I'm not sure if it's the catchy white and red lettering, the cool, calm and collected look of hatred in Emily Thorne's eyes, or the breathtaking views of the Hamptons. But something is certainly intriguing about ABC's new television show, "Revenge." Each episode, like a story, is prefaced and concluded with reflections on the nature of hatred, deceit, and of course, revenge. What is most perplexing however, is the nature of protagonist's character. Seeking to right the unlawful imprisonment of the father she only came to know during childhood, Emily Thorne returns to the summer beach house she grew up in before his death. There in the Hamptons, she seeks revenge on each of the players in the complex chess game that conned her father and attributed a plane terrorism plot to him. The young Harvard-educated man whose fancy Emily strikes comes to be the heir of the Grayson fortune, the family who incidentally are the ultimate nemeses in this plot. While the ingredients for a suspenseful story are certainly set, inherent in the lead character are some serious psychological implications.
How does one poison, cheat, and de-throne the upper echelons of society with such grace and composure? How does one deny a childhood love to form what appears to be a loving relationship with a pawn in her game? Is it possible for someone to behave so dualistically-giving to charitable causes and then turning around to execute complex schemes the next minute? Can someone with so much hatred and bitterness truly ever find happiness or forgiveness? Many existential questions are posed, and few are answered. But perhaps more centrally, one may wonder if the fascination of the show does not come from our own deepest desires around gaining revenge against those who have wronged us. Perhaps it was a former love, a co-worker or boss, maybe even a family member. What would it be like to so cleverly turn their world upside down without every laying a single finger on them?
The reality is that however sweet we may anticipate revenge to taste, we may be in error to expect this. A quote a friend once shared with me from Malachy McCourt said, "resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die." A saying attributed to Buddha says, "holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." And Eckhart Tolle said, "where there is anger, there is always pain underneath." Much of the positive psychology literature on affective forecasting further tells us that the feelings we may anticipate are often wrong. What we think will make us happy, rarely does. And should it improve our mood, the feeling may only be fleeting, as we are constantly adjusting to current state of things. Hence, instead of seeking revenge, the best path can often be to find forgiveness.
The psychological benefits of forgiveness are many. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness can lead to a host of positive outcomes including: healthier relationships; greater spiritual and psychological well-being; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression; and lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse. Thus, if forgiving can boast so many benefits and lead to lower anxiety and depression, one can possibly deduce that Emily Thorne has a lot more going on inside than meets the eye. She may certainly be the most calm and elegant mob boss of sorts we've seen on television. But she also reminds us that however deeply we've been hurt, in seeking to invoke pain on others, we are usually the ones that lose out in the end. Beneath the look of scorn and anger in her eyes, one can't mistake the deep sense of sadness and loss that lingers.