Psychologist Dorothy Rowe examines how our strongest emotions are intertwined as we cannot be indifferent to those that fulfil our greatest need or inspire our greatest fear.

This article first appeared in the show programme for our 2008 Romeo and Juliet
Lady Capulet (Éva Magyar) mourns Tybalt (Mark Holgate) who has been killed by Romeo.
Romeo and Juliet (2008) directed by Neil Bartlett.
Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC Browse and license our images

Love and hatred are not opposites but two sides of the one coin. The coin is attachment. We are attached to those we love and those we hate. The opposite of attachment, and thus the opposite of love and hatred, is indifference. We want nothing, neither approval or disapproval, from those to whom we are indifferent. However, we cannot be indifferent to those we love or those we hate because they can fulfil our greatest need or inspire our greatest fear.

The people we love are those who can affirm that we are the person we know ourselves to be, and do so. The people we hate are those who can disconfirm the person we know ourselves to be, and are prepared to do disconfirmed can override our love, often with tragic circumstances.

Our greatest need is to become and be the person that we know ourselves to be. When we are young like Romeo and Juliet, our heart often feels that it will burst with our longing to be the person we know ourselves to be, and to have all the people who matter to us - those we love and those we hate - recognise the extraordinary individual that we are. Alas, at that age we do not know how to be ourselves. We have not gained the confidence we need both to be ourselves and to face the hazards and uncertainties of life. The person we know ourselves to be is our most important possession.

In extreme situations we will choose to let our body die, either in an act of heroism or suicide, in order to die in the truth of who we are rather than live the lie of who we are not. Juliet chose not to live the lie of being Paris's wife; Romeo knew he could not continue as the empty vessel he was. He needed to be filled by Juliet's courage and her love which was 'boundless as the sea'.

Knowing yourself to be a person is both a wonderful and a terrible thing. Wonderful because we not only live but know ourselves to be alive: terrible because our 'I' is no more than a structure of ideas which are the guesses our brain has constructed about who we are, what the world is, what our past was, our present is, and our future will be. When our guesses are being proved to be right, we feel confident and secure, but when our guesses have been shown to be wrong we begin to feel that 'I' is falling apart, and we are terrified.

When we were children, our explanations to ourselves about what was going on, and our predictions about what was going to happen, were often wrong and we gave vent to our terror as we fell apart in what adults called 'temper tantrums' and 'bad dreams'. In deliberately misunderstanding what a child is experiencing, adults try to hide from themselves their own fear of falling apart. They do not recognise that much of what they do is, at least in part, a defence against the fear of being annihilated as a person. This fear is far worse than the fear of death. We can tell ourselves that, when we die, the most important part of ourselves will continue on as a soul, or a spirit, or in our children, or in our work, or in the memories of those who knew us, but, when we are annihilated as a person, it will be that we disappear like a wisp of smoke in the wind, never to have existed.

Every moment of our life, we are monitoring how safe we are as a person. The measures of our degree of safety or danger are our emotions, that is, our interpretations of how safe we are as a person in our present situation. When we are content, or happy, or joyful, or ecstatic we feel safe in ourselves because the world is what we want it to be, and when we are in love we are in the glorious safety where we can be truly and completely ourselves. Anxiety warns us of the first hint of danger, while fear tells us that we are in danger. Our pride tries to rescue us from danger with anger which says, 'How dare this happen to me!' We measure the kind of danger we are in in many ways - hate, envy, jealousy, guilt, shame, and despair. We can be ruthless in trying to preserve our sense of being a person.

Tybalt tries to preserve himself by using his anger and his swordsmanship to inspire fear in other men, even to the extreme of killing Mercutio and thus bringing about his own death. As much as Capulet loves his daughter Juliet, he is prepared to use her or to destroy her in order to pursue 'an ancient grudge' between his family and that of Montague. He sees a victory over Montague as the measure of his value as a person. Accordingly, he wants to give Juliet in marriage to Paris, a kinsman of Escalus, Prince of Verona. When she refuses, he tells her she can: 'hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, / For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee.' Lady Capulet, whose identity depends on that of her husband, sees her daughter as a threat, and rejects her, saying: 'Talk not to me, for I'll not speak a word: / Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.'

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is not just that of the 'star-cross'd lovers' but of the two old men who failed to realise that their hatred and pride tied them to one another as securely as Juliet and Romeo were tied by their love.

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