“I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”Tyrion Lanister in George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Familiar feeling? The self righteous indignation when someone wrongs us “how dare they!” Once in our head this can be an all consuming idea
“Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,Aaron in William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head. ”
So we cook up ways to get even and hurt them for hurting us. Revenge is a seething cauldron into which we pour a deadly cocktail of hatred, loathing, jealousy, envy, malice, anger and our wounded pride.
Only the person drinking this cocktail is not the person we wish to get even with, the person drinking it is ourselves. Anger, whether in rage or passive aggression is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person will die.
Here are 10 ways that holding onto angry revenge fantasies can damage your physical health and social life
- Heart risk. In the 2 hours after an angry outburst you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as at any other time. If you are regularly repressing anger is not much better as it increases your chance of heart disease. So whether you are shouting or plotting or drowning your anger, it is your heart which is the ticking clock.
- Stress. Anger encourages your body to release stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. This makes it harder for you to accomplish you usual tasks. When your body is in a state of fight or flight it is not as able to make rational decisions.
- Bystanders. All the stress hormones also make you much more likely to be easily annoyed by other situations, even if they are small. This is why people who feel angry at their boss end up shouting at their colleague. It is possibly also why there is more domestic violence after England lose a football game. Anger is difficult to direct at one person, if you are holding onto anger and revenge it will seep into all your relationships.
- Sickness. Studies have shown that when you think about something that made you angry you experience a six hour dip in the number of antibodies which help you combat infection. The more time you spend dwelling on anger and plotting revenge, the worse your immune system and the more likely you are to pick up whatever lurgy is doing the rounds.
- Escalation. Suppose you succeed and revenge is sweet. Is that the end? More likely the pendulum will swing back the other way again as they seek revenge against you. How do you even know that the thing you want revenge for was not seen as revenge against you in the first place?
- Obvious. You may think you are being subtle with your moves and countermoves. Chances are you are not. It’s easy to see that the other person has got under your skin and many people can also see exactly what you are doing to try to get back at them, probably including them.
- Trial by public. Would other people approve of the revenge you enacted? Would it speak of justice? Would you come out as the hero or the villain in their eyes? Most likely, to the other people you would appear insecure, volatile, a bit messed up, not trustworthy.
- Depression. If you are always plotting revenge but never taking any action then you have a higher chance of depression. Think of anger like pumping up a balloon; it is either going to pop in a big explosion or it is going to slowly shrivel and collapse in on itself.
- Death. People who hold in their anger and cultivate it have shorter lifespans than people who find healthier ways to express their feelings.
- Doesn’t work. There was an experiment called the Free Rider where one person took more than their fair share of the groups money. All of the other participants reported they would have felt happier if they had been able to take revenge. However, the half who did take revenge were less happy than the half who were not given the opportunity to take revenge. You may succeed in hurting them but you won’t feel any better as a result.
The only time anything like revenge does work is when the other person acknowledges that they deserved this and are sorry but this is far more likely to happen if you call them out on their behaviour than if you hurt them back.
But there is one form of revenge which does work. Don’t let them bother you. Do not give anyone the power to control you by “making you angry”. Take back control of your own emotions.
This does not mean letting other people walk all over you. It means being firm in your boundaries, clearly saying when someone is crossing them. It means finding ways to care for yourself.
If they deliberately hurt you, chances are their own health is not great for all of the reasons above. Don’t let them drag you into their hole. Take action and decide to be better than that. You are worth more. Your life is too important to waste your time on their petty games.
Take a deep breath. Slowly release. Take another, deeper and slower. Unclench the muscles you have tightened – your fist, your tongue, your shoulders, your stomach. Breath.
You have bigger things to be concerned about, dreams to achieve. Think about those things, your ambitions, your passions, the things which fulfil you. Decide to let your energy flow towards the things which will build up your life from here. The future is yours for the taking – choose wisely.
Next month I am running a therapy group in London, UK for young people aged 11-14 who are struggling with their emotions. This will be a safe space to creatively explore how we feel, re-frame some of the issues and find creative solutions together. If you want to know more please email me at Amy@play-it-through.co.uk to arrange a free taster session.