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When you begin a journey of revenge, you start by digging two graves: one for your enemy, and one for yourself. ― Jodi Picoult
MRI scans have discovered that thinking about revenge activates the reward center—where the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine is placed. Is it part of our evolutionary design to seek revenge?
Michael McCullough, a psychology a professor at the University of Miami, as well as the author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of Forgiveness instinct, say that the impulse for revenge evolved based on a simple cost-benefit equation and this is why it is best served cold—but not too cold.
Revenge is a behaviors that are generated by psychological mechanisms that were designed for biological functions with the purpose of harming others – not as a protective mechanism, but again to hurt others. If I try to hurt you because I’m trying to get away from you so that you don’t harm me in the future, which wouldn’t qualify as revenge. I agreed that this differentiation is sometimes difficult to distinguished.
As social animals we are designed to deter others from posing harms in the first place – to prevent individuals from imposing costs on you in the future. If you don’t take revenge, there’s a chance that people will learn that you are the type of person who will put up with mistreatment. You want to change your enemy’s incentives for continuing the aggression against you.
Revenge comes from the place where one is feeling angry, betrayed, resentment or have been at the receiving end of injustice. The act of revenge in this situation acts as an immediate justice to self. The pleasure of seeing the other in the same pain may be satisfying, however, it is only temporary.
The problem with revenge is that it makes you the villain and reduces you to your worst self. It puts you in the same level as the aggressors, as those spiteful people you claim to abhor. In most cases, it also escalates situation and makes it worse. This is why it is important to find healthy alternatives for revenge.
You can make it impossible the aggressors to harm you, by avoiding them—you take them out of your group, you can leave, you can change jobs, etc. You may accept the mistreatment by acknowledging that the relationship is valuable to you. You realize that at the end of the day, the alternatives you have are worse.
You can also forgive, and bring a positive attitude to the person who harmed you if they are willing to change their behavior. It’s an effort to get a relationship back without revenge. Forgiveness seems like a reasonable thing to do, but it’s hard to exercise. It’s easy to mistake forgiveness for weakness. This is why forgiveness requires compassion, courage and confidence.
Remember forgiveness refers to the person, not the behavior. Not to the offense but the woundedness of the offender. Forgiveness is the act of compassionately releasing the desire to punish someone for an offense. It’s a state of grace and a kind mindset.
Forgiveness is a transformation of the mind. It liberates you from the trap of endless revenge so that you can experience more joy and connection. It frees you from negativity and lets you move forward.