The Temptations of the Injustice Collector

Trapped behind the illusion of injustice.

In matters large and small, we all want to see justice done. A lot of us, though, suffer greatly—more than actual situations call for—in seeing injustice, or what we identify as injustice, being done to others and in feeling it being done to ourselves.

We magnify injustices out of proportion, holding on fiercely to feelings such as being wronged, deprived, controlled, criticized, disrespected, or rejected. An example is the unfortunate partisan divide in American politics that is fueled, at least in part, by the willingness of people to complain about all the injustices that the other political side is allegedly inflicting upon them.

If we’re classic injustice collectors, we whine incessantly about the unfairness of life. We’re upset on a daily basis about all the affronts we have to endure. We’re figuratively dangling upside-down in a shaft of self-pity, clutching a charge sheet of outrages, piercing the darkness with night-vision goggles to see more “bad things” to moan and groan about.

Unconsciously, some dysfunctional people amass their collection of grudges the way a miser hoards his gold.

There are two kinds of injustices. The first is actual injustice caused by human folly or the capriciousness of life. Faced with this injustice, we know logically that it’s best to avoid extrapolating emotionally upon the sense of being victimized. If actual injustice is being done to us, we try to respond appropriately, which may include asserting our rights. At the same time, we strive to minimize the conflict or unpleasantness of the situation. We can, for instance, not take personally the malice or insensitivity of others.

The second kind of injustice is based on our subjective impressions. Take the example of a fellow, let’s call him Gary, who is suffering a feeling of injustice because he didn’t get a raise he expected. Realistically, if he wants to make more money, he can start looking elsewhere for work. If he decides to stay where he is, he obviously doesn’t want to suffer unnecessarily. However, the injustice collector in him can be quite willing to take this “injustice” and use it to recycle and replay some unresolved negative emotion in his psyche. Gary could unconsciously experience the smaller paycheck as a way to feel deprived, forced to submit, or unappreciated. Such negative emotions are commonly experienced in childhood, even when parents are kind and decent. It’s easy for us as adults to continue producing these unpleasant emotions, especially when we have a real or alleged injustice with which to “validate” or “justify” our determination to suffer.

Gary, in fact, might not be a victim of injustice at all. He may simply not be performing at a level that merits a raise. His boss might be withholding the raise to motivate him to work at the higher level he believes Gary is capable of. Gary, however, is unable to be objective about his situation. That’s because he’s determined to experience the situation subjectively and negatively, based on his unresolved issues.

Often we’re not really concerned about the particular injustice we’re complaining about or feeling upset over. Instead, as mentioned, we’re just using a particular injustice, or alleged injustice, to justify our secret interest in remaining entangled in an unresolved negative emotion. Such negative emotions are powerful. We have to be as conscious as possible to identify them and then to protect ourselves from them. They can sweep into our life at any time, and usually we’re conscious only of the symptoms such as anger, resentment, and the sense of injustice. The negative emotions themselves—the underlying, unresolved attachments—exist more subtly in our psyche. The tempt us or induce us feel deprived, refused, controlled, rejected, devalued, disrespected, and abandoned. When we get triggered by these emotions, we react with anger or helplessness to the sense of being victimized by others or by external situations.

Usually, we don’t want to acknowledge our readiness or willingness to go on experiencing those unresolved emotions. One way we cover up or deny our participation in this self-suffering is through injustice collecting. This tricks us into believing that the negative feelings we are experiencing are justified by the “bad things” that are happening to us.

The more injustices we collect, the more negative and unhappy we are likely to become. As we hold on to the injustices, we continue to reap the negative effects of our unresolved emotions. Remember, whatever is unresolved in this way is determined to be experienced by us, even if that is very painful. We acquire the power to neutralize injustices and to demote them to nuisances as we acquire more self-knowledge and become more conscious.