Revenge Not Taken is Sweeter Yet

Revenge isn't all that tasty whether served cold or hot!

Posted Sep 25, 2009

It is a natural reaction to want to hurt the person who hurts you. This tendency comes from the cerebellum, the primitive part of the brain, which is wired to fight or flight. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. A few of the most passionately in-love couples I've treated have actually come close to killing each other. There is a myth in this culture that revenge gives your relief from your upset that it will make you feel better and help you get over the relationship. But this unforgiving kneejerk reaction can really backfire on you. The Stanford Forgiveness Project found that not forgiving the people that hurt you leads to:
• more stress
• health problems including heart disease and cancer
• negative changes in blood pressure, muscle tension and immune response

Why does revenge backfire? Because focusing over and over again on your ex, obsessing about your wounds or revenge only leads to more obsessing and more raging.

You get more of whatever you put your attention on.

A vengeful lack of forgiveness will also lead to less personal awareness and growth for you. It always takes two to fox trot and if you only focus on what the other person did wrong, you won't ever learn what you do wrong. Which means you are likely to do it again. Lack of awareness is the foundation of what I call the Deadly Dating Patterns. So if you are deeply hurt and raging, don't injure yourself and squander your energy by seeking revenge. Give yourself peace and a new beginning by working on forgiveness.

Analyze your own bottom line thinking about how he hurt or damaged you. He ruined my life. I can never love or trust again. Ask yourself, "Is this really true?" Another person can act horrifically, but you are the one who has control over your own thoughts and reactions.

Ask yourself how you contributed to the problems. How did you set up the situation in ways you acted or did not act? You will feel like less of a victim if you see your own hand in what happened. Coldness or subtle rejection can be just as cutting as overt verbal attacks.

Bree, a student in my Love in 90 Days workshop, told the group that she had broken up with a cold and distant guy. Of course, all the women empathized with her and reassured her that she had done the right thing.  Nonetheless, I asked her to own her part of the relationship and that it would help her more if she wrote her ex an apology letter than simply continuing to blame and hate him.  It wasn't necessary for her to mail it but here's part of what she read to the group:

"I brought expectations to the relationship to fulfill everything I hadn't received up to this point from my family and life, and placed those expectations on you, actually wanting and expecting you to fulfill them all. How would anyone be able of doing such a Herculean task? I am very sorry for putting you on that impossible pedestal and then asking to be served by you. That put such an imbalance in our relationship. I also take responsibility for what happened in our relationship from not loving you for who you really are. Is there anything more horrible than this? We struggle to be our ideal, because we want to be fully loved, and to fully love ourselves, but deep down, we all just want to be loved for who we really are. I kept looking to the ideal instead of seeing and appreciating the real you. I am sorry for that. I wanted to see the knight in shining armor, instead of Brian. I wanted to wipe away anything I considered to be a flaw. I didn't know how to accept reality as well as hold the vision for the ideal, our best selves. I grew up criticizing and judging myself, always wanting to be the ideal me right now. I was supposed to be the perfect student, perfect daughter and do good for others. Always looking at the ideal you, I couldn't then love the real you, because I couldn't love the real me. All this doesn't excuse my behavior and now I am sorry."

So my best relationship advice to you is this: Use the loss or crisis to become a better person. If you are feeling angry, channel it into working on yourself, getting a new wardrobe, facials, exercise and generally improving your body. Initially thinking about how sorry he will be when he sees how fantastic you have become can be fuel for your rebirth. Learn to meditate, go to a 12 step program, start counseling or pray more.  Turn the painful relationship into a gift of transformation for yourself. For example, Julia, another student, describes how much better she felt when she turned to God instead of pursuing an act of revenge on her ex:

"I asked God to bless me and I started to cry. I decided right then as a Christian, I am using my faith to help lead my actions and moving closer to the fellowship in my church. And then life came out in 3D for me."

 Revenge not taken is the sweetest gift you can give yourself.