Dealing with thoughts of revenge 

Living well is the best revenge.

Men who have been sexually abused in childhood report that on occasions thoughts of revenge can confront and consume them.  At SAMSN we recognise that it is important that we find ways to support men who have been abused to deal with these thoughts in ways that do not compromise their future wellbeing. 

Societal pressures men can face 

In our society there is a rightful expectation that justice should occur, in that those who commit sexual offences are held to account and properly punished.   Men who have been sexually abused are also aware that there exists an expectation that as ‘a man’ they ‘should’ personally make sure that the person who perpetrated that abuse is held to account and punished, whether within or outside the court system. 

(The model of the lone man taking revenge due in the face of an ineffective or inadequate criminal justice system is the subject of many movies, a prime example being Clint Eastwood’s Western and Dirty Harry movies.) 

Men report experiencing pressure to take injustice into their own hands, to personally ‘sort out’ or ‘pay a visit’ to the person who committed the offence and at times these thoughts can consume them.  Unfortunately, talking with other men, can on occasions be unhelpful, as they can amplify and offer to support them in taking revenge – counter to their long-term wellbeing.    

One man who was abused in childhood who acted on revengeful thoughts and is now serving time in prison himself had this to say to men considering revenge: 

“Well I look at it like this, I mean, I’m doing 4 years, right, minimum, with a top turn of 10 years, so at best I’ll be doing 6 years parole, and at worst I do 10 years of jail and I get out with straight release, right. Now, I’ve been living with this shit since as far back as I can remember. I’m 26 years of age, and as far as I’m concerned I’ve suffered enough. I just want to go home and get on with my life, right. And that’s what I would like to say to every person who is thinking about killing their perpetrator. Cause and effect. Everybody’s responsible for their own actions. You kill somebody, regardless of what they’ve done to you, murder is murder…”

O’Leary 2003

As the above quote indicates, sometimes thoughts of revenge can feel like a solution to current problems. It is a neat simplistic biblical equation of ‘an eye for an eye’. The logic being that if the person who committed the offence experiences pain, suffering or dies, my pain will reduce or disappear, and I will feel better.  However, the reality is that life is not that simple and acting on these thoughts does not make trauma go away. In fact, it can significantly add to life’s problems and can in some instances end up with the wrong person serving time in prison. 

Finding ways to address injustice that support men’s long-term wellbeing

Ideally, we want those who commit sexual offences to be called to account in a court of law and receive an appropriate sentence. Unfortunately, sometimes for a variety of reasons this does not happen. If you or someone close to you are thinking through the question of revenge, it is important to foreground the long-term wellbeing of the person who was victimised and consider carefully the consequences on any action.  

John, Rob and Kevin have considered the question of justice and revenge have shared their experiences. Read their stories: 

How we can help 

Research tells us that it is quite common for men who have been sexually abused to have ‘fantasies of revenge and homicidal ideation’ running in their mind (Walker & Davies 2005). Given that abuse and injustice has occurred, it is understandable that these thoughts will appear.  

As friends and supporters, it is useful for us to remember that if we fuel anger and vengeful thoughts, we can be doing our friends and colleagues a profound disservice.  

While we recognise there is a real difference between thoughts and acting on those thoughts, unfortunately spending time with thoughts of anger and revenge can in and of themselves be detrimental for men’s health.   A focus on the offender and ruminating on fantasies of revenge can take men away from acting to prioritise wellbeing.   The person who committed the abuse has already taken so much, the person who deserves positive attention in the long term is the survivor.    

In talking with men about the issue of revenge, it is useful to find ways to acknowledge men’s feelings of distress, as well their wish to take some action to address hurt. It can  be helpful to separate out thoughts, feelings and actions, as three different areas that interact and influence how we live our lives.  

Thoughts interact with and influence the intensity of feelings. For example, a thought such as ‘he’s not worth thinking about, he has already consumed too much of my time and energy’, is likely to produce different feelings and suggest different actions from a thought ‘the bastard has got away with it, he has to pay’.    In trying to decide on the best course of action, it can be helpful to first: 

Focus on grounding and calming ourselves physically, in order that our brain can work in our best interests.  Check out our Grounding Exercises, Mindfulness and Relaxation Exercise pages 

When you are feeling less agitated, it can be useful to find a place, where you can both acknowledge the sense of injustice and acknowledge the unhelpfulness of thoughts of revenge for your wellbeing.   It is useful to map out and be aware of the triggers that can send you down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts (like mention or thinking about the offender) and what helps you to focus on you and your wellbeing.  A useful question to consider is: 

“What might I do to foreground and support my long-term wellbeing?” 

This question “What might I do to foreground and support my long-term wellbeing?” 

is useful in that it helps focus on what is important for our wellbeing.  The answer can act as a kind of compass for our life and responding to difficulties when they appear. 

It is also useful to consider: 

“Is there someone who has my interests at heart who can help me work this through?” 

Considering and consulting with someone you know who provides good counsel is always useful. Even if you don’t actually ask them the question, it can be helpful to just think about what they might say. 

Living well is the best revenge 

As highlighted, one of the problems with fantasies of revenge and homicidal ideation is that the focus is on the person who perpetrated sexual abuse, rather than on action aimed at improving the wellbeing of the person who was assaulted.  

One Australian man who was abused as a child, who has spent considerable time thinking about what was done, about the hurt he has experienced, about the question of revenge and about where he wished to put his life energy: came to the conclusion that for him: 

Living well is the best revenge.

Client of Centre Against Sexual Assault. Victoria. 2010


  • Walker, J. Archer, J & Davies, M. (2005). Effects of rape on men: A descriptive analysis. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 34, 69-80. 
  • O’Leary, P. J. (2003), Men who were sexually abused as children, Unpublished PhD thesis, Flinders University of South Australia.