Pity, Part of One: Thoughts on Self-Pity

I was recently called out for a time of self-pity, despite the fact that the person who called me out did not intend so to do. I also had occasion to observe someone else in a state that struck me as self-pitying. It may not have been, there are always things that I simply do not see, but it gave me leisure to practice a little meta-emotion — i.e. organized thinking about my own emotions and those of others. It is, after all, difficult to ruminate on my emotions as I feel them. If I stop to consider them and examine them, I have ceased to really feel them and have begun to study them instead.

Self-pity is, perhaps, the least attractive emotional state. It has been noted — accurately, I think — that pity parties only have one guest. I may feel sorry for that person, but I cannot truly enter in to their Pity Party.

Having grown up with a sibling whose regular refrain was “You all hate me, don’t you?”, it might seem odd that I have not given this more thought before now. But this instance involved the necessary elements to make me take a step back and focus not on the person who I perceived to be pitying themselves, but on what things bothered me about their behavior and what that means in terms of the areas in which I most wish to grow with regard to my own times of self-pity.

First, self-pity does not permit anyone to really help us. Others might want to; might make valiant efforts to help us leave the Pity Party and find something better to do with  our time and our energies. But self-pity involves a sort of “No one understands” motif. It may be that we feel that someone might understand, but that someone is almost invariably the one person who seems to be ignoring us at that precise moment. When I am caught in a moment of self-pity, it would do me good to reflect that I am not a special snowflake and that many others have been in situations so similar to my own as to be identical except for the cast of characters.

Second, self-pity isolates us. I think this is hinted at in the idea that we cannot really be helped, but it goes further. It extends into that “special snowflake” mentality. When I pity myself, I think that no one has ever had to endure those adverse circumstances in that severity before. And I may be right. Others may have had it much worse. Self-pity makes me think that I am the Only One Who has endured what I am enduring. I encountered this temptation recently with regard to how I felt about certain circumstances at my place of employ. The enemy of this isolationist mentality is communication. I learned that if I can communicate, I will often find that others feel precisely the same as me. The particulars will differ, but the feelings evoked are the same.

There is another side to how self-pity isolates. It makes our company distasteful to others. I have yet to meet the person who revels in the company of self-pitying individuals. I suspect it has much to do with how they remind us that we, too, are disagreeable company when we pity ourselves. Then again, I am no psychologist. I only know that the person who pities themselves is a person who is simultaneously pushing others away while lamenting the perception that others just do not understand or care and this combination of factors drives would-be helpers away. I know this because I have had the luxury afforded me of thinking about self-pity and being able to consider my own while I am exiting and to consider what I perceived to be the same in another.

Final thought: Self-pity serves no useful purpose. Initially, it prompts the pity of others, but it seems that the Pity Party can only have one attendee and those who would have commiserated are driven away. Essentially, it destroys itself. It is like the old symbol of the snake eating its own tail.

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