Life is so Unfair: What can I do about it

Many people become angry at the unfairness in their lives. Unfairness is not about morality, altruism or equality. It is a temper tantrum that is used to gain an advantage or relieve the imbalance that is causing pain.

The experience of unfairness can be heard is statements like, “I want my way.” If this might sound childish, it’s because it is. Unfairness can be understood very early in life. Most children play games and learn about taking turns. They learn about sharing and will say it’s unfair when someone has a shiny red ball and they do not. Disparity causes pain and that pain causes hurt, which makes them angry.

As adults, many experience the pain of this imbalance in their daily lives. Some feel others have all the advantages and privilege. We are socialized to see two groups: the have and have nots. This lack of equality is frustrating and leads us to complain. But when a well intentioned friend attempts to put the situation in a more realistic perspective by saying, “Some people are nice,” we may feel attacked, victimized, or misunderstood. This defensiveness arises if we make the mistake of taking such “helpful advice” personally, as if it were a reflection on our worth as a person. In counseling, I explain how this overreaction is due to unresolved, residual anger from childhood that has never been addressed. Many endured childhood events filled with unfairness that were taken personally, which makes people feel inferior. For some, this inferiority implies they are unlovable or even invisible to the people they love and depend on the most.

I see many clients who suffered childhood wounds that were never identified, let alone resolved. These unresolved feelings often come to the surface when something in the present reminds them of an analogous situation in the past. They believe, “Life is so unfair and there is nothing I can do about it” and “People don’t understand me and I am powerless to make them understand.” Such powerful beliefs predispose the individual to a lifetime of frustration and disappointment.

In therapy, I asked Erin, “Who are you angry at?”

(Client) “The whole world”

(Therapist) “And who else are you angry at besides the whole world?”

(C) “How can I answer that? There isn’t anything else. I suppose I am angry at myself too.”

(T) “What angers you the most about life today?”

(C) “That I’m not getting anywhere. I can’t get ahead.”

(T) “What is the worst part about it?”

(C) “it feels like the deck was stacked against me, that everything bad always happens to me.”

(T) “Whose fault is it?”

(C) “I used to blame everyone else, the people who had power, who had control over me and there was nothing I could do about it.”

(T) “It’s not a matter of right or wrong. All humans have similar experiences in childhood, you all had parents who treated you differently depending on your performance. You acquired beliefs about yourself, about success and failure, and about how to achieve happiness. You have come to feel ‘less then’ and inferior. But you are not right or wrong, you are an imperfect human being, an equal member of the human race. The problem arises when you act in the present based on beliefs you picked up in the past, when you were a child, before your brain was fully developed. These old childish beliefs predispose you to act, think and feel in certain ways. Some have worked, or else you wouldn’t have survived, but some cause problems and this leads to an ocean of emotional pain and now you are faced with a tidal wave.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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