"'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 revenge… 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.
James says his wife blurted out the fact she was having an affair while they were watching TV. "When I first found out, I felt sick…I was shaking, I was sweating, and I felt physically ill. I had no idea whatsoever this had been going on. It cut me in two… [the] husband's always the last to know and stereotypically, that was me," James says.
When James found out the new man in his wife's life was someone he knew, he had a different reaction. "As soon as I found out about the affair, this guy, this animal that she'd been having the affair with, I hated him, I just wanted pure blood. There's no two ways about it. If I could've thumped him, even murdered him, I would've done it."
As scientists would predict, James' natural instinct was to inflict a painful revenge against his wife's new boyfriend.
"I fantasized about horrible things happening, you know, cutting brake pipes, hoping he crashes, hoping he gets some sort of dreadful disease. And these were thoughts I'd have constantly," says James.
'People Do Want Revenge'
James knew he couldn't act out his fantasies, so instead he laid out a harmless revenge plot . First he took anchovies and shoved them up the tail pipe of the boyfriend's car. "If you put any oily fish in an exhaust pipe, the heat of the exhaust pipe will permeate the smell through the car," he explains.
Next he got some dog poop and smeared it on the car door handles while the man was at work. James waited and watched, from his own car nearby. "As soon as he put his hand on the door handle, it went straight in the dog poop. I mean, I was rolling around in the car in tears of laughter, because, he'd got what he deserved."
Juvenile? No doubt about it. But James says these harmless acts of revenge made him feel better. "People do want revenge, it is a way of getting control back," he says.
James' experience inspired him to create a Web site called getrevengeonyourex.com, where the newly jilted can hire James to help them get even, "as long as it's legal and playful," says James.
Eighty percent of his clients are Americans, and most of them are women. And though his revenge business is thriving, personally James has moved on and is happily remarried, proving the old adage that living well is the best revenge -- well, almost. Because for himself -- and his clients -- James believes a little taste of harmless payback can go a long way.
"It was about getting my own self-control back, my own self-respect. Because, if you've been hurt, betrayed, or made a fool of, you need to do something otherwise it festers inside. And revenge works."