You're all torn up, but you're finally ready to let go of a past love... Until those nagging thoughts intrude again, and suddenly what is true and what is false are shaken up. Your mind becomes a blur. You phone a friend or two for advice. You can't remember why you called. You find yourself agreeing with them, even though you know that what they're saying is wrong. You're angry and primed for attack.
Whether it's a divorce or long term relationship, or a friendship that falls apart, the deadly poison of revenge becomes our ugly destiny.
Revenge is by definition hostile. And when it rears its ugly head, the walls we have built with our mind collapse and our boundaries break down and disappear, putting us in a position to do what we normally wouldn't do.
Feeling hostile emotions is a whole lot of work. Carrying such negative intentions weighs us down. We may have been wronged and believe someone should suffer, but who, in the end, really pays?
The following is a story of how a recent client of mine resolved her burning desire to punish her ex-husband for leaving her and planning to remarry. Her actions turned not just her life but other people's lives upside down.
Ella is a 40-year-old socialite from London. Having just recently gone through a two-year divorce, Ella felt betrayed and abandoned. She loved her husband, Jack, as well as everything that their marriage gave her--a sense of being sheltered, cosseted and cared for. Now single after 15 years of marriage, she felt let down and left behind.
To top it off, Jack had announced that he was remarrying and wanted to lower her alimony.
Ella decided she had had enough and declared an all-out war.
"He's taking me back to court to cut down my alimony," she cried. "I'm going to make his life miserable! I'm going to make sure he doesn't speak to the kids. That will show him."
Ella was filled with angst and resented his cheapness. "Doesn't he care about the children? Doesn't he know he's hurting them too?"
The first thing I asked Ella to do was to go back to the beginning of their marriage. "What was he like?" I asked.
"He was kind, gentle and loving." She gleamed as she recalled their early days together.
"Was he generous?"
"OMG! So generous," she exclaimed.
"Are you still expecting him to care about you and treat you the same way?"
It was plain from Ella's silence and the expression on her face that her expectations hadn't changed--even though their relationship had. She was playing a never-ending waiting game, chasing a snippet of something familiar from Jack, something she could cherish, something that would convince her he still had feelings for her. But that something would never come.
Jack had changed. And so had their relationship. By expecting the behavior of the former Jack, Ella was only hurting herself. She would never get what she wanted. That part of their relationship no longer existed. Meanwhile, instead of moving on like Jack was doing, she was making an incredible mess of her life.
Like Ella, how many of us have acted out negatively at one time or another in order to relive the past?
Revengeful emotions arise when two opposing ideas meld into one loose idea to create a contradiction. In Ella's case, a yearning for an idealized memory of Jack, who had been generous and loving, versus the coarseness of Jack of today, created an irreconcilable contradiction. How do you live with that?
When, like dark versus light, we polarize our mind into two opposing forces, we're right to go back to the beginning--if just ever so briefly. Stepping back into the past and asking "what was it like" brings the real issue--our outworn expectations-- to the surface.
Ella was waiting for Jack to fulfill her expectations, which were now obsolete. By seeing the contradiction Ella knew that to escape her private hell, she needed to change her expectations. Not lower them, not cast them aside, but align her expectations with reality. In doing so, the contradiction no longer existed in her mind, and her need for revenge instantly lifted. Rather than force circumstances, Ella accepted her fate. In doing so, she freed herself from a bond she'd created: In her desire for revenge, she had become a victim, the one who "paid."
Acceptance comes from the same place we get our "aha" moments from: that all-knowing place within. To ask anyone to go from revenge to acceptance is almost impossible. The first step has to come from a place of reflection and silence - this will give you a present state of mind. Being present is where we derive our strength from, and acceptance can only live in real-time. It cannot come from our past or our future. It is a gift that comes with the presence of mind.
Revenge is a bitter tonic and, although the thought of it may feel seductive, it serves no one in the end.
"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
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