My revenge will be sweet!

,I’ll make you pay for that!, You probably know the feeling. Someone has wronged us, so we seek revenge. Whether it’s a cheating spouse, a nagging neighbor, or someone who treated your child unfairly, we all know someone we’d like to repay in kind. Where does this strong need come from and is revenge really as sweet as it often seems in your mind?

Revenge: everyone’s business

Revenges can be committed by anyone. It occurs in all levels of the population and there are no specific character traits that indicate a higher risk of committing acts of revenge. When Frans Koenraadt, professor of forensic psychiatry and psychology at Utrecht University, has to mention a characteristic, he believes the difference lies in the psychological stability of the perpetrator. When you are unstable, revenge is more likely to prevail, as opposed to when you are in a stronger position. You can often let unpleasant experiences slide away more easily.

Our feelings of revenge are reflected in the activity of our brains . There is then a lot of activity seen in the striatum. This is the area of the brain that is responsible, among other things, for controlling movements. It looks like we’re literally bracing ourselves to get hit.

Is revenge really sweet?

We all have fantasies about revenge. Fortunately, we do not implement all of these. Revenge often has a bad aftertaste, partly because it is often accompanied by guilt. If this is not always the case. Perpetrators of honor killings more often seem to have the feeling that they are fighting for a higher goal, for example they think they are saving the family honor. When they are tried, they do not always show remorse. In many cases, however, revenge is accompanied by guilt. This seems to be the case most often when it concerns a person with whom our bond was previously strong, for example our partner or parents. No matter what that person has done to us.

Where does our need for revenge come from?

If revenge often doesn’t make us feel good in the end, why is the need so strong? Revenge belongs to groups of people. It is a remnant from the time when we still lived in tribes. The principle of revenge is actually: if you do something to me, I will do it to you. In the days when we still lived in tribes, if someone from our tribe was killed by a member of another tribe, that murderer had to be killed too. In this way the entire tribe was prevented from being exterminated and we were able to survive. At the same time, you also kept quiet under the threat of revenge.


Of course times have changed. In 2013 we have our own system for taking revenge, namely the judiciary. We let the judiciary take revenge for us. This of course does this without violence in the Netherlands. This prevents us from taking the life of our neighbor for the slightest thing. However, the administration of justice does not proceed without violence in all countries. For example, in some countries there is the death penalty or stoning.

It can also be done without violence

We often manage to suppress primal urges such as revenge. Prevailing norms, rules and wealth also play a role in this. We usually stick to fantasizing and do not take action. That is not necessary. Fantasies can be satisfying because they allow you to fully experience an act of revenge. In addition, it is not only about taking revenge, but above all about being able to correct someone when that person has treated us unfairly.

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