Revenge is an instinct

Revenge: will you feel better?

Understanding how emotions and thoughts affect behavior is important for people who have intense emotions and are often ruled by them. Knowing about emotions and the thoughts that strengthen or mitigate those emotions can help people develop ways to better manage their actions.

An urge that people experience but rarely discuss is revenge. Webster's online dictionary defines revenge as revenge (as oneself)usually through retaliation in kind or degree, or through injury in return for somethingto avenge an insult.

The struggle with vengeance is centuries old. Shakespeare said, "If you stab us, we don't bleed? If you tickle us, don't we laugh? If you poison us, we don't die? And if you wrong us, won't we take revenge?" Shakespeare clearly thought revenge was as normal and predictable as sunrise.

Maybe, but what about the idea that revenge is self-destructive? Confucius said, "Before you embark on a journey of vengeance, dig two graves." Gandhi seemed to agree when he said, "An eye for an eye only blinds the whole world."

Revenge seems to be one of the deepest instincts we have. Who hasn't said, "I hope he gets his" or wished that karma would strike sooner rather than later? Harry's filthy "Carry On, Make My Day" resonates for generations. Out of control revenge, attack and counterattack can blind and destroy the lives of everyone involved. But our instincts and emotions usually serve a purpose.

Researchers and theorists believe that revenge is a form of creating justice and that the threat of vengeance can serve as a form of protection, a kind of enforcement of social cooperation. Imagine if your neighbor is throwing big overnight parties and their guests are parking all the time so you don't come out of your driveway. If you believe your neighbor is a reasonable person who will not return the favor, you might be tempted to encrypt guests' cars or smear eggs over them. If you think your neighbor will "come after you," you are less likely to have anger influencing your needs.

Perhaps the purpose of revenge is to prevent certain hostile acts, or the threat of vengeance will ensure that people don't harm you in the future. But sometimes people act vengefully when nothing good can come of their actions except causing harm to others. These actions can lead to unfathomable extremes. From lovers walking over a beloved iPhone or destroying their ex-values, to business people damaging the careers of those who rejected them, to students opening fire in school hallways, revenge can be an act of anger be of pain and power.

People who have been hurt or betrayed no doubt seem to believe that if the other party suffers, they will feel better - their emotional pain will subside. Is that true?

Revenge makes you worse

To test whether revenge makes people feel better, Kevin Carlsmith and colleagues created a college student group investment game that would benefit equally if everyone worked together. However, if someone refuses to invest their money, that person benefits at the expense of the group.

A secret experimenter (known as a free rider) in each group convinced the group members to invest equally. But when it came time to raise the money, the free riders did not follow the agreed plan. As a result, the free riders made an average of $ 5.59 while the other players made around $ 2.51.

Here is the revenge part. Carlsmith offered some groups a way back to free rider: they could spend part of their own income to financially punish the group's defector. Anyone given the chance for revenge took it. And they predicted that they would feel much better after their revenge.

The results showed that the students who got revenge felt worse than those who didn't.butbelieved they would have felt worse if they hadn't returned to the free riders. The students who did not get an opportunity to revenge said they thought they would feel better if they had this opportunity, although survey results identified them as the happier group. Both groups thought revenge was sweet, but their own feelings indicated that revenge made them less happy.

How can that be explained? Carlsmith suggests that the reason revenge increases anger instead of decreasing it is because of rumination. When people don't take revenge, they tend to trivialize the event by telling themselves it wasn't a big deal because they didn't respond to their vengeful feelings. Then it's easier to forget about it and move on. But when people take revenge, they can no longer trivialize the situation. Instead, they keep going back to it and feeling worse.

Or maybe it will make you feel better

After considering the studies that found that revenge wasn't so cute for the avenger, Mario Gollwitzer still thought that there are some situations where revenge might be satisfying. He considered two options. One of them was that revenge alone was not enough to please the avenger. The perpetrator needs to understand the connection between the original insult and the retaliation. He called this the "understanding hypothesis".

The second possibility was that of "comparative suffering". This meant that it was important to see a perpetrator suffer. His research showed that the only situation in which revenge prevailed was more satisfying than revenge not if the perpetrator understood and recognized why the act of revenge had occurred. He described this "hypothesis of understanding" as the restoration of justice.

The problem, according to Eric Jaffe, while the avenger often believes the perpetrator received "only desserts," the perpetrator usually finds the retribution too harsh. So an endless cycle could follow. Most people understand this concept. Why do people continue to believe in revenge and have such a strong urge for revenge?

Is Vengeance Hardwired?

And Arielyd discusses revenge experiments in which participants' brains were scanned using positron emission tomography (PET) while making decisions about revenge. The results showed increased activity in the brain's reward center (striatum). The greater the activation, the more the participants punished the perpetrators. Ariely suggests that this punitive betrayal, or perceived betrayal, has some biological basis and is pleasant to the touch. At least the decision to take revenge.

Restore trust

Ariely explains that revenge and trust are opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps the idea that people believe that vengeance will restore justice is really about restoring trust.

Ariely's experiments in revenge showed that the tendency towards revenge does not depend on whether the person responsible for the crime actually suffered, but only on itsomeonePay in connection with the crime. Time passed to lessen the need for revenge for petty nuisances. In addition, apologies completely countered the effects of minor harassment. When an apology was given, the participants did not seek revenge. Please note that this was a one-time hassle, not a series of repeated offenses.

What to do when you think of revenge

As with all inner experiences, beingmindfulof what you experience is the first step. Thoughts of revenge apparently feel good and can be a basic human instinct, perhaps to help us survive.Accept your urge and thoughts of revenge as a basic human response to trust.

Trust is important in any relationship and is vital to cooperatives. When you think of revenge, it usually means you believe that trust has been broken.Remember, while the expectation of vengeance may feel comfortable, actually carrying out vengeance brings little satisfaction and can cause more problems and suffering.Acts of revenge neither repair trust nor restore the sense of justice of both parties.

Wait until you are emotionally calm and able to think rationally before making decisions.This is the cold part of "Vengeance is a Dish Best Served Cold." If you react impulsively to such urges, you are likely to cause more suffering to yourself and others and to regret your actions.

Think about whether the loss of confidence is justified. Do you have all the facts? If not, before you take action or make decisions, make sure you understand what really happened. If someone has acted in a way that is truly untrustworthy and hurtful, the task suggested by your thoughts and drives is to find ways to restore confidence or move forward in another direction. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, or maybe there was thereis a problem that could be solved.

Would it be helpful to you to have a dialogue with the offender to explain your position, even if nothing has changed? Would the offending person be willing to listen? Sometimes it is helpful to express your views and feelings. Apologizing could be very healing, and dialogue could allow the offender to do so.

Learn from experience. Were there any signs of problems that you ignored? Have you been careful who you trust What positive changes can you make based on what you've learned? How do you see yourself as a result of this experience? Have you made decisions that show self-respect and reflect your values, regardless of how the other person behaved?

Focus on what you control and take the next right step.Sometimes standing up for yourself may be the right step, but in a positive way rather than out of revenge.

Exercise radical acceptancethat some people break your trust. This is a statement about them, not you. Your answer is about you. If you are emotionally sensitive, you can experience many situations where you feel hurt by others and this urge for revenge can be controlled.


Ariely, D. (2010).The downside of irrationality: The unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home. New York: Harper Collins.

Carlsmith, K. (May 2008)Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,(Volume 95, No. 6).

Jaffe, E. (October 2011.) The Complicated Psychology of Vengeance.Observer Vol.24, No.8

Price, M. (June 2009) Revenge and the People Who Seek it.Monitor,(40) 6.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary