How to Cope with the Fact Life Is Unfair

fallen ice cream cone by feetLife is unfair! Why does he have more money than me? Why is she prettier? Why does that guy get away with everything?

Injustice is a bitter pill to swallow, and some people seem to choke on it on a regular basis. If you are very sensitive to injustice, you become aware of its existence all around you; the reckless driver speeding down the street, risking other people’s lives; the coffee shop barista, friendly to young hotties but dismissive of old fogies. Injustice can stir many painful feelings: anger, frustration, helplessness, sadness, vengeance.

Revenge is the desire for justice. It isn’t fair that they should get away with that; for it to be fair, they must feel the repercussions of their actions. So people fantasize about the driver getting a speeding ticket or humiliating the young barista with sharp wit. But the revenge fantasy doesn’t make the pain go away. In fact, it makes it last longer, feeds the anger and helplessness, keeps it alive, and adds shame and guilt to already unpleasant feelings. And if you were to actually enact revenge, the consequences for you would be far worse.

“He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” —John Milton

Many people experience this cycle of emotions: recognition of injustice, turning to rage, desire for revenge, shame, and then hopelessness, on an all-too-often basis.

Everyone experiences injustice, but why do some people suffer over it more than others? One reason may be that the people regularly plagued by injustice have experienced more extreme and blatant examples of injustice in their lives. They’ve been bullied, discriminated against, poor. However, not all people in similar situations share this painful obsession with injustice. In addition, people who have experienced relatively minor injustices can be just as sensitive to it.

One thing that people sensitive to injustice seem to have in common is a “me against them” attitude that can quickly stir them to anger; causing disruption in their relationships with other people and leading to isolation. It’s like you’re always in a fight with an invisible other person or group.

So what do you do if you’re a person whose feelings are painfully stirred by an encounter with injustice? Ask yourself the questions, “What am I feeling? What is my view of humanity? Is my anger a call to action or a cry of helplessness? Do I think that I, alone, experience injustice, whereas everyone else in the world is dealt with fairly?”

In other words, if you experience this injustice cycle frequently, it’s time to take your view off what is going on in the world and look inward at what is going on within you.

The fact of the matter is life is unfair. There is injustice in the world. We see it in the newspaper every day. Even as small children, we’re aware of this fact. From the first time some kid got an ice cream cone and you didn’t, or you were punished for something you didn’t do, you were dealing with it.

It may also be that you are unconsciously dealing with existential injustice; the aspects of life that we find difficult to accept—that we will all die someday, that there are no guarantees in life, and that we are ultimately responsible for our lives, regardless of the things we can’t control.

It may be helpful to remind yourself that there are a lot of wonderful things that people do to make the world a better place. Many people are out there striving to make a difference all the time. If a certain injustice becomes your call to action, you could be one of those people, doing your best to help those in need. But even if you choose to focus on helping yourself to become a happier, more peaceful, and more accepting person, that will make a much more positive impact on your life and the people around you than if you choose to spend your life angry and holding a grudge. Peace begins with you.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, CGP, therapist in Encino, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • teah

    teah

    January 7th, 2015 at 2:41 PM

    My parents always set me up for the fact that life is unfair so I guess that in the end took away a lot of the disappointment that I would have otherwise felt if I had always gone through life thinking that all would always be abed of roses. It was hard to accept some of that as a kid, but I guess I can sort of look back on it and now and be a little more thankful that they always chose to be that honest with me.

  • Cornelia

    Cornelia

    January 8th, 2015 at 3:19 PM

    I know that life is not always fair but I am an adult so I think that that is a part of being a grown up, accepting that life is not fair, that it is up to me to create the life that I want and move forward.

    That in a nutshell is a huge part of what growing up is all about.

  • Melita

    Melita

    January 9th, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    I would love it if we only had to experience the wonderful parts of life, but some of us also have our fair share of the down times that we also have to muddle our way through.

    Either way, I say that life is great, so many chances to learn and to grow if only you would seize it and take it as such an opportunity.

  • Tolly

    Tolly

    January 10th, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    Personally I think that there are families who are doing their children a huge disservice when they are always solving their problems for them and trying to give them everything that they want. I am not saying that childhood should not be idyllic because mine was and I am forever grateful for having parents like that for me but I also think that it is the responsibility of those adults to teach their kids that things will not always be fair but that does not have to be a road block to living your bets possible life. It just means that it should be an obstacle that you may have to learn to overcome and good families will equip you with the right tools and things to know how to do when those challenges present themselves in life.

  • tamm

    tamm

    April 24th, 2017 at 9:07 PM

    It’s not the people who’s parents do a lot for them who battle with injustice intolerance, it is those who’s parents did not help and were probably not allies to their own kids. in my vast experience. Remember that at the heart of this is a feeling of isolation and loneliness; a me against the world attitude comes from not having people to trust and to help.

