The Psychology of Revenge (Part 2)

The desire for revenge is a ubiquitous response to narcissistic injury. It should be of interest that an emotion so intense and pervasive has received little study relative to other emotions. Both psychoanalysis18 and forensic psychiatry have merely skimmed the psychological surface of this destructive cognition. Yet consider how revenge hides in plain sight. For example, Greek mythology is awash in revenge themes. Revenge is the central motive in at least 20 of Shakespeare’s plays and is a main theme in many of today’s Hollywood movies. The success of movies such as the Death Wish series, and more recently the Kill Bill series, speaks to the public’s fascination with, and indeed their delight in, “the sweet taste of payback.” That there is a strong, primal universality of the revenge theme hardly requires in-depth socioanthropological study. Across almost every culture, the taking of revenge, when “justified,” has assumed “the status of a sacred obligation”. In many cultures, since biblical times and before, there has always been the principle of retributive functional symmetry, such as the admonition of an eye for an eye in the Hebrew Bible.

Taken into account the above information we again put ourselves back in the proverbial hallway and we try to look at the many reasons why people fall prey to the idea that it is ok to push someone to the brink of conflict-death. We have those people whose psychological make-up is short-wired to quick depression and quick to release once the pressure is built up enough to cause social damages. Yet, we don’t put a stopper on the emotions and thoughts of self-hatred when they call for help. Are we to blame for Sandy Hook, Columbine, or even the next Educational Shooting Nightmare? I think so. However, better laws need to hold those families who pushed the individual over the edge responsible. Every incident of youth violence is not single-sided.


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