The instinct for revenge is pretty much universal. It is a natural way of coping under pain. Even though one of the principles of Chrysalis is to adopt your feelings, it does not mean that you shouldn’t learn to control them at the same time, too. There is a difference between being a primitive, chaotic mess of emotions than being a person who can fluently navigate their emotions and use them in a magical way when needed.
"Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies."
I used to be very revengeful. This was for a few years, during a time that I had a hard time regulating my emotions. And oh how ashamed I am about it now after processing my thoughts and reasons. I feel I have pretty successfully managed to turn my resentful nature into something more constructive and productive. After working very closely with Ceranchia for the past half a year, I have taken this self-improvement to the next level.
Most of all, I have discovered how much happier I am when I’m focusing on my future, the brilliant people around me, and my own success. Naturally, we all have revenge fantasies. They are quite normal and they are one of our coping mechanisms. But there is a massive difference in the intensity of those fantasies. I no longer feel the “entitlement” to be the one to “share justice” for small reasons – actually, I find this way of thinking a bit silly.
This doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be cases where it indeed is smart to at least seek justice. It’s quite normal to feel aggression if someone hurts your beloved ones, breaks into your house, or intentionally causes you severe harm. Thus, I want to narrow the topic a bit to social revenge: by social revenge I mean often more trivial situations in which a person takes revenge on someone because they feel socially hurt. This could be for example a conflict, debate, being socially humiliated, being name-called or having a break-up.
So: Why do we really become revengeful after a social conflict – and why is it such a bad coping strategy?
Why do we want revenge?
"Revenge is a confession of pain."
A person seeking revenge or vengeance is aiming to return the harm that they have experienced, to the one who they think caused the pain. The person seeks to correct the wrong that they think they have experienced by putting another person to suffer.
Revenge is often considered more passionate and of personal need and justification, whereas vengeance could be seen as something more considerate – something to do with justice. Revenge to me feels a more passionate show of aggression, whereas vengeance is a more conscious punishment for justice. So, a random person takes revenge on someone who said something mean, but if a mafia punishes for the slaughter of the boss’s son, that would be vengeance. The dictionaries seem to rarely separate these two words that much. So by talking about revenge, I mean both.
When I’m talking about social revenge, I mean situations that are somehow tied to social pain, humiliation and our self-esteem. Examples could be arguments, debates, hate speech, being humiliated, getting critique, not being chosen to a position, getting fired, not being invited to a party, or not getting socially what you want. Something to cause revenge for social reasons could be also a situation where your companion leaves you for someone else – and here you may want to take on revenge also for the third party.
In these cases, revenge it’s often about a person trying to restore the value of their hurt self-esteem or ego. That kind of need dives deep into our core. A vindictive person easily portrays thoughts and traits that are rising from the subconscious and may not be rational. Revengeful thinking narrows our capability to see the full picture. This causes that we might not act rationally, and we start feeling entitled for hurting others. Often, especially in revenge fantasies, the suffering caused through revenge is bigger than the reason why the avenger became vindictive in the first place.
For example, after getting fired, a person might have fantasies that they will write a blog post with all the dirty secrets about the company, hoping that this would exterminate the whole company.
Social psychologist Ian McKee, PhD, of Adelaide University in Australia points out that people who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status.
Also cultural factors and pop culture may affect how we feel about revenge. Revengeful nature can be seen as something strong, dominating and attractive. Think about movies like Kill Bill, for example. (Although Beatrix Kiddo had a little bit better reasons for vengeance than just a normal argument between people.)
Sometimes we mistake vengeance as standing up for yourself and seeking for justice, but that’s not the same thing. And when we find a vengeful person attractive, we don’t realise that one day this “attractive” trait may bite our own butt.
For example, probably we all have fantasized about telling our boss to “Go fuck yourself” publicly to revenge for example a demotion. Then, when you meet a colleague who has the guts to do so, we may feel admiration. Surely, it looks empowering. At the same time we forget that this side of Trogonoptera isn’t probably only limited for the boss. The boss just happens to have authority which itself sometimes gives people the feeling of entitlement to act like a brat. You may cheer for a person who’s resentfulness is masked as power – until you become their target.
