Life is a hodgepodge of good and bad experiences. And especially when we are off-balance, we tend to question the meaning of it all. Then at times, there is this voice in our heads, and we end up feeling treated unfairly in our distress.
But this is a toxic feeling holding you back from success and a more fulfilled life.
Here are ideas from multiple sources on how to get your feet firmly back on the ground when feeling treated unfairly is holding you back or even wearing you down.
Fairness is not a Helpful Concept to Think about Life at Large
Has life dealt you a shitty hand? Were you perhaps born into a low-income family? Or have a hereditary health condition that limits your freedom?
Economists call the conditions under which we start the game of life ‘original capitalization.’ Is it fair? Nope. But as in economics, it is given.
Also, fairness is subjective. What seems right to you might feel unfair to another person. In fact, the underlying issue is a feeling of entitlement. Why should others be entitled to something you are not?
Remember the great Hägar the Horrible cartoon that features Hägar stranded on a rock as his ship is sinking, struck by lightning. Rain is pouring down. ‘Why me?!’ cries Hägar to the heavens. And the immediate sky-bound response is ‘Why not?’
And as much as we may be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or depressed about it, your starting conditions remain the same.
So rather than spending mental energy without avail, wouldn’t it be wiser to accept the status quo?
Yet Everything Happened for a Reason
Bemoaning fairness or fretting about entitlement are two emotional dead ends. We all spent time down that road, and the sooner we quit, the better.
When looking at the physical world, we easily recognize that physical laws govern everything in this world. Only fools would argue with gravity. Or that the planets revolve in an elliptical orbit around the sun. In fact, the whole universe is governed by laws. And everything that happens in the universe is the effect of a cause. Such are universal laws.
Yet when it comes to our own lives, we magically believe there are no laws. Somehow the universe has conspired against us. Right.
Now, this is not a question of belief, conviction, or any religion for that matter. It is the basic insight that if we hope to control our thoughts and actions, they also got to be subject to cause and effect. No matter how complex and impenetrable those relations may be.
According to mindpower veteran and expert John Kehoe, understanding that all is law is the central tenet to develop control over your thoughts.
And All is Your Doing
If everything that happens in this world is subject to a law, the most rational conclusion is to accept reality as if you had inflicted it unto yourself.
Now, this is a mouthful and a tough one to swallow. Why should it be entirely your fault if you landed in a big puddle in this life?
However, the beauty of the argument is that you can make it work for you spiritually or entirely rational and pragmatic. Choose what works for you.
According to Buddhism, We Create Our Own Reality
Albeit the Buddha’s quote ‘We are what we think’ is a very free and debated translation of original texts in the Dhammapada, the central notion is accurate.
Ultimately, in Buddhism, the reality is a ‘projection’ that results from the fruition (vipaka) of karmic seeds (sankharas).
Modern neuroscience confirms the insights that our brains create ‘mental models‘ of reality, which are, therefore, individual.
Navy Seals Take Extreme Ownership
The Buddhist view implies that we have to take control of our thoughts. In comparison, the elite soldiers of the Navy Seals assume full responsibility for their actions. And the Seals’ actions are given by the overriding mission.
So, too, external forces have no bearing on their actions or state of mind for the elite soldiers. But the current state is a given, and one has to take control of it no matter what. Fairness? Irrelevant!
This brings us to the key principle of a constructive philosophy when feeling treated unfairly is holding you back in life. And this philosophy takes us to ancient Greece.
Stoic Philosophy and the Dichotomy of Control (DoC)
The beginnings of Stoicism date back to Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC.
Stoic philosophy features a system of personal ethics based on logic and the desire for a virtuous life to improve the individual’s moral well-being. Living with virtue is living in accordance with nature and having relationships that are free of anger, envy, and jealousy.
The central stoic tenet to make a virtuous life possible is the dichotomy of control: We have to understand what we can control in our lives and what is out of reach.
Then we can focus on what we can influence and gracefully accept and don’t worry about what is beyond our control.
By understanding these two sides of control, we can overcome destructive emotions, like, you guessed it, feeling treated unfairly. And that way, one can follow the purpose of Stoicism, which is leading a good and happy life.
From Accepting to Welcoming Obstacles as a Motor for Growth
We all know that we need to leave our comfort zone to grow. To become better at anything, we need to find the sweet spot working just a bit beyond our abilities.
Not too much, so we fail excessively and become demotivated, but just enough so that through grit and reflecting on mistakes, we do improve our game.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s iconic aphorism ‘What does not kill me makes me stronger’ encapsulates the dictum that humans need hardship to grow.
The idea is that crises can propel us forward. This would be post-traumatic growth or the transformational growth triggered by a fundamental personal crisis in the most extreme form.
For growth from crises to happen, we must see failures as temporary lessons. And not setbacks that define us as losers.
The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said that ‘conflict strictly exists as an opportunity to raise our consciousness.’ As such, all life is a curriculum, and every difficult experience, nothing else than an opportunity to transform ourselves for the better.
Going Where the Pain is Promises Most Growth
For maximum positive self-transformation, we must go where we feel pain. The greatest rewards are where we conquer fear.
Once we realize this deeper truth, the feeling of being treated unfairly goes away.
We can then see that where we come from in life determines our story and how we can play the game of life. And the particular flavor from which we can create ourselves as heroes in that story.
The obstacles, setbacks, and ‘unfair’ conditions are the path if we turn to positively grapple with a maximum sense of agency.
So the sooner we come to terms with feeling treated unfairly, we can turn the negative into something positive.
In fact, the lower you are, the higher you can go, and the more lessons you will pick up along the way.
Think about the lotus flower that grows out of the swampy sewage. This Buddhist picture symbolizes the story of life. Our existence is faulty, delusional, and full of suffering until we rise above our original circumstance and blossom through virtue, boldness, and determination. Out of the sewage grows a beautiful flower.
The deeper insight here, only because of having grown through the rubbish, truth, and beauty, is realized.
Yes, the required energy might feel and actually be initially higher. But as you go through the motions, then your lift up will be all the more powerful and lasting.
Parting words on Feeling Treated Unfairly and How to Turn Things Around
So which idea should you apply to your life when feeling treated unfairly is wearing you down?
Start with contemplating that fairness is not a very useful concept in the first place.
Live as if you had chosen everything you are confronted with. Assume full responsibility for everything. Full ownership is what sets you free.
Your obstacles define your curriculum in life. Turn your problem into your field of expertise.
And, by all means, enjoy the process. Because the moment you take your life in the right direction, you will feel good about yourself.
May the force be with you.
Useful references for further exploration:
Why Buddhism Is True – The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright
Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win Hardcover, by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin
Mind Power Training with John Kehoe – 6-Week Online Program. John Kehoe takes you to the inner sanctums of your mind and teaches you step by step how to exercise and apply potent techniques and principles to maximize your personal power.
How to Be a Stoic – Ancient Wisdom For Modern Living by Massimo Pigliucci