Grove Practice on Wimpole Street. Beth has recently published her debut novel, The Imaginist.