If you often think “Why does everything bad happen to ME?” you may be feeling self-pity. But you can escape this state of mind.
Many people experience some form of self-pity when life gets stressful. Self-pity is when you’re preoccupied with your own troubles. You feel sorry for yourself.
Sometimes, self-pity is confused for depression. When you’re living with depression, you may sometimes feel pity for yourself.
However, feeling self-pity in depression is often secondary to the symptoms of despair, disinterest, and emptiness that come with depression. You can also feel self-pity but not have depression.
While it’s natural to feel a little self-pity at times, staying in this state of mind can prevent you from moving forward and being present.
When you’re wrapped up in self-pity, it can prevent you from “seeing the forest through the trees,” as they say — meaning it may be hard to see past self-pity to the present moment and the joy in everyday life.
“When we don’t get what we want or feel like we weren’t appropriately validated for the work we did, it’s not uncommon to withdraw into a state of self-pity,” explains Dr. Wayne Pernell, a clinical psychologist out of Benicia, California.
Self-pity can make you feel like nothing ever goes your way, and so there’s no point in trying to solve your problems.
It’s an “energy suck,” according to Pernell.
“Self-pity isn’t something a person just suddenly snaps out of,” he says. “Several pints of ice-cream and numerous friends offering supportive comments don’t make it better.”
Chronic feelings of self-pity may not always stem from an overwhelming amount of stress.
Sometimes, what you’re feeling presents as self-pity, but is really a need for validation.
A need for validation can mean — for good or bad — that you feel you deserve the outcome of events. When something negative happens, you can feel as though it’s because you did something to warrant the unpleasant result.
That negative self-validation can then be reinforced by sympathetic reactions from those around you, creating external validation.
“Self-pity is a form of external validation that something bad has happened to us or that our circumstance is out of our control,” says Rebecca Mores, a licensed psychotherapist in Beverly, Massachusetts.
“The validation happens when a person gets attention from others, reinforcing a way to get attention,” she explains.
“The best way to snap out of self-pity is to have a strategy to interrupt it when you can feel it coming on,” Pernell recommends.
This requires self-awareness to recognize when you’re entering into a self-pity state and allows you to focus on a healthier state of mind: self-compassion.
Research in 2011 suggests self-compassion is made up of three critical components:
- being understanding and kind to yourself during times of failure
- keeping painful thoughts and feelings in a mindful state
- viewing your negative outcomes as part of the overall human experience
Having self-compassion can mean accepting that sometimes “these things happen,” rather than asking yourself: “Why do things always happen to me?”
Switching self-pity to self-compassion can start with your perspective. When you’re focused on self-pity, the problems of those around you can seem insignificant.
By reminding yourself that everyone struggles and has stress, you can help shift your perspective. You’re not the only one who faces problems each day.
If other people can overcome, there’s a chance you can, too.
“Self-pity becomes a negative thing because it maximizes the victim mentality,” Mores says. “If you believe you hold the role of the victim, you are removing your power and personal responsibility.”
Mindfulness is the practice of allowing thoughts to come and go, without getting “stuck.”
When you practice mindfulness, thoughts of self-pity can surface, but you let them pass rather than allow yourself to dwell on them.
Mindfulness lets you live in the moment and meet all thoughts with curiosity and openness.
Mores states that lingering on self-pity “keeps you stuck in the past, which is also harmful for your self-esteem moving forward. Someone who sits in a perspective of self-pity is unable to take the opportunity to choose happiness because they’re instead choosing to focus on all that has gone wrong.”
Coupling mindfulness with gratitude can help encourage a sense of contentment — the opposite of what happens during self-pity.
Even small moments of enjoyment during the day, like savoring a well-cooked meal, are positive experiences you can be grateful for.
Gratitude may do more than just help you focus on the positive. Recent research suggests gratitude is directly tied to a positive sense of overall well-being.
Similarly, 2019 research found that gratitude has a positive influence on individual aspects of well-being — such as social, emotional, and psychological health.
Self-pity can be isolating and repel those who’d like to support you.
External validation from others during self-pity can also create a vicious cycle.
You may have told yourself you deserved something negative, and loved ones offered you comfort. Now, to get that comfort again, you may be tempted to come to them with more negativity.
People who care about you can lend a sympathetic ear if you vent productively, and they’re there to help support you through difficult times.
Identifying the sources of your stress briefly and being solution-focused instead of problem-focused can help you overcome challenges in life.
Almost everyone has moments of self-pity. Daily life can be a challenge — and when it rains, it sometimes pours.
Staying wrapped up in those negative feelings can keep you feeling stuck.
“Entertaining a state of self-pity takes you away from your core being, the one who expresses joy in life,” Pernell says.
“The problem with being in a fog is that you can’t always tell when the fog layer will lift, so it feels like it’ll last forever. Then, we humans have a habit of telling ourselves stories to validate what we’re feeling. And that is a negative thing. Because in reality, it’s a lie,” he says.
You can develop the skills to forgive your setbacks and see situations clearly, without a need for validation. Focusing on self-compassion — not self-pity — can help you change your internal narrative.