I am looking for a word/idiom to describe the act of doing something against your beliefs so another person can experience the receiving end of the act.

You dislike being blinded by high-beams while driving, so you retaliate by turning the high-beams on yourself.

Another usage may be to repeat bad behavior by amplifying it, in an attempt to bring awareness to the issue.

A house-mate leaves the kitchen in a mess - forcing you to clean it before you yourself can cook. Return the favor by leaving a bigger mess for them.

I feel like hypocrisy doesn't exactly fit judging by the literal definition.


  1. the practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc, contrary to one's real character or actual behaviour, esp the pretence of virtue and piety
  2. an act or instance of this
  • I'd call this like-for-like retaliation but perhaps there is a better phrase for it.
    – Charl E
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 9:34
  • 1
    Worth noting, this behavior is acceptable as long as you have sworn the hypocritic oath
    – NWard
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 14:58
  • If the point is that doing the same thing in retaliation violates one's beliefs, then, sure, hypocrisy fits. "Eye for an eye" or "lex talionis" (talionus? Latin is not my first language) might point you in a direction you like.
    – The Nate
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:15
  • (to be clear: "retaliate" literally means to do someone harm similar to what they inflicted on you, but you use the word in your question and apparently don't like it, so I'm not sure what you seek.)
    – The Nate
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:20
  • Girlfriends have told me I am being "passive aggressive" when I did things like this, Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 19:11

11 Answers 11


Not a single word but an idiom for your consideration...

give somebody a dose/taste of their own medicine

to do the same bad thing to someone that they have often done to you, in order to show them how unpleasant it is She's always turning up late for me so I thought I'd give her a taste of her own medicine and see how she likes it. -- Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.


What you describe is tit for tat (Merriam-Webster):

: an equivalent given in return (as for an injury) : retaliation in kind

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries gives good examples:

a situation in which you do something bad to someone because they have done the same to you

● the routine tit for tat when countries expel each other's envoys

● tit-for-tat assassinations by rival gangs

Especially in game theory, which is used in various academic fields, tit for tat is the name given to a strategy where you’re nice to the other if they’re nice to you, and bad if they’re bad, with the aim of ensuring that you’re both nice to each other. The Wikipedia article has some more details.

And your attitude is not hypocrisy. If you preached the virtue of giving the other cheek and then retaliated you’d be hypocritical. But if you say, look, we should both clean up after using the kitchen, but if you live it in a big mess for me then I’ll leave it in a big mess for you, that’s not hypocrisy, it’s tit for tat.


In a comment (which the OP asked to be made into an answer), I wrote:

It is hypocrisy, but turnabout is fair play.

In this comment, I suggest the action of retaliation could be called a turnabout, and it actually has such a definition:

: an act or instance of retaliating <turnabout is fair play>

The phrase is an idiom, and one of its uses is:

Prov. It is fair for one to suffer whatever one has caused others to suffer.
So, you don't like being made fun of! Well, turnabout is fair play.
The Free Dictonary by Farlex


The term payback is often used

An act of revenge or retaliation: the drive-by shootings are mainly paybacks

The phrase payback is a bitch is often used to focus on the satisfaction of the responder in making the original offender uncomfortable.

Note that the term does not necessarily imply that the person engaging in payback is acting against his own values or inclinations.

Also, when the response is more extensive than the original offending act, the term escalation may be used

An increase in the intensity or seriousness of something; an intensification: an escalation of violence

Oxford Dictionaries Online



Deliberately hurt, annoy, or offend (someone): "he put the house up for sale to spite his family"


For an idiom related to the OP's question, perhaps:

cut off your nose to spite your face

to do something because you are angry, even if it will cause trouble for you


Or, a slightly different context and without necessarily being directed at someone else - usually unintentional, but potentially directed at someone else so they'll feel the effects:

throw the baby out with the bathwater

to get rid of the good parts as well as the bad parts of something when you are trying to improve it


In real life, someone's lack of caution or recklessness in "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" could be so foolish and harmful that others might be convinced that it was an action taken out of malice. And indeed, it may have been a malicious act.

And finally, the behaviors in the OP's examples, in my view, are:


Of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.


At least, the messy kitchen example is passive-aggressive. The high-beams example qualifies as:

road rage

Violent anger caused by the stress and frustration involved in driving a motor vehicle in difficult conditions


And so I actually think the danger posed by acting in this way elevates the action beyond the OP's characterization, if the OP is implying at all that the action should basically be harmless.


An idiom for this would be..

"If you can't beat them, join them." humorous If you are unable to outdo rivals in some endeavour,you might as well cooperate with them and thereby possibly gain an advantage. Steve took the view that if you can't beat them, join them. You're saying if you can't beat them, join them.

References from Oxford Dictionaries Online


You could be setting aside your principles to commit such an act. It acknowledges that the act is outside your normal behavior.

I would set aside my principal of non-violence to hit a bully, for example.


I'd go for "An eye for an eye".


"An eye for an eye", or the law of retaliation, is the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalized to a similar degree, or in softer interpretations, the victim receives the [estimated] value of the injury in compensation.[

  • 1
    If you read the biblical reference this is taken from you'll learn this is a limitation on, not a justification for revenge. If someone takes your eye you may not kill them. The most you're entitled to do is take their eye. Society won't even let you go that far today but back in the day... Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 20:37
  • @candied_orange I am familiar with the biblical reference, and am often piqued with its incorrect usage myself. But it's the old battle between Descriptive vs Prescriptive linguistics, and the focus is mainly on "do X not out of principle but out of revenge", which seems to be what OP is after.
    – Wolfzoon
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:37

compromise (with) (one's) principles

To forsake, ignore, or otherwise go against one's fundamental beliefs or virtues. I never thought he would compromise his principles just to get ahead in business like that. Jane felt really guilty about compromising with her principles when she didn't turn her friends into the police after she saw them stealing.

Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

go against one's grain

go against the grain

if something that you say or do goes against the grain, you do not like saying or doing it and it is not what you would usually say or do It goes against the grain for William to admit that he's wrong. I don't think she likes to praise men. It goes against the grain.

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright

Behavioral economics supports what political observers have long believed: Fear of loss is a more powerful motive than hope of gain. A man who gained the presidency by mobilizing hope must now go against his grain by appealing to fear as well.

The New Republic: Scare 'Em, Obama!


Demonstration [establishing the validity of something, as by an example, explanation or experiment] in this case, the experiment would be mirroring or committing some reproachable act where one hypothesizes that this act would illuminate the situation when inflicted on the initial perpetrator, and is predicated on idioms such as "going against one's grain", or "setting aside one's principles", which have already been mentioned.


A common phrase to describe mistreating someone in the same way they've mistreated you is to say that you're responding in kind:

respond in kind: to behave to someone in the same way that they have behaved to you

They responded in kind, threatening to ban imports from Japan.

Synonyms and related words: To treat someone in the same bad way they treat you: retaliate, pay back, get back at.

(Macmillan Dictionary

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