When’s the last time you felt ripped off?
Ten minutes ago? Yesterday? Last week?
Sometimes that surge of frustration comes in small doses. And sometimes feeling ripped off produces a tsunami of emotions that carry the power to decimate everyone in our path.
It may have been as you sat in a miles-long traffic jam on the interstate and cars flew past you so they could cut into the front of the line.
Or it may have been when your kid sat the bench again and wouldn’t see playing time for the seventh consecutive game.
Or was it when your sister who lives out-of-state said your mom certainly did‘t have dementia so she wasn’t going to waste her money by helping you with expenses for your mother’s caregiving. If you believed Mom had dementia, the cost of paying for her care was your responsibility.
The question is never if we will feel ripped off by life, but how often, how much, and how we cope with the hurt.
It’s normal to feel upset when people act unjustly. It hurts when people take advantage of us, disregard, and disrespect us. But the truth is that everyone lives from a self-centered core. That includes me and you. We choose friends who agree with us and our lifestyle choices. We believe our opinions are right. We spend most of our energy trying to make sure we get our way.
When someone rips us off, treats us unfairly, or acts unjustly, our response is usually a mix of emotions:
- ANGER. We’ve all felt this familiar rush. I know I did the other day as I waited in line at a medical clinic for more than twenty minutes, leaning heavily on my cane for support as my legs cramped and throbbed. I finally gained the first position in line. My legs were burning, so I slipped into a chair near me to rest for a moment. Moments later the receptionist called “Next!” and the young man who’d been standing behind me raced to the counter. I instantly thought of bopping him over the head with my cane. He’d watched me stand in front of him since he’d walked in the door a few minutes after me. He’d seen me finally sit down out of weariness and knew I was next in line. He simply didn’t care. And I wanted to smack him for his rudeness. Or at least give him a piece of my mind.
- SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. I immediately started an internal monologue about how disrespectfully people can act. I would certainly never have done such a thing. I pumped up my feelings of righteous superiority, although I was blind to it that just then. I thought I was just observing the truth about someone who needed to learn how to respect others. But I failed to recognize that I was excusing MY disrespectful attitude just because I allowed someone to hurt my feelings.
- ENTITLEMENT. I felt entitled to feel angry toward someone who treated me rudely. But truth should never be measured by our emotions–especially in moments of anger. Bug when we feel hurt, our default is to tell ourselves we’re entitled to have people treat us well. Jesus tells us to expect to be treated unjustly (Matt. 5:10-12; 2 Cor. 4:7-11; Jn. 15:18-21). As followers of Jesus, we lay down our lives and our rights. “I am crucified with Christ…” (Gal. 2:20).
- DESIRE FOR REVENGE. I was once with a friend who was searching for a parking spot. After circling the parking lot for twenty minutes, he finally spotted someone pulling out just a few spaces ahead of us. But as the gentleman pulled out, another car driven by a young woman raced into the space behind him. My friend circled the lot one more time as the young lady entered the store. Then he returned to the car and deflated the tires on her car. Certainly not an action I recommend, but one I think we all have related to at one time or another.
- BITTERNESS. Bitterness is resentment that bears poisonous fruit. (Deut. 29:18) Bitterness comes from walking in the stubbornness of our hearts (Deut. 29:19), refusing to change, or holding on to our anger. “…the one who… blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ In other words, in spite of what the Word of God says, we continue to think, speak, and act in a manner that justifies our anger.
- VALIDATION. We try to garner support for our position and draw people into our “camp.” If you’ve ever lived through a church split, you’re familiar with this emotion. We long for other to see how right we are (and how wrong they are). We lose sight of the double-love command to love God with our heart, soul, and, mind and to love others the way we want to be loved.
Wow do we cope when we feel ripped off?
- Acknowledge emotions. God created us with emotions. It’s healthy to acknowledge them and unhealthy to stuff them. If an employee embezzles from you, it’s natural to feel angry. Acknowledge your anger and deal with it appropriately, but don’t let it rule your life, your tongue, and your choices. We can’t allow anger to take root in our hearts and tend and feed it like a pet petunia.
- Heighten your awareness of your self-talk. Shut down negative dialogue and replace it with statements of gratitude. “Yes, I lost thousands of dollars, Lord, but I still have my wife and children.” Negative self-talk plays a major role in anger and bitterness, and it’s important for us to take control and stop the cycle.
- Choose to focus on the positives in your life. If you don’t think there are any, create some. Look for someone who needs a friend. Volunteer at a hospital, school, or nursing home. Tutor. Teach a skill at a homeless shelter. Write letters. Break the cycle of victim thinking.
- Spend time with God. The more time we spend with God and the more intimately we know Him, the more our gratitude grows. The more our gratitude grows, the more we love others. The more we love others, the more we’re able to deal with emotions when we’re angry.
- Pray for a humble heart. We’re all sinners saved by the Grace of God. Self righteousness and pride have no place in a believer’s heart. If you’re looking at people in terms of “them,” something’s wrong.
- Commit to living an “altared” life. As Jesus disciples and God’s children, we’ve relinquished our rights. We live to glorify God. Every moment is an act of sacrifice–including our responses to others’ mistreatment.
- Pray for the other person. Nothing can change our hearts like praying for someone we don’t like. God uses prayer to change our hearts and our perspective, so prepare to be transformed. Ask God to help you see that person’s story, their wounds, their needs, and their heart.
- Be still. Stop communicating with others about the issue. Be still. Read the Word. Listen to God. Let the Spirit of God work and trust Him to work in ways you cannot see. Then rest in the peace He will give you. We are responsible for bringing justice to every situation in the world. Our attempts often complicate matters further. We can trust a God who always works for our God and who does all things well.
When have you felt ripped off? How did you handle it? What advice would you offer to others?