Stephen King calls spite “methadone for the soul,” a replacement preoccupation we partake of in order to avoid the real pain of suffering.
And much like a drug, a feeling of ill will towards those who have harmed us is a challenging habit to quit.
It’s normal to want to strike back, to want those who have rendered harm to experience the pain. Yet, as we learn from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, a life solely lived for revenge ends up only inflicting more harm and doesn’t act to end the pain.
I know I struggled with finding a balance between my desire for retribution and my hunger to put it all behind me after my divorce. Petty or even violent thoughts pushed through the aura of compassion I tried to carry, simultaneously capturing my attention and making me feel dirty. Proving the aptness of King’s description of spite.
Eventually, I found a place where I can live with what he did and, perhaps more importantly, live with myself. Here’s what helped me:
Distinguish Between a Place You Visit and a Place You Live
It’s impossible to suppress all feelings of spite. So don’t. It’s okay to spend some time with fantasies and feelings of retribution. But think of them as a temporary residence, a short-term stay rather than a homestead. Visit when the urge overwhelms and then close the door behind you when you’re ready to leave.
Be Mindful of Your Intentions (and Their Consequences)
Are you motivated to lose weight solely to show your ex what they’re missing? Are you trying to make your life look Pintrest-perfect in order to make your ex jealous? Although your actions may be perfectly okay, the underlying motivations will only undermine your actual experience. It’s hard to be in the moment when you’re focused on how you hope your ex will respond to the moment. Do what you want for you, not for them.
Apply Humor Liberally
Almost everything is better in life when we take it a little less seriously. And revenge certainly falls into this category. When you’re flooded with malevolent feelings, take them into the absurd. Make light of them. Finding humor in your malevolent desires not only helps to make you feel better, it also helps to burn through some of that excess energy that revenge tries to capitalize on.
Be Careful With Communication
Thoughts can only hurt you as much as you let them. But once you put those thoughts out into the world, others can elect to weaponize those ideas against you. Be careful what you speak and to whom. Venting is better expressed in your journal than on Facebook. A little selective silence here will pay dividends when you’re no longer focused on retribution.
Refrain From Judging Your Vindictive Feelings
Ban “should” from your vocabulary. You do feel this way. Start with accepting that. When we fight too hard against something, we only feed it through attention. A desire for revenge doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re sinking down to their level. It simply means you’re human and hurt and angry.
Feelings Don’t Have to Translate Into Action
Accept your feelings, but also refrain from giving them too much power. Just because your urge is to act out, you don’t have to listen. Create barriers and boundaries if you need to that allow time and space between the impulse and your ability to act upon it. Enlist help here, if needed. Sometimes just venting to a trusted ear alleviates much of that desire to act.
Focus on Elevating Yourself Rather Than On Tearing Them Down
Revenge is often motivated by an impulse to be doing better than the one who did you harm. And there are two ways to accomplish this – by tearing them down or by building yourself up. The latter provides better and more lasting results.
If you want to read more about karma (and have a few good laughs too), click here!