A Counselor’s Review On Revenge—Done right

We may have been, “stabbed in the back” or feel like we’ve been wronged.  Someone may have gotten the promotion at work that we were aching to get.  We could have been cheated on in a relationship, or just been, “done wrong”. 

We’ve heard that revenge can be sweet, but it also could leave a bitter taste afterwards. What are some better ways you can handle the pain you feel, instead of trying to get back at someone?  We may feel victimized, but we do not need to play victim.  Taking on the role of victim only tends to eat at us--from the inside, out.

Each New Year’s Day, I open up my New Year’s Jar.  I write positive things that happened during the year on little pieces of paper.  I take time to unfold them one by one to reflect back on the year passed.  

After reading all of the little pieces of folded up, “positiveness”, I picked up my Psychology Today magazine.  I looked through the titles of this month’s articles.  After seeing judgment coming from many directions lately, and people feeling like they wanted the people judging them to, “pay”, apologize, or somehow take back things that did not need to be said, I had been thinking about writing about judgment. 

I found an article called, Revenge Done Right by Steven Berglas, Ph.D.  Psychology Today had arrived at the right time.  Here’s my interpretative review on it.

If someone has upset you to the point of seeking physical or mental revenge, who’s the person in control?  Seeking revenge can strip you of your courage, your convictions, and your confidence.  Not giving another the satisfaction that they upset you, and just letting them see how well you’re doing says a lot, without having to reciprocate the same actions or words that upset you.

When we ruminate on the wrongs, it can amplify their significance.  It can intensify the anger we feel from what sparked it.  It can make it feel impossible to let go of.  We keep the pain alive.

Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. – Confucius

Your feelings are justified.  Although it doesn’t make anything better for you to seek revenge, seeking revenge goes back to the dawn of our civilization.  Maybe you remember the saying, “an eye for an eye”.  Growing up, maybe you remember yourself saying, “That’s not fair!”  We are only a bit more sophisticated as adults in response to abuses we incur.  An insult of being cut off by another driver can launch long highway chases, or being flipped the infamous, “bird”.  We tend to seek to reduce our anxiety or pain we feel by attacking back.

But, there is a better, more adaptive way. We can go from an eye for an eye to turning the other cheek. We can build something meaningful, to ourselves and to others. We can move away from the anger we abandon to make a shift, and redirect our impulses.

Strive for achievement.  The shift mentioned above means moving from acting on the psychic pain we feel, where your mind is set on the horrible.  When we cope with psychic pain via striving for achievement, our mind is set on the possible.  Another way to think of it is, when you focus on revenge it keeps your wounds open.  If you focus on doing well, those wounds can heal.

Be congruent with your values.  To handle wrongs done to you, or others you’d like to help, would be better if they don’t go against your values.  If seeking retribution could further harm you or another, can you find an alternative way to right a wrong?  To respond in such a way that goes along with your values means your personality, your self-concept, and how you want to see yourself will be spared from further suffering.

Play the tape through.  This is something I often helped remind my substance abuse clients as related to relapse.  It’s easy to say, “f it”, and use.  It’s also easy to say the same, and get your revenge.  But, it is possible to get revenge in an indirect, active way that’s not only gratifying, but also constructive. 

You’ve probably heard of leading by example.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The cream always rises to the top.”?  When we, “rise above”, it no longer makes you vulnerable.  This can result in feelings of self-efficacy and power.  Sometimes, it’s more powerful to say nothing, and do something that can end up helping you grow.  Your own achievements will not leave you feeling insulted.

There is power in striving for achievement.   Some are able to turn away from avenging, knowing that holding onto anger will only harm them.  For many of us, this is sometimes near impossible.  Researchers at the University of Geneva found greater neural activation in the brain, the greater the inner push for punishment.  We are hard-wired for revenge.

But, our rage that leads us to want revenge is thoroughly alterable and attainable.  Research on the brain has long shown that when we can instead strive towards positive goals, our reactions are subdued. In this way,  revenge becomes an opportunity for exercising values, mobilized by the insult.  Can you think of a meaningful endeavor, possibly one that focuses on helping others?

Go beyond yourself.  Not all insults that lead to our injury are by an individual towards us.  Social injustices can be a prime motivator to shift our focus towards meaningful endeavors. How can we show the world that those who have suffered injustices have an ally?

In her quest to save others from similar tragedy, Candy Lightner was named to the National Commission on Drunk Driving in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan.  Candy Lightner organized Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) when her daughter was killed by a drunk driver.  She found a way to give meaning to her daughter’s life.

Through her actions, Candy received much support from like-minded people.  When working for a cause, you don’t feel like you’re in a vacuum.  These endeavors that give contact with like-minded people give you social support—which can be a, “healing balm for the ills of the mind and body”.

Can you beat them at their own game?  You may have read in a couple of my other writings that you can learn from everyone you meet—even if it’s how you don’t want to be.  Can you, “show” someone by not being like them?  Can words that hurt your feelings or character be shut of by not responding in the same manner towards others—indirectly showing that you’re better than that? 

Can you work towards coping with pain in an ego-enhancing way?  Could you build on something that helps others, and brings about your own authentic personal rewards?  You could benefit by gaining new and exciting experiences.  You may even gain praise and respect—especially from yourself.


If this resonated with you, always feel free to share it with someone else that could benefit; or reach out here if you feel you could benefit from working on your own personal growth and challenges.

1. Your feelings are justified.

2. Strive for achievement. 

3. Be congruent with your values.

4. Play the tape through.

5. There is power in striving for achievement. 

6. Go beyond yourself. 

7. Can you beat them at their own game?