Many of us nurture a fantasy of revenge after even the smallest slight. It fuels our dreams of the perfect putdown and the ultimate win, pulling the curtain back on the betrayer’s true character. Yet most of us choose to move forward, never turning the fantasy into reality.
Revenge is a special type of punishment. It involves an act of reciprocal morality also known as “payback.” If the betrayer refuses to own the trauma and pain of the betrayed, then the desire for revenge increases. It’s natural to want the betrayer to take responsibility for his or her deeds, and suffer for what they have put you through. If that’s the case, revenge may become an attractive option.
But does exacting revenge work? Michael Price, staff editor of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Society, reviews several studies on the outcomes of revenge, and observes that it can backfire by compromising one’s integrity and reaching down to the nasty level of the betrayer. It’s even worse, according to Professor Kevin Carlsmith, based on his testing of responses to revenge: “Rather than providing closure, it does the opposite: it keeps the wound open and fresh.”
Taking revenge on your betrayer can prevent you from moving on with your life.
The question then, is how to successfully balance your need for revenge with your need to maintain your personal integrity and stature. Because the danger is that sometimes, the one seeking revenge looks far worse than the betrayer. As many have pointed out, you do not want to give your betrayer something that justifies why you were betrayed. Don’t give him or her the opportunity or power to blame you for any situation that can hurt you in the end.
As one of our survivors noted, “I cannot spend my life in bitterness. I need to focus on all the opportunities and successes I’ve had. If I take revenge, I’m just as bad.” Another survivor said, “I think of revenge all the time. I wish my betrayer all of the worst, but it’s not up to me; it’s up to a higher power. I’m really not a vengeful person.”
So, if active revenge isn’t the answer, many people look to karma and the mysterious workings of the universe. Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist belief that an individual’s actions can determine their future. It means that if someone misbehaves, they will ultimately—in this life or the next—be punished for their betrayal. There is no time limit on karma, and while it doesn’t usually carry the zing of instant gratification, it can be even more soul satisfying. There are times when karmic revenge happens in a nanosecond, and others when more patience and faith in the universe are required.
Ultimately, revenge hurts you more than it hurts the betrayer. Remember, the betrayer’s goal is to see you humiliated. This person wants you to publicly lose power. The pain that follows is the resultant feelings of inadequacy and shame. So, it’s important to reclaim your power by finding new ways to disprove the feeling of being unloved and unvalued. The shame belongs to your betrayer. Not to you. Revenge will only rope you into that equation.
It may be hard, but ignore the initial urge to plot and plan a delicious revenge. Planning revenge forces you to continue to live in the betrayal as you spend time and energy trying to find the right and most devious way to revenge it. It continues to provide the betrayer with power over you rather than allowing you to take that power into your own hands. Let karma take care of it.