Self-Pity

Self-pity
“Being a victim is more palatable than having to recognize the intrinsic contradictions of one’s own governing philosophy.”
– Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.”
– John Gardner

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that–it didn’t work.”
– Gary Paulsen, Hatchet

As I was beginning work on this post about self-pity, I searched Google and found a list of quotes from GoodReads. The selection above captures some of what I’d like to say on the subject, although not one of the many quotes from GoodReads expressed my most important insight, based on personal and clinical experience: that self-pity contains a lot of unconscious anger and stems from an underlying sense of entitlement. Let me give a personal example.

For most of my life, at least since I was in college, I’ve wanted to support myself as a writer. After graduation from UCLA, I wrote and sold my first novel when I was 22, making less than $5,000 from my year-or-so of work. Guided by my therapist, I came to the conclusion that I needed to find some other way to support myself financially, especially if I planned to marry and have children. Eventually, I enrolled in graduate school to become a therapist. I would have a part-time practice, I imagined, with plenty of time left over to write.

In Los Angeles where the psychotherapy profession was over-crowded, having a practice meant doing a lot of pro bono work — teaching, supervising interns, serving on committees at your institute, etc. Once I added the extra work necessary to sustain it, that part-time practice turned out to be a full-time job. Writing remained on the back burner. After my children were born, I had very little time to write. It has taken many years for me to move writing onto one of those front burners, but on the priority list, it never comes first. My obligation to earn money, my responsibilities to my family and to my clients always take precedence over writing. I have investments I must tend to before I sit down to write.

If I let myself, I can easily fall into self-pity on this subject: After more than 40 years as a writer, why does my writing never take precedence, unless I deprive myself of sleep in order to grab two hours in the morning? Life is so unfair! Somebody call the waaaambulance, please! I am an extremely fortunate man by any standard; I lead a very comfortable, one might even say privileged life: family, home, spending the summers in Colorado, etc. My work as a psychotherapist fascinates me; I’m in good health. I should feel grateful (and I usually do) to have such a rich life, both emotionally and financially.

But a part of me — the aspect I usually think of as my inner brat or sometimes as Borderline Joe — demands to have exactly what he wants. He feels that reality should conform to his expectations, rather than vice versa. He feels a deep sense of entitlement. When my children were young, I came to the realization one day that whenever they said, “That’s so unfair!” what they really meant was that they hated what I’d just told them. The demand for “fairness” was but a pretext. My inner brat makes the same complaint — Life is so unfair! — but this actually means I hate that life does not conform to my wishes.

When I was very young and depressed, early in my therapy, I often wallowed in this kind of self-pity. I could easily find myself “crying in the corner of the dark cave.” My therapist never felt sorry for me. He would talk instead about my sense of entitlement, the feeling that I should be given what I wanted without having to work for it. He talked a lot about my anger. Eventually, he helped me to realize I had two choices: I could continue to indulge in self-pity, demanding that reality conform to my expectations and, as a result, accomplish nothing in life; or I could face reality and through my own efforts, shape my life into one that would satisfy me. I could either demand the life of a writer or I could find a way to create it, within the realm of the possible.

Every writer faces this challenge. My friend Peggy Payne — whose fabulous new novel Cobalt Blue has just been released by Roundfire Books — is the only person I know who has consistently supported herself with money earned as a writer. Since graduating from college, she has worked as a reporter, freelance journalist, editorial consultant and writing teacher in order to support her love of the written word. My other writer-friends are academics or hold “day-jobs”; few people can earn a decent living solely as a writer. My inner brat expects not only to live as a self-supporting writer but also to enjoy the comforts and privileges of a more affluent, professional life. Give me a break! When I catch myself complaining — and the plaint can easily go unnoticed for quite some time — I have to laugh.

In my practice, I have found an understanding of the link between self-pity and anger to be very useful. In my current practice, I have two clients who often feel sorry for themselves, detailing their victim status, the hurtfulness of other people and the injustice of the world; both of them (one man and one woman), struggle with a great deal of anger. For the moment, that anger remains largely unconscious, mostly because they’re terrified of its intensity; over time, I’ll keep trying to make them more consciously aware of that anger, to help them learn how to tolerate it. I hope that facing their anger will ultimately prove an empowering experience for them, just as it was for me.

