A classic example is someone who is injured in an auto accident. The victim's sense of injustice won't always stem from the carelessness of the other driver. It can occur if there is injustice (perceived or real) after the fact...how they were treated by others, such as medical professionals, insurance adjusters, or unsupportive family and friends. One of the best books on this subject is by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. It's called The Body Keeps Score. And Boy Howdy! It sure does. Humans and us frogs, too, keep old hurts and fears in our body that can show up years later as various illnesses and unexplained pains.
There are clear associations between holding on to perceived injustice (a grudge) and aggrivated pain. We wind up hurting twice; emotionally and physically. What's interesting, at least for me, is that the injustice doesn't need to be linked to the actual pain. In a study, participants were asked to stick their hands in ice cold water until it became painful...like holding on to a snowball. Then they had to rate the level of pain and the anxiety they felt. Afterwards, some of them were interviewed and asked to remember something unfair that happened to them in the past. These participants, once again, were asked to submerge their hand in the icy water. And guess what? When they were asked a second time about their level of pain and anxiety, it was much higher after they recalled the injustice! The link, then, seems to be between how the perceived injustice affects our thoughts and emotions. It might lead people to "ruminate" on their suffering, thus causing more physical pain and emotional distress. It can also cause anger which causes pain to be even greater. But not everyone perceive justice, or injustice, the same way. Those of us who are more passionate about justice...believing in a world where everyone gets what they deserve (both good and bad) makes them more vulnerable to the undeserved suffering that is at the heart of injustice. These folks (me included, unfortunately) tend to expirierce more physical pain than those who view the world in a more realistic way. That being said, "when these just-world believers experience pain, but are not harboring any grievances, they may actually come out better than the other groups." Why? Because their belief helps to provide meaning in their world which acts as a buffer against the pain and accompanying distress, so says JoAnna McParland in a paper she co-authored on the subject.
So how does all this help us? Well, by realizing that holding on to old hurts can affect how much pain we experience, gives us a wonderful opportunity to let go of some unnecessary baggage that we're holding on to. It also explains why some pain just can't be "cured" using tradional approaches. Until the sufferer is willing to let go, the pain will persist...even if it's masked by pills, creams, or acupuncture. The hope, then, is that more research will be done in this area, allowing doctors and therapists to reduce the sufferers' pain and live a better quality of life.
As for me, I know I have lots of excess baggage and, starting today, I plan on opening up those suitcases and trunks and weeding through their contents. I bet there's loads of things I no longer need. I feel lighter already.....