Hypersensitivity to Injustice

Do you have the feeling that the world is increasingly unfair? Do you get paralyzed by reading or seeing so much negative news? Pandemics, social crises, wars... If all these realities seem to affect you more than others, find out why.
Hypersensitivity to Injustice
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 26 February, 2023

The well-known psychiatrist and neurologist, Viktor Frankl, said that social injustices hurt more than physical suffering. When he was in the Auschwitz concentration camps, he saw the guards beating or punishing his comrades and felt unbearable pain. This is because injustice is experienced as an attack on our values, principles, and essence as human beings.

The feeling that the foundations of everything that’s ethical and fair are being undermined, is processed in our brains in an adverse way. In fact, it’s common to experience a subtle combination of anger and hopelessness. Witnessing how the world is at times, drifting toward the abusive or the nonsensical, awakens in us an amalgamation of complex feelings.

In addition, some people are more sensitive than others to injustice, to the extent that it limits their lifestyle. There comes a point when they think that nothing is worth it and that all their efforts are in vain. That’s because they feel like they’re facing a society that doesn’t offer lawful treatment to those who make the effort and behave in the right way.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

-Martin Luther King-

Man thinking about hypersensitivity to injustice
Our brains need to believe that society and human beings are entities that we can trust.

Hypersensitivity to injustice

We all feel frustrated when the systems that were built to guarantee dimensions such as equality, respect, and coexistence fail. In fact, watching the news every day jeopardizes our trust in the world. Realities such as discrimination, abuse, lies, social inequalities, lack of opportunities, and conflicts on both small and large scales, outrage us.

Our minds are sustained by thinking that the world in which we live is guided by justice, respect, decency, kindness, and ethics. Although we know that sometimes these pillars tremble, we tend to tolerate certain inconsistencies. That’s because we assume that most of the time they do work, and they do support everything that surrounds us.

However, there are people who suffer from hypersensitivity to injustice. This means that, when they read or witness any irregularities in the balance of fairness, they feel overwhelmed. Indeed, there are many men and women who process any situation in which they see themselves or others at a social disadvantage with great suffering.

The manifestation of hypersensitivity to injustice

A study conducted by the University of Bonn (Germany) claims that, on average, women show a greater degree of hypersensitivity to injustice. It seems their neurological responses are more intense. However, this doesn’t mean that men don’t also experience the following psychological realities:

  • Experiencing indignation and frustration when they realize that what’s ethical and fair isn’t being fulfilled.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Having the inability to focus on anything else for hours or even days when they see or experience something that’s not respectable or lawful.
  • Constantly ruminating on inequality and lack of respect.
  • Perceiving that the world is an increasingly hostile place.
  • Fear that, in the future, they’ll be a victim of those injustices they see being suffered by others.
  • Ceasing to trust institutions.

Factors such as cognitive empathy and a higher level of gray matter explain a greater sensitivity to injustice, according to science.

Woman concerned about hypersensitivity to injustice
As a rule, and, according to various investigations, women are more sensitive to injustice.

The cause of hypersensitivity to injustice

Some people can be betrayed by a friend and overcome their upset in a matter of weeks. Others never forget it. Some will feel like moving heaven and earth for those who are suffering any kind of discrimination on a daily basis. Others simply accept that the world is inherently unfair and that, in the face of these flaws, there’s little to be done but accept them.

However, hypersensitivity to injustice can be so disturbing for the individual that it prevents them from leading a normal life. They get stuck in their feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction. Moreover, they look at the world and those who inhabit it with a certain amount of fear and distrust. They ask themselves if any institutions can be trusted. If they have a problem, will justice defend them as they deserve? Are human beings inherently selfish?

In psychology, we try to convey to people that life, sometimes, isn’t fair. After all, human beings are fallible, and at times, many of the things we take for granted, collapse. Understandably, this generates suffering. But, we have to accept this fact in order to move forward. That said, some people find it really difficult to take this step. Here’s why.

Neurological origin

Men and women who are greatly affected by witnessing injustice exhibit a neuroanatomical peculiarity. They have a greater volume of gray matter in the bilateral median insular cortex. It’s a unique and striking nuance that’s been mentioned in studies such as those conducted by the University of Bern (Switzerland).

Personality styles

People with higher cognitive empathy also score higher on the characteristic of hypersensitivity to injustice. This is explained by the fact that some people have a more developed competence than others in understanding the perspectives of others.

Indeed, these individuals go beyond simple affective empathy (emotional connection) and connect with the unique needs and realities of other human beings. There’s also another personality trait that correlates with this factor. It’s high sensitivity (HSP). These men and women suffer when they see injustice and also have high cognitive empathy.

The possibility of contributing to a fairer world

By now, you might be thinking that suffering more intensely from injustice is a problem. It certainly can be if this perception and sensation block individuals to the point of not being able to react and make them mistrust all institutions. This is certainly not appropriate. However, let’s think what it would be like if we all experienced this perception, this social pain. As a matter of fact, if in our society, we all really suffered from the injustices of others, we’d work harder to safeguard what’s ethical.

Therefore, instead of allowing these feelings of discomfort to isolate us, we should be looking for mechanisms to promote fairer scenarios in society. It’d make us feel better and we’d be contributing to a fairer world.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Baumgartner T, Saulin A, Hein G, Knoch D. Structural Differences in Insular Cortex Reflect Vicarious Injustice Sensitivity. PLoS One. 2016 Dec 8;11(12):e0167538. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0167538. PMID: 27930678; PMCID: PMC5145156.
  • Bondü R, Inerle S. Afraid of injustice? Justice sensitivity is linked to general anxiety and social phobia symptoms. J Affect Disord. 2020 Jul 1;272:198-206. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.03.167. Epub 2020 Apr 28. PMID: 32553359.
  • Bondü R, Sahyazici-Knaak F, Esser G. Long-Term Associations of Justice Sensitivity, Rejection Sensitivity, and Depressive Symptoms in Children and Adolescents. Front Psychol. 2017 Sep 12;8:1446. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01446. PMID: 28955257; PMCID: PMC5601073.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.