In June of 1666, the King’s Players debuted a comedy of manners by Molière called “The Misanthrope.” The play follows the journey of Alceste, a man who hates mankind. He says, “How strange the human heart is, and how far / From rational we sorry creatures are.” Although Alceste does have a love interest throughout the play, she is not the misanthrope he is. She refuses to leave society to be with him, and the play ends with Alceste vowing to live out his days alone.
“The Misanthrope” debuted over 300 years ago, but you may know someone who is a bit of an Alceste themselves. Misanthropy is not new, although you may feel that there are more reasons now to be upset with humankind than ever before. But is misanthropy a sign of a personality disorder? If you hate humankind, is there something “wrong” with you? In this video, we’re going to explore misanthropy, what psychologists think about it, and how it can be used in a positive way.
What Is Misanthropy?
Misanthropy is simply the hate or distrust of humankind. This doesn't mean being upset with your mother-in-law or thinking that the people at your work can be annoying. This is a feeling that goes much deeper. And it’s been around for a long time!
Socrates describes misanthropy by saying it “develops when without art one puts complete trust in somebody thinking the man absolutely true and sound and reliable and then a little later discovers him to be bad and unreliable ... and when it happens to someone often ... he ends up ... hating everyone."
Often, philosophers describe misanthropes as a “loner” who views themselves separate from others, who prefers to spend time in isolation. But an aversion to people is different than truly hating humankind at its core. Is this viewpoint justified? Some philosophers say yes. Others say it is just a disillusionment.
Is Misanthropy a Mental Illness? (Misanthropes vs. Sociopaths)
The 2019 “Joker” film scared a lot of critics because they believed it would encourage loners to fall deeper into their hatred of society. That hatred of society, critics believed, could lead to more mass shootings and violence. Others believe that this critique was a misanthropic view itself - that the people watching the film could separate it from reality and walk away without misanthropic feelings.
Misanthropy is not considered a mental disorder, although it may be a trait present in people with borderline personality disorder or depression. You can go about your days with a distrust for humankind and not feel the urge to hurt yourself or the people around you. There are misanthropes that can go about living a “normal” life and have relationships with a small circle of people that understand their views.
But misanthropy is not a sign of excellent mental health, either. The link between misanthropes and self-isolation can be concerning. Research shows that loneliness can have similar impacts on your health as obesity or smoking cigarettes. A consistent distrust of the world may lead to increased stress, which also takes a toll on your mental and physical health.
Here are some signs that your feelings about the world are affecting your well-being. If this sounds like you, it might be time to seek professional health:
- Your performance at school or work suffers because you do not want to work with people
- Your relationships with friends, family, or your significant other suffer
- You have thoughts of suicide or harming other people
Examples of Misanthropy
If you want to learn more about misanthropy from people who are very interested in the subject, look no further than the misanthropy subreddit. On this subreddit, you will find posts like:
- "Misanthropy is seeing the world for the way it is. It is not an opinion. It is reality."
- "The problems of society are literally in people’s faces, but they’re too stupid to do anything."
- "We humans are the only species on earth who glorify harmful lifestyle and demonize the healthy lifestyle."
Can Misanthropy Be Cured?
Connecting misanthropy to mental illness is not new, but it is a more common view of misanthropy nowadays. Philosophers in the past weren’t as scared of misanthropes. A disdain for humankind doesn’t mean that you are violent or a bad person. It also does not have to be a permanent viewpoint. If you find yourself upset with humankind, there are ways to shift your perspective or make positive changes.
Laugh, Don’t Cry
Seneca the Younger was a Roman philosopher who believed that misanthropy was an obstacle to overcome in order to maintain one’s sanity. If you found yourself hating mankind, he said, it was best to turn that frown upside down. Instead of hating man for their mistakes, it was better to laugh at them. Find humor in the slip-ups of man.
If you focus only on the negative traits of anything, you will start to only see that thing in a negative light. For example, if you only focus on your negative traits, you will only feel worse about yourself. Like Seneca the Younger, you can choose to laugh at the things that you would otherwise resent, and find some relief in this perspective.
Focus On the Arts and Achievements of Man
Or, you can focus on the positive traits and achievements. Arthur Schopenhauer believed that you could shift your focus to music or other enjoyable activities to take your mind off of your misanthropic thoughts. It’s hard to hate mankind when you find joy out of the art, culture, or inventions that mankind has created. Escapism, though a great album or a fun game, can help relieve stress and contribute to your overall mental health.
Use This As An Opportunity
Philosophers in the past have shared misanthropic views to say that there is no hope for humankind. That we are fundamentally flawed. But you do not have to take this view and run. Other philosophers and writers have pointed to misanthropy as a way to critique and better the world. Misanthropy, like many views of the world, does not just exist in the extreme. If you find flaws within human nature, you can work toward solutions that avoid these flaws and utilize more positive traits of the human condition.
People Are Going to Have Different Opinions
It’s okay to be frustrated with the state of the world every now and again. In fact, it might be more concerning if you think things are going great right now. But prolonged feelings of distrust or hatred can take its toll. Continue to check in with yourself and your loved ones and take action if misanthropy is affecting your well-being.