There’s a fine line between defending yourself and taking revenge. Let’s try find where that line is, and figure out how to not cross it.
The 1st difference
Self defense is (among others things), anything you do to improve your safety, and improve your odds of going home safely that night. Most people associate self defense with stopping someone who’s attacking them.
Simplifying, revenge is trying to hurt someone who you felt attacked you (physically, verbally, whatever).
And here’s our first difference: Revenge is about your feelings (you felt hurt, wronged). Self defense is about a physical attack on your body. In self defense situations you are expected to be able to explain exactly how and why you knew it was an attack, and why you did what you did. If your self defense explanation starts and ends with “Well, he was a capitalist, and this made me very angry at him,” then you’ve got a problem on your hands.
The key difference
The more important distinction (in my opinion), is that in self-defense you are stopping an attack, or preventing an attack that’s about to happen. If someone does hit you, but they stop and walk away, and then you hit them – it’s revenge.
Think of it in terms of timing. If the attack is over, then you no longer get to hit them to make them stop – because they already have.
A home invasion. A couple guys break in while you’re asleep. They stick a gun in your face while they ransack the place, then they hop in their car and are about to drive away when you run outside and shoot at them.
Self-defense? They were leaving. The threat to you was over.
Same situation, but one of the home invaders gets back out the car and comes back inside (pistol in hand)? Then it’s probably a good thing you went and grabbed that kitchen knife when they left, because now you can kill him should you decide it’s needed.
The basic question
Are you about to be attacked? Are you being attacked? Or has the attack finished? If the attack has finished (and the attacker isn’t hanging around, waiting to attack you again) then you’re looking at revenge territory.
Shooting at the carjackers driving away in your car isn’t self defense. So despite being awesome to watch, this isn’t self defense (they were trying to get away):
The grey area
Let’s face it – this is human interaction we’re talking about here. Grey areas happen. Maybe you misunderstand the signs and think someone’s about to hit you, but they weren’t, and you hit them first. Or maybe they changed their mind about punching you and were trying to walk away, but you mistook his walking-away shift in body weight to mean he’s winding up for a punch – so you hit him first. What then?
Nobody and nothing in life is perfect. Shit does happen. Hopefully after the dust settles everybody’s alive and not too badly injured and you get a chance to explain what happened, why you did what you did. And hopefully you do a good enough job of explaining so that everyone can see it was a genuine, understandable mistake.
Revenge = you hit him after the fact
Revenge = you hit him because of your emotions
Self defense = you hit him to stop him from causing you more damage
Self defense = you hit him because the damage was about to start