How much Hatred can you Handle?

Parental Alienation and “To Die For”

“For all those voices silenced by hatred, in the hope that one day they might be heard again by love.”

The dedication in my debut novel wrote itself as I couldn’t quite reconcile an otherwise sentimental reference for a book that explores some pretty dark themes.

What is the book about?
Essentially it is a typical crime thriller with all the usual murder, procedure, plot twists, and any other ingredients of the genre. That’s not to talk it down, it’s just to admit that I make no attempt to hide its genre or its dramatisation. I want the reader to enjoy the experience of reading, and to come back for more. Parental Alienation is but one theme amongst many that draws the story into focus.

At the centre of the story is the notion of human depravity and how far we allow hatred to drive us, the choices we make, and the way we treat each other. The story also explores notions of fatherhood and the responsibility of being a parent without — I hope — becoming a didactic lecture on such ideas. The main characters in the story have histories, and the lead character, DI Mike Stone is no exception. But without posting any spoilers here, all I will say is that the pieces of the past slowly reveal themselves throughout the book.

Why the link to Parental Alienation? 
Firstly, we should really address what PA really is. In short, it is the act of deliberately attempting to turn a child against one (or both) of the parents by systematically denigrating and excluding that parent from seeing the child. But more than that, it involves actively seeking to turn the child against the absent or ‘non-residential’ parent. A great place to learn about this is from a current an frighteningly informative blog called Peace Not PAS which I highly recommend reading.

To Die For is all about a killer who appears to driven by some kind of need to communicate a story to the police. In particular, it is made clear right from the start that there is some connection with DI Mike Stone, but it isn’t clear what that connection is, where it comes from, or how deep it is going to go. (Well, until you read it, of course!). PA inspired a lot of the novel because essentially it follows the same old argument of ‘nature verses nurture.’ The question is, are we born evil enough to commit the most depraved crimes?

How do Children learn to hate?
Many people feel that in simple terms ‘hate’ is the opposite to ‘love.’ It’s even ingrained into our language as being an opposite, with casual phrases like a “a love/hate relationship” being the norm. But I am not so sure that they are, or can be opposite because they come from a different place.

Love is experiential, and it is something we sense from the very youngest age, well before we have any understanding of language, words, or means to express ourselves with such communication. The way a parent holds their child, the look in their eyes, the smile — everything is designed in the earliest childhood to provide comfort and support. To show love. A baby might only be able to express their feelings through cries or laughter so they learn by example. When they cry, the parent does everything to sooth them by feeding, holding, rocking, singing — whatever it takes.

We have grown to understand that when you deprive babies from this positive reinforcement, these basic needs, it can have a severe effect on the baby and child’s development and progress. Scientifically, the synapses in their brains fail to make the right connections, robbing them of the ability to build on those early positive reinforcements.

Some parents even use religion to teach hatred.

But hate is different. Hatred requires intent, justification, and explanation. It’s more than just an emotion: it’s a dedication. And it needs to be fuelled by something. Above all, it is an active and cognitive decision that is upheld by a relationship to a set of values. Those values stem from emotions such as love; from notions such a ‘right and wrong’; and are designed to protect the instinctive need for physical and emotional safety. Failing to meet the positive needs of life causes us to dislike something. But in order to hate, we need to feel truly threatened.

Hatred takes time, effort, and commitment.
One of the key puzzles in To Die For is how the killer manages to achieve their…crimes. (And that is all I will say here…) Without even going into the plot, it’s clear that any killer or serial killer who commits to a pattern of murder, especially when it is premeditated, must exert a sustained amount of hatred. They must have reconciled, cognitively, that their victims are worthy of the consequence of their hatred, and killing them is justified simply by the “hatred.” It is almost as if the hatred itself forms a part of the killer’s value-system and is essentially “right,” even if society defines the acts as “wrong.”

That’s not to say that we have to be sociopathic or psychopathic in order to hate someone. But the extent to which we enact that hatred can indeed lead to future mental health issues. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the worst possible time to disrupt someone’s mind with notions of hatred is when they are a child — when their brains are developing and far more prone to making synaptic connections of a damaging or potentially dangerous nature.

Parental Alienation is a deliberate attempt to steer a child’s core value system to the hatred of another person. It is intentionally manipulative and destructive and bears no potential positive output — hatred never does. Some people claim to be driven to do “good” by a burning hatred, but I am never convinced by that argument. The destruction of the object of one’s hatred rarely reconciles itself in a positive mental outcome because the memories of the hatred — and its source — will always remain.

If one kills someone they hate, after committing that murder, with nothing else to expend the hatred on, the inevitable recourse is either to redirect that hatred onto another subject, or more likely, onto oneself. We could argue, therefore, that in order to hate someone or something else, we need to hate a part of ourselves. Destruction of the target of our hatred is an attempt to rid ourselves of that self-hate.

But it doesn’t work. Feelings of guilt or anxiety, sometimes even manifesting themselves in forms of physical self-harm, can grow. The result of this is an attack on the various basic human needs of safety and security.

The consequence of abuse: the writing the story of hatred
In all forms of abuse — physical, sexual, neglect and emotional — there is always an element of emotional abuse. In many ways that is the most damaging and lasting part of the effects of abuse. Child abuse is most dangerous simply because it happens at a time when the long term impact of the emotional factors is at its greatest risk.

One of society’s biggest remaining taboos is the frightening truth of the most likely people to abuse children. It’s not stranger abuse or the “stranger danger” the media will have you looking out for. It’s not professionals like teacher, coaches, ministers or the funny looking men that work in children’s toy shops. It is parents and step parents. And contrary to TV drama depictions, emotional abuse and neglect are significantly more common than we admit to.

It does matter how many times you tell a child to “shut the f**k up”; it does matter how many times you tell a child they “can’t do it…”; and it does matter how many times you refer to a child’s other parent as “deadbeat” or “useless” or “uncaring.” It all builds up, forms itself into a value system, and attacks the parts of the child’s mind that should be developing notions of love, security, safety…

…and teaches them to hate.

Leave that hatred to bubble and boil for years or decades; unchallenged and unfettered; and the mental health of that adult becomes a construct of the hatred the child was taught.

And THAT is what “To Die For” is all about.
Time is a great healer, but only if the wound is not left open or untreated. Without treatment, even the slightest of wounds can become infected. Without attention, even the slightest infection can kill us. I believe the same goes for the mind and our mental health. And that is why teaching a child to hate a parent is not just child abuse, it can be the starting point of a life-long — life-limiting — mental illness, and who knows what the end result could be? But as I said above, defeating the object of one’s hate does not bring an end to hatred itself.

So, how much hatred can you handle?

To Die For is OUT NOW — download the e-book from all the top stores.


BUY THE BOOK now on:
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The paperback is due out Mid-late August. There is also a book launch event at the Gunmaker’s Arms in Birmingham on 21st October.

Find out more about the venue on their Facebook Page.

You can also visit my new website: