We humans do seem very revengeful, don’t we?
There are at least eight theories for why humans seek revenge:
- Revenge for defense. According to this theory, acts of revenge signal to a potential aggressor that if they act aggressively, the target of their aggression will defend themselves by striking back. Thus, the potential target person protects themselves against future attacks.
- Revenge for pleasure. Renowned psychologist Karen Horney spoke of the “vindictive triumph” – the feeling of excitement and elation – that can accompany the quest for and fulfilment of an act of revenge.
- Revenge for restoration of pride.
- Revenge to undo humiliation. Similar to the previous reason for revenge, the concept here is that revenge serves to undo the shame and humiliation generated by the original injury or loss.
- Revenge as protection from grief. This is the belief that revenge functions to protect us from the grief over a loss or the anxiety resulting from separation or abandonment.
- Revenge as a means to avoid mourning. This function of revenge allows us to avoid or lessen the painful aspects of mourning. Italian psychiatrist Franco Fornari wrote of “the paranoid elaboration of mourning” to describe this process of aggressive acting out as a substitute for doing the internal work of grieving.
- Revenge to build self-esteem. As psychiatrist Salman Akhtar writes: “Although typically viewed as politically incorrect, some revenge is actually good for the victims. It puts the victim’s hitherto passive ego in an active position. This imparts a sense of mastery and enhances self-esteem.”
- Revenge to release anger. Psychiatrist David Lotto writes about the widespread US reaction of anger and revenge to the 9/11 disaster: “Although there was a good deal of grief, sadness and feelings connected to loss and suffering expressed, what was most striking was the level of anger that emerged. The anger was largely contained and couched in the garb of rational intellectual discourse, but the power and intensity of the rage was palpable.”