I feel I have been like this once. From my perspective, it’s all about the fear of losing face and being a sensitive-ass brat. I don’t need to be like that anymore for reasons that are small.
Revenge fantasies are normal, wanting to take revenge on someone after you have truly been hurt is normal, but the excessive need for revenge is a sign of a wounded, immature ego. Either there are no better tools developed to solve a personal crisis, or the person refuses to use them. Often this happens especially when someone can’t face their own mistakes and part in a conflict. But it’s not only that. Sometimes we might, in fact, actually be hurt or offended without it being our own fault in any way. For example, a stranger online comes and tells you that you are ugly and stupid. It’s hard to say much to fix the situation, and if we don’t have any better coping ways, we may become irrationally revengeful.
And then, of course, there is love and hate and other strong emotions. I have had exes who have tried to take revenge on me because I have left them. Being resentful after a break-up seems to be something that can last a lifetime. For example, an ex I have dated more than 10 years ago might still start spamming hate posts about topics close to me when finding out that I have someone else in my life.
If we can’t escape the pain that our Self is experiencing, we attack.
The Science of Revenge
Revenge has a lot to do with the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). This part of our brain helps to suppress feelings of distress and pain – such as social rejection. It has been discovered that the more a person recruits the VLPFC during rejection, the more revenge they try to inflict.
The more that our brain effortfully inhibits the pain of rejection, the more that we seek to harm others. This is for example why we can see certain mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) being generally more resentful than average, as one of the core fears of BPD is to be rejected and abandoned.
According to David S. Chester Ph.D., “These findings suggest that the more that we seek to suppress the sting of rejection, the sweeter we find revenge. This may be because we have fatigued our brain’s inhibitory abilities during rejection, resulting in an unrestrained reward response during revenge.”
This supports the explanation that revenge is often born because we can’t deal with our emotions in a constructive way. And as Chester puts it, suppressing the feelings of rejection is a really bad and unconstructive strategy to cope.
Revenge tends to give a very short peak of satisfaction, but what happens is that it takes our focus. This means that instead of closure, we actually start feeling even worse. Taking revenge on someone is in conflict with how people are wired to feel good about doing good deeds to other members of the species.
Taking on revenge will cause the avenger more bad than good.
Revenge and Evolution
Then why would evolution give us a trait that is harmful to the individual?
Apa.org reports Carlsmith describing an evolutionary hypothesis, suggested by German psychologists Ernst Fehr, Ph.D., and Simon G¨echter, Ph.D. The article talks about the concept of “altruistic revenge”: that evolution has given some animals the instinct of revenge to serve the species.
According to them, revenge could serve to keep communities in order. An individual sacrifices their own well-being to perform a punishment to another community member who has misbehaved. Doing something hurtful normally causes bad feelings. The purpose of the instinct to revenge could be to overrule the fear of harming yourself. Basically, this would mean that evolution has wired our minds to think revenge gives us pleasure, to fool is to take an action that we normally wouldn’t take.
The problem is, getting revenge is often based on the idea that there is “right and wrong”. You take on revenge because someone did you wrong. But what is considered good, bad or misbehaving, can be very subjective. Just because you are offended, upset or you feel that someone has done you wrong, is often very subjective. It’s complicated. Your reality isn’t mine.
We have evolved to be a pretty intelligent species, and personally, I feel that the trait of being revengeful hasn’t quite kept up with our development.
Weakened cognitions increase the need to revenge
"Revenge is for children and the emotionally retarded."
Cognition means those mental processes involved in gaining comprehension and knowledge. Cognitions are higher-level brain functions, for example about problem-solving, judging, remembering, and just simply thinking, being tied to for example perception and planning.
Revenge could be considered something quite primitive. But so could aggression. Just because we feel aggressive doesn’t mean that it’s constructive or mature to go and punch someone. Personally, I think that when it comes to social revenge or wanting to revenge something trivial, it’s also about us not being in control of our mind. There is a connection between revenge and how well we are able to use the higher-level processes of the mind.
