When you feel like you’ve been wronged or treated unfairly at work it’s very natural to have resentments and perhaps a desire for revenge.
Feeling the anger and the injustice, rather than just stuffing it down can be helpful to a point, but, if you get trapped in revenge fantasies or actually try to get revenge on those you feel have harmed you, it tends to backfire. And you don’t generally get what you really want – respect, advancement, or a congenial work environment.
Pirate Jenny—the ultimate revenge song
Years ago, I saw Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil’s 1930’s musical play Three Penny Opera. One of the characters, Jenny, is an abused, overworked, underpaid and very bitter maid in a cheap hotel.
Her big musical number, Pirate Jenny, is her ultimate revenge fantasy. She sings about how pirates will come in on their ship, how they are going to land and capture everyone who has hurt her. The pirates will ask her what she wants to do with them and she will say, ”Kill them all now!” Then she will sail away on the pirate ship, the only survivor.
I’m sure she mentally replayed her fantasy over and over to help her cope with the indignities of her life, but a fantasy like that doesn’t change or improve anything.
Now what did Jenny really want? I’d guess love, self respect, ample money, nice clothes, work that she could feel proud of, the respect and appreciation of others, a secure home.
The truth is, even if her revenge fantasy became a reality, it isn’t a guarantee that she would be happy or get what she wanted in life.
Why workplace revenge doesn’t work.
Similarly, revenge in the workplace is really likely to backfire. If you’re filled with bitterness and your mind is consumed with fantasies of how you will get back at these people or how they will see the error of their ways, it doesn’t leave much energy to focus on or enjoy your actual work.
And if you’re bitter and resentful towards colleagues, they will try to avoid working with you. And if you’re constantly trying to prove your manager or CEO wrong, they aren’t likely to see you as a most valued or trusted employee.
I know from my own past experiences with people who lied to me and with a workplace that treated me with breathtaking injustice, how seductive revenge fantasies can be as an antidote to feeling powerless and helpless. But, the truth is, those fantasies, until I let go of them, just made me feel sick and didn’t help me change my situation.
So what can you do instead of seeking revenge? Here is my advice:
• First let yourself feel the anger in safe places and ways. What happened to you may have been totally unfair and wrong and you need to acknowledge that to yourself.
• Seek support from friends, coaches, therapists, or others.
• Get love and validation from your best self and others that you are indeed a good person and didn’t deserve this treatment.
• Be willing to acknowledge whatever mistakes you did make that contributed to what happened and then work to lovingly change your thinking and behavior.
• Redirect your energy in positive directions such as getting new skills, applying for new positions within or outside your company, and cultivating an attitude of forgiveness.
• Remember we are all humans together. The people you are demonizing and wanting revenge against are struggling human beings just like you. They may have a far different perception of what has happened than you do.
None of these shifts happen instantly, but working towards them in peaceful way can change your experience at work and open your heart.
About Lorraine Segal: As a teacher, trainer, and coach, I am passionately committed to helping people in organizations and companies learn skills to release conflicts and misunderstandings, communicate better, and create a more harmonious and productive workplace. I teach communication and conflict management skills at Sonoma State University create customized programs for businesses and non profits. For more information or to request a consult or session, visit www.ConflictRemedy.com.
Want to know more about the Pirate Jenny song?
The great Lotte Lenya sings Pirate Jenny:
The great Nina Simone’s lyrics, transporting Jenny’s story from a flop house in Germany to S. Carolina: