“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Have you ever found yourself wronged by someone and in that moment of anger want revenge?
That was my situation recently. I was in my garden quietly reading when my peace was broken. My neighbour, thinking I was not home, decided it was a good time to dump a pile of leaves over the fence that had fallen from my trees onto her side.
In her mind she probably believed she was doing what was right. Yet, for me I saw a different story. In that moment I suddenly felt wronged, disrespected and angry. I started to think of ways how to get even. In that moment of rage I wanted payback.
This primal instinct is common for most humans- This need for justice when wronged. Still, no matter our reasoning for exacting revenge there will always be a price to pay.
So what are some of realities we sometimes forget when blinded by the need for revenge and what’s a more empowering way to combat those urges for payback?
The Problem with Revenge
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” ~ The Chinese Philosopher Confucius
Revenge is a powerful emotional urge that triggers people into action.
People who have been hurt seem to believe that if the wrongdoer suffers, then they will feel better–their emotional pain will diminish. But in reality is this true?
While these inclinations of anger and revenge are understandable, that doesn’t mean they’ll do us any good. In reality, they’re more likely to just make things worse.
Letting go is probably the healthiest move, but wanting revenge is often much more tempting. It may feel good and justified to want to lash out, but there are problems with that mentality that will always hold true:
- It doesn’t actually make you feel better. Retaliating might feel good in the moment, but you won’t feel better about yourself.
- Your relationship actually gets worse. You might argue that it’s their fault, but actually, no, you’re contributing to this as well.
- You’re just allowing yourself to react on impulse. When we lash out at someone because they wronged us, it’s not from a rational assessment of what will be best. Getting caught up in a story in our heads about what this person did to us serves no positive purpose.
- It doesn’t make people respect you more. Lashing out in anger is not a way for earning people’s respect.
- Revenge doesn’t solve anything. It only ups the ante for more hate and anger.
So if retribution and revenge aren’t the best way moving forward, what is?
What to Do to Combat Thoughts of Revenge
“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
While the anticipation of revenge may feel pleasing, the actual action of revenge brings little satisfaction and may generate more problems and suffering.
We can’t control when toxic emotions flood our minds, but we can control what we do in response to them.
If you find yourself wanting revenge, these empowering ideas may help curb that inclination:
- Emotionally calm down by allowing yourself to PAUSE. Before making any decision you may regret later allow yourself time to calm and start to think more rationally. Don’t allow your anger to escalate. When our anger gets hotter, we lose objectivity and don’t make good decisions. By acting impulsively on urges you are likely to create more suffering for yourself and others. Rather than simply react in the moment, stop and think. Ask yourself, what is motivating me to want revenge? Assess the motive of your heart. Take a cool down period to reconsider your actions.
- Consider a conversation with the wrongdoer. Explaining your position may be a helpful approach and an opportunity to try and understand the reasoning behind their actions. Sometimes people I so caught up in their worlds they do not consider the impact of what they do.
- Learn from the experience. Were there signs of the problem that you overlooked? What positive changes can you make based on what you have learned? How do you see yourself as a result of this experience?
- Focus on the controllables. Remember there are only so many things you can control. So it makes no sense to get angry with things beyond your control. Focus on what you do. Not the other person. Be slow to speak. Since revenge is fuelled by anger, don’t allow yourself to hold on to those feelings should they surface. Uncontrolled anger is dangerous. So, consider what helps you manage your anger.
- Don’t take it personally. You can choose to fight back, and take their actions to heart or choose to recognise that maybe their negativity is being fuelled by other events in their lives. So rather than judging try coming from a place of empathy. Are you able to understand the conflict from their perspective? Could their pain and suffering have led them to behave as they have done towards you? I know that it’s easier said than done. In the moment of suffering it’s incredibly hard not to internalise that negative energy. Just try your best to remember that the negativity being aimed at you is not personal. Likewise, by attacking the person back, you are adding to the negativity of the situation and giving them a real reason to be rude or aggressive towards you.
- Let it go and walk away. Next time someone does something that offends you, try to just let go and walk away. This is exactly what I did in my situation. Within an hour I had emotionally moved on. This can feel like you aren’t defending yourself in the face of injustice, but the truth is, you are defending yourself in the most effective way. If you remove yourself from a negative situation, you are protecting your own well-being and choosing not to fight fire with fire.
- Know you always have a choice. You can either continue to blame others for the encounter or you can take responsibility for your own role in it and move on. It’s your responsibility to review your own response to events in the present moment and to be realistic about how it is impacting your life. Are you choosing to continue the conflict and fuel the fire or are you willing to find peace and move on?
Take Away Message
So next time you are plotting revenge against someone who has wronged you consider is it worth it!
The anticipation of revenge may feel good in the moment, but don’t expect these hidden “upsides” to last for long.
If you feel the need for revenge, the central question you should be asking yourself is why and how will this help me?
If, underlying that aim is the need for the other person to acknowledge your suffering then there are better ways that can help you move forward.
None of this is easy. It takes time to get to this realisation. Hopefully this blog post will go some way to moving you further along that path.
Ultimately, this blog post is not about revenge, but about finding ways to better respond when confronted with conflict in life.
Wanting to punish the person you have an issue with serves no useful purpose. It has devastating effects not only on you but the people around you.
Please reach out if you need help in this area of your life!