Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence

Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence

by Aaron T. Beck M.D.
Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence

Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence

by Aaron T. Beck M.D.


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"Prisoners of Hate offers a profound analysis of a most pressing human challenge: the causes—and prevention—of hatred. Of the many important books Aaron Beck has written, this may be his greatest gift to humanity." —Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

World-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck has always been at the forefront of cognitive therapy research, his approach being the most rapidly growing psychotherapy today. In his most important work to date, the widely hailed father of cognitive therapy presents a revolutionary look at destructive behavior—from domestic abuse to genocide to war—and provides a solid framework for remedying these crucial problems.

In this book, Dr. Beck:

  • Illustrates the specific psychological aberrations underlying anger, interpersonal hostility, ethnic conflict, genocide, and war;
  • Clarifies why perpetrators of evil deeds are motivated by a belief that they are doing good;
  • Explains how the offenders are locked into distorted belief systems that control their behavior and shows how the same distortions in thinking occur in a rampaging mob as in an enraged spouse;
  • Provides a blueprint for correcting warped thinking and belief systems and, consequently, undercutting various forms of hostility; and
  • Discusses how the individual and society as a whole might use the tools of psychotherapy to block the psychological pathways to war, genocide, rape, and murder.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060932008
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 08/22/2000
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 540,549
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Aaron T. Beck, M.D., widely known as the father of cognitive therapy, was University Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University, and went on to attend Yale Medical School. He received more than 18 major professional awards from associations such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychopathological Association.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Prison of Hate

How Egoism and Ideology Hijack the Mind

It is a magnificent feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena that to direct observation appear to be separate things.

Albert Einstein (April 1901)



The violence of humans against humans appalls us but continues to take its toll today. The dazzling technological advances of our era are paralleled by a reversion to the savagery of the Dark Ages: unimaginable horrors of war and wanton annihilation of ethnic, religious, and political groups. We have succeeded in conquering many deadly diseases, yet we have witnessed the horrors of thousands of murdered people floating down the rivers of Rwanda, innocent civilians driven from their homes and massacred in Kosovo, and blood flowing in the killing fields of Cambodia. Wherever we look, east or west, north or south, we see persecution, violence, and genocide.

In less dramatic ways, crime and violence reign in our countries and cities. There seem to be no limits to the personal misery people inflict on one another. Close, even intimate, relationships crumble under the impact of uncontrolled anger. Child abuse and spouse abuse pose a challenge to legal as well as mental health authorities. Prejudice, discrimination, and racism continue to divide our pluralistic society

The scientific advances of the age are mocked by the stasis in our ability to understand and solve these interpersonal and societal problems. What can be done to prevent the misery inflicted on the abusedchild, the battered wife? How can we reduce the medical complications of hostility, including soaring blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes? What guidelines can be developed to address the broader manifestations of hostility that tear apart the fabric of civilization? What can the policy makers and social engineers-- and the average citizens--do? Sociologists, psychologists, and political scientists have made concerted efforts to analyze the social and economic factors leading to crime, violence, and war. Yet the problems remain.


A Personal Experiance

Sometimes a relatively isolated experience can expose the inner structure of a phenomenon. I received a clear insight into the nature of hostility many years ago when I was its target. I had received the usual laudatory introduction at a book-signing event in a large bookstore and had just completed a few introductory remarks to an audience of colleagues and other scholars. Suddenly, a middle-aged man, whom I shall call Rob, approached me in a confrontational manner. I recalled later that he seemed "different"--stiff, tense, his eyes glaring. We had the following interchange:

Rob (sarcastic tone): Congratulations! You certainly drew a large crowd.

ATB: Thanks. I enjoy getting together with my friends.

Rob: I suppose you enjoy being the center of attention.

ATB: Well, it helps to sell books.

Rob (angry tone): I guess you think you're better than me.

ATB: No. I'm just another person.

Rob: You know what I think of you? You're just a phony.

ATB: I hope not.

At this point it was clear that Rob's hostility was rising, that he was getting out of control. Several of my friends moved in and, after a brief scuffle, led him out of the store.

Although this scene might be dismissed as simply the irrational behavior of a disturbed person, I believe it shows, in bold relief, several facets of hostility. The exaggerations in the thinking and behavior of clinical patients often delineate the nature of adaptive as well as excessive human reactions. As I reflect on the incident now, I can note a number of features that illustrate some universal mechanisms involved in the triggering and expression of hostility.

First, why did Rob take my performance as a personal affront, as though I were in some way injuring him? What struck me--and was obvious to the other observers with a background in psychology--was the egocentricity of his reaction: he interpreted the recognition I received as having diminished him in some way. Such a reaction, although extreme, probably is not as puzzling as it may seem. Others in the audience may have been thinking about their own professional status--whether they deserved recognition--and may have experienced regret or envy. Rob, however, was totally absorbed in how my position reflected on him; he personalized the experience as though he and I were adversaries, competing for the same prize.

Rob's exaggerated self-focus set the stage for his anger and his desire to attack me. He was impelled to make an invidious comparison between the two of us, and in accord with his egocentric perspective, he presumed that others would consider him less important than I, perhaps less worthy. Also, he felt left out, because he was receiving none of the attention and friendship that were being given to me.

The sense of social isolation, of being disregarded by the rest of the group, undoubtedly hurt him, a reaction commonly reported by patients in like situations. But why didn't he simply experience disappointment or regret? Why the anger and hatred? After all, I was not doing anything to him. Yet he perceived an injustice in the proceedings: I was no more deserving of recognition than he was. Therefore, since he was wronged, he was entitled to feel angry. But he carried this further. His statement, "You think you're better than me," shows the degree to which he personalized our interaction. He imagined what my view of him would be, and then projected it into my mind, as if he knew what I was thinking (something I call the projected image). In essence Rob was using (actually overusing) a frequent and mostly adaptive device: mind-reading.

Reading other people's minds, to some extent, is a crucial adaptive mechanism. Unless we can judge other people's attitudes and intentions toward us with some degree of accuracy, we are continuously vulnerable, stumbling blindly through life. Some authors have noted a deficiency in this capability in autistic children, who are oblivious to other people's thinking and feeling. In contrast, Rob's interpersonal sensitivity and mind-reading were. . .

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