Axios Finish Line: Taming vengeance
One of the most difficult emotions for me to tame is my reflex for revenge.
- Why it matters: Even at 52 — despite knowing in calm times that it's wasted energy — when wronged, I want to fight. I want revenge.
The lust for vengeance lurks in all of us. But acting on it almost never satisfies us. In fact, it often makes us feel worse.
Psychological and behavioral scientists found that the mere thought of revenge stimulates the part of our brain that processes reward. Yet the reward is rarely realized.
- Instead of making us feel better, revenge prolongs our bitterness with feeling wronged. When we obsess about the slight, it keeps tormenting us.
- Instead of delivering the justice you think you deserve (and might deserve!), revenge often creates a cycle that drags things out even longer.
- Plus you often feel like a jerk — when you were the victim.
So how do we tame an impulse as old as our species?
1. Get an anti-vengeance counselor. Mike Allen, my co-author and co-founder, has been my cooler-heads-prevail muse since the day we launched Politico in 2006. Back then, I would want to fight every naysayer or critic. He would pull me aside and say, "We'll be in this town a long time. Are you certain you'll look back and say that move was wise?"
- Mike was always right.
- You need a smart, trusted friend or mentor who can listen to you vent — and steer you toward a sane response.
2. Sit on your rage. Never retaliate immediately. The worst thing you can do is respond impulsively.
- The only thing worse than revenge is ... regrettable revenge. Anything you want to write or say, sleep on it for a few days before acting. Most of the time you'll come to your senses.
3. Brush it off. It's different if the person has hurt your character or family. But most of the time, whatever you're stewing about isn't that big of a deal in the scheme of things, anyway.
- Is this something that'll matter in 10 years? If not, move on! As Finish Liners know, a happy, fruitful life is focused on forward motion.
4. Don't bottle it. I find writing but not sending a retaliatory email to be therapeutic. Or simply sharing my fury with a friend.
- This lets you release the steam more healthily. If you just let it build silently and alone, you're more likely to explode.
5. Vengeance in moderation. This is a tricky one — but it works. Letting revenge animate your decision is obviously stupid and usually wrong. But allowing yourself a sip or two of thinking about vengeance can be invigorating.
- It motivates us to prove that person and others wrong.
The bottom line: Use the negative energy for a positive outcome — upping your game to be better than the jerk who wronged you.
This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.