Self-pity, as John Gardner explained, separates the victim from reality. This means we’re unable to confront that reality and do what we can to change what we don’t like about it. In other words, as a life strategy for dealing with adversity, self-pity just doesn’t work.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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55 Responses to Self-Pity

  1. Michele says:

    Yep, I get that. Good reminder during my moments of worrying about how I’m going to manage training as a counsellor whilst keeping all those jobs in the air to support it. Boy, can I go into self-pity some days. Gratitude and being present is how I can usually take myself out of entitlement and then acceptance that it is what it is. I also have a strange kind of faith that it will all be alright in the end! Good blog.

  2. Mel says:

    Hi, I haven’t commented before, although I’ve been reading for a while and find your posts very helpful and thought-provoking. I’m kind of confused about what you’re saying here though. I was physically and emotionally abused as a child by my mother and stepfather (and possibly sexually but that’s a whole other story) and was often told by my mother that this was normal, I was making a fuss about nothing and I should stop complaining. In my therapy I’ve been working on overcoming this and not minimizing the things that have happened to me. I suppose my question, then, is isn’t it important to face those things and say they shouldn’t have happened and weren’t fair or right, without it being a sense of entitlement to say they shouldn’t have happened? Is it feeling sorry for myself to feel sad and angry about those things and I should just get over it and move on? Or have I just misunderstood what you’re saying and stated reading my mother’s attitudes into it?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      That doesn’t sound like self-pity. It sounds like self-compassion. Also, some things that happen to us truly are wrong and unjust; it’s important to acknowledge that fact. Feeling sorry for myself because I have to work to get what I want is quite different from your coming to acknowledge the pain and betrayal you must have felt as an abused child.

      • Mel says:

        Thanks for your reply. I guess I’m not too sure about the difference between self-pity and self-compassion.

        • Sonya says:

          Mel I’m so glad you posted your comment! I was thinking the same thing ( I have a similar background/history).

          Can self compassion at some point turn into self pity? Reason I ask is there is always someone who ‘has it worse’. Is there some ‘time limit’ for the anger over the abuse?

        • Heidi says:

          Mel, I have been pondering your comment about self-compassion vs. self-pity off and on for the last few hours. It’s a good question. For me, I think the way to know the difference is on a physical, feeling level. Self-pity feels more constraining, more limiting, both in what I want to do in the moment and what I can imagine in the future. When I feel self-pity, it closes down my life, and I want to go inward. Not in a restorative way, but in a punishing way — punishing either to myself or to the person I think caused whatever hurt I’m grieving over.
          Self-compassion feels more open. When I feel like crap but I have compassion for myself for feeling that way, I can actually stay present in the world and continue on with what I need to do — whether that’s visiting with a friend or attending to work tasks. When I am in touch with self-compassion, I can hold my hurt in a companionable way — I can bring it along with me into whatever else I must do without cutting off from it or the world. When I am in touch with self-compassion, I can hold my hurts and the present world and what it needs from me in balance.
          Great question. Thanks for prompting me to think and write about it.

        • Green Eyes says:

          Mel for me there are two key differences between self compassion and self pity. Firstly self-compassion involves real grief for what you lost and the pain you endured growing up. It also involves using this awareness to care for yourself and treat yourself the way good parents should treat a child. Self pity is righteous anger and doesn’t involve an awareness of the real grief or a sense of taking responsibility to care for yourself in a nice way

  3. Y says:

    I’m contemplating graduate school (after being a stay-at-home mom for the past four years) and instead of taking the first necessary steps, I’d rather tell myself that I’m just not intelligent anymore. Even though there is so much evidence to the contrary (excellent undergraduate grades, involvement with volunteer work, obsessive reading, etc), I’d rather believe that I’m doomed to stagnation.

    It sounds like your analyst was hard on you when it counted. Thanks for this post, and the reminder that self-pity can be overcome.

  4. Sonjia PRIDHAM says:

    Great blog, I like that you made it clear what you were saying with the above comment, because there are very bad injustices that do happen to us and we have a right to feel anger. I think I understand the difference of self pity and justified anger.
    Until I got into therapy I did not put the blame where it belonged for the abuse I suffered, those who were guilty of the abuse, blamed me and I believed them that I was to blame.

