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The Psychology of Revenge: Why It’s Secretly Rewarding

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A blogger was stealing my ideas.

And it made me very, very angry. Like foot stomping, slobbery snarling, pirate cursing angry.

Let me back up…I give a slice of my heart and thumb every time I write for this blog. (Don’t worry they regrow pretty fast). Basically, I LOVE writing for the Science of People—and am so grateful to you for reading!

I am constantly looking for ideas, pictures and article topics in my daily life and have pages and pages of notes for possible posts. I spend weeks honing topics, finding research and coming up with titles to make sure that everything we put up is extremely relevant (and of course anti-boring!).

So I was more than miffed when I noticed a fellow blogger was poaching our blog topics. About 2 or 3 weeks after we would come out with a post, we would see a strikingly similar post go up on their blog—citing the same research and quotes!

Bah! It made me so mad!!!! He was stealing all of our hard work and watering down the topic. My first instincts:

  • I wanted to rain farts upon his brand.
  • I wanted to shoot arrows at his articles.
  • I wanted retribution.

It was such a powerful feeling that I began to research the psychology of revenge and discovered the scientific seeds of this article. Before I get into how I dealt with this blogging monster, here’s what I found about the science and psychology of retribution in our video below:

What Is Revenge?

Revenge (n): the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands; the desire to inflict retribution.

It’s the juice of so many TV dramas and movie sagas, but should it play an important role in our real lives?

I want to explore the dark, secretive and mysterious science and psychology of revenge. As much as we hate to admit it, revenge is one of those intense feelings that comes up for every single human being.

Have you ever been wronged and wished you could punish the perpetrator? This desire is wired within us. Revenge is a powerful internal force we must seek to understand.

And to understand it better, it helps to understand ourselves. That’s why learning about our own goals (and setting better ones) can really help our self-awareness. Learn the best tips how:

How To Set Better Goals Using Science

Do you set the same goals over and over again? If you’re not achieving your goals – it’s not your fault!

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The Science of Revenge

A group of Swiss researchers wanted to know what happens in the brain when someone reaps revenge.

  1. They scanned the brains of people who had just been wronged during a game in the lab.
  2. The researchers then gave the wronged participant a chance to punish the other person, and for a full minute as the victim’s contemplated revenge, the activity in their brain was recorded.
  3. Immediately, researchers noticed a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus. This is the part of the brain known to process rewards.

Big Idea: This study found that revenge, in the moment, is quite rewarding.

However, they wanted to know one more thing: Does revenge keep rewarding?

The Long-Term Effects of Revenge

We often believe that exacting revenge is a form of emotional release and that getting retribution will help us feel better. Movies often portray the act of revenge as a way of gaining closure after a wrong. But in fact, revenge has the opposite effect.

Even though the first few moments feel rewarding in the brain, psychological scientists have found that instead of quenching hostility, revenge prolongs the unpleasantness of the original offense.

Instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation.

“A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.” –Francis Bacon

What to Do with Revenge

Revenge re-opens and aggravates your emotional wounds. Even though you might be tempted to punish a wrong, you end up punishing yourself because you can’t heal.

But what do you do if you were wronged? How can you deal with the intense emotional feelings of retribution? What do you do if you feel an intense need for revenge?

There is a healthy way to deal with these feelings that can help you heal and give your brain the same amount of rewards without the consequences.

Healthy Revenge

Are you ready for it? This one comes from the amazing, prolific, Frank Sinatra. In his words:

“The best revenge is massive success.” –Frank Sinatra

The next time you feel the dark tendrils of revenge creeping into your soul, I want you to take that intensity and put it towards succeeding.

Put it towards your goals.

Put it towards hustling to get what you want.

Put it towards growth. 

Get the reward center of your brain pumping by thinking about how sweet it will feel when you meet your goals. This shifts the focus onto you and your mission and makes your perpetrator irrelevant–which is exactly where they should be.

A Happy Non-Revenge Ending

As you might have guessed, I did not rain farts upon my competitor’s blog. I did not shoot arrows at his articles. I did not seek retribution. After reading this study, I decided to completely turn away from what he was doing and focus all of my energy into making our blog even better.

