We’ve all been there. Down in the dumps and chewed up by circumstances which are ‘so unfair’. It’s part of life to feel down sometimes and often we feel it’s undeservedly so.
At times like these, it’s easy to fall into despair. Things don’t seem to be working out and there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do about it. Perhaps you feel you’ve already exhausted all your options. There’s nothing left to do but lay defeated and feel sorry for ourselves, or rage at the injustice of it all. But sooner or later we realize that these things aren’t exactly helping the situation.
Self-pity can be a natural response to life’s lows. Yet is never actually a remedy for them. In fact, it makes us feel worse. So how can we put an end to our self-pity? You’ll find the answers in this article!
- Are you self-pitying?
- The futility of self-pity
- Self-pity is terrible for you
- How you can overcome insidious self-pity
- So, do you deserve to pity yourself?
- Closing words
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Are you self-pitying?
Self-pity is more pervasive and more subtle than spending a day crying over the end of a relationship. In fact, it’s more a problem when occurring over long periods of time for various different reasons.
So what should you be watching out for? And what really is self-pity?
Self-pity is negative self-belief, or a belief that the world has been unjust to you. It can take a few different forms but it’s an essentially solutionless focus on the bad aspects of your personal life.
For example, some traits might be:
- Feeling like you are a failure.
- Feeling like life is unfair.
- Thinking you deserve bad things.
- Not accepting compliments as genuine, but people just being nice.
- Convincing yourself people don’t like you.
- Feeling like you’re unable to change.
- Reliving bad experiences.
If any of these sound like you, it’s possible you’re delving into a serious case of self-pity. A negatively warped, self-focused mindset. Excessively indulging these ways of thinking is extremely detrimental to your life and your vibrancy!
The futility of self-pity
Feeling our emotions is important. But the difference between self-pity and simply experiencing our emotions is huge. Self-pity overly indulges negativity and becomes cyclic. Truly feeling our emotions, rather than obsessing over them, allows them, and then allows them to pass.
It’s the difference between hanging onto and being immobilized by thoughts like ‘no one understands’ or ‘why does this always have to happen to me’ and thoughts of ‘I feel sad for justified reasons, and that’s okay’.
One is acceptance and one is resistance.
Though a pity party might seem like rock bottom and giving up, it’s actually a form of intense emotional resistance and non-acceptance. And resisting our state of being is an exercise in futility. It’s like having an arm-wrestling match with yourself.
Simply wishing things were different and trying to avoid how they are will burn you out. You can’t win this mental arm-wrestling match with yourself.
All the while, the effort expended doing so prevents us from moving on with our lives.
Self-pity is terrible for you
Perhaps you feel you don’t even want to overcome self-pity. That you deserve it, and that no one else understands. No one else is going to give you the sympathy proportionate to your suffering. Maybe times truly have been harder for you than others in your life. Or any other time in your life.
Feeling sorry for yourself seems justified. The thing is though, whether it is or isn’t, it’s not putting you in a better position to not feel so upset. Let alone regain some happiness.
Self-pity is like that analogy for anger and resentment; taking poison and waiting for the other person to keel over. Or, in this case, whatever the cause of your strife is. It does nothing, of course, except cause you further harm.
It’s no surprise that this negative spiral, affecting no positive real-world change, can lead to depression and chronic stress.
This negative spiral of self-pity can even be detrimental to our physical health. According to a study in Finland, it can cause conditions that even result in heart attacks and strokes.
How you can overcome insidious self-pity
Even if we understand self-pity’s insidious nature, it’s easier said than done to stop, right?
It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers and changing from rumination to allowing our feelings and moving on. So what measures can we take to develop a life free from damaging, immobilizing self-pity?
The good news is there are many, many different ways. Here are 7 things you can do to change to a healthier and more productive state of mind:
1. Try mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are perhaps the best, most direct practices that teach awareness and non-resistance of our thoughts.
Through mindfulness and meditation, you can learn to recognize trains of thought and not to follow them endlessly. Learning instead to come back to ourselves and the present moment. A reality in which thoughts are just that – thoughts.
