A good friend is writing a book about revenge and has asked for my comments regarding this topic. It certainly makes me consider the metaphysical ramifications of this rather powerful emotion. At first glance it seems quite reasonable to feel the desire to avenge a perceived wrong doing. This is, after all, the basis for the notion of justice and the punishment which ‘fits the crime’. But intuitively, I feel that revenge is not the appropriate response. There seems to be an element of sudden violence in it. It is associated with such concepts as vengeance, retribution or vendetta. It also seems to be rather Biblical in its response to any seeming injustice, and one that was greatly modified by later Talmudic scholars. Of course, revenge seems to be a natural response to personal insults or rejection. It is often the emotion that follows a sudden, unexpected loss of something important–a job, a cherished relationship. In other words, to be fired from a job because of a corporate take-over, perhaps a loss of the individual’s position due to such impersonal changes, is far less likely to induce a reaction of revenge than, say, the knowledge that someone at work engineered the firing because of personal dislike or the threat of competition. Also, when there is a strong emotional investment in a relationship, the sudden feeling of rejection that can occur when there is unilateral severing of this bond, can result is an emotional crisis. One response is to seek an equally emotional response–the desire to see the other person hurt, physically and/or emotionally. Although this may seem ‘just’ I believe that it is ultimately damaging to our inner sense of self. It does not promote our own evolution as spiritual beings who seek our own healing relationship with the universe. Such strong emotional negativity actually damages both parties. Like hatred, it maintains a powerful link between the two parties and can bring chaos and confusion to both. The old Chinese proverb regarding hatred is relevant here. ‘If you hate someone, you might as well dig two graves.’ A more difficult but metaphysically and spiritually ‘better’ response is to allow the negative emotions to settle down. When we are feeling vulnerable and wounded, we are in an inferior, a weakened position in relation to the individual who initiated the action. We feel powerless, impotent, unable to move on. We feel paralyzed with grief yet may lash out like a cornered animal. With some time and perhaps meditation, we can re-establish our own sense of ourselves, our value and worth. We can withdraw our negative energy from the other individual. Perhaps forgiveness is not the correct response here but we should try to understand that the rejection is not about us, but about the individual who did the rejecting. We do not need to analyze why, merely acknowledge our own continuing value and worth. By releasing our feelings [good and bad] regarding the perpetrator, we can move on in our own journey. This an act which requires will and courage. Yet it is ultimately liberating–they will no longer have power over us! Justice in a civilized society attempts to remove the emotional content from the punishment it provides for wrong doing. We should aim for the same dispassionate attitude. Those of us who believe that karma serves to balance all actions can allow this force to act for our benefit as well. We do not have to do anything. Rather than react with vengeance and likely accrue our own ‘bad karma’, just accept the truth that justice will prevail. Ultimately, our own healing is best served through remembering who we are–spiritual beings having a human experience. This requires us to face emotionally painful situations and respond to them with this powerful awareness to the best of our abilities.
Here are some sanity saving tips for those moments when the desire for revenge arises within you:
Dr. Steve’s Prescriptions:
1. Name the person or organization you feel has wronged you. Acknowledge what you feel. Recognize that you’ve had an emotional “investment” in that person or institution and that this “investment” is a product of your mind’s own perceptions. This mental and emotional bond, now shattered, is the source of those powerfully dark emotions.
2. Give language to the pain that leads you to want revenge. It is OK to admitt the “the story” behind the relationship to yourself, and verbalize it to others whom you trust. This allows you to express and externalize the dramatic events. It gives you the ability to ‘witness’ and release some of the negative energy associated with your desire to take revenge. It is also important to understand that it takes time to uncover and process these intense feelings. The desire for revenge is related to fear, sadness grief and loss. Time is an indispensable aspect of healing.
3. Understand the power of the dark emotions. These feelings are an essential aspect of our human mind. They evolved for a reason and allowed our ancestors to survive in a harsh and unforgiving world. Don’t suppress them, but know you are also capable of experiencing them without reacting impulsively..
4. See the human side of those you are angry with. Understand that the actions that led another person to offend you — and which have triggered your intense hurt and feelings of revenge — are not really about you. More likely it is related to their own issues. The offensive party or parties are, like us all, imperfect beings. Just as they have brought up a desire for revenge in you, perhaps you brought up a fear or feeling in the other person that led that person to want to go on the attack. It takes two to create a situation like this. In any relationship, both parties are responsible for its success or failure.
5. Be open to learning from the event that has led to your desire for revenge. After the intense feelings subside, don’t be afraid to analyze your part in the incident that led you to desire revenge. There may be very powerful lessons awaiting your discovery. Admitting failure on your part is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy. On the contrary, it is the metaphysical reason behind the experience itself. Perhaps the painful events which have led to your feelings are necessary obstacles along your life’s path. Overcoming them leads to spiritual evolution.
6. Ask for guidance in moving forward in a way that is spiritually appropriate. Become aware that you do not have to be stuck in revenge. Impulsive acts of revenge can be self-defeating. Seek to channel the rage you feel through alternative means: exercise, prayer, meditation. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, allows us to ‘witness’ our feelings without becoming swept away by them.
7. Seek justice rather than revenge. Once you have viewed your feeling for wanting revenge through a spiritual lens, you can recognize their metaphysical implications . For example, that hurtful actions result in instant karma on the part of those who perpetrate them. There is cosmic justice. Allow yourself to find the most appropriate way to bring justice to the situation, without holding onto the hatred that is required to keep revenge alive. Don’t hesitate to utilize a practical approach, as needed, such as filing a complaint through an official channel or taking legal action as necessary.
Understand that, in the end, it is in your best interest to allow the heat of passionate feelings to cool and to adopt a metaphysical response.
Copyright, 2007 Steven E. Hodes, M.D.
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