Karma Is Working, Whether You See It Or Not

Like so many of us, I have a strong need for justice. I feel it on a global scale when observing human crises like what’s happening in Palestine, Congo, and all around the world. I feel it on a domestic scale as I watch people who do not share my same racial, ethnic, or class privilege be marginalized and oppressed by the very structures that are meant to protect them. And, I feel it in my own life as I endure smaller but more personal harms that affect my physical, mental, or emotional health.

We are all born with an inner need for things to be put right—for the scales to be balanced. Yet, so often it feels like there is no justice. Bad things still happen to good people. Good things still happen to bad people. And occasionally those bad people are given platforms or positions of power that enable their reach to grow, their circle of influence to expand.

What I am learning, oh so slowly, is that this seeming lack of justice is simply a veneer. It is a facade that serves a purpose. And even though it may appear that life is unfolding in unfair and unjust ways, karmic justice is always at work.

We all have our stories, so I won’t bore you too much with mine. But I will share one small story to help paint a picture.

Over the last several months, I have endured the most incomprehensible and, frankly, unhinged treatment from a friend I loved. Through this process, I watched her carefully curated mask begin to slip, then disintegrate. I had seen, over the course of our friendship, her tendency to self-victimize. To blame and criticize. To use her feelings, her history, her expectations, her past trauma to manipulate and control people. I watched her browbeat most of her friends, making us all feel like we were constantly letting her down, even though we were all going above and beyond for her. And in the midst of all that, she often failed to show up for us. Her friendship was vapid, egocentric, entitled, and one-sided. Yet, because we all loved her and believed that she was broken and in need of love and support (a characterization she often made of herself, then acted offended when we treated her as such), we continued to show up for her.

I briefly touched on what triggered the end of our friendship here, if you’d like to read more about that. For now, all I’ll say is that our friendship ended, and when it did, she went on a three-month public retaliation and smear campaign, using every lever of influence she had to depict me as a bad person. Her narcissistic abuser, even. She lied. She embellished. She twisted. It was … it was something. I didn’t know that level of cruelty was possible from someone I had loved so dearly and poured into so fully.

I spent months watching this shocking display. I spoke about it with my therapist. I reached out to my wise guides—my mentors who I trust to help me through difficult situations. They all gave me the same advice: Don’t feed into this spectacle. Don’t allow yourself to get dragged onto the dance floor by a dysregulated and vengeful person. Focus on what’s real, and let karma handle the rest.

Reluctantly, I obeyed. After all, what’s the point of having wise guides if you don’t listen to their advice? I did my best through it all. I used my social media and blog posts to articulate some of what I was feeling, only speaking about things at a vague and general level. I hoped that maybe by talking about the broader issues of what I was going through, without directly addressing the former friend, I could help other people who might be going through similar things. And, if I’m honest, I guess I also hoped that one day people might see this person for who she really was and realize that I was trying to tell them all along.

Months went by and nothing happened. That hurt. It absolutely sucks to stay silent while you watch someone you used to love treat you in ways you would have never treated them. But with time, I began to let go. Beautiful things were happening in my life, and gradually they began to distract me from her antics.

Then, one day, her friendship with another one of our friends ended. This friend happened to be one of her flying monkeys who had helped her publicly shame me. And what do you know, something remarkably similar happened at the end of their friendship as what happened with mine. My former friend, the one who had been on a months-long vendetta toward me, suddenly shut up about it. Funny how having two public friendship breakups with two well-loved people can make someone realize that maybe public perception could turn on them.

Her newfound ex-friend reached out to me. We compared notes. I learned some lies my former friend told about me in private that were even more shocking than the lies she told in public. It was eye-opening and horrifying. As the weeks have gone on, I have seen others in our circle of influence begin to see behind her mask. They’ve reached out. We’ve made peace.

It’s been a whirlwind. But here’s the thing—she still hasn’t had the public reckoning she deserves. That was hard to swallow at first. How could the disrespect be so loud and the comeuppance be so quiet? That stung at first, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Here’s what I’ve realized—what this entire story I’ve just shared boils down to, and that I hope will teach you something, too: sometimes the karma has to be private.

There are circumstances where public justice would only muddy the waters. This is particularly true when dealing with covert/vulnerable narcissists and people who share those traits, who are prone to using self-victimization as a shield. Sometimes publicly bringing a person like that to justice only results in them leaning further into their victim narrative, establishing themselves as the victim in their own karmic justice. And occasionally, they can even be successful in convincing outsiders that they are, indeed, the victim.

Sometimes, their karma must be served quietly. It arrives in a way that only they see or experience, but in a way that they cannot twist for sympathy or praise. But rest assured, they are experiencing that karma. And I’d wager that it’s even more uncomfortable for them to have to sit with it instead of twisting it to suit their own narcissistic persecution narrative. It is inglorious and unremarkable—the very things they most deeply fear are true of themselves.

As for my former friend, I may still deliver the public karmic justice she has earned for herself; I remain undecided on that front. She may continue to gain praise and admiration from people who don’t know her true nature, who know only the mask and not the shadow underneath. But to the people who know her—the people who she wants approval and validation from—her influence is finished. In the back channels of private conversations and quiet whispers, the secret is out. And that’s enough for now.

The lovely thing about karma is that it is malleable. We have control over it—we can change it. Perhaps this will be the event that triggers her to do some deep inner work, to change and grow before a public reckoning finds her. I hope it will. I have her blocked on everything, so her karma won’t be any of my business one way or another. But I will protect my own karma by rooting for her from afar, knowing that although justice needs to be served, second chances should be afforded to those who choose to change.

Whatever injustice you’re going through, just know that karma is being delivered, whether you are there to witness it or not. Sometimes we are simply not meant to see the justice when it arrives. What we need to know and trust is that everything balances out in the end. Maybe not on our preferred timeline or in the way we hoped, but always the way it needs to.

Take peace in that. Protect your peace (and your karma) by hoping for justice, but not insisting on being the agent thereof. There is too much beauty to be missed out on if you allow yourself to worry over when and where the justice will be served, and by whom. Trust the process. Lean in to the beauty life is bringing your way. Hope for the best in people.

And live according to your own values. They will always serve you, no matter how anything else unfolds.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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