The best revenge is massive success...Frank Sinatra
Revenge is sweet and not fattening...Alfred Hitchcock
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves...Confucius
Revenge is a dish best served cold...Eugene Sues (although there is some confusion as to the actual author of this quote!)
This idea of blood feuds is ancient. Think Hatfields and McCoys. The Montegues and Capulets (Romeo and Juliet). And, in-laws, let's not forget them! Nothing new to see here; move along.
Revenge has a function in society. It sustains power by means of "impression management". If you have a reputation as being vengeful, people are afraid of you and tend to give you what you want which, in turn, reinforces your behavior.
Revenge is so powerful that is has an evolutionary purpose. It's all about "accounting". When you exact revenge, you've changed the equation. You've taken what someone else has gained from harming you and made their gains less "profitable". Balance is restored.
This whole "tit-for-tat" dynamic is seen in young children and in primates (gorillas, etc.). Yes, a 1-year old has a sense of justice. As they mature, people don't lose this sense of justice and fair play.
Revenge as a method of making yourself feel better? Oh yeah. Revenge truly is sweet. We now know, as a result of brain imaging, that revenge activates reward centers in the brain. In order to be satisfying, the recipient of the revengeful act must be aware of the connection between the original offense and the retaliation, also known as the "understanding hypothesis". Think final episode of the 2016 season of Game of Thrones when Arya exacts revenge and explains to each of her "victims" what they've done as she slits their throats.
The second component of a satisfying retaliation is "comparative suffering". It is necessary to watch the recipient/offender suffer. ...and Arya so obviously enjoys their suffering.
Uh oh. So, who are the people who are hell-bent on revenge? These folks crave power and do whatever they can to avoid "losing face". The brain is wired for revenge because it is a satisfying experience.
If you're a person who defers to authority, respects social dominance and traditions, you are ripe for revengeful behavior. You are likely to be less forgiving and less inclined to see the connectedness we all share.
It's not just your personality that determines the potential for revenge behavior, it's the events and the context in which they occur. Different kinds of events trigger thoughts of revenge.
If you're part of a group, you are more likely to consider revenge in order to restore balance than if you are alone.
My psychology practice was located next to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the International Longshore Workers Union had a strong presence in the community. Their motto? "An injury to one is an injury to all". There it is.
Culture counts. If you're an American, you feel strong thoughts of revenge when your rights are violated. If you are Asian and your sense of responsibility is questioned, you may act revengefully.
Why is our society becoming more violent? It's not just about the guns. They've always been around. It's about the shame associated with hopelessness which gives rise to depression. It's about the shame associated having no hope of justice. It's the shame associated with feeling powerless. So many factors in the algorithm.
- Was some part of the insult to you true?
- Did you play a role in this?
- Do you have all of the facts about the situation?
- Would it help to talk it out with the person who violated you?
- Were there early signs of problems in the relationship that would lead to this?
- Is this someone you shouldn't have trusted in the first place?
Don't forget about the unintended consequences. You may have taken the gun over to her house just to scare her. Amazing how many times the gun goes off and someone goes down.
Can you live with the wasteland of destroyed relationships? Can you live with the financial and emotional consequences? What about the felony assault or murder charges? Can you afford to have your ex's car repainted after you've keyed it and was caught on camera? Oh, so many questions to ask yourself. The more time between the injury and your response can make or break your life...hence the "dish best served cold" part.
Take that emotional, obsessive energy and get a second job and save enough to take yourself somewhere great or buy something you want. Get a goal and work toward it. Build your life. Don't tear down theirs. If this is their primary mode of behavior, they'll self-destruct and you can have a Schadenfreude party. What? You don't know about Schadenfreude? It's that good feeling you get when something bad happens to someone else. We all do it. Oh yeah.