What To Do When You Want To Get Revenge On An Ex

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Getting revenge on an ex is a common theme in literature, movies, and music, and there's a good reason for that. When someone breaks up with you, cheats on you, hurt you, or has otherwise wronged you, it isn't unusual to want to hurt them back for the pain they inflicted. 

But what do you do about your desire to get vengeance on an ex? Do you follow that thought with action, or is there a better choice for you? What tools and strategies are available to help you process your feelings of wanting revenge, and to help you move on after a painful event in your life?

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Is desire for revenge hurting you?

Why do people seek revenge?

That feeling of wanting to lash out and get back at someone who hurts us is a natural response. When we feel shamed, or when we feel that someone has been unjust to us, we feel that something has been taken from us. We want to restore balance to our world, and having vengeful feelings can be part of that process. But the desire to take revenge on someone is actually a more complex psychological phenomenon than one might think, because it depends in part both on cultural contexts and personal ideas about how society should work.

Situations that trigger a desire for revenge differ from one culture to the next. These differences depend on cultural beliefs about what is important in relationships and about what kinds of behavior are considered correct. One study showed, for example, that something that might make an American feel slighted and consider taking revenge was not necessarily the same kind of thing that would make a Korean feel angry and vengeful.

Another study found that a person’s feelings about authority and respect for traditions could predict whether a person felt that revenge was an acceptable path to take. Subjects who were more likely to defer to authority figures and who had a stronger need to uphold traditions also were more likely to think that retribution was warranted.

Consider the consequences

It can be good to take a step back and consider what might happen if you succeed in your quest for retribution. Will your actions hurt yourself or your loved ones? Could your plans for revenge get you into trouble with the law? What other unintended consequences might there be to your actions?

Once you face the potential negative consequences honestly, you may decide that taking revenge on your ex isn't the right solution for your situation. Instead, you may wish to figure out healthier ways to deal with these feelings.

Healthy alternatives to revenge

It's normal to look for a way to end your pain, and at first glance revenge might seem like one way to do that. However, getting revenge may make you feel worse in the long run.

Some studies have shown that getting revenge is more likely to fuel your anger than relieve it, because it puts you in a situation where you continue to think about the person who hurt you.

You may find that dwelling on your misery increases your depression, anxiety, and anger. 

Leaving past hurts and grievances in the past may help you to have a more peaceful life. When you choose to live life in the moment and concentrate on the positive aspects of today, your hurt feelings may eventually subside. You can also do things such as journaling about your experiences to help you process your negative feelings. Some studies have found that journaling can be an effective technique in this situation.


There's an old saying that success is the best revenge, and it's often true. Choosing a happier, more fulfilling life that focuses on you instead of putting your pain into action by hurting someone else can help you improve your life and your mood, and can help you feel more comfortable in yourself.

The human desire to seek revenge often is linked with feelings of having been shamed or having been treated unjustly, so doing things that can improve your sense of self-worth can help you manage your vengeful feelings in a more positive way. Some people find it helpful to take up a new activity, like dancing or baking. Others may find meditation or mindfulness practices helpful. Exercise is a good way to burn off excess energy, and it produces physiological changes that make us feel better.

Finding compassion and moving forward

Changing how we think about ourselves and our experiences can also be a tool in working to set aside vengeful feelings. One way to do this is to be compassionate toward ourselves by recognizing that relationships don’t always work out the way we want them to. Treating ourselves with kindness and patience can smooth the healing process and help you to let go of negative emotions towards yourself and others. Since part of wanting revenge is a desire to rid yourself of your own pain and suffering, self-compassion that acknowledges the reality of that suffering can turn your thoughts toward healing yourself instead of lashing out toward the person that hurt you.

Radical acceptance is another practice that can change how you perceive yourself and your ex. It’s important to remember that radical acceptance doesn’t mean that what happened to you was right, and it doesn’t mean that you somehow have to accept it as having been right or a good thing. If your partner cheated on you, for example, that was wrong, and it is reasonable for you to feel hurt by it. Radical acceptance means acknowledging what happened as part of your reality without trying to fight against it so that you can move on with your life.

Although forgiveness may not be a path that works in every situation or for every person, deciding to forgive the person who wronged you can be a better alternative than seeking retribution. One study showed that people who decided to forgive rather than strike back felt that their actions better reflected their own sense of morality and helped them feel more connected to their own humanity.

It's important to note that all the suggestions given above are things that turn your attention onto your own self and away from the person that harmed you. Giving yourself the love and attention you deserve, especially after dealing with a painful event in your life, can be a nourishing, positive way to process your feelings and get on the path to healing.

Is desire for revenge hurting you?

Asking for help with vengeful feelings

If you can't stop thinking about revenge even after you examine the situation carefully and understand the alternatives, you may need help to get past these negative feelings. A therapist can help you explore your feelings and offer tools that you can use to move on from your relationship and build a better life for yourself.

More and more people are turning to online resources in search of a convenient way to speak with a trusted therapist without having to leave the comforts of home. Recent studies show that electronically delivered therapy is as effective as traditional face-to-face counseling and offers additional perks. 

BetterHelp therapists take your secludedness seriously and are committed to upholding your peacefulness, no matter how you choose to connect. You can always feel safe talking with your counselor about topics you find challenging too. Every BetterHelp therapist is highly educated and licensed, and has experience helping people like you face life’s day-to-day challenges, relationship concerns, and issues with anger management. Some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people like you are available below to help you in making the decision whether to find counseling through BetterHelp.

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“Raelene Faught has helped me in just a short time with her to find ways to control my anger, and emotions and work through everyday life issues. She reminds me of my boundaries with others and encourages me a lot in our messages back and forth. She is supportive and is there when I need to talk. She is always there when I need someone to talk to quickly and responds as quickly as she can.”

“This man is amazing. He was the first counselor that wanted to talk to me instead of a few before him. He is a good guy with a Christian background. Which was very important for me to find. He had talked to me about my anger and I am much better now because of him. I recommend this guy. I believe Jason can help you with a lot of the problems you may have. Highly recommended!”


While entertaining thoughts of revenge might feel good in the moment, ultimately, it may lead to more negative and painful feelings overall, and may cause more harm than good. Your best bet is often going to be letting go of the hurt and choosing to move forward with a happy, healthy life without thoughts of your ex-partner to interrupt it. By choosing acceptance, forgiveness, and your own mental health above revenge, you can help yourself reach a better place mentally and emotionally.
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