“Hey, are you stupid?” A cyclist screams as he narrowly passes a pedestrian on the sidewalk. She looked at him in shock, but didn’t say anything. A woman makes her way through a long line to the supermarket checkout. She just stands in the middle. Another woman says, “Sorry, it doesn’t work that way,” otherwise no one would say anything. Honking, complaining and squabbling – everyday life in a big city.
Why do we often not fight back when someone yells at us or drags us down the street? Katja Bertsch, a psychologist and professor of clinical psychology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, deals with emotions and social interactions, among other things. She explains why we often don’t stand up for ourselves when faced with injustices in everyday life.
Why do we so often endure everyday injustice?
In the course of our lives we learn not to always act aggressively, because this also has certain drawbacks. It is always about an individual assessment of the costs and benefits, including the potential danger I might put myself in if I stood up for myself. How I act in such a situation is always a social decision.
Why is it easy for some people to stand up for themselves and others not so much?
There are different factors, for example a personal sensitivity to injustice or whether I generally have a feeling that I am always being ignored. It also affects whether I can put myself in the other person’s shoes and understand their actions. This helps us control our impulses and think about it: Did the person do that on purpose, is he nervous, is he in a hurry? In addition, there is the ability to regulate immediate emotion and behavioral impulses. And many of us learned from an early age not to resist ourselves, but to judge and punish others, for example to turn to teachers – and later also to state institutions.
Are there certain moments or stages in life when it is easier for us to stand up for ourselves against injustice?
For example, you have to consider the proximity and distance, the dangerous situation that you see yourself personally. If I sit in the car and honk the horn, the danger is far away, I am relatively safe. When I stand in front of someone and shoot them directly, the other person’s immediate reaction is more direct.
What is actually better for the psyche? Always stand up for yourself or put up with small injustices?
There is absolutely no scientific evidence that acting angry brings us long-term relaxation. This may bring relief in the short term, but it can also lead to other negative feelings, such as shame or guilt. You have to learn how to handle anger appropriately and ask yourself, “Can I use anger to do something meaningful?” But you also have to be careful not to suppress anger and thus possibly drag it into situations where it is completely inappropriate.
And how do I do that?
The best solution is to recognize and understand the feeling and assess whether the strength of the feeling is appropriate. This does not mean that you have to put up with every injustice, but rather that you weigh your options for action and its consequences as clearly as possible. When I get angry and focus my perception on it, I see more injustice and threats and then feel unfairly treated.
The best counter sayings come to me anyway after an hour in the shower. And then?
Make peace. You can’t get rid of anger by thinking about it 50 times and fantasizing about revenge.
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