  5. Gordon says:

    I find that thinking “Life is mostly pain” and “Pain is relative to your capacity do deal with it” help me get out of victimhood. It’s kind of nihilistic though.
    But I always fall back into the victim status. I think I’m too afraid of feeling how I have wasted so many years wallowing in a dirty diaper, so to speak. I do know this on an intellectual level, but actually feeling the loss just scares me.

  6. Green Eyes says:

    Another excellent post Joe and quite timely on a personal level for me.
    Because both my parents died when I was young and my wider family abandoned me, I feel entitled to surrogate parents and a surrogate family. in the time my parents were alive, they were consistently abusive and neglecting so i essentially have never had anything good to hold onto internally and externally. And I often go through periods where I feel completely entitled to what I want exactly when I want it and how I want it. Coming to learn this can’t happen has provoked the most enormous sense of rage, shame and humiliating embarrasment as I realise my 15 month old son handles this better than I do at 31! I wonder whether this self-pity and sense of entitlement evolves out of a not “good enough” parent-infant dyad.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I think it almost certainly has to do with failed parenting. When you have “good enough” parents, you grow up with self-esteem; when you don’t, you’re left with self-pity as a way to compensate for it.

  7. Absolutely right about the anger in self-pity. Sometimes it hides the fear that I’m not good enough and projects on to others who are more successful – “They cheated!” Life is sometimes unfair, but I make my own fairness and like you I have a pretty good life.

  8. Peggy Payne says:

    Wow! I was reading along, fascinated by your story of self-pity and writing time and stumbled upon myself and on Cobalt Blue. Thanks for the shout-out, Joe.

  9. Sarah says:

    I think self-pity can be very good in some ways. It was very useful to me as a form of self-love. My therapist and I explored how “loving” self-pity was. “Poor me” became a consolation, it wasn’t necessary to find a solution, just a consoling moment. When you have a very abusive mother, and you only want her to say: poor you, instead of belittling and ignoring you, telling yourself “poor you, look how mistreated you are” acted as a form of self-love, well at least for me. And the wallowing didn’t last long. Sometimes, I still allow myself the “poor me” session and then I feel better and brace myself for reality, which is much more empowering.

    • Sarah says:

      and I do understand the difference between self-compassion and self-pity. I actually really think that the unjustified self-pity is not all wrong. After experimenting it fully, It sheds a light on one’s inadequacies and offers space for proper self-compassion…Sorry about replying on my own post. It’s pretty lame ;)

  10. Richard LePage says:

    Nice…I learned ‘gentleness’ to oneself is primary when SP comes around…

  11. Jul says:

    “My inner brat expects not only to live as a self-supporting writer but also to enjoy the comforts and privileges of a more affluent, professional life. ”

    In my early twenties I was confronted with the same choice and chose the more affluent, professional life over writing or any of the other “dream jobs” that I imagined I would have one fine day. The fact that I did not want to accept a more bohemian life style in order to live my dream taught me that I lacked the necessary passion for it. That was a very sobering realization. And a blow to my self-image that really hurt, for years. But when the pain was gone, so was the self-pity.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Great post. But once you face that anger how do you overcome it? That’s something I’m currently trying to figure out.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I wish I had a simple answer for that! It takes time.

      • Ken says:

        Gratitude/thankfulness overcomes anger. They are polar opposites as far as I know. Gratitude, to me, involves decreasing the importance of the self in terms of being humble in one’s heart. The greater the importance of the self (the ego), the less the gratitude, the more the anger and self-pity. On an extreme level, one who perceives oneself as god will be easily angered or provoked at just about everything for not adhering to one’s wishes. The other extreme is the diminishing of one’s ego (sense of entitlement), appreciating instead of expecting, thereby attaining peaceful joy within.

  13. RC says:

    “Borderline Joe” Ha! I love that.

    One of my favorite writers of all time is Raymond Carver, who I believe was a student of Gardener’s. Talk about a guy who struggled – mostly against himself – to become a writer, and who dies far too early. I also like Russell Banks. I’m guessing you’ve read “Affliction,” but if not, it’s an amazing book. He also has a short story called “Sarah Cole, A Type of Love Story.” As a psychologist, you might find that an interesting study on narcissism.

  14. Cameron says:

    Great post. It was very confronting for me to read it.