Things that we can allow to come and go rather than live in them, resulting in prolonged stress.
2. Practice gratitude
In gratitude practice, the aim is to remind ourselves of the good things in life. What we’re grateful for and appreciate.
It can be anything, from a sentimental ornament in our bedroom to a gesture of kindness from a friend.
Refocusing our attention on things that remind us of the good in life helps to dismantle a chronically negative mind frame. It disproves the idea that everything is wrong. Instead, it allows you to focus on positivity instead of negativity!
3. Start therapy
Various forms of therapy and counseling can be good to combat perpetual negative thinking and self-pity.
- A psychotherapist may help nudge towards acceptance and reframing.
- A cognitive-behavioral therapist will teach us to catch and challenge negative thoughts rather than be consumed by them.
- A hypnotherapist might instill positive mindsets into our unconscious mind.
If you’re looking for more info on how therapy can improve your happiness, here’s a good read.
4. Recognize and challenge negative thought spirals
One element of CBT is catching and challenging thoughts, but it’s something we can practice on our own: recognizing the signs of self-pity and rumination.
The more we practice, the more we’re able to recognize and challenge thoughts of self-pitying. This allows us to contest the negative thoughts when we do so, to maintain a more balanced mindset and forestall rumination.
Journaling is a great tool that can help you recognize your thoughts and become more self-aware of your state of mind.
5. Reconnect to the real world
Self-pity really only has room to thrive in our heads, where we can continue to stoke its flames. When we interact with our external reality, the flames die down. We realize that our perception is not everything, not all-consuming and quite extinguishable.
So, refocusing our attention to our external realities – a catch up with a friend, a trip to the cinema, etc – deflates and undermines chronically negative perception.
Try something new and perhaps you’ll get to learn something about yourself that you may have never known before.
6. Engage in cathartic exercises
Cathartic exercises are a good way to process and channel emotions in a proactive and productive way. To release them and do something rewarding.
For example, rather than putting all our energy into thinking obsessively about our situations, we can channel our feelings into an activity. Put that energy into physical exertion such as running, yoga or boxing. This vents frustrated energy and wills yourself on to do something good for your physical health at the same time.
Exercise releases endorphins and gives us a sense of achievement, a kind of affirmation – which in turn helps to see everything is not purely doom and gloom.
Affirmations are a form of positive self-talk. It’s used to keep reminding ourselves of our positive attributes and worthiness. Its purpose is to balance out negative beliefs and build resilience and self-esteem.
Though it may feel false to speak or write positively about one’s self when feeling the exact opposite, research has shown this to be effective. Thoughts can and do translate into feelings, so ‘fake it until you make it’ really can work. It just requires practice.
Kamal Ravikant’s book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It works on the simple affirmation mantra ‘I love myself’. It might appear a little wishy-washy at a skeptic’s glance, but it’s been well-reviewed by thousands.
If you’re irked by positive self-talk, that might be the very reason you need it.
So, do you deserve to pity yourself?
Next time the ruminating self-pity train runs you down, and you think you deserve to ask why, to rage at yourself or the world, remember that you don’t. What you’re actually saying is you deserve to continue to suffer by indulging a sense of injustice or hopelessness.
What you really deserve is to feel your feelings, accept them and move on – whether you feel good or not. You deserve happiness, always. Though that’s not realistically possible in life, you can cultivate it more often through practice.
You can find ways to feel like you can carry on even when times are tough, to get stuff done regardless. It is more helpful than kicking up a storm of futility in your mind.
Self-pity is like punching yourself in one leg to get rid of the pain in the other. Only giving yourself two dead legs. If you didn’t deserve the first injury, you certainly don’t deserve the next.
If you have any questions, or wish to learn more about a specific subject of self-pity, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear more from you!
Henry CollardMental health writer
Mental health blogger with a passion for learning ways to improve wellbeing. I also love to write fantasy, learn about history and play video games. Which I suppose makes me an all-round nerd.