Don’t Let the Self-Pity of Today Jeopardize the Happiness of Tomorrow
They seem so innocent and trivial, the throwaway comments indulging in small miseries.
“I guess I didn’t deserve the promotion.”
“She was too good for me anyway.”
“I’m hopeless, nothing ever works out for me.”
These tiny voices — piercing their way through our protective barrier called self-esteem — add up, overwhelming our thinking to the point where they are the only sounds echoing in our head.
They sabotage our day, steal our joy, and even make us question whether we’re as strong of a person we thought we were.
Left unchecked, these tiny whispers of pity can blow down a wall of confidence.
I am, of course, talking about self-pity. The act of slapping your own face. Self-pity stems from life’s hardships. It feeds off of thinking you don’t deserve more. When self-pity envelopes you, it becomes difficult to focus on the good things around you.
I, as well as many people, deal with self-pity on a weekly basis. I tell myself I’m not good enough, I feel guilty for not being a better father, I wallow over stupid mistakes.
However, I’ve learned to cope with self-pity, and not just cope but also handle it in such a way that I come out stronger than I was before.
You can keep beating yourself up, but it’s not going to get you anywhere. Instead, there is another way, a way to recognize the self-pity, neutralize it, and reverse its effects so that you too come out stronger.
Feel those feelings
There’s a comedic number in the musical The Book of Mormon when the main characters are sharing how they deal with unwanted feelings, or rather, how they simply turn them off:
🎵 When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head
🎵 Don’t feel those feelings!
🎵 Hold them in instead
The number is called Turn it off, and besides being a catchy tune, it shows the alternative extreme of dealing with self-pity.
We are human which means we are emotional beings. We feel emotions (and more likely act on our emotions) because evolutionary speaking, that’s how we’ve been hardwired.
I don’t read books by the Stoics simply because there’s no denying nature, we have feelings and it’s better to feel those feelings in a healthy and constructive way than simply just turning them off.
The first step of managing self-pity is to accept that you are going to feel things, and that’s okay.
Grief, disappointment, heartbreak, whatever it is, don’t empty yourself. Fill up and face them head-on.
Notice the funk
When I sense self-pity rearing its ugly head, I call it slipping into the funk. The funk is when you don’t feel like doing anything, when everyone and everything irritates you, when you have no patience, and when you especially don’t want to talk about it.
By the time you notice the funk, it’s too late. You have to ride it out.
Acknowledge it. Yes, for whatever reason, your brain is running on a slightly altered operating system. Things you normally enjoy doing seem less enjoyable.
Recognize the funk. Acknowledge the funk. Because if you don’t, you start shutting down, and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want to do.
Say to yourself: I’m in a funk. There is a way out of this. It will take time and patience.
Now it’s time to turn your awareness into action.
Find your healthy distractions
When you find yourself in the cycle of self-pity and its unhealthy behaviors, swap out the unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.
What do I mean?
Let’s say you’re feeling low because you were passed over for a promotion at work. Your confidence is frail, you don’t feel a sense of control, all you want to do is sit in front of the T.V. and binge watch The Good Place.
Instead, put on your work out clothes. Go for a run. Lift weights. Find a healthy distraction from your pity party and let your brain focus on something else for a period of time.
Maybe it’s reading a good book, or cooking a nice meal, or going for a walk. Whatever it is, don’t waste your time and energy on feeling sorry for yourself, find a healthy activity that improves your life in some small way.
You’ve acknowledged the funk, now do something about it.
This is the one piece of advice I always hear but always feel awkward doing.
Actually, before writing this sentence, I grabbed a notebook and pen and wrote: “What are the things in my life that make me happy?” I then listed off the things that immediately came to my head: my wife, my two boys, my apartment, coffee, hobbies.
Even just thinking of those things for a few moments made me feel happier.
Maybe you don’t find practicing gratitude to be as awkward as I find it, but whatever works for you, do it. Say it to yourself in the mirror, make a list on paper, sit still for 3 minutes.
Thinking about all the things in your life that you’re grateful for has a positive effect on your brain. Self-pity forces you to focus on the small, negative things. Stay one step ahead and focus on the good.
Recognize your agency
Self-pity extrapolates a downward trend. Whereas, self-agency is more optimistic.
You have what it takes to handle these situations. Your outlook may look bleak, but after time, focus, and a little effort things will move forward.
Don’t let the self-pity of today jeopardize the happiness of tomorrow.
Or as they say in The Book of Mormon musical, “Tomorrow is a latter day.”
Build your mental strength
We’ll always have bouts of self-pity, but learning to handle it in a healthy way builds up our mental strength.
Sometimes I go through stretches where nothing seems to be going my way and life keeps kicking me down, but I’ve learned that I can bounce back each time. That confidence in myself is what I hope for you to gain.
Don’t ignore your feelings, acknowledge the funk, find a healthy distraction, practice gratitude, and look forward to a better tomorrow. Repeat this cycle and you’ll come out on top.
I’m Declan, I left my full-time job to write about how we can become better humans. Connect with me here.