The Psychology of Revenge

Libby Shively McAvoy
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Vindictive Behavior 

What causes someone to be vindictive? It boils down to a lack of self-esteem coupled with poor emotional regulation that causes people to hold grudges and seek revenge.

Most people have entertained the thought of getting back at someone, but the moral compass kicks in, and we rise above being vindictive. Those with high emotional intelligence can manage and regulate emotions and realize hurting others will not make them feel better. We may even feel sorry for the person who hurt us.

A vengeful person may have deep-seated fears, insecurities, and anger. They think getting retribution will relieve those negative feelings. In reality, seeking revenge and being vindictive makes the aggressor focus on that person more, inflicting more profound pain.

People with strong narcissistic traits commonly seek revenge. They may carry subconscious shame that they fear will be revealed, making them look weak.

Being vindictive and seeking revenge makes for a gripping movie, but in reality, it is not an effective way to regulate emotions.

Examples of Vindictive Behavior

  1. An individual who is angry about a break-up and launches a smear campaign.
  2. A co-worker launches an unjustified harassment complaint.
  3. An ex takes you back to court to terminate alimony because they see you happy.
  4. Someone who slashes your tires because you decided to go home early.

Vindictive people are irrational and can be dangerous.

How to Handle a Vindictive Person

Ignore them, block them, and stay away from them. Remove them from your life.

“Weak people seek revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.” ~Albert Einstein

Someone who is vindictive is like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum for not getting what they want. Others will see their unattractive behavior, and their true colors will show.

The fact that they are carrying such resentment and holding such a grudge allows me to empathize with that person. How sad to feel so negative. But, I still remove myself.

They project their shame onto others. They weaponize your fears, insecurities, mistakes, and flaws.

A vindictive person wants you to get the short end of the stick. In a relationship, this may cause you to feel stuck and afraid to leave. They may threaten you won’t see your children or you won’t have enough money to live alone.

Final Thoughts

Being vindictive is a form of psychological abuse. If the abuser is full of rage, it may escalate from psychological to physical abuse. If a relationship is even mildly abusive, it is time to leave.

If the vindictive person says hurtful things or launches a smear campaign, those words may eat at your soul. You may even start to believe them. Remember all of your good qualities because that is why this person was attracted to you in the first place. If you were such an awful person, why would they exude so much energy trying to hurt you? They wouldn’t.

If you fear for your safety, a restraining order or court order of protection may be necessary. Try to document everything so you have proof for the court.

You keep living your life and moving forward after removing them. Rise above. Show them that you will not let their disruptive behavior ruin your life. Rebuild your life and make it one you love.


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Libby is a Personal Development and Relationship coach specializing in emotional intelligence. By blending motivational speaking, leading yoga and wellness retreats, and writing, she has mastered the art of living her best life while helping others.

Cincinnati, OH

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