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Why Self-Pity Is Harmful

Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions.

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.

— Helen Keller

When I was in my twenties, I was an expert on self-pity. I measured how close I was to people by how much I shared about my miserable childhood. After all, I had suffered emotional and physical abuse in my childhood, and I was bullied in school. I detailed the “spankings” that left me black and blue. I described how my parents told me I was dumb and could not do anything right. I told the harrowing stories of encounters with bullies who pushed, poked, and hit me while saying I was stupid and ugly.

There was a sense of emotional release in sharing my story, but the feeling was only temporary. My pain was always there, waiting to resurface. I sought other people’s sympathy and validation, but I did not always get it.

I would say to myself:

“Poor me.”
“Life is so unfair.”
“I do not deserve this.”
“Why am I the only one in my family who does not have money—a house, a good job...”

I did get a sense of satisfaction when people pitied me as a poor victim. In the end, I found that feeling sorry for myself did not do me much good. It harmed me as well as others. Here are some ways that self-pity harms us.

Ways That Self-Pity Harms Us

Feeling Sorry for Ourselves Is Self-Centered

Self-pity focuses on us and our pain. It can blind us to the hurts that other people are experiencing around us. We may not be taking responsibility for our part in the situation, if any, and blame others instead of ourselves for the circumstances.

Pity Creates a Victim Mentality

A victim mentality can cripple us emotionally. We cannot heal and move on. We stay stuck in our pain. We are in a fragile state emotionally and are unable to move on and heal. A deep sense of injustice overcomes us, and we think that we are suffering a lot more than other people. “Life is not fair!” we may wail. We end up feeling helpless and unable to do anything to solve our problems.

Self-Pity Stirs Up Negative Emotions

When we focus on our bad experiences, we go through negative emotions such as loneliness, grief, and disappointment. We feel the hurt and humiliation again of a bully telling us we were ugly. Feelings of abandonment are resurrected as we recall a spouse who dumped us.

When we focus on the negative, we may not recognize and embrace the positive things in our lives. There is a danger that we will descend into depression and a sense of hopelessness.

Self-Pity Keeps Us from Healing

This way of thinking keeps us stuck by stirring up old emotions. We may become oversensitive and easily triggered. We cannot heal until we face our emotional pain honestly and work through it.

Feeling Sorry for Ourselves Annoys Others

No one wants to hear someone whining about how the world has done them wrong. Some of us love the drama that goes with tales of woe and enjoy the “oohs” and “ahhs” of other people who pity us. After a while, people may be more likely to dismiss us as “drama queens” (or “kings”) and be more irritated than empathetic.

How to Avoid Self-Pity

Question Our Perceptions of Ourselves

There was a time in my life that I based my identity on how my parents and bullies perceived me. I heard the messages that I was stupid, ugly, and incompetent and felt that I deserved mistreatment.

Over time, I challenged those perceptions by developing a positive self-image. I defined myself by my good qualities instead of other people’s opinions. I told myself that I am intelligent, caring, loyal, trustworthy, and generous. I have many skills that make me a valuable employee such as good organizational skills, an ability to pick things up quickly, and a quick mind. I have qualities that people love about me such as my sense of humor.

I have also become more aware of my weaknesses, such as a desire to be overly dramatic and a craving for other people’s attention and sympathy. These weaknesses can tempt me down the path of trying to get others to feel sorry for me.

Accept Ourselves and Our Situation

We should practice self-compassion. Everyone goes through trials and difficulties. Life is often unfair, much as we hate the fact. The universe has not specially selected us to be its punching bags. There is always someone with more challenges and heartbreak than we do. Instead of blaming others, we should take responsibility for our part, if any, in our circumstances.

Focus On Solutions to Problems

We cannot change our past, but we can make a better future for ourselves. Time spent on self-pity is not productive. Instead, we should take action to improve our situations when we can. Victories that overcome adversity build our self-esteem and confidence.

Stop Complaining

Whining and complaining fuels feelings of self-pity and bitterness. Complaining keeps us stuck in our pain and blocks us from healing.

Develop a Positive Mindset

Look for the good things in your life and be grateful for them. Focus on what you have, not what you do not have.

Help Others

Helping other people takes the focus off of us and helps us realize that others are much worse off than we are.

Self-pity is a waste of time and effort. It keeps us stuck in anger and emotional pain. It makes us miserable and bitter people that no one wants to be around. Instead, it is healthier for us to let go of the past and find peace and joy in our lives.


2 Psychological Tricks That Will Help You Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself, Inc., Amy Morin
8 Ways to Let Go of Self-Pity for Good,, Deb Johnstone
9 Ways to Get Past Self-Pity, Psychology Today, Amy Morin
Refuse To Self-Pity, Psychology Today, Russell Grieger, Ph.D.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Carola Finch


Haider from Melbourne on April 28, 2017:

You have exactly described my situation. I was going through the same situation that you explained in this article. I used to self pity and beat myself up and tell myself that I'm wrong .I deserve this treatment and the people who bullied me and treated me unfairly was right because I am trash and should be treated like this.

But recently I've started to read self improvement and self-help books and started to change my approach and change the way I think about myself and now I'm a completely different person. My confidence and my self-esteem has come back and I have come to know about my rights about how I should treat myself and not to allow anybody to belittle me.

Thank you for this beautiful article!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 12, 2017:

Thanks for dealing with the debilitating aspects of self-pity and for showing us how to avoid it. Very helpful!

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 12, 2017:

Thanks for your comments. I think that self-pity and self-compassion are two different things. Self-pity is focused on a "poor me" mentality. Self-compassion is the opposite - it is accepting yourself in spite of your weaknesses and failures, and not beating yourself up when we make mistakes or poor choices.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 12, 2017:

Great hub with important message!

I agree that self pity can be very harmful for us and can make us negative people. It's good that you have provided solutions also to avoid self pity.

Thanks for this useful and helpful hub!

threekeys on April 12, 2017:

I agree with you Carola. But I think to really break away from self compassion (self pity) you need your life to change for the good. You need new people, the new environment, the new, new and new to come into your life! I can't see one shaking off the self compassion unless you can do this. What are your thoughts on that?