His content stealing actually gave us one of the best insights we could have ever had about our blog:

We had to make our content un-stealable.

Anyone can write about studies. Anyone can make bullet points. But not everyone can share stories. Not everyone can do original research. Not everyone can have cool videos.

This poacher inspired me to level-up our posts. Instead of posting basic steps and bullets, I pushed our team to come up with creative graphics, film and edit cool videos and not post articles until we had really good real life examples.

Yes, this made it much harder for him to steal our posts (and now he only does it occasionally) but more important, it made our blog better for our readers. We started getting more shares, comments and likes. Hoorah!

So here we go:

Thank you for stealing our content. You made us work harder.

30 thoughts on “The Psychology of Revenge: Why It’s Secretly Rewarding”

  1. I have this feeling of revenge not on another blogger but on ex-bosses who did injustices to me. I don’t know what happen to all of them now and it’s none of my concern either. However, what I was put through had made me more determined to do what I have always wanted to do – Freelancing. After 5 years I can’t say that the business is bringing in big bucks but at least I feel accomplished. I have learned how to setup and run a business, feel what it is like to be my own boss, have full control of my life and rejuvenate (who would think of rejuvenating at home). It’s now time to bring things to the next level. Wish me all the best.

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hi Joyce, thank you for sharing! I love that you used your feelings of revenge to inspire change in yourself, to do what you always wanted to do. We do wish you all the best!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

  2. I understand what you’re saying, guys. Get Productive rather than Destructive! I still think about getting revenge on a guy that gave me a hard time in school nearly 20 years ago! But it makes so much sense about what you said about the wounds never healing. Great article, guys. Keep up the great work 🙂

  3. I caught caught by a frenemy type. Friends to the face backstabbing me to higher up! I still want massive revenge.

  4. Shakespeare writes, “To revenge is no valor, but to bear.” Vanessa is correct: It only perpetuates a cycle of misery.

  5. Nikki Thornton

    This is such a great blog subject! As humans, we are hardwired to seek revenge but it is whether we carry out said revenge that can make or break you. Will power to take a step back and think of the ramifications of a moment of madness will cause. I love the info about the part of the brain that gets lit up!

    1. Gianna Thompson

      This article speaks to one color of revenge. It doesn’t address the misplaced revenge of those who are mentally or intellectually compromised and erroneously interpret amother’s actions or comments as harmful because of hurt feelings and then respond with vengeance that can cause serious, and sometimes irreversible, damage to another.

  6. Hold on there, Ms. Edwards! So are you suggesting that if someone steals something (e.g. Intellectual Property, Physical Property etc.) that one should not do one’s civic duty to file a police report, sue in court etc.? That only sets this person up to repeat their offenses (probably in bigger ways). I say “nip it in the bud”. Sue ’em and let the courts decide their fate. Of course, once sued, and we win, it is our moral/ethical right and duty to inform the world that we won to (a) clear our name and/or bring us fame, as well as (b) to warn the world (especially their social and professional circles) about them. Obviously all of this in addition to one’s own success (i.e. success is the best revenge). I’m curious what you/others feel.

  7. Thanks I’m grateful you put this up, just remembered vegence is mine says the Lord, let karma take its course…

      1. I agree. God himself knows we are vengeful in nature and hence likes to do it himself. But like you said sometimes karma needs a push.

    1. I see vengeance as an extension of the natural world. It has evolved to serve as a noxious stimulus for undesirable behavior. Bee stings, spider bites, and lawsuits all serve to discourage continued bad behavior from a perpetrator. In fact, it’s a moral imperative to mete out discomfort (or worse) when one is wronged in order to curtail similar misbehavior.

    2. Karma? There’s nothing like Karma. Take revenge if u want to!! If you do not take revenge, the person who has hurt you would probably continue to! If you want karma to take its course, you are just wasting your time!

  8. This is very healthy and well balanced advice. Unfortunately I don’t feel healthy and well balanced, because I am currently a five headed beast who wants to seek and destroy its enemy. I have been professionally trespassed against, and I have visions of a certain someone’s car destroyed due to sugar in the tank, or a manifesto of that someone’s misdeeds published in some public forum. Oh how I hate thee….let me count the ways! Thank you for providing sound advice. I’m sure when my anger dissipates, and my situation has improved, I will heed your advice.

