Are You Obsessed With Revenge?

Many of us love good revenge stories—tales in which victims ultimately become victors by wielding vengeance on all who've wronged them. But in real life, retribution isn't always all it's cracked up to be. In fact, according to experts, letting go of revenge fantasies may be one of the best things you can do for your health.

Learn to Forgive and Be Healthy

In a University of Tennessee study, researchers asked college students to describe experiences in which they felt betrayed by their parents, a friend, or a romantic partner. As the students described their experiences, the researchers monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, forehead muscle tension, and skin-conductance responses.

Those who were "high forgivers"—who easily forgave those who hurt them--had lower resting blood pressure and saw smaller increases in blood pressure than those who held a grudge. The high forgivers were also more positive and empathic than their revenge-obsessed counterparts.

Giving Up the Grudge

The next time you feel your blood boiling and want to get payback, ask yourself whether it really pays to plot your nemesis's demise. If you decide it's better to forgive and forget, follow these tips to get started:

  1. Take it step by step. In general, learning to move on takes three steps, according to Jeanne Safer's Forgiving & Not Forgiving: A New Approach to Resolving Intimate Betrayal. Step one is reconnecting emotionally with the hurtful relationship. Step two is acknowledging its emotional impact. Step three is looking at the meaning of the betrayal from a big-picture perspective.

  2. Find religion. No, this doesn't mean atheists are unable to forgive. But many religions preach forgiveness as a virtue. The religion you practice or the one in which you were raised may help you find the path to forgiveness. You may also consider speaking with your priest, rabbi, minister, or other religious leader about your revenge fantasies.

  3. Revenge is not justice. Remember, seeking revenge on another person is not the same as getting justice. Revenge is an emotional response, a type of retaliation. Justice, by definition, is an impartial punishment, usually given out by an uninvolved third party. If someone has truly caused you personal harm and you believe they deserve to be punished, speak to the proper authorities.

  4. Put yourself in their shoes. Studies about forgiveness conducted at Case Western Reserve University found that people who were able to identify with their offenders and were able to see themselves as capable of committing a similar offense were less likely to seek revenge on the other person. Next time you're feeling vengeful, try to put yourself in their position first.