It seems that, as human beings, we have an instinctual desire for fairness. We can see this in babies a few months old. What one baby has… another wants. Many of us, as parents, realizing how important this is for contentment, try to move heaven and earth to make things fair for our children. As adults, we have an expectation and desire for fairness that motivates many of our choices and behaviors. Along the way, we learn that things just are not fair. Life itself isn’t fair, and we must work through feelings of resentment, jealousy, frustration and even anger to have a general sense of well-being. Those who can do so learn skills to help them cope with and manage these feelings to avoid emotional suffering and problem behaviors.
Sadly, there are many children whose parents or caretakers create unfairness or fail to protect them from the outcomes of neglect and abuse. When these people become adults, they have no skills to manage feelings of what they see as anger. They often have no knowledge of the range of feelings that make up anger, so they don’t know what to do to stop the emotional pain they are experiencing. They need help to identify their feelings of unfairness and resentment they have been feeling throughout their lives.
Christians and people of other faiths are better able to cope with the constant reminders of the unfairness of life through their belief in a loving God. They are able, with work, to accept that we can’t expect life to be fair. They have scriptures in the Old and New Testaments to comfort and encourage them. They are able to accept that there are mysteries in life we can never understand.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its’ own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
(I Corinthians, 13: 4-8)
Sometimes, it is easier to come to acceptance of the unfairness of life by using a therapy model called, Forgiveness Is for the Forgiver. This is a skill taught by Joan Borysenko in her book It is Not the End of the World. She teaches that we can stop ruminating about things we believe are unfair and focus on the positive things that are available to us in the future. Then, with the help of a therapist, we can process the unfairness we have experienced to reduce the resentment we feel that is stealing our joy. The goal is to stop seeing ourselves as victims. In doing so, one is beginning the journey of acceptance that in this world, fairness, from our perspective, is rare. However, we have the choice to refuse to allow this perspective to dominate our lives.
It is important to grieve the losses we feel. It helps us to work through the Stages of Grief to avoid getting stuck in Denial, Anger, Bargaining or Despair.
It is believed that Christians who struggle with feelings of unfairness, barriers to spirituality and connection to God, are able to overcome these obstacles to reconnect with God and his love. It is not that it is easier for a Christian to tolerate these painful feelings. It is that they are more willing to do the work to stay close to God and allow him to be close to them. They are more willing to accept that the ways of God are often impossible to understand.
Understanding is part of the equation that helps to resolve emotional suffering. Without it, resolution is hard to accomplish. Sometimes, processing our feelings of unfairness with a therapist helps us understand more and come to a place of acceptance of what is lost, until the next time we must do that work.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
Saralu (Sam) Belkofer is a Licensed Professional Counselor. Sam counsels adolescents, young adults and adults, employing psychotherapy to gain insight into problems to develop needed strategies for life transitions, survivors of abuse and neglect, addictions, forgiveness, ADHD, anxiety and depression, issues of abandonment, attachment and development of life skills.