Overcoming self-pity.

Jason Brien.

Self-pity is an unbridled obsession with wallowing in the displeasure of oneself and one’s misfortunes, sorrows, bad luck, etc. Self-pity is its own emotional vampire as it drains us of vital energy and resources and gives us nothing of substance in return. Self-pity taints our perceptions and beliefs with arrogance and exaggeration. Arrogance in that we perceive ourselves as the only person suffering from misfortune or ill-luck and exaggeration in that our problems are perceived as being of greater magnitude or intensity compared to the problems of others. How can we overcome self-pity if we experience it?

Approach that which distresses you; If you are constantly running away and hiding from your feelings, stress, etc, when will you ever have a chance to work on them and thus resolve them? If you want to conquer self-pity, you are going to have to face up to your feelings and face up to reality. Mentally strong people don’t engage in self-pity because they manage their discomfort realistically without exaggeration and self-aggrandizement. This leads us to the next point.

Challenge your perceptions; Never rely upon self-pity to tell you what reality is because self-pity can never perceive reality properly. This is why you have to challenge any and all perceptions which are potentially tainted by self-pity. You have to sort out fact from fiction. Truth from lies. If you can challenge and replace your negative thoughts, you will have more control over your feelings and behaviours. Ask yourself questions such as “Just how big is my misfortune”? “Am I the only to experience this? If not, how do other people cope”? 

Practice gratitude; It is hard to feel sorry for yourself and miserable about all that occurs in your life if you are grateful for what life has granted you and will continue to grant you. Rather than feeling miserable for all that you don’t have now, think about all that you won’t have, and all that you will be missing out on, when you are dead. No more sunshine on your face. No more smiles from that cute boy or girl serving you coffee. No more opportunities to feel satisfaction when you accomplish something worthwhile. You get the point. 

Reflect upon your relationships with others; What do you want from people? What is motivating you to connect with others? If you persistently suffer from self-pity, the answer may be sympathy. Other people’s sympathy to be more precise. If you find that you are only connecting with people so that you can extract ONLY sympathy from them, you are not seeking or participating in healthy relationships. Relationships are two-way streets. They are reciprocal. What you give, they give. If you are too focused on your needs though, what are you giving back in return? Are you meeting your relationship obligations?

If you have a past oriented mindset, get rid of it… and fast; Reflecting on the past is only good for one reason. To extract lessons. If you are constantly visiting your past, and dwelling upon what has occurred WITHOUT extracting lessons, you are on a very pointless field trip. Do you travel to the zoo just to point out how fat the gorillas are or do you go to learn something about gorillas? Do you go to an art museum just to point out how many pictures are crooked or do you go so as to learn something new about artists? What is the point then in continually visiting your past if you are not going to put in the effort to learn anything from it? 

Increase your self-esteem and self-compassion; Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — the complete sum of how you feel about your abilities and limitations within and across a variety of situations familial, social and occupational relationships. Self-compassion is how we relate to ourselves. People feel self-compassion when they recognise that they are human beings and that they are no more special or unique than another. People feel self-compassion when they adopt a non-judgemental approach to themselves and they recognise that they too are simply enduring the human experience (positives and negatives) the same as everyone else. 

Stop taking yourself so seriously; Humour has been proven to be a strong protective life factor and a key ingredient in resilient and tough-minded people. Humour is a positive and healthy defence mechanism. Even in theories of self-actualisation or ego development, a sense of humour is seen as a sign of cognitive strength. Humour is the ability to laugh at both yourself and life. Even Dark humour is an effective coping strategy used by many health care professionals and first responders who are exposed to trauma, adversity and hardship on a routine basis. From an outside perspective, dark humour can be misinterpreted but it doesn’t mean that it is not an effective coping strategy for those who use it. Other ways to introduce humour into your life is by watching comedy movies, comedic stand-up routines or associating with funny people.

Improve your assertiveness; The ability to be assertive is a fundamental communication skill which can help you to express yourself more efficiently. Assertiveness respects the rights and beliefs of others whilst simultaneously allowing you to stand up for your own beliefs, values and views. Not everyone is naturally assertive and it takes time and conscious effort and control to become more assertive. Assertiveness helps people to overcome self-pity by helping them to take responsibility for getting their needs met in socially acceptable ways. You don’t have to make people feel sorry for you just to receive some attention or validation. There are assertive ways you can ask people to meet these needs for you.