As a psychologist, I was asked to write a guest post on anything writing related. I froze. Nothing came to mind that that would encompass psychology and writing. Then I thought of my own writing. Why do I write psychological thrillers all of which seem to include some kind of revenge theme? And why do the revenge scenes always seem to practically write themselves, leaving me feeling energized instead of worn out? The answer could be summed up in one word: Catharsis.
I realized whenever an idea for a revenge based plot lines took hold of me, I was always in the midst of some kind of negative uncontrollable situation. When you feel like a part of life has become a nightmare from which you can’t awaken what do you do? I’ve found over the years of working with people in various life circumstances that there are generally two possibilities. The first is to give up, falling apart to the point you are unable to function in that sphere of life. The second is to figure out some way to cope.
Writers have a unique ability to use their work as means of coping with whatever comes their way through cathartic experiences. You’ll frequently hear authors of memoirs state they experienced a feeling of closure after finishing the work. That said, while much has been written regarding the use of journaling to “get your feelings out,” there is another side, a slightly darker side to catharsis achieved through writing: Coping with the desire for revenge through creating a fictional version of a situation.
Standard techniques recommended for achieving catharsis, such as imagining your pillow as the face of the person you’re angry with and punching it until you feel better never held much appeal for me. My personal belief is that catharsis results from doing something that can be related to the actual situation. Let’s face it, how many of us need to get over being repeatedly punched in the face?
The desire for revenge most often results from having experienced some type of harm which you had no ability to control and for which there is no recourse. For this, we don’t want to land a right hook – we want an eye for an eye. While some may say to be the better person and just let it go, that also rarely makes us feel better. I say get revenge. Just do it on paper letting your imagination be your guide.
The beauty of writing, especially fiction writing, is that you can create any scenario you choose and determine the course of the plot, the experiences of the characters and how the entire thing will end. Through the freedom of words we have within our grasp the perfect means to create the exact cure for our unrequited desire for revenge, which we can match to whatever specifics we need in order to move past it. This is true catharsis.
Short Bio: received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Georgia. She is widely published in the field of psychology, is sharpening her first novel, and several literary journals have featured her short stories and flash fiction. Her blog is Divine Madness.