Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

photo of Jan Bidwell

By Jan Bidwell

So, someone just really disrespected, maybe even betrayed, you. After the shock wears off, your impulse is to lash out. You know they are wrong. People around you know they are wrong. You want them to know just how wrong they are.

You have a choice to make. Let them have it, or wait. I’m going to urge you to, most of the time, wait. Waiting is sometimes not possible because safety may be threatened. When you can wait, wait for a calmer response. I know that can feel really lousy, but it probably will serve you best in the long run.

I know, sometimes after we don’t respond we start to think something like, “When they said that thing to me I should have said (or done) ___”. The thing is, during that rumination you had time to think the best response through, probably over and over. The moment for that response passed, and had you lashed out, it all could have gone sideways quickly. You didn’t respond, so you won’t know.

If this is a friend, family member, business associate, you probably have a chance to have a productive conversation. The best outcome would be an airing of your feelings and an understanding could be reached.

But, that’s not exactly a situation where you might feel the need for revenge. If we are talking about revenge, we are talking about an insult or a disrespect that cuts deep. We are talking about betrayal that blows past discussion.

Consider what rapid comebacks might provoke. If you are deeply wounded by an action or betrayal, an instant response will come from your pain. That response may be truthful and direct, but it may be reckless. There is also the risk that person will retaliate and do even greater harm.

If you take a breath, sit back, call a true ally, you’ll get support. If you lash out at the offender, you’ll get nothing good.

Think this through. If someone has betrayed you, if someone has really harmed you, they will not just change their nature when they hear your opinion and reaction. They will protect themselves and justify their actions. They want you to get enraged and come back at them. You can never prove how good/strong/important you are to his type of person.

Holding back requires the ability to tolerate frustration and control your impulses. Let the person, or group of people, continue to behave with low integrity, with high insensitivity, and without the benefit of using you as a punching bag.

It is not easy to stay steady when being attacked. Don’t expect to be able to see the situation clearly by yourself either. Talk to the people who you can truly trust and ask them to help you through.

Sometimes silence is the best revenge. Sometimes a measured, rational response will show the other to be immature and out of control. Sometimes legal action may be required. Whatever you determine is best, make the determination when you have your wits about you, when you are calm and have good counsel.

What always serves you well is to be steady and strong and in control. If someone is trying to get you going, this will frustrate them.

As a parent I know I had to explain this to my son when he was young, before he had good impulse control or good frustration tolerance. Kids don’t have enough life experience to know that in time the people taunting us will be shown to be the weak ones.

It is very hard for kids to accept the power of their silence when they feel disrespected, when they are deeply wounded, when they feel they might not be able to make it through a situation without retaliation. Too often today retaliation means being violent. Kids and adults alike need to feel supported while stepping back from retaliating. The price of violence is too high. Kids won’t know that unless we can teach them that.

Ultimately, the best revenge is not needing revenge. Working through the issue with your support system and simply turning your back will deny satisfaction to someone trying to provoke you. But if you can’t, or shouldn’t, drop the issue, then make them wait for a response, make it one they don’t see coming, make it legal, make it steady, and make it formidable.

Jan Bidwell is a licensed clinical Social Worker, an author, social activist, front line crisis responder, community activist, psychotherapist, and mediation teacher. She is currently in private practice, offers training in resilience and mindfulness, and continues to volunteer in Ingham County. For more information log on to