Why Self-Pity Is Harmful
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. After all, I had suffered emotional and physical abuse in my childhood, and I was bullied in school. I measured how close I was to people by how much I shared about my miserable childhood.
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.
I would say to myself:
“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...”
In the end, however, I found that feeling sorry for myself did not do me any good. It harmed me as well as others. Here are some ways that self-pity does harm.
Ways That Self-Pity Harms Us
Feeling sorry for ourselves Is self-centered
Self-pity focuses on us and our pain and can blind us to the hurts that other people are experiencing around us. We do not take 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 seem to be 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 again of the humiliation 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.
Feeling sorry for yourself 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
Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do says that people should question their perceptions of their situation. 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 bad treatment.
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 yourself and your situation
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.
Helping other people takes the focus off of us and helps us to realize that there are others who are much worse off than we are.
Whining and complaining fuels feelings of self-pity and bitterness.
Develop a positive mindset
Look for the good things in your life and be grateful for them. Focus on what you have, and not what you do not have.
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.
Morin, Amy. "9 Ways to Get Past Self-Pity: How to Stop a Downward Spiral Before It Starts." Psychology Today. May 8, 2015.
Grieger, Russell, Ph.D."Refuse To Self-Pity: Never Be a Victim." Psychology Today. May 26, 2013.