Because we all seek to maintain [or create anew] a sense of individual meaning, Lafarge writes that disruption of our sense of self can lead to the wish for revenge, “a ubiquitous response to narcissistic injury.” Revenge “serves to represent and manage rage and to restore the disrupted sense of self [and restore the] internalized imaging audience [the other].” Narcissistic injury is a disruption to meaning and self value and to the story of one’s experience. In efforts to reestablish meaning and to construct a story, as well as create a witness to one’s story, the avenger uses anger and revenge to consolidate early experiences (a time when the “imagining parent” [like Bion] helped construct the infant’s mind with meaning and with its representations of self and others). Communicating experience and constructing its story is also present in the revenge. It is a way of being seen and heard and helps maintain the tie to the lost, imagining parent. Thus, revenge can ward off object loss [Searles] and hatred can be an early form of object constancy. “Giving up the wish for revenge requires the avenger to recognize the rage and helplessness that are warded off…[and] involves acknowledgement of a transient disruption of self experience” that they accompany.
Lansky tells us that shame gives rise to rage as a strategy to protect one’s sense of self from the awareness of helplessness, abandonment, betrayal. Sometimes, clinically, it is easier to analyze the visible rage and resentment than its underlying shame, but it is the detailed exploration of shame that sheds light on its unbearableness. When one’s sense of self is chronically disrupted from the betrayal by needed and beloved others, attachment is at risk. All future attachment is at risk, for who wants to be duped again, subject to humiliation and shame? The disrupted self, in valiant efforts to reconstitute a self representation that can be lived with, may need to withdraw and isolate, project, omnipotently control, split, or retaliate. The latter, as revenge, can seemingly restore a sense of power and effectiveness as well as protect against awareness of vulnerability. Revenge also protects against the uncertainty of forgiveness. Only awareness of loss and its mourning can circumvent the need to humiliate the other, leading to forgiveness both of self and other.
LaFarge, L. (2006). The wish for revenge. Psychoanal. Quart., LXXV, pp. 447-475.