    1. As much as I will regret saying this(but hey, it is better to regret than what if…)I would love to be an onlooker of your shenanigans and have a sip of iced tea with you at the end whilst laughing.

  9. Thank you so much “science of people ” ,lately i have been facing a lot of down moments where no body seems to be in terms with me and all i was planning to do was to take revenge ( which i believe is the most sweet and the most poisonous thing ) .Taking revenge is bad i know and being an avid reader of psychological issues i could’nt be happier that i found you guys .
    The content was AWESOME😍😍😍💗😘😄

  10. What to do when someone keeps taking you for granted? Someone whom you have given your love, respect, resources half of your life and the next moment person is like I don’t care , you are nothing for me and the worst part the person is in your family. What treatment such person deserve?

    1. Get away from them, and give yourself time to heal, and then find people who really deserve the privilege of your company and friendship. Family is just a word. They have to live up to that word. And when they don’t , and if they’re hurtful to you, then you are better off without them. Family is the people that make you feel loved and valued. People that support you. When there is a toxic person in the family, there’ little you can do but think about what’s better and healthier for yourself.
      And them? Well, they had the privilege of having someone who gave them everything, and they blew it. They missed a huge chance that not many people have. After that, all you can do is seek happiness to yourself and they have no chance but to be left as a loser.
      Cheers from someone that had to deal with toxic family too.

      1. completely agreed Nahs
        Infact we all i some or other way are illtreated by our family members.
        Consider them seek and be happy for yourself
        work on your selfcare

  11. Revenge is a powerful tool, as long as you give the same measure and dose. It allows the other party to feel exactly how you felt and that is required for growth. It’s a means to undo a hurt somewhat and it’s very rewarding. We as humans are vengeful in nature everyone needs to understand it and be conscious of it, that way you think more before you act to reduce and avoid hurt as much as possible. “Vengeance is mine ,says the Lord. He will sure point you the right way to do it or let someone or another circumstance take care of it. I recommend it after giving multiple chances if you can. It’s the ultimate straightener. We gonna all be alright at the end of the day.

  12. Thank you VANESSA for this well written article. I just now felt vengeful against persons of the our family who I believe don’t care for me, and decide things on their own without hearing me.

    I ‘ve felt similarly on other occasions too but have been searching about what I miss in revenge. Fortunately, I found your meaningful article today. That even after revenge, we don’t accept the perpetrator and keep the unpleasantness for long is an eye-opener for me. More than that, I also found that some commentators too faced problems with their family members. This and your reply to it with reasons helped me to come to terms with my vengeful feelings.

    I don’t know why that learning our suffering is not unique but a very common issue itself is somewhat healing. May be our feeling of being offended gets reduced.

    Thank you all again!

    1. I believe there are always to tragedies to every crime or wrong doing. The victim and the baby who grew up to commit the harmful act. We will never understand why babies do that if we only concentrate on the victim, and vengeance, revenge is the prime motivator to ignore the fact that at one time, the perp, was a baby, a child, a young adult, until something happened to them. I’m researching the subject too, and am going to steal just a little bit of something the author said, but I’m going to give her the credit for it, in quotes, and, post a link to this article. Justice in our court system, is never about rehabilitating the personal integrity of the perp, but debilitation through punishment, to satisfy those who crave vengeance.

  13. Jennifer Tanner

    I don’t need to be motivated to do better. I can motivate myself to up my game. Also, I don’t like to react or make my goals in response to someone else’s actions. I like to stay tapped into my intrinsic motivations to identify my goals. Just imagining revenge and in some ways interrupting the flow of someone else’s life brings me great satisfaction. I think this “be the bigger person” and “let your haters be your motivators” is junk.
    Be in charge of your own life, especially your motivations and goals for your own work. I don’t want to produce something I’m proud of and think of an asshole inspiring me to do it. Yuck.
    I want to stay true to myself and plan my own work goals so I can feel great about the integrity of my process and my product.
    Also, if someone is f’ing with my life, I’m willing to bet they’ll leave me alone if I address it.
    You just gave an asshole power over your work by letting him be your inspiration. Not sure how that can feel good.

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