I can see this in my everyday life. Even though I have gotten rid of being excessively revengeful over trivial matters, I have my weak moments. One is mornings before I have had my first cup of coffee. I am grumpy, tired and my caffeine addiction symptoms are messing with my mind-ken. This causes a lack of focus, chaotic feelings, and …intrusive thoughts. What happens is that my mind easily fills up with all the negative things people have said or done lately. Before coffee, I’m like a teenager without the proper capability to deal with strong emotions. At that moment I am not as good using my more mature coping mechanisms. What happens is that I try to attack back. Inside my mind. I can’t block the bad things people have said, so my mind tries to protect me from the pain by making me revengeful. I can’t escape – so I want to attack.
The second example is if I wake up in the middle of the night and am not completely asleep but not awake either. Again I am hit by the intrusive, revengeful thoughts, but more brutal level. I may lack all the mental self-control, as I am not fully awake. That is when the most horrible revenge fantasies of my mind happen. In this half-dream state, I can go through discussions in which I verbally rip the other person completely apart or show physical aggression. Even if it was something I would never do. I hate it. I am not proud of it. And when I wake up, it is me who feels exhausted. Hate tends to make us tired.
So: When our cognitive functions are not at their best, we lack self-control and focus. When we lack self-control and focus, we lose our capability to be more mature and constructive. When that happens, we get more toxic thoughts.
Being revengeful means that you, in fact, have lost control. Well, part of it. If you actually fulfill your fantasies, THAT is when you have completely lost control. You are now guided by evolution. You have regressed.
The good news is that this regression doesn’t have to last forever and that there are other, better options.
Why is revenge so harmful - and why should a Chrysalid aim for other solutions
You lose your focus
As a Chrysalid, you are expected to move forward in your life and focus on constructive things, developing yourself. If you suddenly decide to take a revenge journey over some petty situation or because someone called you ugly online, you will lose your track. Suddenly you take your focus on something negative and hateful.
It doesn’t matter if you are entitled to your revenge or not: having toxic thoughts shapes your reality. If you think in a toxic way and act in a toxic way, you become toxic.
When you decide to get revenge, you will shift your focus to what happened. This has a lot to do with the stories that you tell to yourself. Your labels. You could trivialise what happened, and move on. But after you decide to take the path of revenge, you can no longer do that. Suddenly something that you could have just left behind becomes your focus.
Revenge and the people who seek it, By Michael Price, Monitor Staff, June 2009, Vol 40, No. 6, Print version: page 34
"When we do get revenge, we can no longer trivialize the situation. Instead, we think about it. A lot."
Instead of relief, you get stuck in pain
I think that being revengeful is like you would be standing outside in -40 degrees in Celsius, while there is a door next to you. Even though you could simply open it and go inside, you choose to freeze outside just to show that you can.
As the chapters about science and evolution taught us, revenge also hurts the person who takes on revenge.
You waste your time
If I would seek revenge every time I have had an argument or someone offended me, all I would do is use my time on this trip of toxicity.
Think about it for example like this: Someone publicly talks about you and says that they hate your writings and disagree with you and that you are an ugly slut. You report the person to the police. In some cases, this might be a good idea. You use hours to write the crime report,
Nice job. Except that according to the Finnish law, to be a crime the message should be somehow threatening, it should include a clear lie about you, it should be revealed to a group, etc. Simply because someone says a couple of nasty words about you and tells you that they don’t like your writings doesn’t make them a criminal.
Your case will be abandoned. You could have just trivialised the happening, shrugged, moved on with your life and invested your time in people who truly matter to your life.
You become a self-fulfilling prophecy of abandonment
Being revengeful and having a resentful nature can also be extremely self-sabotaging. It predisposes a person to social conflicts, losing friends and relationships easily than average, experiencing misplaced anger and being stuck in hateful thoughts. These situations can be exhausting and cause one to not really proceed much in life.
