Believe it or not, self-pity can be the first step toward self-compassion.
Most of us learned that self-pity was to be avoided at all costs. It was narcissistic, self indulgent, and shameful. Clearly, anyone worth their salt would not wallow in self-pity and, if they did, they would never admit it.
Recently, I’ve been reframing the whole notion of self-pity. I think it can be an incredible pathway to self-compassion, one of the hardest things to cultivate in yourself. In western cultures, especially the United States, we have been told that the best way to motivate yourself is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and, as the Nike ad used to say: “Just do it.”
Is it possible that Puritanical, Calvinistic way of looking at things has propelled us to where we are now? A nation of addicts? When I say we’re a nation of addicts, I’m not just talking about marijuana, alcohol, and opiates. I’m referring to all the various obsessive compulsive ways we deal with life’s stressors. There’s nothing wrong with wanting some respite from duty, work, and responsibilities. It’s the yin to the yang of life. However, when it becomes self-destructive it’s helpful to look at your inner dialogue and how you’re treating yourself.
If your life is so awful that the only way you can manage another day is with drugs, alcohol, porn, debt from overspending, over-eating, angry rants on social media, or even violence, perhaps it’s time to rethink your choices.
Believe it or not, being kind and gentle to yourself, even if it looks like self-pity at first, is the path to deep positive change.
It’s that incessant pushing and striving, not to mention perfectionism, that really undermines you. And, once amped up into an internal frenzy, any distraction looks appealing.
No one sets out to gamble their family’s money away, to end up in a methadone treatment center or on a lifetime supply of Suboxone. They’re all results of coping mechanisms that got out of control.
Overwhelming stress does not always come from external pressures, but from internal pressure to succeed and look as if you have it all together. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing things and wanting to present your best self most of the time, but anything that results in self-medicating to live with your choices, is worth scrutinizing.
If you find yourself suffused with self-pity, look at it as a gift. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re feeling. Its a natural reaction to all the pressure you put on yourself. Think of it as a trailhead to a path of greater self-compassion and, perhaps, different life choices.
If you put yourself down for those same self-pitying feelings, it will only add to the stress you already experience. Embrace them. See them as messengers from your unconscious mind to take good care of yourself.
Just imagine a world where everyone felt self-compassion. Some of you might joke that it looks like a narcissist’s idea of heaven, but actually over 2500 years ago the Buddha said: There is no one more deserving of compassion than you. What did he mean? I think he believed that if we could treat ourselves with kindness we would be kinder to others.
Let’s take it one step further. If you recognize your own suffering, discontent, frustration, and sadness—-even grief over the state of the world right now—-remember, most people feel it, too.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang