“There’s something about self-pity; it’s just so satisfying.”
It’s a strange thing. It is true that feeling sorry for ourselves can be oddly satisfying. We can easily drop into a state of self-pity and then wallow in it. It can seem to provide a momentary comfort from the pains of life. When we’re in it, we just want to sit, and do nothing. For some reason, we humans can be drawn to it.
But self-pity is a bit of a trap. The mindset that feels comforting in the beginning soon turns into a crippling condition. It never serves to improve our circumstances, but rather, worsens them. We lose the motivation to take action. We wallow.
There’s little to recommend self-pity. But we all do encounter painful life events, and have to endure difficult circumstances. When life is particularly painful, how can we react? What mindset should we choose when life becomes especially difficult?
We know that self-pity isn’t helpful, so we often hear people admonishing themselves, or others, to avoid having a pity party. Such critiques are not helpful. They only add to the pain of the situation. They certainly offer no kindness or compassion.
A better alternative to self-pity is self-compassion. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. defines self-compassion as extending compassion to one’s self in situations of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. To be self-compassionate, we must be open and aware of our hurt feelings, be kind to ourselves, and recognize that we are only human. Basically, we try to show ourselves the same compassion we would extend to a loved one who was experiencing the same painful circumstance.
When we are self-compassionate, we are more likely to take steps to recharge or heal. We may allow ourselves a day of rest, seek out the support of a friend, or do something nice or ourselves. We try to think kind thoughts about self. We avoid the harsh self-criticism that so easily floods the mind.
With self-compassion, we don’t wallow. After a brief moment of self-kindness, we take action to improve the negative situation, when possible. If we have hurt someone else, we apologize or try to make amends. When possible, we try to fix, or improve, the problem. We take steps to prevent the difficulty in the future.
With self-compassion, we recognize that we make mistakes, that we have weaknesses, and that sometimes life is painful. We recognize the truth, treat ourselves with kindness, and then move on to improve our lot. Seems pretty healthy to me.