Revenge only offers short relief and satisfaction. But especially if the need for revenge happens because of an argument or rejection, it often means that the person is refusing to deal with the actual problems and is ready to cut ties with social contacts.
Being left with negative outcomes, in turn, leads to poor self-image and sub-consciously perceiving yourself as “bad with people”. This leads to you telling yourself negative things about yourself, which leads to greater relationship dysfunction, which leads to self-loathe and shame.
It’s like sugar cravings leading to binging when you could also eat healthy food. Eating the giant pizza at once gives you a short satisfaction, but nausea can continue for days. Whereas choosing a healthy dish may not give you the short peak of reward, but it will affect your future self-image.
If we know someone to be very revengeful, we become careful. We don’t want to walk on eggshells, fearing that an argument leads to nuclear options. We see the danger – and not in a cool way. Revengeful behavior within personal relationships often leads to relationship instability. This instability and people around having to fear you may lead to social rejection and even abandonment, which then reinforces the fear. The cycle is ready.
By being resentful and revengeful, you become a self-fulfilling prophecy of abandonment.
The short satisfaction given by revenge will never make you happy because it’s based on mechanisms that are harmful to your psyche and self-esteem.
What should we do instead?
Use constructive revenge instead
Constructive revenge means that instead of hurting the other person, you focus on yourself and your success. This may or may not cause your target to become envious or feel hurt, especially if they originally caused you harm intentionally. But whether they do get hurt about your success or don’t, 1) you haven’t done anything hurtful 2) your self-esteem gets improved 3) either way, you will win.
Think twice if it really matters. Is it really worth your time and effort. Does this matter really deserve your attention? Sometimes a constructive revenge is to trivialise it.
Simply, this means that you let go. Just let it be, seriously. Focus on your positive future and enjoy all the good that there will be. Someone called you a whore? Leave it and move on. Someone abandoned you? Then invest in those who are standing next to you.
Live your fantasies – then let go
Revenge fantasies are our way of living things in advance, and to get rid of those aggressive feelings without becoming actually harmful to our environment. However, I feel that even revenge fantasies can cause you harm when they are fed too much.
Don’t mistake kindness for weakness
Here is where Ceranchia steps in. It is one of the strongest kaleidoscopes that we have, but we get it all wrong. Ceranchian approach does not mean that you need to accept or approve when someone does you wrong. But it means that you are balanced enough to know where to put your focus.
Ceranchia knows to rise above any silly reasons. Ceranchia knows when to turn its back and to walk away. Ceranchia can be self-reflective and mature and wise enough to find other solutions than revenge.
When being able to be at least somewhat kind in a challenging moment, you raise above the expectations. You are not a lizard, but an intelligent and intellectual creature.
"By taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing over it, he is superior."
After meeting socially revengeful people it has cleared out to me that this is not who I want to be. Being revengeful is not elegant. Being revengeful is not mature. Being revengeful is a regressive state where we are not in control.
It is alright to seek for justice, when it really is worth it. But be damn sure when something is truly worth revenging. By taking the time to revenge trivial matters you will waste your life in unnecessary nonsense and give the power to your target. And in the end, very few likes to be around a person who turns out to be revengeful over minor arguments.
It’s not about knowing to “choose your battles”, but also about recognising if there ever even was a battle.
It would be easy to argue that we are sheep-like if we don’t take revenge when someone offends us. That we should be capable of being cold enough and not to care about our target’s life or emotions or the consequences, as long as justice happens. We think we are strong, when we don’t care. When in fact, we care so much that we can’t handle our emotions. If there is something I have learned after experiencing emotional deficiency in the past, it is not the one who doesn’t feel who is strong. But the one who can still feel, navigate in those feelings and control them. The one who, even in the middle of pain and fury, always has at least something kind and constructive to say.
You do not need to suffocate your feelings. And you are not weak. You may be fully aware of how powerful you could be if you would start the hunt and take the revenging journey. Learn to enjoy that feeling, without sabotaging yourself by doing any unnecessary concrete actions. The sixth shows us that sometimes you are at your most powerful mode when you choose to not use your power.