Monday, November 1, 2010


A barrier to spiritual development I've been encountering in myself and have seen in others is Self-pity. It's the attitude of a person that there is something so wrong with themselves that it excuses their behavior. It's the woe-is-me attitude that prevents a person from growing.

For some, it's the one-upmanship of illness and disability: The "oh yeah, well you don't know pain like I know pain" type of attitude, but it's not said as a toughness thing, but rather as a boast of how pathetic one is.

For some, it's a stumbling block: "I can't ever do that because I'm too sick to." This is not the honest acknowledgment of ability, but the self-imposition of limitation.

For some, it's a barrier to relationship: "You can't understand me because you don't know what it's like to [fill in blank with symptom]." This is the withdrawal from a relationship by assuming a person won't understand and thereby not sharing and communicating and giving the person a chance to understand. It's a form of contempt for another where one assumes that they are better than the other and thereby stop taking the other seriously.

My approach to self-pity follows two paths. The first is awareness. When I realize I'm doing it, I can stop. I listen to my inner voice and when I hear myself saying things that reflect self-pity, I pay attention to how I'm feeling. I can then know to look for the words or the feelings to identify the self-pity. Sometimes this alone is enough to head it off.

The second approach is to make fun of myself for it: "oh, poor, poor me. There is no one more pathetic than me." I reinforce and accentuate the feeling. By putting energy into it, I react more strongly to it and work it through. Sometimes I get really silly in making fun of myself. The internal laughter transforms the darkness of the self-pity and helps me to see how little I like myself when the self-pity is in control, and I start to change.

Self-pity is a cycle that builds and spins on itself. It's like a whirlpool that carries one around and around without allowing motion anywhere but down. The longer one is stuck in it, the more powerful it becomes.

What are your tricks for breaking out of self-pity?

photo courtesy of DOH4


  1. I turn it around...I say "That may be true in this moment, but in the next breath anything is possible" I do not suppress my feelings, sit with them, observe. I look for the blessings, I offer gratitude for the smallest of God's graces. I have those self-pitying moments...sometimes they stretch out to half an hour...but awareness is key as you pointed out and remembering that emotions are energy in motion...they shift if we sit back and relax into without becoming entangled...recognizing this is yet another grace to be thankful for. Oh and compassion, of course, for that part of me that is afraid, frustrated, sad and longing...being gentle and compassionate toward that part of me that wishes I was physically healthy. Compassion toward the grief is NOT self pity but loving acceptance for the losses.

  2. I like the approach. For me, when I have compassion for self-pity, it strengthens the self-pity. I think you are right to have compassion for the fear and frustration while making sure it doesn't degenerate into self-pity.