It is a common human experience to occasionally feel sorry for ourselves. It’s bad enough as a rare event, but its toxic if it becomes chronic.
Self-pity is a complex human emotion. It’s not something observed in other animals. There are many theories about what causes it, and how it relates to depression, but I’m not going to talk about theories. I can only talk about my own self-pity and how I became clean of my addiction to it. I’ve counseled and coached countless people over the years and I have found some very common themes on the subject. They are:
- Self-pity almost always begins with a comparison. We live within a context of countless variables. We each value certain things and devalue others. But the moment we see another person or circumstance that appears to have what we want for ourselves, the door to self-pity becomes open. It’s a very small “blip” on the screen of our thinking that doesn’t even have a cohesive thought formed around it. It’s a longing. It’s an area where we have weighted or valued something disproportionately. It’s an (epi-thumea) “over-desire.” In my experience it is the opposite of depression though closely related.
- Self-pity runs on rails that our thinking has been building for years. We don’t just wake up one day in a total funk. We gradually train our thinking and our lives to be in a funk, and the whole time we convince ourselves we don’t want to feel this way. We get there because of untruth. No, it’s not that we are liars, it’s just that we don’t possess enough truth in this area. We have not apprehended what we desperately need. The other option is that we actually do possess the truth, but we refuse to live accordingly. Both scenario’s leave the human mind with only one option: To employ falsehood and believe it to be the truth. The longer we believe something is true (when it is not true) the more fixed our mind becomes and the more of a funk we embody. (For example: We tell ourselves we are bad, ugly, unsuccessful, ordinary, weak, doomed, or broken. While some aspect may be true, it will not be ALL THAT IS TRUE. Thus we apply a false view of self and then wonder why we feel bad at the discordance between what we desire and what we are.)
- Self-Pity fuels a purpose. In most cases, it is an appeal for sympathy. It’s a cry for connection and to be understood. It’s also a way of controlling others and outcomes. It can bring about attention from others, it can ignite compliments, and feedback that we may not get without it. This is why it can be so addictive. Unfortunately, it’s toxic because it never ultimately produces the good we are seeking.
- Self-pity is just false humility. We are drawn to the underdog, but when we play the card we throw true humility out the window. Thus we end up despising ourselves, and/or desperately trying to convince ourselves that we really are humble-just makes it worse.
- Self-pity has many faces. It varies from person to person and for some it is powerful and addictive. Below are some versions.
- “I never win.” Self-pity may just be fatigue and frustration at struggling without experiencing what you feel are reasonable victories and success.
- “I suck.” This form emerges when we take one aspect of our self or a failure and apply it to our total identity. Just because we have sinned, erred, or failed doesn’t mean that we are only failures. This view lacks the truth that there is a ton of potential and upside to each person. We are all poor, pitiful and retched at times. We are also rich, thriving and decent at times.
- “I’m going inward.” This form is a subtle but effective power play. What can start as introverted behavior can morph into an obvious display of disapproval where the silence becomes a weapon. We know it goes rotten when our internal voice is not sorting out the problem, but rehearsing how we are hurt or how we will get even, or just how far we are going to take this. If we get to this place, we need to kick our own ass.
- “I’m going to test you.” Like the previous one this one is a power play, but this is focused around LOYALTY. This kind sets those around us up to fail. It is a sad manipulation and an indicator that we are trapped in emotional junior high.
So what is the antidote? In my life, I have only been helped by a new perspective. If we don’t want another mutation of self-pity to replace our present version, we must find a perspective that promotes true humility.
A new perspective is another way of saying that I gained access to more truth and as a result, the additional truth I possessed then displaced the untruth that I was holding as the truth.
For example, I used to think I would always be broke. I justified it by saying that it was because I was serving people in ministry. (That was the untruth I thought was true). Turn out that serving people doesn’t leave you broke, in fact most of scripture teaches the opposite, that serving people is how we rise up along with them and partake of abundance. The truth that displaced it was that I was always broke because I had a bad view of money (because I wanted it but never had enough). No sooner did I change my thinking then I opened myself up to new avenues of serving others and along with it, much more money.
Scarcity was the lie I thought was true, abundance was the truth that displaced that lie. I got a new perspective and my W-2 has grown every year for 15 years as I have learned new ways of applying that truth.
If I can offer any advice for those who suffer the chronic funk. I too used to live this way and I hated it. I felt as though it was imposed on me and not that I was creating it, but that was another untruth. Remember these 3 helpful tips.
- Don’t try and stop self-pity. Instead try and assess your “over-desire.” What is it that your are really after? It’s not about eradicating your wants, it is about weighting them appropriately.
- Self-pity is not the bad thing. It is a bad process. It’s how we go after good things in bad ways. Try another path to your good thing.
- Nothing good ever follows self-pity. Don’t view self-pity as a result of something although it can be. Instead change your thinking to see it as the antecedent to a life you don’t really want. If we are in self-pity, we are living in the aftermath of our previous thinking.
Change your perspective today and your tomorrow will be nothing you will feel sorry about.