Why Revenge Is Bad and Good

ByABC News
November 4, 2003, 12:15 PM

Nov. 13 -- Few people can blame 13-year-old Ali Abbas for wanting revenge.

In April, Ali lost both his arms, his parents, his brother and several other relatives to an errant U.S. bomb during combat operations in Iraq. The image of the wounded and burned boy crying in pain on a hospital stretcher inspired people around the globe to raise money for his medical care and further outraged those who opposed the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Last month, after being fitted for prosthetic arms at a London hospital, Ali said he hoped the people responsible for his disfigurement and the loss of his family would suffer some of his pain.

"I hope that the pilot who hit our house would be burned as I am burned and my family were burned," he told Independent Television.

Very few can identify with Ali's tragic story and the circumstances under which he suffered his loss. But everyone has felt the need to extract revenge. From being cut off in traffic by a rude driver and wanting to return the favor, to fantasizing about putting a school bully in his place, we have all felt wronged by someone and mulled ways of gaining vengeance.

But while the need for revenge can be understandable, experts say it is never healthy.

"It's not healthy, but like many other human needs, it's also normal," said Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University in New York.

"Like hate, revenge is something that takes a toll on the person who feels wronged, as well as the [person's] enemy. It is inherently unhealthy because it takes a psychological and physical toll on the person. Venting those feelings of anger and hostility does not decrease those feelings," he said.

"It may give you a cathartic feeling, but it doesn't last."