Every time you are treated unfairly, it hurts. A part of you knows that isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. The pain can be deep and lasting. The anger and resentment at this unfair treatment is real.
Each new instance of unfair treatment is compounds the one before it, until the weight of injustice in your life threatens to weigh you down. The only way to get out from under that burden is to take a look at each one, examine it honestly, and put it in its proper context.
First, I’d like you to think back over your life and pinpoint those times when the pain and unfair treatment was most intense. I want you to identify specific instances.
I Was Treated Unfairly When…
Next, I want you to go back over your list. (You may have more or less than five, given your life experiences. If you find you have trouble identifying specific instances, start as far back as you can remember and work forward.) Whenever appropriate, I’d like you to identify specific people who are associated with your unfair treatment.
Often, you can feel that life in general treats you unfairly, but often this unfair treatment is associated with a specific person. Whenever there is a person or people involved, write this down.
For each experiences you’ve written down, I would like you to answer the following question:
- As I think back at what happened to me, was there anything I could have done to avoid or prevent it?
For those of you who were traumatized or abused, this is not an easy question. Don’t necessarily accept the first answer that comes to mind. This could be defensiveness or denial talking. Be still for a while. Set your anger aside. Allow yourself to delve deeper and the truth to emerge out of your silence. The truth is there; it often just gets drowned out. If you say no, it means you must face the truth that you were truly powerless over what happened to you. This sense of powerlessness is frightening. If you say yes, you indict yourself for some of your own pain.
Whether you say yes or no, you must allow yourself to grieve for the pain you suffered. Now ask yourself the next question:
- Knowing what I know now, how will this knowledge affect my life and choices today?
Each circumstance can be redeemed through insight and wisdom gained. Holding on to anger does not allow you to move into the processing stage, where what you’ve experienced becomes integrated into your life as a lesson learned and a source of growth.
Then, answer this third question:
- How has holding on to anger about this experience helped or harmed me?
It is possible for you to answer both “helped” and “harmed” from the same experience. Anger is often an initial shield and protector in severe situations. Its efficacy, however, fades with time, the more removed you are from the event.
In a search for honesty, don’t downplay either the “help” or “harm” aspect of your anger. You can acknowledge the help while appreciating the harm, making it easier for you to ultimately release the anger.
Finish up with this question:
- Based on what I’ve learned about myself through this experience, how will I use this knowledge positively going forward?
As I said before, what you’ve experienced in your life can be integrated as a lesson learned and source of growth. What is past is past, but what you do with it today and tomorrow has yet to be written.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.