  • Colin

    Colin

    June 25th, 2017 at 11:15 PM

    Yes very much agree. As a person who experienced emotional neglect and abuse as a child, teen and young adult, I quickly learnt to not trust my caregivers, and to keep away from one in particular. I see injustice everywhere having experienced so much trauma and pain in my life, I see clearly how others may be or are affected by others actions. Despite the long term work I have done on myself, life is still very difficult for me with isolation and freindships, let alone a relationship, a real struggle to build and maintain. I am still hanging in there and growing, and things will change, though it takes time and perseverence, and the right people in your life. I would love for some more advice about this topic of injustice

  • ClIvE

    ClIvE

    January 12th, 2015 at 3:57 AM

    not sure where so many of these mistaken beliefs about life stem from… it’s almost as if we have become this society of entitlement… thinking that things should always go our way and no other… you will find that if this is your belief then you are going to be sorely disappointed with life in general much of the time

  • lacey

    lacey

    January 14th, 2015 at 3:57 AM

    I want to do things for my children and make life a little easier for them when I can
    but it also seems that there has to be this line drawn where you also let them experience some things for themselves so that they don’t get that mistaken belief that things will always be this way for them/

  • Kent

    Kent

    April 20th, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    Not to discount the ideas presented here, however, I also believe that injustice should be addressed in the real world too. If not, we would still be living in the dark ages.

  • Rena Pollak

    Rena Pollak

    April 20th, 2015 at 4:07 PM

    I wholeheartedly agree, Kent. I hope this article didn’t discourage anyone from fighting injustice in the world or in their personal lives. Where would the world be without people of action?

  • Jin O.

    Jin O.

    May 13th, 2019 at 8:31 PM

    I think not all injustices should be disregarded. Specially if it involves people that uses their power to gain more power. You see, I resided in a country wherein politics plays a major influence almost in all aspect of lives. You cannot get a job if you dont have an endorsement from the city mayor, regardless of your academic performances and other credentials. You cannot get educational and health benefits if you’re not a supporter of the administration. Corruptions are visible to the naked eyes yet many chose to kept silent. My family were victims of these injustices. We inherited a piece of land from our ancestor. Then, one day we just found out that the said land were sold to the city mayor by a stranger at a very cheap price. The case started way back 1990s an until now, no progress yet. Why? Coz its the City mayor we are fighting against. Can my family break a concrete wall like the city mayor? For some, our fight looks stupid. For some, the injustices we experience is just a minor and small thing. But for us, whom this piece of land is our everything, seeking justice means a lot. So saying that those who are experiencing injustices should just let it go, I think its not right. I’d rather say if you experience injustices, find justice coz we deserve justice, not injustices.

  • Meredith

    Meredith

    June 20th, 2015 at 11:56 PM

    I am 40 years old. I am divorced. I am infertile. all I have ever wanted to do was be happily married and be a mother. I just found this post because I was searching for how to cope. I just found out my ex husband, who got remarried fairly soon after our divorce, just became a father for the first time. I have been plagued with injustice. part of my problem is that I still haven’t figured out what my purpose is if I don’t become a wife and mother. I’m still holding out hope.

  • Cheryl

    Cheryl

    November 1st, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    I too grieve for the traditional life. You are not alone. I feel like I’ll meet someone that has kids or grandkids that I will be fully involved in their lives. Until then do things you enjoy doing. I know it’s hard. I feel alone, lonely quite a bit but I get some emotional support from other family members. It’s not the same as having your own family of course but it’s the safest place for me to feel a sense of family.

    For society to encourage people to feel less of themselves so the greedy ones can consciously rob others is wrong. That isn’t about fairness it’s about right and wrong and taking advantage is wrong. That should never be accepted.

  • Glow

    Glow

    August 12th, 2016 at 10:46 AM

    I feel your pain. I really do. I wish you the very best. That you are able to fulfil your needs, desires and voids in your life. May all goodness, blessings and luck be with you.

  • Matt

    Matt

    February 24th, 2019 at 9:28 AM

    Meredith, i pray this comment can get to you and i hope where ever you may be today, you have found peace. I am not really one for advice as i am going through struggles myself, but rather i just would like to tell you that no matter what, no matter what, if you had absolutely nothing today and you were a** out on the streets bloody broken and bruised you would still be so beautiful, so unique, so talented, and you would be so you. You are the best thing in the world. You are amazing. I hope you can love yourself because i have love for you ma’am. <3 :)

  • Rena Pollak

    Rena Pollak

    June 22nd, 2015 at 3:39 PM

    Meredith, I’m glad to hear that in spite of two major losses in your life, you are holding hope. There is always hope. Life can surprise you. I wish you the best!