  15. Sanna says:

    Hey Joe,

    what came to my mind when I read this post was Lacans concept of “desire”. I know from scrolling through some commentsections from earlier post that you had a hard time finding useful thougts for your work in his theory (maybe also because it´s soooooo damn difficult and hard to understand), but for that particular post he may has a point: he makes a fundamental distinction between what we need (which is what we CAN have) and what we desire – Lacan holds that we can never have what we desire, because this “feeling” can move from one object to another as soon as it is satisfied.
    I think he also says that we actually don´t really want our deepest desires to be fulfilled, because they are to intense for us and also have a destructive and forbidden dimension. – Let´s say you followd your “dream” to finally become a famous and successfull writer and you made ít – imagine all the things you had to give up for that wish…it would probably have a quite harmful impact on your life, right?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      That’s interesting about Lacan. I’m not sure I agree. I think the desire that can’t be fulfilled is one that involves idealization — believing that once we get something, we’ll achieve some static state of perfection. Authentic desire CAN be fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of things. We will always desire other things. Or maybe I’m just not understanding his point.

      • Sanna says:

        Whoe does I ask ;) I think for many psychoanalysts it´s hard to tell what Lacan is about in their practice. I´ve heard someone say that there actually isn´t a particular “lacanian” way of psychoanalysis except things like length of sessions. He probably has more influence in cultural studies and philosophy…and yes, you´re probably right that this desire involves idealization. I also guess it has something to do with his concept of the “Big Other” which is the object or idea that needs to be at a distance in order to maintain its authority or attraction. And reagarding a psychoanalyst (forgot his name, sorry) we know that this big other most often is a lie to which we nontheless subscribe, we act “as if” it exists. For instance we all know that celebrities almost never look like in the movies, magazines…they have pimples, wrinkles, flabby boobs, but although we know that many many people believe in that ideal and start doing terrible things to themseves (like massive surgery) and that´s where the self-pitty is at work I think, cause since it´s an illusion we will never be able to fill that gap.

        Sorry for tormenting you with Lacan ;) I´m just very interested in how you see his theory and how it is accepted or perceived in America…I suggest it may be different from France where he has had a huge impact – similar to Freud maybe….

        many regards from Germany!

        • Joseph Burgo says:

          As you suggest, Lacan has a great deal of influence in cultural studies and philosophy here in the U.S. We read him during psychoanalytic training but he was considered a secondary theorist, interesting of but of little clinical relevance. To me, he just doesn’t repay the effort it takes to understand what he’s actually saying.

    • Gordon says:

      A desire by definition is something that you want to have. Once you have it, you can no longer want to have that it, unless you loose that something.
      But I think I understand the point you want to make. For example, normally it’s a chore for me to cook my lunch but the chore is much more manageable if I’m making it so I can eat it while I watch my favorite program.
      Ultimately I think it’s about giving us a purpose in life, and by purpose I mean the reason for us to feel our lives are worth all the suffering. Once we fulfill our purpose, we are ready to die. Thus life without attainable desire is pointless.
      I wonder if as a species we sometimes neglect our babies to give them the purpose of regaining our attention so they don’t fall into a “baby existential nihilism” of some kind.

  16. Oonagh says:

    Hi Joseph,
    yes I also find it difficult like the earlier poster to differentiate between self pity or understandable pain in myself. Sometimes I think I am completely useless and don’t know if that’s self pity. I can get strong suicidal ideation with this feeling. Life is ok at the moment despite being very tight financially. I tend to feel grateful for what I do have. But old childhood stuff I still haven’t properly resolved in my analysis can get evoked unawares – I can feel desperately alone even though I have a super husband- I do feel remedial in terms of peer friendships and socializing. Yet I also isolate and don’t know why. Sometimes I just want to die – like it would bring relief to what has been a hard life. I have given a lot to others and I have tried to self-care as well. Days like today – I am just so inert.

    • Dolma Beck says:

      Hi Oonagh, Felt for you.
      Also can identify with what
      you’re talking About… Sometimes the pain
      Can get So unrelenting.. I try to just watch
      The pain.. Not give it too much energy/ feed it
      Thanks all you guys out there,
      This is a lovely blog… Honest sharing…

  17. Scott says:

    Very helpful insights. I find it so easy to get immersed in the daily struggles, only to lose sight of the benefits within the larger picture. I often end up in a “tunnel vision” of sorts with adversarial situations, become overwhelmed, and fall into the trap of self-pity. This does me no good, yet the pattern persists. I’d like to improve in my ability to remain afloat, regardless of how many obstacle present themselves to me simultaneously. The mere thought of unresolved pressing issues gives me a sinking feeling…any advice/feedback is appreciated-thanks.

