Are You Harboring Thoughts of Revenge?

I happened to see a powerful video in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests. It made me ponder on the role of revenge. Kimberly Latrice Jones was extremely angry and made this statement. “They are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

The desire to seek revenge for mistreatment is universal. It has been said that revenge is sweet. But is it? And if you harbor a desire for revenge, what does it say about your character?

The definition of revenge is to inflict hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong. A thirst for sweet revenge can last a lifetime. But it turns out that revenge is not so sweet after the first rush of brain activity. Behavioral scientists found that instead of satisfying anger, revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense. And revenge can institute a cycle of retaliation, fueling additional hostility and aggression. Revenge does not dissolve the anger caused by the original offense.

Certain groups and societies are more prone to seek revenge because there’s just no other way to obtain justice. There is no recourse to law and they have to rely on their own retaliatory methods. Black Lives Matter protests are an outcome of black Americans belief that the criminal justice system fails them.

What is your expectation for the emotional benefits that will come of revenge? If you are seeking catharsis through revenge, you will likely be disappointed. Kevin Carlsmith, a social psychologist, concluded from his studies that people erroneously believe revenge will make them feel better and help them gain closure. In actuality, punishers ruminate on their deed and feel worse than those who don’t take revenge.

There are a couple of ways that revenge can be sweet. It is satisfying if the offender makes a direct connection between the retaliation and the initial offense – in other words, if the person who did the wrong gets that what they did was wrong, and why it was wrong. Put another way, revenge is only satisfying when an offender understands why the act of vengeance has occurred. They need a message of understanding. For example, “We white Americans understand that systemic racism has hurt you and caused your pain”. Unacknowledged revenge feels no better than none at all. It is the offender’s recognition of their wrongdoing that makes revenge sweet. Revenge is also sweet if the revenge prevents future offenses.

Everyone is slighted from time to time. But why do some people seek revenge and others don’t? Studies have found that people who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, authority, and the desire for status. Those people tend to be less forgiving and benevolent. Another study indicates that sadism is the dominant personality trait that explains why certain people are more likely than others to seek vengeance. The person who seeks revenge is a person who tends to enjoy it.

In summary, examine your desire for revenge. What do you expect the outcome to be? Is it your only recourse for justice? Is your motivation pure? Consider forgiveness. It can enable you to suppress the desire for revenge and help you to move on.

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