Everyone has felt self-pity at some time. It is a part of life to feel sorry for ourselves every once in a while when experiencing challenging moments or situations.
In fact, this type of sorrow is necessary on occasion to allow us to focus on and process something we are struggling with or finding stressful or disappointing. For example, a friendship dissolving, chronic illness, missing out on a promotion at work, or financial difficulties.
This self-directed sadness might briefly hinder us from functioning as fully as possible, but we need this time to fully understand certain predicaments – and to refocus, consider our options, and then move forward with clarity.
So, self-pity is an emotion that is one of life’s natural responses to certain life events. It can be self-soothing and allow us the time we need to work out what we need to do next. However, self-pity is never the solution in and of itself.
We need to be mindful of not making self-pity our regular state of mind. Being preoccupied with our own problems and having a “Why does nothing ever go my way?” mindset can keep us feeling stuck – and may even end up fuelling anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation.
Is self-pity an official mental-health diagnosis?
If we stay in self-pity for too long, it can become a hindrance to living life as fully and functionally as we can. If someone is stuck in this state, it robs them of any chance of achieving anything much, knowing meaning, being happy, having fun and being there for other people.
Self-pity can, if noticed by others, be a way of receiving helpful advice and love. However, if someone is full of self-pity too frequently or for too long, that person can start to be regarded by others as someone who focuses on the negative and lack too often, complains too much, is self-centered, petulant – and perhaps someone even to be avoided.
While not an official mental-health diagnosis, it is clear that too much self-pity can be extremely detrimental to living a healthy life. Someone who is stuck in self-pity is more likely to look to change or numb their negative feelings by turning to alcohol, drugs, or certain unhealthy behaviors, which could ultimately lead to addiction.
When do we feel self-pity?
Self-pity can be a response to some sort of loss, an illness, or a stressful situation. Basically, it can come about when someone sees unfavorable things that are due to external factors that they view as out of their control.
It can become a vicious cycle in which our thoughts lead to negative feelings – then these negative feelings cause yet more negative thoughts.
If someone spends hours in this negative cycle, the feelings are likely to get more negative because anything we focus on gets bigger. Then the person is also further away from finding acceptance or a solution and moving on. This only adds to feelings of self-pity.
Self-pity can be such as feeling hopeless, helpless, trapped in negative thinking, and continually feeling sorry for oneself. It can also take the form of blaming – ourselves, others, or even certain places, institutions, communities, society or nations.
In a state of self-pity, a person will only focus on their own problems and suffering. All of this, along with blaming, can create feelings of alienation, disconnection and isolation – which can fuel even more self-pity.
Sometimes ongoing self-pity is mistaken for depression. Certainly, as well, it can develop into a diagnosis of depression and cause a great deal of anxiety too.
Self-pity is bad for our physical health
Self-pity can also have a negative impact on our physical health. In fact, it can be as damaging to the heart as smoking 20 cigarettes every day, as a Finnish study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Heart Association revealed.
This research studied more than 900 men who said they had high levels of “hopelessness”. Researchers found that these men had a 20 percent greater increase of their blood vessels hardening, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
“It’s the same magnitude of increased risk that one sees in comparing a packet-a-day smoker to a non-smoker,” said Dr Susan Everson of California’s Public Health Institute in Berkeley, who studied the research. “It supports the long-held belief that giving up hope has adverse physical and mental consequences.”
Who is most likely to struggle with excessive self-pity?
Someone who suffers from excessive self-pity is most likely to be a person who has not learned how to self-reflect. Perhaps from their family of origin, they were taught to look for external factors to blame for things not going their way or as they planned or hoped they would.
A chronic self-pity sufferer is often someone who compares themselves and their life to others. This can stir up feelings of envy and anger, which lead to their self-pity.
A study that was presented at the 10th European Conference on Personality in Poland (2000) found that people with excessive self-pity often had an anxious attachment style, experienced emotional loneliness and depression. Also, women reported more self-pity as a response to stressful situations than men.
How to overcome self-pity
Feeling sad or sorrowful about something can be useful and sometimes essential as a release, to process it and then move on. This is feeling our emotions, which is a healthy thing to do.
However, extended periods of self-pity, when someone is obsessing over this feeling, can cause problems. It creates resistance to finding meaning and acceptance. The self-pity ends up growing and controlling the person, rather than being a positive catalyst for change.
If excessive self-pity has been in someone’s life for some time, there are ways to develop the skills necessary to overcome it, and change their internal narrative to one that supports and nourishes them. These include:
Mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness and meditation can both help us to live with less resistance towards life and ourselves. During either practice, learn to observe when in self-pity, to recognize negative thoughts – and know that you can merely observe these rather than being under their control. Focusing on what’s really around us rather than what’s going on in our head is also useful as it gives a true perspective.
Keeping a gratitude journal and writing in it for just 10 minutes a day can be an effective way of reprogramming our thought patterns. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude causes us to focus on positivity and abundance instead of negativity and lack. Self-pity cannot co-exist while we are being grateful.
Saying positive “I am…” phrases will help anyone to think more positively rather than negatively. This can help us to feel better in ourselves.
These can be such as “I am a wonderful person,” or “I am fully deserving of success.” As well, it can be used to turn a negative thought into a positive one: so swap such as “I am so unlucky,” into “I am still learning about this.” Cultivate self-compassion.
Doing something for others
Shifting focus from ourselves to others helps give us a sense of meaning and achievement. It will take us away from some of our problems and gain perspective on them – and we might even realize that they were only perceived problems. As self-help speaker and author Dr Wayne Dyer says: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”
Exercising regularly and sleeping well
Exercise releases the body’s natural feel-good chemicals as well as being a physical release for stress and tension. It can really shift the state of self-pity. To boost your endorphins try taking regular walks, going for a swim, inviting a friend to go jogging, joining a gym, trying out a yoga class, or joining a local sports team.
Also, if we get sufficient sleep, we are less likely to feel self-pity. Get to bed at a regular time and aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night.
Limit how much and when you look at traditional and social media, especially on waking up. Looking at stuff like this can stir up many negative emotions, including self-pity. This can also apply to certain negative or critical people.
A good therapist will help someone realize what’s behind their excessive self-pity. They will also give them tools that enable them to become capable of breaking unhealthy thought patterns and self-sabotaging habits.
Treatment at Tikvah Lake Recovery
Tikvah Lake Recovery offers fully personalized treatment for people who are struggling in any way, including with emotional wellbeing issues. We have several proven treatment methods – and look to treat the “whole” person, not just their particular problem or diagnosis.
Our experienced team of experts are always on hand for our guests here at our beautiful campus by our tranquil lake in sunny Florida, the perfect place for recovery. We’ve created it all with your comfort, relaxation and recovery in mind.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health, substance, or behavioral issues, please contact one of our Admissions Counselors today for support.
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