  18. Sarah says:

    I agree; what you wrote is my experience as well, with a few differences. There ARE profoundly ‘unfair’ aspects to life that many children must face; a family member with cancer, sexual abuse, a parent or sibling dying, poverty, a parent or parents who abandon them, a chronic illness, mental illness, etc.
    Grief, rage, and powerlessness often plague a child struggling with some of these ‘unfair’ facts of life. The struggle is more agonizing if, as often happens, there is no compassionate adult in the child’s life. Often, children must suck it up and soldier on with no help. These feelings of rage and powerlessness still simmer in adulthood, leading to bouts of self-pity and feelings of entitlement. Those feelings aren’t constructive, but I don’t think they’re indicative of an inner brat. I think they are the residual, understandable feelings of rage and sorrow for the 2 tons of crap that got poured on a child; a child who could see that other children were spared. Children have a strong sense of justice. They know when they’ve been screwed. Hopefully as adults we realize that self pity and fruitless feelings of entitlement won’t get us what we deserve. I don’t believe self-pity is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’; for children without supportive adults that feeling may be the closest thing they ever got to care-and it came from their own selves. Behind a child’s self-pity for traumatic life events is the knowledge that ‘this is wrong- I don’t deserve this’ and that is true and powerful.

  19. bobdick says:

    I’ve very recently realized I was pitying myself, mostly internally, nonetheless interfering moderately with my balance. At 71 I’ve had a year long bout with very unpleasant sciatica and peripheral neuropathy. I’ve said to myself and my intimates that I can handle the pain with self-hypnosis and turmeric. That’s true, and yesterday I came to terms with a not-so-hidden cost of getting through it, because I continue to have more pain more often than I’d hoped and expected. I’ve become quite irritable and grumpy, primarily at home with my wife and one of my dogs. I’ve known for a while that I don’t like the person I’ve become, and now I’m gonna’ do something about it.
    I’ve resisted consulting an outstanding physician/pain specialist whom I know well, primarily out of pride in my skills to handle the pain – “I Can handle it!”. Neither my wife nor I [nor my dog], deserve the loud and intense anger I’ve been storming around with, so I’m calling tomorrow for an appointment to explore medications. Lesson learned. Dr Bob

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      The way that physical pain becomes persecutory, and we then blame those around us for it, is a subject I ought to address. I actually think I did touch on the subject in my post about the law of false attribution.

    • bobdick says:

      This is an addendum, not a reply. I’ve realized that 2 aspirin usually makes my worst times manageable in a half-hour or so. Since opiates would likely give me only 20-30% relief, plus whatever side effects, like sedation, etc, I’m taking 2 aspirin a half hour before those predictable times. I’d be pleased to handle the discomfort using trance and aspirin,sidestepping both irritability and those meds that cost so much time, energy and money. So far so good – we’ll see. b

  20. Alex says:

    I’m with you Jo: self-pity is cozy, but ultimately unproductive and stifling. I guess I just have to take a deep breath, and not be too frightened or ashamed looking in the mirror now and then….

    I showed considerable artistic promise as a kid, and looked to be heading for a career in fine art. The canvas was a place I literally inhabited, and I hid away from my crazy home life, forever drawing … ‘My Life in 2B’.

    By 17, stories had I’d compulsively drawn since early childhood had become too much and I’d had enough. I stopped drawing.

    Last September I returned to art college one day a week at 46. It hasn’t been easy: the emotional floods of traumatic memories I buried in my original child’s drawings all came back as I stood at my easel. One class I ran out of the studio and was physically sick. But I have worked through it all, and can paint again.

    I half-jokingly my classes ‘day release’ so my pride could see it as ‘training’. The art college has a formidable reputation for painting, and lucky me – it’s just an hour away.

    If I’m honest the classes are self-selecting adult education: first to the hotline wins a place. The class is dominated by greying, respectable ladies from a wealthy part of town ‘who lunch’ and the odd semi-retired gentleman. I should be earning my keep Monday to Friday, but am instead amusing myself painting on Tuesdays with the Idle and Privileged semi-retired. Being forced to see all this on entering the studio last year I just wanted to cry….

