Having watched The First Wives Club after every breakup I've ever been through (because, no, Horrible Dave, you don't own me), enacting a well-thought-out revenge plot has always been an enticing temptation. The idea of making someone suffer who had thoughtlessly made me suffer first—whether by sending them gorilla poop, egging their house, or doing something more extreme, like sleeping with their best friend, gets me downright giddy. But while dreaming about these things has helped me get through some of the worst heartbreaks of my life, I've never gone so far as to actually act on any revenge fantasy. And according to the experts, that's probably for the best.
“It looks great in the movies, and we always applaud them, but in real life, you’re going to look crazy," says relationship expert and author Susan Winter, who adds that usually, when someone really wants to carry out some sort of revenge fantasy, it's because they're feeling particularly disempowered.
"You want to enact revenge because the person hurt you. They abandoned you, betrayed you, broke your trust—and you want to inflict the same degree of pain that you’re feeling." —psychotherapist Jane Greer, PhD
And another pro agrees. "You want to enact revenge because the person hurt you. They abandoned you, betrayed you, broke your trust—and you want to inflict the same degree of pain that you’re feeling. You want them to feel what it’s like to suffer," says Jane Greer, PhD, a New York–based psychotherapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
Those feelings may be legitimate (because, c'mon: who among us hasn't imagined TPing an ex's yard?), but acting on them is nearly never a great idea. "If you act out your anger by implementing a revenge fantasy, you stay locked in a negative connection with your ex, and you will likely incur their wrath," says Dr. Greer. "But the goal is to be able to move on and let go and heal from the breakup. You can’t do that if you’re locked into the pain and anger."
The saying that "the best revenge is living well" is a total cliché, but frankly, it checks out. Instead of torturing your ex, spend that emotional energy on bettering yourself. "Focus on ways you can enhance your life and feel better about yourself," says Dr. Greer. "Turn your life into a plus rather than trying to turn your ex’s life into a minus. This mind-set will further your separation from the relationship and help you to heal and move on."
Sure, doing something diabolical might feel amazing in the moment, but it'll likely never give you the extended satisfaction you crave...and will leave you with a pretty (pun intended) shitty legacy in the long run. And, really, do you want to be remembered as the person who handled a breakup with grace and maturity (like an adult!), or the one who sent poop in the mail? The good news for Horrible Dave and the rest of the idiots I've dated? I, for one, officially know where I fall on that continuum.
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