IS IT EVER TOO LATE TO GET REVENGE? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Sally, an attractive, 50-year-old woman, entered treatment with the symptoms of depression, feeling trapped, a racing heart, tingling in her lips and hands, hyperventilation and a sense of impending doom. The symptoms started 15 years previously after her car turned upside down and skidded. There were no physical injuries. Divorced for over 30 years, she was still making no real effort to meet anyone new.

During her 3rd psychotherapy session, she shared that she had been molested by Sedgwick, a 40-year-old neighbor, when she was 7 or 8 years old. He touched her genitals on a number of occasions, but there was never any intercourse. Petrified and ashamed, she kept it a secret.

Sally said, “I heard that Sedgwick, that’s his name, lives out in the high desert. He’s been there for many years.”

“Have you considered calling him?”

“What do you mean?”

“Confronting him.”

“It’s been over 40 years.”

“I think you’re still suffering from what he did. He’s a pedophile. What he did was terrible and the wound he caused is still raw.”

Sally’s eyes welled with tears. She started breathing heavily and couldn’t catch her breath.

“Are these the same symptoms you described during your first visit?

She nodded and grabbed a handful of Kleenex to wipe her face and blow her nose. “Just thinking about him makes me freeze up inside. I hate that man. I just hate him!”

The next week, as she sat on the sofa facing me, she stared down at the carpet. Minutes later, she took a few deep breaths, looked up and said, “I did it.”


“I called him.”

“What happened?”

“I said, ‘Sedgwick, this is Sally’.”

“‘I didn’t do anything’, he said. Can you believe that after 40 years, that was the 1st and only thing out of the creep’s mouth? I didn’t do anything.” Sally leaned forward in her seat and said quietly, “Then he hung up on me.”

I leaned forward in my chair. “What happened then?”

“I called back and his wife answered. I told her everything. Everything… She started to cry and said she was sorry.Very, very sorry. I got off the phone and it took an hour for me to stop shaking. Today I’m feeling pretty good.”

“You look good — stronger, not as anxious or troubled.”

The result was that within a month, Sally was symptom-free. She was on no medication, felt better both at work and in her personal life, and was even considering joining a dating service. I saw her again one year later. Except for the normal stresses of life, she continued symptom free.

Dealing with old wounds has no length-of-time rule. Just having the courage to try is often its own reward.

Art Smukler MD is the author of Skin Dance, a mystery, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, and the blog, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist.

11 thoughts on “IS IT EVER TOO LATE TO GET REVENGE? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. Revenge…? Wrong word for this story. Excellent example of moving on, though. I witnessed the severe abuse of a young foster child when I was a teenager. I told people in authority at the time, but nothing was done. It affected me for the next 30 years in ways I was unaware of. When I did have to repeat what I saw (as a witness for they young boy because he is suing the State), I couldn’t retell what I saw without completely breaking down. I could picture every detail. The colours of clothing, where everyone was, what was said. And it explained my PTSD after I was attacked in a shopping centre car park 10 years ago. At the time my clinical psychologist said he believed that there was an underlying issue behind the severity of my reaction. I never thought to tell him about the incident from all those years ago. So last year when telling the story became a problem for me, I spent time dealing with what I saw all those years ago. The memory is no longer like seeing it on a screen. It is just a memory. And I can talk about it. I thank God there are people like you out there to help people like Sally and me.


  2. Yeah, good for Sally. However, she took down and made miserable someone completely innocent of wrongdoing–his wife. That was reprehensible. Sally should have kept in mind whom she was made at and dealt with that person only. She didn’t get the guy to apologize, or make amend or admit to what he did–she just made someone else unrelated to her battle unhappy. And that made her feel better? Sounds like she just wanted someone else to be as miserable as she was, and it didn’t matter who it was. How charming.


    1. With all respect I must disagree. Pedophiles are by their nature serial. They have many victims. Sedgwick should have been exposed and stopped many years ago. At least now, Sally did the right thing.


      1. Interesting. Did not see what happened in the est of the story. For example, how did Sedgwick respond to his wife being brought into his lurid past? Sounds like an interesting read….


      2. With all due respect, I must disagree with you. I think you may have missed the point. It wasn’t the wife’s fault. She may not have even known about it. Why make her miserable? Seems like a pretty passive-aggressive way to solve your problem to me. She should have dealt with him directly. Suppose that woman had committed suicide over the shame? How does that help?


      3. I’m wiht Art… if your husband was a paedophile would you not want to know? WOuld you rather live in ignorance while he carried on ruining children’s lives? Good grief no! Yes the wife would have been upset but better to know than not and better to knw while you can do something about it than find out when you are a widow and then feel like you were wholely to blame.


  3. I wouldn’t exactly call a phone call “revenge”. It certainly helped the patient, but as I read your blog, I was expecting her to tell you that she confronted Sedgwick (is he an anesthesiologist?) and shot him!!


  4. I am glad Sally has recovered from her trauma. I wish her well . Yet, if I may just take the word “revenge” here ( disassociating it from Sally’s story) I somehow feel “revenge” is of negative in nature. I believe revenge is concentrated negative energy. So, if we could instead, convert any negative/revenge into something of a positive energy in nature, then I feel it could be truly fulfilling & wholesome. This is just my thought. I could be wrong.


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