One of the most bitter pills to swallow is when the person who abused you, assaulted you, committed a crime against you, or otherwise injured you, gets “let off” free and clear, without seemingly to have to face any consequences for what he/she did to you. In fact, in some cases, the abuser seems to “win” and you feel like you “lose.” This often happens in court cases, divorces, custody battles, and in workplace bullying or discrimination situations.
The issue I would like to address today is, how do we cope when justice is not served. How does the victim of a crime heal when the perpetrator is not held accountable?
First of all, let me emphasize, your feelings of outrage and betrayal are normal. It is bad enough that the abuser “bad guy” hurt you, but what is equally painful is when the legal system (or other helping system,) the “good guy,” does not punish the abuser. This is a very rude awakening for a victim to face.
- Shock and disbelief. You may say to yourself, “How did this happen?” “This is unreal!” “This can’t be happening!”
- Emotional dysregulation. You will notice a range of emotions, from shock to rage to sadness, and everything in between.
- Lack of trust. You may feel unsafe and believe others can’t be trusted. You may even feel that you can’t trust yourself or your own thinking.
- Physical complaints. You may struggle with headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach, difficulties eating and/or sleeping, and other physical symptoms.
- Self-doubt. You may question yourself: “Did this really happen to me?” “Maybe I imagined it.” “Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all.”
- Overthinking about revenge. You twist your mind into a pretzel trying to come up with strategies to expose the perpetrator, get others to see his/her evil ways, get justice to be served in some way. You may even spend years of your life trying to right the sense of unfairness you experienced.
Allow yourself to go through the process of grief over the loss of personal justice. Allow yourself to feel your feelings of rage, sadness, hurt, betrayal, etc. But, don’t park yourself in the emotional muck. Honestly, I know it’s cliché, but the ultimate revenge is living your life well. Learning to let go of the past and the unfair outcome is the healthiest thing you can do in the long run. Once your feelings have been expressed for a certain period of time you must learn to let go.
How to cope with injustice:
- Feel your feelings. Feel all of them. Express them by talking, by writing in a journal, by seeking therapy. Whatever you do, get your feelings of betrayal, anger, frustration, disappointment, outrage, and any other emotions out through some type of expression.
- Realize that your recovery does not depend on the other person at all. Whether or not the perpetrator of the crime against you is ever served justice does not have any bearing on your ability to heal from the wrong done to you. Your healing is independent on what happens to the other person.
- Accept what is. Take the lumps as they come. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s not fair. Yes, they got away with hurting you. Yes, others may not even believe you and may side with him/her. Once you face these ugly truths you will come to realize that you can accept the reality of it all. Once you accept the truth you can start the process of letting go of any other expectations regarding the situation.
- Surround yourself with friends and family who love you and support you. Reach out to those in your life who value you and you can feel it. Healthy connections with others will help meet the needs you’re yearning for in your relationships. This will stop the need to change other people (particularly those you feel betrayed by) into “getting it.”
- Focus on yourself. Focus on what you need to do to live your life well, regardless of what the perpetrator got away with. Focus on your own inner healing that needs to happen. You will probably have to not only heal from the original injury, but now also the injury imposed on you by the community that didn’t hold your abuser accountable.
- If you follow a religious faith, pray, meditate, seek solace there. Find comfort from the words of your God.
- Complete your grief. This means you need to process through all your thoughts and feelings regarding the entire mess. Let yourself express your unmet expectations and loss of hope/trust in yourself, other people, “the system…” Once you process through all of the losses you will eventually get to the place where you couldn’t care less what happens to your abuser or what he/she got away with. You will come to realize that just being that person is punishment enough.
Post Traumatic Growth
While we’ve all heard of post traumatic stress, many have not heard of post traumatic growth. Post traumatic growth is the personal growth people experience from overcoming traumatic experiences.
Yes, this experience has been negative in your life, but don’t fail to see how you have grown personally because of the bad experiences you have overcome. One healthy way to develop resilience and the grit needed to thrive after abuse is to look for the lessons you learned and how you developed yourself personally. Look at how, in spite of what you’ve been through, you have grown stronger, more confident, and more grateful for what you do have in life. Keep yourself aware of the silver lining.
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