Little by little, just as the springs that dry up in the summer heart are moistened bit by bit when the autumn clouds gather and begin to well up, drop by drop, so the Count of Monte Cristo also felt rising in his breast the old overflowing gall that had once filled the heart of Edmond Dantes.The Count of Monte Cristo
Betrayal and the rejection involved cause as much pain as a punch in the gut. As far as your brain knows, it is a punch in the gut. The memories are just as painful. Even if years have passed.
We all know what gall is without ever having tasted it. We’ve all felt its bitterness at the back of our throats. Instead of butterflies, it’s a burning sensation from your chest to your ears and you aren’t sure whether to fly, flight, or throw up.
Which is why the idea of revenge—or avenging ourselves—is so satisfying. There’s something appealing about watching the person who hurt you getting hurt. Karmic justice has always appealed to the human mind, hence the idea of “eye for an eye.”
But in return for a slow, deep, infinite, eternal pain, I should return as nearly as possible a pain equivalent to the one inflicted on me. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as they say in the East…The Count of Monte Cristo
Modern society outwardly disapproves of such measures. At least in the West. Yet, the idea lives on under different names. Today, we like revenge on a more social scale rather than man-to-man. Or woman-to-woman. Rather, it’s group against group.
On the flip side of that, even an innocent “glow-up” in response to leaving a relationship, starting a new job, or starting a new life can be called revenge. Remember Princess Diana’s “revenge dress”? Yep, so do I.
Taking revenge in real life isn’t always possible. Or advisable. Reality does not work exactly the same as the world of Alexandre Dumas’ Count. Or indeed the world of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We can’t all go out and take revenge for everything that’s gone wrong in our lives. Otherwise, we’d never do anything else.
Although, as you may find when you do a Google search, that didn’t stop some people. Most famously, it didn’t stop the mass execution of guards at the Dachau prison camp in 1945.
Most of us can’t go to such extremes. Aside from the concerns of going to prison and being charged with any number of crimes, there’s the fact that most extreme measures of revenge aren’t really that satisfying.
But, we can turn those experiences into some really marvellous stories.
Which is what Alexandre Dumas did with the story of Alex Dumas, his father.
And it’s the same thing we can do with our own wrongs. If truth is stranger than fiction, then why not make use of it?
Think of catharsis as getting rid of too many emotions. The ancient Greeks believed in using catharsis to be rid the body of excessive emotions. Which is why the term “Greek tragedy” for really messed up situations is still in use. If you’ve never read a Greek tragedy, by the way, it makes a 90s episode of
We need the purge. We need to be clean—it’s why we like our showers so much and our excessive plastic use at the grocery story. Getting our hands dirty is something we shy away from.
The Greeks understood the power of feeling the emotions within a piece of fiction. For that’s precisely what their plays all were—fiction. Medieval writers understood the need to live vicariously through poetry and tales of love and chivalry. In today’s world, we have those same needs and we meet them with shoes, games, and movies.
But those stories are not necessarily our own stories. They may have similar elements in them, but they are not our sufferings, our hurts, and our pains.
Fictional Journaling is the practice of keeping a journal but filling it with fictional stories or incidents instead of what happened during your day. It’s something I’ve been practicing for about five years with splendid success.
Basically, when something in real life moves me—particularly if it’s a negative emotion—I write it down as a piece of fiction. The emotional turmoil I felt in college became the beginning of what I hope will be a future novel. When I wanted to end a relationship, I used that frustration to write the beginnings of what will end up being used in a couple of different books by the time I’m done.
If you haven’t tried it before, you should! Bad day at work? Write it down. Falling out with a parent? Write it down. Turn what happened to you into something that happened to your main character.
It doesn’t work for every situation, but it works for particularly annoying ones. Or when something triggers several emotions at once.
There is something calming about writing it all out. And it allows you to see your own emotions on paper, through the eyes of someone else—even if that someone is fictional. That alone makes it a worthwhile practice.
When you go through any sort of traumatic event, sorting through your own feelings is half of the recovery. Those of us with mental health issues especially have a difficult time in doing this, partially because we have trouble identifying what we are feeling even when circumstances are normal.
Bibliotherapy can hep make you aware of a fuller range of emotions. Writing fictional accounts of traumatic events that have happened to you can help you work through those emotions in a healthier way than downing a whole bottle of wine, eating an entire tup of ice cream, or, indeed, taking revenge.
Doesn’t mean you can’t give the person who hurt you a good bang on the head in your story though…
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