Revenge Is Sweet, and It's Everywhere


"'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord." Well, these days, he's got a lot of competition. It seems as if revenge is everywhere in popular culture, in the pages of best-selling novels and tabloid magazines, on small screens in soap operas and prime-time series, and on the big screen in Hollywood films.

Dr. Edward Hallowell is a psychiatrist and author of a book called "Dare to Forgive." He says there's a reason for the rise of revenge, and it's because revenge satisfies. "We love to watch stories of people getting even," he explains. "It feels so good. It's a wonderfully triumphant feeling." Hallowell says everyone, at one time or another, experiences the fleeting fantasy of revengeā€¦ and that's okay.

"If you don't have [the desire for revenge], I'd be worried," he said. "It means you are repressing it."

From the streets of Iraq to the halls of Congress; from crimes of passion to big business, revenge is a natural human emotion. Maybe that's why a vengeful public went out killing stingrays after the death of Steve Irwin.

'I Want Revenge'

"You could write the whole history of the world in terms of the history of revenge, this basic human drive to get even has driven much of the destruction we have seen over the centuries," Hallowell says.

But acting on feelings of revenge can become dangerous. "It's better to turn the other cheek, or let justice take its course," Hallowell says. "The difference between revenge and justice is a subtle one."

"In many people's minds, they are synonymous," he continues. "When people say, 'I want justice,' often what they are really saying is, 'I want revenge.'"

Why do we thrive on revenge? Scientists have been studying our brains to find out what happens when we experience revenge, and they've found that a part of the brain -- the dorsal striatum -- which normally sends reward signals, like the feeling you get when you're in love, is stimulated when people desire revenge. Hallowell points out that "the pursuit of revenge is a turn-on, it's an adrenaline rush, you can really get into it. And once you have experienced it, you want to do it again…and again. And it becomes a way of life."

Men More Vengeful?

Men have a stronger desire for revenge than women, according to a study published in Nature magazine last year. The study found that men experienced pleasure when they observed wrongdoers getting punished. Women, on the other hand, experienced empathy.

However the vengeance is rooted, Hallowell believes it is fundamentally self-defeating. He suggests people let go of the feelings of revenge and walk a path of forgiveness. "Rather than seeking revenge, which can become a lifelong obsession, I think the better way is to forgive," he says. "Now, by forgiveness, I don't mean that you condone the act; not at all. In fact, that's a bad idea. By forgiveness, I mean you free yourself from the hold that revenge has on you.

"The desire for revenge can just possess you…can take over your whole life," Hallowell says. "And that's really crippling. When you are able to get past revenge…you become freer."

'I Fantasized About Horrible Things Happening'

Forgiveness was the last thing on Nick James' mind after he found out that his wife cheated on him.

"There are very few words to describe the, the hurt and the rage that just builds up inside of you, and you feel so helpless in those situations," James says.

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