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What's Really Going on When Celebrities Feud

04/12/2015 01:16 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 05:59 EDT

When people say that love and hate are two sides of the same coin they aren't wrong. Intense feelings of love and of loathing have something significant in common: they both involve a powerful psychological attachment to the object of these emotions.

When someone feels strongly toward another person -- be it love or hate -- it means that they're carrying the other person around in their psyche and can't let them go. Strong feelings of love or hate signify an intense connection, this connection being the result of one person having inadvertently stirred up some deep, primal emotions in the other person.

When someone in the public eye chooses to engage in vitriolic attacks on another public figure, it reveals more about him and his character than it does about the supposed shortcomings of the person on the receiving end of the attack. In truth, whenever someone feels compelled to go out of their way to attack another person in a public forum, it's because this person carries a tremendous psychological charge for them.

If one public figure simply disliked another, he wouldn't be compelled to repeatedly slam her, engaging in vicious character assaults. If he saw her as merely an unpleasant nuisance, it would be easy for him to keep his feelings to himself; to eventually get over his anger, frustration or disappointment with her.

If, on the other hand, the person he dislikes is triggering some psychological issue within him, he won't be able to let go of his feelings toward her and he'll be compelled to proclaim his "disgust" and "loathing" in ways that everyone around him could take note of.

Very often, there's a specific type of intense hatred that has to be expressed in public, as it's an attempt to humiliate or punish the person on the receiving end. The person is compelled to express their loathing because they're unable to let go of their feelings toward the other person; in a sense they're attached to them through their hatred.

Intense emotions equal intense attachment to the person on the receiving end of the feelings. When we feel so strongly toward another person, and the feelings aren't those of love, we need to stop and ask ourselves, "What's going on here?" and "Why do I hate this person so much?" There are plenty of people whom we might not particularly like, but to be filled with such contempt toward another person means that there's something about them that has a hold on us.

Intense feelings that attach us so strongly to another person are likely to come out of two primal emotions: either fear or need, or sometimes both. We despise someone whom we fear, because we perceive them as having the power to cause us harm. If we can't let go of our fear, we won't be able to let go of our hatred for them.

The harm we fear is often not physical in nature but rather, psychological or social. We fear that this person could humiliate us in public or upstage us in some way; perhaps we fear that they can obtain the same social or financial rewards that we were hoping for.

We attack them in public because our fear is so strong, it can't be contained, and because we hope that by launching this attack, we might prevent the other person from causing us the harm we dread.

We also despise someone when we have a powerful need for approval from them combined with a fragile ego. If, deep down, we're insecure, it's too uncomfortable to acknowledge our need for such approval or our fear that it won't be forthcoming.

The need for approval is deeply embarrassing to a successful public figure, so he can't consciously face it. Instead, this unacknowledged need and the resulting feelings of humiliation will often come out as anger and hatred toward the person who triggered these reactions. The public figure is filled with painful ambivalence: his desperate need for approval ultimately causes him to resent this person.

On a psychological level, the person whose approval we seek (and whose disapproval we fear) reminds us, unconsciously, of a parent-figure. If we're someone in the public eye, to whom looking good is so essential, this need can be extremely anxiety-provoking. We hope to be seen in a positive light but we're equally terrified of the possibility of public shame

The compulsion to attack someone's character in a public forum can be seen as a preemptive strike; the anxious individual attempting to humiliate their nemesis before their nemesis has the opportunity to humiliate them.

The more insecure and anxious the initiator of the public feud is, the more reassurance they need that their attack has hit home. They have to see that they've succeeded in humiliating the other person. If they can successfully launch the first strike, they now become immune to humiliation by this person.

The best thing that could happen for a public figure when they initiate a public feud is for the person on the receiving end to fight back. As soon as the insulted person takes the bait, the attacker knows that their barb hit home.

The willingness to take the bait can come out of a similar need by the person being attacked to be seen in a positive light; if they can't tolerate any criticism, because of their own insecurity, they'll have to engage in self-defense and counter-attack.

If, on the other hand, they have good self-esteem, they won't care what the other person is saying about them and they'll trust that intelligent people -- the only ones who matter- will see them for who they are, not for the distorted image that the other person is attempting to portray.

The worst thing that could happen to the perpetrator of the attack is for the person on the receiving end to choose not to engage. The attacker so wants to see that their poisoned arrow has hit the mark. If the person they're trying to attack makes no response or doesn't demonstrate any upset feelings, the result will be that the attacker feels further humiliated.

He's brought attention to himself for having picked a fight, and when everyone sees that the person he tried to humiliate is able to rise above and not take the bait, he's shamed by the other person's indifference. He feels belittled by the other person's lack of interest in engaging with him, as it makes him appear embarrassingly unimportant to this person.

He might then up the ante, trying even harder to wound the other person. He could look for some compromising information about this person and leak it to the public. This might succeed in wounding the other person enough to induce a response, and if this happens, the attacker will feel like he's "won." He has elicited a reaction from the other person and for the moment, he can imagine that they feel at least as humiliated as he's been feeling.

If, however, the other public figure resolutely maintains their silence and consistently refuses to engage in a public argument, the attacker will fail in their endeavour. They've been unsuccessful in humiliating their nemesis, and in fact, they now appear foolish and mean-spirited for having attempted to do so.

If we look at the psychology behind these feuds, we can understand why a person in the public eye would send an arrow toward someone else, and why this other person might want to respond. It's also clear that there's only one way for a public figure to deal with such an attack. In all cases, the appropriate reaction should be, "Do not engage!"

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