  • Bart

    Bart

    September 18th, 2015 at 6:31 AM

    John Scalzi said: “There’s a difference between the fact that the universe is inherently unfair on a cosmic level, and the fact that life is unfair because people are actively making it so.” I think to accept the former is common sense, but to accept the latter is just lazy and stupid. If not for striving to make life easier and better for all, then why bother at all?

  • Cheryl

    Cheryl

    November 1st, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    Some things are not fair. Clearly it’s a result of allowed injustice. What if Martin Luther King Jr said “eh ya life isn’t fair, I’ll look inward for peace”? That’s the biggest problem in this country. Passivity, acceptance of injustice by ignoring it. Problems don’t get resolved by sweeping it under the carpet and putting a fake smile on your face. Stick up for yourself in a safe, polite, positive manner. I realize a lot of people conform because they fear violence as Martin Luther King Jr endured as well as cost his life. How do you promote understanding toward increased equality with peace of mind that you won’t become a target for violence during this crossroads in the USA? Do the hard thing or go through life with a fake smile.

  • Milly

    Milly

    January 10th, 2016 at 1:51 AM

    Meredith,
    In life we all have choices and you are still young enough to go out and meet someone else and still have a family and the life you want. Have you considered the infertility route?

  • Will Cool

    Will Cool

    August 2nd, 2016 at 2:40 AM

    “Peace begins with you,” is exactly the sort of victim-blaming, positive-constructivist manipulation that most sparks my sense of outrage. This is akin to telling a rape victim that if they could just reframe the event in a way that describes it as a growing, learning experience, that if they could just find a way to make the experience helpful or beneficial, if they could have just found a way to enjoy the rape in the moment, that it would not really count as injustice at all, and the former victim would find gratitude for the experience.
    Such a methodology only seeks to find purpose in injustice. The senseless, purposeless harm of injustices are what makes them difficult to accept. Adjusting oneself to find purpose in such acts inherently counts as self-delusion and only fosters more injustice. Such adjustment may count within human range as psychologically normal and healthy, but such behavior must also count as anti-social and damaging to others.
    There is no easy answer to dealing with true injustice. Every case stands alone, unique, and no formulaic approach can help to redress the wrongs or heal the damage.

  • Nils

    Nils

    June 8th, 2019 at 4:53 PM

    “This is akin to telling a rape victim”
    Yep, and the only reason the author wouldn’t give this same advice to a rape victim is either that they haven’t fully thought through their own advice, or their doublethink and wilful ignorance allows them to overlook the obvious contradiction.

  • Jonas

    Jonas

    December 10th, 2017 at 6:47 PM

    Justice is not the end-all-be-all that everyone likes to make it out to be. “Life being fair” at a first glance seems like an ideal society, but think about it. If everyone was born in the same socioeconomic class, given the same love and affection, the same circumstances, or even just one of these things, life would get boring very quickly. We are hard wired to adapt to changes, even if those changes don’t serve us well, or even if the government has outlawed some of those changes(i.e. the bill of rights) Justice, even at it’s greatest incidence, in the end, is simply a tool of organization that helps make life easier for us.

  • dee

    dee

    January 5th, 2019 at 3:40 PM

    I was hoping this article would have some helpful advice but it’s basically just spouting a bunch of cliches.

  • Nils

    Nils

    June 8th, 2019 at 4:51 PM

    The usual codswollop. “That’s life, toughen up” – even though the author would probably repudiate such advice, it’s what this article reduces down to. Never mind that your wealthy, white neighbour is able to get your family arrested simply for existing on YOUR FAMILY’S LAND in THEIR OWN NEIGHBOURHOOD, not even playing loud music or even cooking, just existing quietly outside reading, “that’s life, just toughen up sweetie (:”

  • Troy

    Troy

    July 9th, 2019 at 4:29 AM

    At some level there is definitely some value in this approach, at the personal level, even if in my experience sustained injustice is very hard to ‘move on’ from. For example, I was severely bullied by a senior executive 15 years ago and while I have ‘moved on’, I still to this day suffer reputational, financial and health losses as a consequence of that ‘unfairness’. Other people also judge you for the consequences of things they don’t understand the origin of which only compounds the sense of loss, anger and injustice. For example I do not have the expected financial position for someone of my profession and age, and it definitely impacts me in things ranging from personal relationships through to my ability to negotiate on salary levels. You better believe that rage flairs up regularly when yet another aspect of the hurt inflicted on me all those years ago has yet another ripple impact on something I am trying to achieve in the present.

    That said, there is nothing you can do about it because the power structures in society are what they are. Sorry to say, it’s not even really a colour or gender thing as many perceive them to be even if those factors do overlap with the broader class issue no-one ever wants to address. In that sense the advice contained on this page is enabling and perpetuating the human-controlled unfairness in life but short of some serious social changes to overturn it, then yes, you might as well make peace with your rage as best you can.

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