You know that life is not fair. But sometimes circumstances feel so unfair that it’s difficult to let go. You may have persistent feelings of injustice and good reasons to support it. For instance, you may be challenged with a personal betrayal, a traumatic childhood, or a physical assault. If you experience chronic pain, you may have anger or feelings of injustice regarding the accident that caused injuries and the beginning of ongoing pain. Sometimes people feel anger at their own body and the physical limitations that are preventing them from leading the life they desire.
Persistent anger and feelings of injustice—directed toward a particular person, circumstance, or yourself—come with a steep price tag: They rob you of happiness in the moment and have negative impacts on your health.
Here’s what you can do to begin to gain control so you have a better outcome. After all, you can't change what happened in the past. The only thing you can alter is your present experience.
Shifting Away From Anger and Injustice
- Have compassion for yourself. Recognize that you are doing your best with a difficult situation. The more you focus on compassion, the less room there is for anger.
- Decide it’s not worth it. When you find yourself thinking about the injustice of being wronged, remind yourself that by staying focused on injustice and anger, you are unwittingly wronging yourself. You can acknowledge past harms and prevent these past harms from maintaining power over you and contaminating your present experience. Remind yourself that gaining control over your current experience is the best way to rise above any negative people and circumstances from the past. Doing so puts you in the driver's seat, and the past in the backseat.
- Anger and feelings of injustice beget physical pain. Among people with chronic pain, feelings of injustice and anger are associated with worse medical outcomes and greater pain [1-6]. There may be many different reasons why these emotions have a negative impact on health. Anger causes increased tension in the body and this in turn increases pain. Anger is associated with increased inflammation in the body, which can worsen pain and overall health. Feelings of anger and injustice can keep you focused on what’s wrong and who is to blame. Remind yourself that focusing on it gives it more energy.
- Choose to be empowered by separating the facts of the situation from your emotions. “Susan” wrongfully lost her job. She harbored great feelings of injustice and anger at the circumstance and the key players involved. She recognized that her anger was contaminating her ability to enjoy her life, and so she worked to release her anger. While Susan is clear that what happened was not fair, she no longer carries the feelings of injustice, or the persistent feeling of having been wronged or victimized. This freed her up to focus on what’s ahead and how she can make her life better today.
- Seek treatment modalities that melt anger and feelings of injustice. Effective modalities include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Loving Kindness Meditation, and Compassion Meditation .
- The Relaxation Response is an antidote for anger. The relaxation response can effectively counter the physical and emotional “tightening” that happens when we feel anger or injustice. Have a plan to reduce the inner tension and the emotions will neutralize. For a strong dose of relaxation that is portable and easy, download a 20-minute guided relaxation audio file on your smartphone or iPod and use it regularly.
- Positive imagery can help you disengage from negative thought spirals. Breaking the cycle of injustice requires shifting your focus when you observe the thought pattern in action. Visualize yourself in nature or with someone you love to interrupt the thought pattern neutralize any negative emotional charge.
- Have patience with yourself. It may take time for the emotions to lessen. Encourage yourself to soften in each and every moment. Some days will be easier than others; have compassion for yourself as you move through the process.
- Don’t stay stuck. If you feel yourself stagnating, confine your focus to countering the physical and emotional tension with relaxation techniques every time they come up. Over time you will accumulate greater relaxation in your mind and body, and this will set the foundation for you to explore deeper emotional release work. Working with a professional can help you overcome any barriers and kickstart your freedom from anger and injustice.
Ferrari, R., A prospective study of perceived injustice in whiplash victims and its relationship to recovery. Clin Rheumatol, 2014.
Ferrari, R. and A.S. Russell, Perceived injustice in fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Clin Rheumatol, 2014.
Rodero, B., et al., Perceived injustice in fibromyalgia: psychometric characteristics of the Injustice Experience Questionnaire and relationship with pain catastrophising and pain acceptance. J Psychosom Res, 2012. 73(2): p. 86-91.
Scott, W., et al., Anger differentially mediates the relationship between perceived injustice and chronic pain outcomes. Pain, 2013. 154(9): p. 1691-8.
Sullivan, M.J., W. Scott, and Z. Trost, Perceived injustice: a risk factor for problematic pain outcomes. Clin J Pain, 2012. 28(6): p. 484-8.
Sullivan, M.J., et al., Pain, perceived injustice and the persistence of post-traumatic stress symptoms during the course of rehabilitation for whiplash injuries. Pain, 2009. 145(3): p. 325-31.
Chapin, H.L., Darnall B.D. et al. Compassion meditation training for people living with chronic pain and their significant others: A pilot study and mixed-methods analysis. J Compassionate Healthcare. 2014; 1:4.