Revenge is at the heart of some of 2008’s Oscar nominated films. Johnny Depp gives a startling performance in Sweeney Todd, playing a man driven by his murderous desire for vengeance. In the Coen brother’s No Country For Old Men, we can’t really be sure why Javier Bardem’s creepy character is acting out in revenge, but he is a man coldly possessed by it, leaving behind a trail of hapless victims. These revenge stories bring us the high drama we crave, but they’re best left in books and on the screen.
When it comes to daily life, vengeance is generally not as dramatic as it is in the movies, but the out-of-control feelings it brings on are still unpleasant, at best. Some say revenge won is sweet, but it must be known that vengeful fantasies carried out leave shame, regret and more unresolved anger in it’s wake. What can be done to tame vengeful feelings before they take control of you? We need to understand it’s source – anger.
If a person hurts us or if something gets in our way, we often become angry. In our anger, we want to show the other person or thing the frustration or hurt we feel – simply put, we want to get them back. If we hit our finger with a hammer, we roughly toss the tool aside. If a driver cuts us off, we speed up to tailgate them. In our anger, we act out vengefully and, more often than not, regret our imprudent behavior. You’d have to be a true yogi to live vengeance-free 100% of the time, but with practice it’s possible to exercise emotional, and sometimes righteous, restraint.
It’s important to resist brushing hurt feelings under the rug so as not to trouble “calm” waters in a relationship. This will only allow anger to build, which could lead to an explosion later down the line and sometimes depression or illness. Communicate what you are feeling right away. As always, you want to make sure your speech is non-accusatory. It’s always helpful to begin with “I feel.”
Venting actually aids and prolongs the spike in adrenaline that comes with the initial feeling of anger. Counting to 10 is still an excellent way to give your body just enough time to come down from the adrenaline rush of anger. Slow, deep breathing is also highly effective, since your body associates slow, deep breaths with being at peace. If you feel you are at risk of acting violently, the best thing to do is to walk away. Remove yourself from the situation until you have regained control.
Always look for a rational explanation. Maybe he’s late because of traffic? Sure, this day isn’t going as planned, but is there anything you can do about it? Will being angry help? Changing negative thoughts into calm, positive ones is essential in managing anger.
Instead of lashing out with accusations, ask pointed questions that require more than a yes or no response. “Is there something that’s bothering you?” “What is going on with you?” “Is there anything I can do to help?”
What’s behind the anger?
Anger usually stems from something deeper, such as disappointment, sadness or fear. Analyzing the source of your own anger is an excellent way to diffuse it and understand better how to resolve it constructively.
Sit back, relax and wait
All the cursing and insults in the world won’t remove the obstacles in your path. Consider this, if you can wait calmly, you may discover something you needed more than swiftly moving traffic, like a great song on the radio or a new Thai restaurant on the corner.
Exercising empathy, or looking at things from the other side, is a great way to diffuse anger and stop vengeful feelings in their tracks. When you exercise empathy, you realize that in many cases the hurt inflicted was unintentional. And even if the hurt wasn’t unintentional, exercising empathy will eventually allow you to experience sorrow for the person who behaved badly, as opposed to anger. Feeling empathy is the first step on our path to forgiveness.
By working through anger, we can live free of the ugly shackles of revenge. The English philosopher and essayist Sir Francis Bacon put it perfectly in his essay on revenge: “Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.”
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