Several years ago, I was working for a person with whom I rarely saw eye to eye. One morning, I walked into my office to find my boss had taken the liberty of rearranging my desk, including removing personal items, without asking or notifying me in advance. And if that weren’t enough, they explained away their actions with a slimy smile, insisting my office looked “unprofessional.” I was furious and even humiliated by their attempt at an unnecessary power play, and I wanted nothing more than revenge.
I’m not proud to admit this, but I spent several days after that encounter plotting how I might “get even.” Only there was a slight problem: I had very limited experience with revenge. After days of thinking about it, the only idea I had come up with was doing the exact same thing to them. I could rearrange their desk when they were out of the office, I thought, then explain it away with a slimy smile so my boss would know just how horrible it felt.
Admittedly, it was a lame idea that I wasn’t even brave enough to execute. As much as I wanted revenge, I knew there was no way to truly get even. The revenge would only have escalated an already tense work situation with my boss. So, instead of taking matters into my own hands, I trusted the universe to do its job of doling out consequences. And, let me tell you, it did not disappoint! Eventually, their position was eliminated at the organization and I was moved to work under someone more pleasant.
I’m not really the type of person who spends a lot of time thinking about revenge, but I get why people are drawn to the idea. It sounds simple enough: You hurt me. I hurt you. Now, we’re even. But I’m not sure it’s actually that simple. I’m not sure you can ever really get even.
From my experience, revenge escalates guilt and animosity; it doesn’t free you from them. Which is why the path of forgiveness, while not seemingly the most gratifying option at the forefront, is always the better path in the long run. Revenge ultimately weighs us down with false promises, while forgiveness lightens the load.
At this point, you may be thinking: If Melissa only knew what happened, she wouldn’t be going on about forgiveness!
And I just want to say, you’re right.
I don’t know.
I can’t even imagine.
And I’m truly sorry for your pain.
Really, please don’t take my words about forgiveness as a denial of your pain or your experiences. Your pain and the experiences that lead to that pain are very real. Instead, I’m asking you to see forgiveness, not as a denial of the pain, but as a path out of the pain. I’m asking you to see forgiveness as hope.
Acknowledgement of wrongdoing is built into the fabric of forgiveness. Only, forgiveness allows you to move past acknowledgement and into healing. Remember “the hook” analogy from Part 1? You have to acknowledge the hook is there before you can remove it and allow the wound to heal.
So, why doesn’t revenge work to heal the wound? Unlike forgiveness, revenge does not put any emphasis on healing. Rather, revenge focuses all of our energy on destroying a person and often that person turns out to be us.
In my introduction to forgiveness I talked about how forgiveness does not condone wrongdoing or deny its consequences. You may need to call the police if someone has committed a crime or violent act against you. You may need to file a complaint with HR because of a coworker’s inappropriate behavior. Or, you may need to cutoff contact with a friend or family member who continues to hurt you. However, you do not need to be violent, inappropriate or hurtful in return. Revenge is not your only option.
But won’t I feel better if the other person experiences the same pain that I’ve felt?
Honestly, probably not. You may feel better temporarily, but you haven’t truly healed. Not to mention, how do you know that you’ve caused them any pain or even “enough” pain? How do you know when you’ve gotten even? What if they retaliate again, causing you more pain? Does that call for more attempts at revenge?
You see, it’s a myth that we can solve anything with revenge. Revenge only keeps the guilt and animosity in circulation. Forgiveness, on the other hand, stops the madness in its tracks. Forgiveness sets us free from the unhealthy cycle of You hurt me. I hurt you.
I used to see a therapist who had an embroidered quote hanging on her office wall. It read, “The best revenge is living well.” When we forgive, we step off the hamster-wheel-to-nowhere and we move on to something far more important – living the life we were meant to live.
If you’re loving the “Fall Into Forgiveness” series, I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter to be notified when new posts become available. Next, we are going to discuss forgiveness as the ever-present reality of living well, and you won’t want to miss it!