Have you ever been on the losing end of nepotism? Or lost a position or promotion, that you believe you have earned, to a less-qualified person or co-worker?
Has a friend or professional colleague manipulated or lied publicly about you or something that caused you to feel humiliated or ridiculed?
If so, I expect that your immediate emotion was anger: a predictable and appropriate response to injustice or unfairness. Anger is triggered when you believe you have been wronged.
When things are not fair, we feel justifiably angry, vulnerable or maybe powerless. The intensity of our emotions and responses are dictated by the significance of the situation or the relationship. So, how can we deal with our anger in unfair situations?
When we have no control over an unjust situation or another person’s behavior, it’s not what happens that is key, it’s how we handle ourselves and what the situation means to us that is most important.
- When life is unfair, perspective can help. Consider this: How important is this situation to you on a scale of one to 10? (Ten is the highest.)
- If the situation ranks as a 1, 2 or 3 (relatively insignificant), you may decide to let it go, unless the behavior is a recurring pattern.
- If the situation is a 7 or 8 (a big deal) as in the examples above, the injustice has impacted you adversely.
The workplace example describes a situation that is a fait acomplis, finished, done! We feel powerless. Anger, aggravation or resentment are completely normal when a decision is unjust, especially when we are surprised or caught off-guard. We may react with fight, flight or freeze behavior before we can even think.
Assuming that whatever has happened has had a significant impact on you, your career or reputation, it’s important to:
- Objectively assess the situation; make no assumptions.
- Understand how the situation impacts you, personally.
- Ask yourself: What exactly is the unfair or unjust aspect of the situation? This will help you to respond effectively.
- Determine the specific outcome or remedy you desire, even though none may be available or even seem possible.
- Feel and express your emotions by talking with a few appropriate people, writing about the situation, or writing letters, but not sending them, to the offending individuals. It’s important to avoid destructive acting out!
- If you have reacted impulsively or inflicted damage of some kind, repair or make necessary apologies, sooner rather than later.
The manipulation example above involves a personal relationship that will need to be addressed. Being wronged in this way is more complicated and more difficult to manage.
Being a true victim of injustice is one of the most difficult events to handle because we are rarely able to change the outcome. We are stuck and have essentially only two choices: be crushed or become strong and learn. My advice: don’t suffer for nothing; learn something.
With the first, we can continue to invest emotionally in our anger, rage and resentment, making our lives miserable. By taking the second road, we process our thoughts and feelings, coming to terms with the reality of a horrible situation and deciding to move through and, ultimately, release the anger so we don’t perpetuate the torment. Which will you choose?
Of course, we most likely will never forget the experience and the recovery process takes time. Usually the most helpful choice is to learn how to deal with life’s unfairness and manage our anger constructively. That way, we have the freedom not to be defined or destroyed by something over which we have no control.
Be on the lookout for “Angry! When It’s Personal” where I will address how to handle the hidden emotions that ignite anger.