Wise men tell us that “Revenge is like grabbing a hot coal to throw it at someone else; you are the one that gets burned.”
But people keep doing it anyway. They keep hoping that this time it will finally pay off, and they will be vindicated. That almost never happens.
Below are some of the reasons that drive people to seek revenge:
- “You did it to me. It is only fair that I do it back to you!”
- “I am doing this to teach you a lesson!”
- “You need to be punished for what you did, and It is my responsibility to make sure you get punished.”
- “I cannot let you get away with this.”
These are not logical “reasons,” these are justifications for doing what we had every intention of doing in the first place. If they are not rationally arrived at “reasons,” what are they?
They are perspectives formed in childhood, which are carried into our adult lives. These childish beliefs pressure us to regress under stress. We go right back to the third grade as if we never left.
The belief that revenge is useful has nothing to do with rational thought processes, the demands of civilized living, or anything in the real world. Revenge doesn’t care about the real world, about consequences, about jury trials, or even the possibility of counter-revenge. Rationality flies out the window, if indeed it was ever in the window in the first place.
Behind the drive to get revenge is jealousy, vengeance or envy. Our immature beliefs are overriding our adult judgement. Our thinking is consumed with getting our way at all costs. When we become preoccupied with revenge our adult, civilized judgment will be overthrown by childish thinking such as, “I want my way! I am entitled to get everything I want. That’s fair.” Or “I am exempt from the consequences of my behavior. My suffering entitles me to be treated special because I say so.”
These thoughts energize our body, overrides our logical mind, motivates our sense of responsibility and pushes us to take action to implement consequences. As a result, our behavior is consistent with our immature reactions from third grade.
As mentioned earlier, behind revenge is jealousy and envy. Jealousy and envy are two sides of the same coin, the fear of losing what we have, and the pain of not having what others have.
Now the question becomes, which coin is that? It is the coin of anger. There is no jealousy without anger. There is no envy without anger. Anger is an emotional response to pain and hurt. The pain and hurt may be caused be something real or imaginary, it may be accidental or deliberate, past, present or future. These considerations don’t matter.
The feeling is real regardless of whether the event is a tangible or perceived. These strong emotions rise up and overwhelm the civilized part of our nature all the same. The issue is that these painful feelings of hurt must be relieved. If we do not know how to relieve it in a mature, civilized way, we regress and act just as we did in childhood. We have a temper tantrum. But when adults throw tantrums it can be scary with violent consequences.
The antidote to reacting out of mindless, immature attitudes for revenge is to be found in our self-respect. Our self-respect has taken a beating here. We can’t respect anyone so “stupid” as to let this disaster happen, who failed to see it coming, who failed to take appropriate remedial action, who didn’t even know what that might have been and it’s too late now. Our anger at ourselves is turning into poison in our veins.
Our first priority is not to right the wrongs, it is to get our own act together. This is hard to do if we don’t know how we fell apart in the first place. It was the combination of anger, stress and pessimism in a context of self-doubt, worthlessness, and inferiority that did us in.
Each of these components of our problem needs to be identified properly and put in a manageable perspective. This is hard to do with professional support. It’s near impossible to do alone using trial and error. It is no different than being lost without a road map.