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This is difficult to say without feeling harsh and judgmental, but here goes--self-pity is an extreme form of egocentrism, and usually a result of a very selfish perspective of the world.  People who regularly engage in self-pity are miserable, and they tend to make others quite unhappy, too.

Of course, we have to separate self-pity from depression and grief and sadness.  The person who engages in self-pity is looking for sympathy from others, usually, for in that sympathy they hope to find their happiness, their pleasant feelings.  They're depending on support and encouragement from others to make them feel better; unfortunately, such a dependence is very similar to a chemical dependence--the high soon wears off, and they need another fix.  Fortunately, the number of people who constantly pity themselves is rather low, it seems, though we all know one or two of them.  Their fixation on what's going wrong in their lives is like sandpaper on our brains--it's annoying and harmful, especially since they never seem to listen when we point out what's right in their lives, and just how much the positive out-balances the negative. They don't want to acknowledge this because then they'd no longer have a reason to feel bad for themselves.

It's important, though, that we don't throw around the term and apply it to just anyone.  We must be sensitive to what the other person's going through.  Someone did that to me once--when I was in college, 

I went through quite a few spells of severe depression.  I didn't want to be there (in the depressed state), and I hated it and tried to get out, but there I was--extremely depressed.  One evening, one of my co-workers quite cheerfully noted that I was having a "pity party," telling me, in essence, that what I was going through was my choice, that I wanted to pity myself.  I can't tell you how much that hurt me, and I'll never know if that particular comment extended that episode of my depression.

On the other hand, there's one person in my life who's never happy or content with her life.  She has a definite martyr complex--things are always bad, and getting worse.  Interestingly enough, though, whenever I'm over visiting, all these horrible things that I've been told on the phone just aren't there.  I learned long ago that what she wants is sympathy, and I try to give as much as I can without helping to perpetuate her attitude.  She also thinks that the sort of things that are "happening" to her just don't happen to anyone else--nobody else could have so many problems.

I also know many people who have things much worse than she ever will, and they don't do a bit of complaining.  They look at what they have in life, and they appreciate it and do their best with it.  It's impossible to convince her, though, that she's fortunate--she and her husband have a steady income, they own their own home, they're never without food, they have plenty of luxuries, they have a nice car, they live in a beautiful town.  But none of that matters, because things are awful at work and she thinks she'll have to quit soon because she thinks she's working too many hours (and has been for the last five years).  No one keeps in touch with her and no one remembers her, even though she's in constant contact with many friends that she's known since childhood.  And on and on.

I don't criticize her for this behavior, for I've seen where it comes from.  I do feel bad for her because she makes herself quite unhappy by focusing on what she sees as bad things in her life.  She  just doesn't see the positive at all, and I've never heard her admit to any sort of happiness.  She's unhappy because things happen to her, because life's unfair to her, but she's never happy about her accomplishments or the positive things in her life.  And that's sad, for she has plenty of both.  She chooses not to see them, though.  And what's worse is that she doesn't get the pity or sympathy she so strongly desires--everyone caught on to her years ago.  So she goes on looking at the world darkly even though the sun shines brightly.


Self-pity is essentially humorless, devoid of that
lightness of touch which gives understanding of life.

Anthony Powell


I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.  A small bird will drop
frozen dead from a bough Without ever having felt sorry for itself.

D.H. Lawrence


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The teeth of self-pity had gnawed away her essential self.

Willa Gibbs

Self-pity is one of the most unhappy and consuming defects that we know.
It is a bar to all spiritual progress and can cut off all effective communication
with our fellows because of its inordinate demands for attention and sympathy.
It is a maudlin form of martyrdom, which we can ill afford.


Self-pity is a death that has no resurrection, a sinkhole from which
no rescuing hand can drag you because you have chosen to sink.

Elizabeth Elliot


Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it,
we can never do anything wise in this world.

Helen Keller

Others may argue about whether the world ends with a
bang or a whimper.  I just want to make sure mine
doesn't end with a whine.

Barbara Gordon

When you find yourself overpowered, as it were,
by melancholy, the best way is to go out and do something.

John Keble


I got the blues thinking about the future, so I left off and made some marmalade.
It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges or scrub the floor.

D.H. Lawrence


Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time
I am being carried on great winds across the sky.

Ojibway Dream Song

Articles and book excerpts on self-pity:

Self-Pity      tom walsh


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Are you giving all your time and energy to someone who doesn't appreciate it?
Do you sometimes think of yourself as a martyr?  Does the word "sacrifice" creep
into your mind more than just once in a while?  Many people martyr themselves in
relationships and no one notices.
   Martyrs seem to give a great deal, but no one thanks them, or at least not often
enough.  The reason is that the martyr's stock-in-trade is guilt--"I've done so much
for you."
  Because guilt doesn't feel good, not only do people forget to say "thank
you," they usually stay away.
   The martyr is furious--"I've done so much and I've received so little in return."
In fact, martyrs don't give to other people, only to themselves.  They just use other
people as the foil.
   Try caring and loving, and expecting the same in return.  Don't opt for suffering
in the hope that someday they will recognize how wonderful you are.  They won't.

Jennifer James
Success Is the Quality of Your Journey

I am a cheerful man, even in the dark, and it's all thanks to a good Lutheran
mother. . . . Mother was well composed, a true Lutheran, and taught me to
Cheer up, Make yourself useful, Mind your manners,
and above all, Don't feel sorry for yourself.

Garrison Keillor
Wobegon Boy


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There is nothing that will cripple one's creative power quicker than
the self-pity habit, the habit of coddling oneself.  It paralyzes the
faculties because it destroys self-confidence, shuts off power,
courage.  If you desire to get force and vigor into your efforts you
must have a free avenue of self-expression.  There must be no
restriction anywhere.  The moment you begin to coddle and pity
yourself and to think that you cannot do this or that, your faculties
will quickly sympathize with the condition of your mind,
and your producing power will be weakened and cut down.

Orison Swett Marden
The Joys of Living (1913)


Yes, life can be mysterious and confusing--but there's much of life that's actually rather dependable and reliable.  Some principles apply to life in so many different contexts that they can truly be called universal--and learning what they are and how to approach them and use them can teach us some of the most important lessons that we've ever learned.
My doctorate is in Teaching and Learning.  I use it a lot when I teach at school, but I also do my best to apply what I've learned to the life I'm living, and to observe how others live their lives.  What makes them happy or unhappy, stressed or peaceful, selfish or generous, compassionate or arrogant?  In this book, I've done my best to pass on to you what I've learned from people in my life, writers whose works I've read, and stories that I've heard.  Perhaps these principles can be a positive part of your life, too!
Universal Principles of Living Life Fully.  Awareness of these principles can explain a lot and take much of the frustration out of the lives we lead.



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