Despite making a great topic for ’80s teen movies, multiple episodes of Maury, and one perfect film series (Kill Bill), adults getting revenge on their childhood bullies isn’t actually a thing. Or is it?
According to some Redditors, who were asked a few years ago, “What is your best ‘bully revenge’ story?,” vengeance can be yours—though perhaps not in the way you’d imagine based off TV and movies.
Here’s what they shared.
Rather than orchestrating elaborate social sabotage schemes or enacting vigilante justice with the flare of Lucy Liu, most average human beings sort of happen upon revenge by accident, as with the Reddit user (whose account has since been deleted) responsible for the thread’s question.
He shares his own experience coming to work with a girl who put him down repeatedly in high school, writing:
“Mine is two years out of high school this girl who was terrible to me (I’m a guy and wasn’t very cool until later years of high school) in high school moved to the same college town I had gone to. I had a large awesome social network and she became co-workers at a record store with one of my roommates. I told him about what she was like in high school and she was pre-ostracized from our group, and she knew exactly why. At that time she still had some mean tendencies because she told my roommate, ‘
“I now live in the largest town in our state and am in occasional contact with a couple of mutual high school friends. Things turned out as expected for someone like that- single mom married a couple of times. Lives in the burbs. Of course, now I look back at the whole thing and smile and shake my head. I’ve even told our mutual friends to keep in the loop if they ever do
“The meanest thing she ever said, in front of about 10 people including this girl who I was friends with since birth who was very popular, ‘Eeew, you’re friends with him?’ There were also many snide remarks. Although to be fair she never really singled me out like you see in the movies. I just think she was
“Fast forward about 2 years out of high school I was with my friend shopping and I saw him. I had told her all about it. I wasn’t the same person he picked on a few years ago. We were
I_Hate_Celery, on the other hand, didn’t have to do anything for justice to be restored. He writes:
“He bullied me a ton in middle school, huge douche. But I got my revenge, even though I had nothing to do with it. I kept living the way I lived and he kept living the way he lived. I graduated high school. He got 20 years in jail for [various] charges.”
Revenge Vs. Justice
As popular knowledge goes, revenge and justice are two different things, with the former being wrong and the latter being right. But are they really that different?
According to law professor Thane Rosenbaum, no. “The distinction between justice and vengeance is false,” he writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A call for justice is always a cry for revenge.”
In an interview with NPR, he put it like this:
“Most people think that eye for an eye suggests bloodthirstiness. What it really means is exactness. What it essentially means – and we get this from the Old Testament and, of course, in Hammurabi’s Code – that when a moral injury is created, a debt is created, and then payback is required, but it has to be specific. It has to be proportionate. And all an eye for an eye means is a way to prevent disproportionate revenge.”
Still, many experts—and, most importantly, individuals who have experienced great loss and had to come to peace with their own hatred and desire for retribution—agree that revenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in all of our favorite superhero movies.
William Mikulas, professor of psychology at the University of West Florida, highlights the importance of taking responsibility for your own emotions as a way to cope with the sense of being wronged.
“The first thing is to realize that … by
Perhaps the most extreme example of this coping mechanism can be seen in the ways that communities dealt with the genocide in Rwanda. The New York Times did a series of portraits documenting some of these cases. “In one, a woman rests her hand on the shoulder of the man who killed her father and brothers,” the introduction to the series reads. “In another, a woman poses with a casually reclining man who looted her property and whose father helped murder her husband and children. In many of these photos, there is little evident warmth between the pairs, and yet there they are, together.”
To most, these reconciliation stories are unfathomable, but maybe incredible pain requires unfathomable healing.
Dealing With Adult Bullies
Of course, bullying is not genocide. While we might be wise to look to those who have experienced such horrors and still found the capacity for forgiveness, this isn’t exactly an effective method for addressing ongoing harassment.
If you find yourself in a state of constant distress from mistreatment at the hands of an abusive, power-hungry adult—of which there are many—you should take action. As psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen points out in Scientific American, these folks are often encountered at work.
Check out this “9 Ways to Deal with Adult Bullies and Mean Girls” podcast for Hendriksen’s tips for dealing with this behavior, including, “Trust it’s not your fault,” “Make immediate corrections … call out the bad behavior when it happens,” “Find strength in numbers,” “Stand up for others,” and “Don’t prolong your suffering—get out of there.”
This world is