Self-pity is a struggle for many, especially those of us who live with mental health conditions. However, anyone can battle feelings of self-pity, not just those with mental illness. And sadly, even though we want to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, it’s a persistent habit that can be hard to get control over.
So how do you stop feeling sorry for yourself? It’s not as simple as you might think. Shifting our thoughts and behaviors requires both knowledge and self-discipline. It is not merely a matter of positive or negative thinking. I’ve learned a lot of work goes into feeling sorry for yourself.
Follow along if you want to learn how to stop feeling sorry for yourself once and for all.
What is self-pity?
In the simplest terms, self-pity is a natural response to stressful events. But I believe self-pity is so much more than that.
Self-pity or feeling sorry for oneself involves a deep sense of dread and worthlessness. When we feel sorry for ourselves, we often lack self-love and self-compassion. Instead, we consistently focus on what’s wrong with ourselves and our lives.
I believe it’s acceptable to encounter self-pity at times, as long as you don’t live in it long-term.
All of us experience this feeling sometimes. However, for some, self-pity is a brief stop along the way and for others, feeling sorry for yourself can become a way of life.
Nobody wants to live in a pool of our own self-pity, so why do we?
What causes self-pity?
There is often not one clear cause for self-pity, but instead, many factors can contribute to this harmful way of thinking. Self-pity (which often leads to self-hatred) can be attributed to:
- Critical parenting.
- Abusive parenting.
- Traumatic experiences.
Based on this data, feeling sorry for ourselves is often not a blatant choice, but instead, more of an automatic reflex commonly developed in childhood.
Signs you are feeling sorry for yourself
One consistent sign of feeling sorry for yourself is complaining. Sometimes this entails complaining to others, but often you might internally complain to yourself.
In my experience, complaining can lead to increased anxiety, deeper depression, and higher stress levels. Therefore, I would infer that complaining negatively impacts our mental health because when we complain, we are typically fixating on everything that is wrong with the world.
In a state of stress, it’s easier said than done to shift our thinking and stop complaining. Unfortunately, once we start thinking negatively, it’s hard to stop the habit.
Other signs of self-pity I’ve noticed include:
- Self-inflicted shame.
- Intrusive negative thoughts.
- Rejecting help from others (isolation).
- Lack of confidence.
Feeling sorry for yourself long-term
Complaining is not the only indicator that someone is feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, there are more severe, long-term implications of living in this mindset.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) explains that feelings of worthlessness and excessive guilt are common symptoms of depression. So it’s possible that feeling sorry for yourself can lead to clinical depression if left unchecked.
Another pertinent detail to keep in mind is that untreated depression can lead to a risk of suicidality for some individuals. So if feeling sorry for yourself has become a persistent and life-altering problem for you, it’s even more critical that you seek guidance from a trusted mental health professional.
Ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself
Feeling sorry for yourself is different for everyone. Sadly, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to conclusively stop this behavior.
Instead of a to-do list, I want to offer a few thoughtful ways you can create positive change in your life and hopefully stop the habit of feeling sorry for yourself.
1. Prioritize gratitude
Perhaps the opposite of complaining, I want you to try dwelling on the positive instead. You can do this by starting a gratitude journal or simply being mindful about what’s going well in your life.
At the end of each day, you might try to acknowledge one good thing that’s happened to you. A simple yet effective practice like this can help restructure your thoughts, and eventually, maybe you’ll stop feeling sorry for yourself altogether.
2. Find the root cause
As I previously mentioned, many of us start feeling sorry for ourselves as early as childhood due to adverse or unusually traumatic experiences. Learning your root cause for self-pity can help you fight it more effectively.
Through my therapy sessions, I’ve learned there can be numerous explanations for how we develop these negative thinking patterns. Some of my traumatic experiences were resolved through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or talk therapy, and other more complex situations have required the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
Everyone’s story is different. Therefore, I recommend consulting a licensed mental health professional to successfully navigate through your unique life experiences.
3. Hold yourself accountable
Changing any habit in life requires undeniable self-discipline and accountability. Self-pity is no different.
Try involving your spouse, friends, or roommates in this process by asking them to remind you when you start complaining too much or wallowing in self-pity.
You can also designate a specific time to wallow, like setting a “self-pity timer” on your phone for five minutes. Once the five minutes is up, though, you have to promise yourself (or others) you will stop complaining. This particular practice will only work if you commit to stopping and quickly getting back on track.
4. Ask for help
Similar to accountability, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to ask for help when you’re starting to feel sorry for yourself. Due to overwhelming shame (and sometimes pride), asking for help is probably the last thing you want to do when you’re in the middle of a pity party. But that’s when it’s most important to do so.
We need connections in our lives, not just for accountability but for love and support. We sometimes need someone else to remind us of the great qualities we can’t always see.
Asking for help might include seeking professional help, but often, simply asking friends or family for their support in a stressful season of life can be pivotal in breaking out of those self-pity patterns.
5. Love yourself
Learning to love and accept yourself is a challenging, lifelong battle for most. But I believe self-love is critical in learning how to stop feeling sorry for yourself once and for all.
When you have love and compassion for yourself, you are less likely to fall into a shame spiral of self-pity. People who love themselves understand that everyone has difficult days, but they don’t allow themselves to stay there. They love themselves enough to dust themselves off and keep moving forward despite the adversity they may face.
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If you’ve wrestled with feeling sorry for yourself, I hope this provides comforting advice on why it started and how to stop. Like any other life-altering change, self-pity probably won’t be resolved overnight. If you want to stop feeling sorry for yourself, you have to commit to it long-term and be intentional with your actions and words. Only you have the power to stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Do you often feel sorry for yourself, and does it keep you from experiencing happiness? Or do you want to share a story about how you overcame self-pity in the past? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!