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Dealing with Self Pity

Posted by: Jo Banks

Date: 05-03-2012

Do you regularly hold your own 'Pity Parties'?  Here's how to get out of that slump...

I met up with someone recently who seems to revel in self-pity.  I don’t often spend time with this person as their negative energy can be very draining and I do make a concerted effort to surround myself with people who are on the same wavelength as me rather than ‘mood hoovers’ (thanks to my friend Sharon for that term) ie people whose negativity seems to suck the very life out of you. It got me thinking about just how ugly and unhelpful that emotion really is. To me, it’s the epitome of Victim behaviour (see my post of Victim versus Owner).

Self-Pitying Behaviour and Body Language

We all know someone who is self-pitying and at some point in our lives we’ve done it, but when you look closely at the behaviour it invokes, its easy identify the body language and attitude to that of a stroppy teenager. The mouth seems to turn down, the shoulders slump or shrug and words like, “What’s the point? Nothing changes” “Bad stuff always happens to me” “My life is rubbish” “Well that’s just typical for me – nothing ever goes right” Typical VICTIM language.

Learned Behaviour

Self pity is a ‘learned behaviour’ ie we see others doing it while we are growing up and copy it or we try it and it gives us the results we need at that time. Once we learn that we get a good result or reaction from behaving in a certain manner, we use it over and over again in similar situations when we want to feel the same way or want a similar result.  After a while, that behaviour becomes unconscious and is a natural reaction.

However, as we grow up, that behaviour can often become less and less appropriate.  As it becomes an unconscious reaction, we are often not really consciously aware that we’re doing it or how it looks or affects others.

In my experience, self pitying behaviour is usually used by children and adults for two main reasons:

  1. To get attention - Behaving in a self pitying way generally produces a flurry of drama and attention accompanied by cries of “Oh how awful!” “Poor you!” “What are you going to do?” Some people learn from an early age that gaining negative attention is better than gaining no attention and carry that through to their adult lives.
  2. To be absolved of responsibility – When we play the victim, we seemingly don’t have to take responsibility for what’s going on in our lives and we can openly moan about how hard done to we are. It’s easy to blame our undesirable situation on someone or something else and therefore, feel that we don’t need to do anything about it because it’s not our fault.

How to deal with Self-Pity

Next time you come across someone harbouring this emotion, instead of going along with it and sympathising or empathising with the person, why not ask them some questions:

  • "What’s making you think that?"
  • "Is that really true?"
  • "Who would you be without that thought?"
  • "What can you do to change things?!

Asking those types of questions usually brings the person out of victim mode and helps them move to owner – owning their situation rather than becoming a victim of it. I’ll warn you though; they will be surprised if you’ve never taken that position with them before.  They'll most likely expect you join in with their Pity Party and sympathise with them, espcially if that's what you usually do.

If those questions don’t help and the person is intent on continuing with their misery and bringing you down in to it too, my advice is to either try to change the subject or make your excuses and leave. That may sound harsh, however, if a person doesn’t want to be helped and just wants the attention, I guarantee that you’ll come away from the conversation feeling worse than they ever did!

If it's your pity party...

Do you recognise yourself as using that behaviour? If so, instead of sinking down into those negative thoughts and feelings, take ownership by asking yourself the 4 questions above. As self-pity is a learned behaviour, it can be unlearned by taking back control and owning your life rather than being a victim of it. Remember, we can all choose what we think... it just takes a little effort.

If you feel that you may be using self-pity as a way of gaining attention from people, try doing things differently. Do something nice and unexpected and thoroughly selfless for someone instead, see how that feels. You may find that it brings much more positive attention which will not only make the other person feel great, it will also help bolster your self esteem.

If you suffer from self-pity, why not contact us for a free, no obligation consultation on how we can help you, change and lead a more positive life.

JO's FIRST BOOK: Thoughts Become Things

Visit the website for Jo Banks' first book, Thoughts Become Things now available in paperback and Kindle formats.