5 Reasons Why Self-pity is Poison

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“Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” ~ Parker J. Palmer

Before the existential crisis, before the Dark Night of the Soul, there is the mini crisis of self-pity, the tiny darkness that, if not corralled early on, compounds itself into a greater darkness. 

This mini crisis rears its ugly head in all manner of things regarding the human condition, but especially in matters relating to the fragility of the ego. You’ll hear it in the familiar whine of the woe-is-me attitude. You’ll notice it in the placater’s overzealous sneer. It’s a poison you sometimes swallow without even realizing it. It’s fixed elixir for those who often play the victim.

For those of us who are working on becoming more whole and less of a victim, here are five reasons why self-pity is poison and why we should avoid it. 

1.) It’s a waste of time and energy:

“Instead of wasting energy trying to prevent a storm, focus on how you can prepare for it.” ~ Amy Morin

You are cosmically insignificant, impermanent, and fallible. And that’s okay. The problem, the waste of time and energy, is when you don’t allow it to be okay. You cultivate unreasonable expectations. You take yourself too seriously. You mope. You hang your head. You kick yourself. You tear yourself down. The glass is always half empty. So you get drunk and drown away your sorrows. Or you create a religion to artificially placate everyone with. 

Self-pity is the ultimate energy zapper because it keeps you spinning and reeling in vexation and woe. You feel so sorry for yourself that you don’t have time to do anything else. You spend so much energy berating yourself and whining about how nothing works and the whole world is against you and everything sucks, that you never find the energy to fix things or to do things that don’t suck. 

So you are insignificant in the grand scheme of things? So you make mistakes and you’re not perfect? So you’re not completely in control and someday you’re going to die? So what? Flip the script. Turn the tables. Roll over in the gutter and look at the magnificence of the stars. 

Rather than choke on the poison-pill of self-pity, spit it out and use it as a steppingstone for self-improvement and self-overcoming. 

2.) It creates a domino effect of negative emotions:

“You’re more like a body of work than a body, and there’s always work to do, new levels of effectiveness and aliveness to unpack and explore. And everyday of your life, either you’re getting yourself on the hook for that task or you’re dead in the water.” ~ Gary John Bishop

Self-pity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the emotional quagmire of self-pity, we fret and seethe and wrestle with thoughts and problems and past experiences that we can neither control nor change. We’re like a snake eating its own tail, getting nowhere and proving it with an absurd gusto. 

In our blind woe-is-me attitude, we create monsters to wrestle with. We create resentment. We create loneliness. We create fear. They topple into each other, compounding each other, ultimately transforming us into monsters that blame the world rather than look into a mirror. Or we use a higher power or lesser devil as a scapegoat for our shame rather than take personal responsibility.

If this weren’t bad enough, self-pity blocks us from dealing with other emotions. Caught up in pitying ourselves, we become blind to our grief, our sadness, even our anger. Rather than allow these emotions a healthy outlet, we repress them. But this just exacerbates their power and keeps fulfilling the ominous prophecy of our monstrous self-pity. 

3.) It causes a victim-like mindset:

“Self-pity is the cruelest form of poverty because it’s in your mind. Remember: You are master of your own destiny, digger of your own rut. Destiny can be altered. Ruts are filled all the time. If you lay in yours long enough, someone will bury you in it.” ~ Pat Mestern

Self-pity is the victim’s cup o’ tea. Whether you are an actual victim of unfortunate or tragic circumstance or merely playing the victim, self-pity just reinforces the victim mindset.

The future is not fixed. The past is what it is. The present is where you alter your destiny and fill in your ruts, past and future be damned. Filling in your ruts is a creative act. It’s high art. It’s wrestling the past into a position where it divulges the pressure that transform a lump of coal into a diamond, a piece of grit into a pearl, or a dull blade into a sword sharp enough to cut God.

Rather than waste away in a victim mindset, transform that energy into art. Rather than be a victim, become a creator. Becoming a creator despite having been a victim is transforming pain into power. It’s transforming demons into diamonds, wounds into wisdom, and setbacks into steppingstones. It’s standing atop your molehill turned mountain and planting a flag sewn from the blood sweat and tears of your pain. 

The powerful catharsis of art transforms even the most stubborn victim into an adamant creator.

4.) It causes you to overlook the good:

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions, all life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Life is an adventure. Some adventures are good, and some are bad. But the only thing worse than a bad adventure is no adventure at all. Indeed, the biggest risk is taking no risks. 

Yet when we linger in a victim mindset, swallowing the poison of self-pity every day, we never allow ourselves to see the beauty of an adventurous lifestyle. Self-pity keeps us moping on failed adventures of the past, or worse, it prevents us from ever having an adventure at all.

Caught in the throes of self-pity, we become so focused on the negative that we are unable to identify the positive, the good, or even the truth. We are unable to see how that which doesn’t kill us could make us stronger. 

The creator within us sighs: If only we could see it as a sharpening stone for a sharper self and thus a sharper life.

5.) It blocks gratitude and forgiveness:

“Throw roses into the abyss and say: ‘Here are my thanks to the monsters for not knowing how to swallow me alive.’” ~ Nietzsche

Self-pity blocks us from resolving negative emotions, but it also prevents us from forgiving ourselves, others, or Fate for “doing us wrong.” We become so wound-up in our self-pity that we are incapable of realizing that the key to unwinding is through gratitude and forgiveness. 

We must be able to forgive ourselves for the life we weren’t able to achieve. We must be able to forgive others for hindering us along the way. We must be able to forgive Fate for dealing us a shitty hand so that we can focus more on how to play it effectively. On some level, if we are unable to forgive, we are unable to resolve self-pity. Some of its poison will always be there, lingering, festering, malignant. 

The scary part of forgiveness is that it’s a leap of courage out of the illusion of invulnerability and into the reality of vulnerability. But that’s also its strength. Gratitude, on the other hand, is a surrender to health and a recognition that things could always be worse. Being grateful for the little things is an important steppingstone toward handling the big things, like forgiveness. Thus, the baby steps of gratefulness can lead to the leap of courage into forgiveness. 

Curing ourselves of the poison of self-pity begins with recognizing how we waste our precious time and energy on vainly trying to control what we cannot control. If we’re not careful, negative emotions will blind us and turn us into victims that cannot see the flowers for the weeds.

If we can then find a way to honor our pain and angst through creative art, the catharsis will transform us into creators rather than victims, and we will discover a higher state where we are free to see the good, to be grateful for what we have, and to forgive ourselves of our self-pity.

As Lily Tomlin said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

Image Sources:

Old man in Sorrow

Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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Shannon ScottFree

It’s great to read your articles again. You always inspire me! Thank you!

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