The feud pyramid
Two weeks ago, I finally dumped my totally abusive jerk of a boyfriend. I do miss him, but I know I made the right decision. I came to see that he was cruel, manipulative, sociopathic, and toxic. However, I stupidly went on Facebook and saw that he already has a new girlfriend! I’m so pissed that I was replaced so quickly. I do not want him back, but I do want to make him suffer, basically to get revenge for all he put me through. My friend keeps telling me revenge is unhealthy and toxic and forgiveness is good for you and I need to forgive him. Is she right? —Burned
Revenge looks so Clint
Eastwood-cool in the movies — less so when you get arrested for keying “micropenis!!!” into your ex’s car, right under a street cam. The desire for revenge is basically the urge to punish people who’ve harmed us or those close to us. It’s widely believed to be a poisonous and maladaptive feeling that leads to poisonous and maladaptive behavior — like forays into the dark web to seek out a highly recommended but affordably priced assassin. In fact, evolutionary psychologist Michael McCullough explains in “Beyond Revenge” that the revenge motive seems to be “a built-in feature of human nature,” a sort of psychological police force guarding our interests. It was likely vital to the evolution of human cooperation, which in turn led to essential human innovations such as flush toilets, open-heart surgery, and the Dorito. Research that McCullough cites suggests the revenge motive has three functions: Deterring aspiring aggressors, deterring repeat aggressors, and punishing (and reforming) freeloading moochbags. The thing is, revenge has a companion motivation, forgiveness, which McCullough describes as “an internal process of getting over your ill will for an offender.” Interestingly, whether we forgive appears to be context-sensitive, meaning it usually isn’t the particular crime so much as the particular criminal that matters. McCullough notes that the forgiveness motivation seems to switch on when there’s a valuable relationship at stake — a continuing relationship between the harmer and harm-ee. In your situation, however, there’s no ongoing relationship to motivate you to forgive the guy. And though forgiveness is correlated with mental health and even physical well-being, the assumption that forgiveness is always the best course of action is a little under-nuanced.