Posted by: counselorcarmella | April 3, 2014

Life Isn’t Fair. How Do We Deal With That? Part One

Some people think that, if you want something, if you work hard enough, have enough “expectant faith,” or put out enough positive energy, you can get whatever it is you want (money, great job, perfect spouse, etc). Unfortunately, like it or not, reality does not bear out these ideas. Fairy tales don’t always come true. Right doesn’t always win. Life is not always fair. The idea that if we try and do the right things and to be good people things will always go okay is just plain delusional thinking. We may minimize some complications and feel a whole lot better about who we are by treating others with respect, working hard, and trying to do what’s right, but this still doesn’t mean things will always work out in our favor. No guarantees.

Are you completely fine with those things? No, me either. But there they are. The cold hard truth. Examples abound. People who devote themselves to healthy eating, exercise, and hard work die sooner than the chain smoking alcoholic who hasn’t worked a day in years. The person who spent years obtaining an education hoping for financial security makes way less money than the person who didn’t even finish high school. The parents who devoted themselves to rearing kids with the perfect balance of love, character development, and discipline have those same kids make decisions that leave them heartbroken while the parents who were just too busy to care for their kids (or worse) have kids who grow into responsible and loving adults.

Coming to grips with this, at least on a philosophical level, can help a lot when we face disappointments or unmet expectations about the whole fairness thing. There are plenty of people who feel that, for some reason, this truth should never apply to them. They should always get what they want or deserve and be able to make life and other people do everything according to their personal preferences. If that doesn’t happen, they throw adult-sized fits, whine and complain endlessly, and blame God, the universe, the President, their Mom, their boss, fate, and life itself for not meeting their expectations. Every “unfair” thing is a crisis, a tragedy, a soul-crushing insult to be upset about from now until eternity. Most of us aren’t that way.

And yet, for even the most stoic realists among us, there are still times when we say, “I know, but…” Sometimes, life not being fair is just a little annoying or inconvenient. Someone less qualified got the promotion. Someone who did a little last minute studying made the better grade. Someone else takes credit for our hard work. That cute guy we like asks out our best friend instead. Someone eats the candy bar they knew we were saving for later. Our spouse is angry at someone at the office but yells at us instead. Fair? No. Common? Yes. Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes the bug, right?

Most of us can deal with a certain amount of “tough breaks” or “raw deals.” We grumble or sulk or vent to someone and then let these things go. Then there are the real tragedies, the things that are horrifically unfair that launch us into tailspins of grief and are intensely personal and painful. These are things we say should “never” happen to anyone, that are appalling, heartbreaking, disturbing, devastating. We can’t just shake it off and get over it this time because its happened one time too many, or is just something too big and too awful.

So, what do we do? Large or small, how do we handle the times when life is unfair and its not something we can just shake off? The process is the same, I think. How hard the process is depends on what’s happened, but here’s how I think it has to go.

First of all, admit and experience the feelings. Throw that fit and have that pity party for a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month even. We give ourselves permission, for a little while, not to worry about how we think we “should” feel or respond. We don’t hide behind Bible verses, plattitudes, or inspiring sayings about darkest before the dawn, what doesn’t kill us making us stronger, God not giving us more than we can handle, or whatever. We grieve and get angry. We admit we don’t like what’s happened, maybe even hate it, don’t think its fair, wish with everything we have it hadn’t happened to us or our loved ones and that we could change it, don’t feel we deserved it. We admit we want to get even with someone, hurt someone like they’ve hurt us, can’t stand being around the people who seem to have easy lives and get what they want, and frankly don’t want to deal with this very hard thing that’s happened. We give ourselves permission to have the feelings. Pretending we don’t feel those things or stuffing those feelings isn’t going to make them go away. We name the loss and appreciate how it impacts us. We acknowledge what we wish had happened differently. We allow some time for the “If only” and the “what should have or could have been instead.” We ask “Why?” and admit we don’t understand.

Then, express those feelings in healthy ways. This may be through talking with people who care about us, prayer, journaling, artwork, writing letters to people we have no intention of sending just to get our feelings out, crying, shaking our fists at heaven, or in any number of other healthy outlets. We fight against the urge to pull away from loved ones or push them away from us and isolate ourselves completely. We spend time with those who will let us talk about our feelings without trying to fix us or offer simple answers. We resist the urges to engage in behaviors that allow us to dodge the pain such as substance use, frantic activity, or other avoidance behaviors. We don’t act on our unhealthy wishes to get even or lash out at others from our place of pain. The point here is to face our emotions headon, admit them, and do something constructive to get them out so they’re not just trapped inside us.

More in part Two


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