In the past week, with the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, there have been many strong reactions. Some people are excited that revenge has been had. Others feel as though his death does not provide the closure that is so desired. But, what about revenge? Is it healthy to feel? I spoke with Russ Mitchell this morning on The Early Show, Saturday Edition about this idea.
Revenge, the desire for it, is a very powerful emotion. Osama bin Laden killed thousands of people, creating a sense of uncertainty and a sense of being unsafe for so many. His death brings a sense of finality, and a sense of justice to many. So many people have been holding on to their anger at what they have lost, and rightfully so. That anger has been eating away at them, though, possibly bringing negativity into many other areas of their lives. With the death of bin Laden, we can hope that some of this anger can be let go and the moving on process can really happen.
This certainly begs the question about whether or not revenge can be a positive thing. Revenge can motivate you to make some changes. Revenge is a deeply human reaction to situations and can be a deterrent to bad behaviors. Revenge can serve to show others that you are a force to be reckoned with, that you can stand up for yourself and demand respect. Revenge can provide a way to keep order. However, revenge can come at a price. Although we often assume that revenge can help us move forward with our lives, it has been shown to actually keep individuals dwelling on a situation, causing us to remain unhappy. We hope for catharsis of some sort, unfortunately, revenge does not always push us into this sense of inner calm and peace as we hope it might.
We have to figure out what is motivating the revenge. Often, revenge is motivated by feelings of anger and hurt. The healing, in my opinion, comes more from understanding where the anger and hurt come from and figuring out how to let them go. Forgiveness, while incredibly difficult, does help with the healing more than anything. It conveys the message that you are bigger than the slight and greater than the power the offense seems to carry. Forgiveness does not mean to forget, just as acceptance does not mean you approve of a situation.
Revenge can impact us in all areas of our lives. We tend to be most offended when we feel that our personal rights are violated, although there are some cultural differences in what offends individuals. People are incredibly sensitive, sometimes outside our own awareness, of the subtle slights that occur at the hands of others, and generally can mange it without lashing out. It’s when one of those slights ignites a much larger, longstanding sense of betrayal that the idea of payback goes much deeper. Sometimes, people will “self-sabotage”, taking the revenge out on themselves, believing that it will indirectly impact the other person. More often, we engage in indirect forms of revenge: avoiding phone calls, missing appointments, giving the silent treatment. In a work environment, we might create elaborate plans to get that coworker fired, and even set up opportunities for that person to slip up. Unfortunately, our work may suffer because we are spending a lot of our time focused on the other person. In the time we spend to set up another person and exact revenge, we could work on letting it go.
It is, however, very difficult to “let go.” We do often believe that if we forgive, that we are giving the other person in our life a “free pass” to hurt us again. The truth is that holding onto the anger and frustration impacts our ability to move forward in our own lives. The other person isn’t suffering, we are. We may want to exact vengeance, but vengeance is unpredictable. We have no idea how it is going to impact the other person, and in fact, it may fall flat. Grudges just block our own development and forward movement. It’s important to figure out what it is that is really creating the intensity of emotion and try to move out of it.
There are things to consider if you want to let go of the resentment and move on, especially if revenge isn’t an option, and if you know it may not really fix the problem (which often it doesn’t…the death of bin Laden won’t bring back the people lost, for example):
Some healthier ways to manage anger:
Talk to someone: Sharing what is happening and problem solving ways to manage it is a much healthier outlet. Go to a trusted friend or family member to whom you can vent and let it out. Sometimes that provides the release you need.
Even if the resentment takes time to go away, don’t create more unnecessary problems for yourself. You don’t have to forgive to continue to act appropriately.
Exercise: Find a way to release the tension. Getting moving helps to increase the oxygen in your system, which helps to clear your mind more easily and helps you think more objectively.
Find ways to bring yourself back to the current moment, one in which you may have positive things going on that are not impacted by the perceived slights. This will help remind you that you don’t need to live in the past but can enjoy the current time fully.
How to you manage your feelings of revenge?
Here’s the clip from this morning’s discussion with Russ: