Sometimes You Hate the One You Idealize

Alfred Hitchcock sometimes repeated the Oscar Wildesque aphorism that "you kill the thing you love." In an earlier blog post, I suggested that the well-known aphorism could more accurately rephrased that `idealization is a form of hatred.' I’d like to be more precise and say this: Idealization is often a form of hostility. (Not always, and not necessarily hatred.)

I define love as a reality-based experience, while idealization is based on fantasy. So, while love and idealization look rather similar, in reality, they are opposites. In her book "A Question of Time: Essentials of Brief Dynamic Psychotherapy," Angela Molnos puts it this way:

"Idealization, by which someone loses touch with the reality of the idealized object, is invariably destructive in the long run. I consider it a form of acting out of destructive anger [what I call hostility], because the latter remains totally unconscious and fuels the idealization that persists. ... A powerful defense against an intolerable present, against the here-and-now, can lead to losing contact with reality. The abhorred part of reality is eliminated from the mind, and the longed-for condition is idealized in fantasy."

When those ideals are found to be lacking in reality, idealization can turn to hatred, or at least, devaluation. Wikipedia elaborates:

"Splitting is the tendency to view events or people as either all bad or all good. When viewing people as ‘all good’, you are said to be using the defence mechanism idealization: a mental mechanism in which the person attributes exaggeratedly positive qualities to the self or others. The counterpart of idealization is devaluation: attributing exaggerated negative qualities to the self or others. In child development idealization and devaluation are quite normal. Being raised in a healthy environment the child learns how to deal with reality. Being an adult and using idealization and devaluation as the only way to protect the feeling of the self is pathologic."

In VERTIGO, Scottie’s experience (played by James Stewart) can be seen as a textbook case of idealization-as-hostility. Scottie’s so-called "love" for "Madeleine" (Kim Novak) was fantasy-based. Such a person literally did not exist. His attachment to her could be defined as, not love, but as an idealized fixation. An obsession. When she fell short of his ideal, his "love" was tested, and it turned ugly, destructive and hateful – but not necessarily murderous – all of which are hallmarks, not of love, but of idealization.

Another example of idealization-as-hostility can be found in REAR WINDOW. L.B. Jefferies’ and Lisa Fremont’s dialogue (played by Stewart and Grace Kelly) crackles with idealization and hostility. I would say that L.B. was attracted to Lisa because she was an ideal, and that the movie begins after his idealization has shifted to hostile devaluation. His cutting remarks to her about her unassailable "perfection" bespeaks a man who has lost his illusions about the woman he has fallen for. By film’s end he has developed a more enlightened view of Lisa as he sees heretofore hidden qualities of hers that redeem her in his eyes. As I see it, the relationship arc goes from idealization to something closer to true love as the characters shed their fantasy projections about each other and arrive at something closer to reality. They’ve made moves toward an integrated view of each other, but there’s still a lot more work to do!

Idealization is a normal part of a relationship – in its early stages. In Hitchcock’s films, such idealization gets sometimes gets strung out and becomes pathological. (I haven’t even talked about the murderers in THE LODGER, PSYCHO, FRENZY and, perhaps, ROPE who literally ‘kill the thing they idealize!) It’s such idealization that Hitch’s movies often concern themselves with – and the dire consequences that result when it confused with love.