Revenge,traditionally is both sweet and best served cold. However the truth is that it can be both disappointing and habit forming. So what’s the best way to cope with the desire for revenge?
The desire for revenge is common, and instances are eagerly reported by the press. For example, the case of Lady Sarah Graham-Moon, who cut the arms off of her husband’s Savile Row suits, and left his wine collection at neighbours’ doors like bottles of milk.
But whilst the idea is tempting, people often find that revenge actually comes as a disappointment. Partly this is because of the effect of prolonged anger on the brain. Intense feelings of anger, and fantasies of vengeance, cause the release of dopamine by the brain’s reward centres. However the same level of anger produces diminishing returns, and the feelings and plans have to keep increasing to produce the same reward.
Consequently, after the anticipation and mental rehearsal, the reality can fall flat. The result of the anticipation and mental rehearsal can also be that the revenge ends up being out of proportion to the original incident. The victim feels aggrieved as a result, and so the cycle of revenge activity continues.
So how can you react more positively? Here are four different ways to deal with the desire for revenge.
- Examine your reaction – what is it that you really want? Do you want the other person to know that they have hurt or offended you? If so tell them instead of planning your revenge. If you feel that they have broken an unwritten rule of behaviour they may actually be entirely unaware of the fact. Or do you want them to feel sorry, and not to do it again? Again, if so then talk to them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can always read other peoples’ emotional states from their actions.
- Learn to let your reaction go. Don’t feel obliged to engage with your thoughts. Use some techniques from mindfulness, and stop pursuing thoughts of vengeance. Staying in the moment, and not focusing on the past, or on future plans and possibilities, will help to defuse your anger.
- Move your attention to something more positive. Find something that will absorb your attention, whether it’s work, a hobby, or reading. Getting into a state of focussd attention – so called ‘flow’ states – is not just simply much more positive, it is also has long-lasting benefits that come from being in what is your optimal mental state. Alternatively, reaffirm something positive in your life – meet up with friends or family.
- Remember that “Living well is the best revenge”. In this sense living well doesn’t mean having to parade your enjoyment in front of the person concerned. Living well means living without being consumed with thoughts of revenge, or being compelled to act on those feelings. It doesn’t mean cultivating being unconcerned as a way of looking superior – it’s about abandoning any attachment to the idea of “winning” where this incident is concerned.
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