    All of this is unpalatable and revoltingly shameful, which I now see I projected wildly onto other students as coruscating contempt. It really hurt to see I was not so very different – and not so very young! I too was only here because I could afford to pay, a spoiled brat who could afford the time out. It’s not like I’d been selected as ‘talented’. I wallow and wail to myself: ‘I should be full-time. I’m not as old as you lot! Or deluded about my abilities! It’s not fair! I DO have talent!’

    10 weeks in and I can now see every member of the class thinks they should be taken seriously, and that includes the tutors. Art as a living is bloody hard: something my tutor who is a practising artist pointed out. Annie told me to hang onto my graphics clients since I’ll need them to maintain an income. ‘Most artists have differing income streams’ she says. She teaches, and I’m glad of that. This week I have helped design and print a plan to save endangered animals, and I’m glad of that too. It is interesting, rewarding work.

    I always realised any full-time undergrad type course wasn’t going to happen. It would fail a cost–benefit analysis, were I to even be selected. And anyways, many years ago I learned my trade as a typesetter on a college course where I just turned up on Day One. There was no talent contest for entry there, either. Thirty years on, and I still say it was my most formative education, far more than the degree in graphic design I got some years later. Do we find our talent in skills honed by enthusiasm and graft, working with others? On reflection, I certainly do.

    I can say this nine months on since any latent ‘talent’ I had has started to reveal itself. My personal bet has paid off, and it’s pretty easy to sit here in the warm glow of hindsight, and not without a dose of realism. I commission photography and illustration and I know just how high the standards are: I have a way to go, but it looks very possible.

    Thanks for your help, too Jo: this site has been hugely helpful to me over the last 18 months.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Thanks for that account, Alex. The life of an artist is incredibly hard and most of us need a “day job.” That “cost benefit” analysis is a crucial exercise, and I believe you’re better off facing reality than hoping things will turn out just the way you want them to do and then feeling sorry for yourself for your entire life.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I really like your site, and especially the way that you have managed to integrate politics into a good few of your articles.

    In this article, while I agree with what you say about self-pity not working, I don’t agree that it always springs from a misguided sense of entitlement. This is particularly true in the example you give of wanting more time to do something you really love, in this case writing. This is true for many other people, and it is not misguided to feel pissed off about that, as a large part of the reason for this lack of time is the self-hating culture of privileging work over human growth that most of us live in. It would be quite possible for everyone to work 3 days a week and for society to function very adequately, yet the (insane) privileging of profit over all else means that most people are trapped into a lifestyle that allows them precious little time to do artistic things, for example.

    I really liked the way you worked politics into your essay on envy, to take an example, but I think you’ve missed the political dimension here, with the particular example of self-pity that you’ve taken.

  22. Lauren Vork says:

    Something about this post and discussion has been niggling at me ever since it went up, and now, I think I know what it is:

    It occurs to me that the term “self pity” is really a misnomer. Usually, when we speak contemptuously about “self pity,” the real phenomenon we’re talking about isn’t pity for ourselves at all, but a demand FOR pity for oneself FROM other people. Or at least, a vain hope for it or rebelling against the lack thereof.

    Genuinely pitying yourself, saying, “I’m going to feel sorry for myself so that other people don’t have to, because other people simply can’t understand my experiences as fully as I can,” seems to me like a very mature and responsible thing to do. It doesn’t leave you stuck in one place the way you’ll be if you vainly hope for someone to come along who can understand and empathize completely. What’s truly immature, however, is to go through life with the unmet emotional hunger of a child combined with the complex realities and secrets of adult life , unfathomable to others, yet to demand the perfect empathy and attunement we didn’t get as children. Far better to engage in some genuine self-pity, as deeply as you desire it, and then move on.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I think you make an important distinction. I guess when I talk about “self-pity,” I mean the variety you describe that includes a demand that other people feel sorry for you, as well, and presumably DO something about it.

  23. Jen C says:

    I’m at year three since I left my husband who was having an affair, but wouldn’t move out of our house. He actually told our Pastor and his wife that he didn’t have to choose between his wife and his mistress. I made the choice and moved myself and our children 7 hours away to be with my family. His mother lives near me as well.
    During this time I have returned to school (at 45) and attempted to enter a new profession. My exhusband has attempted to sabotage this through the threat of a lawsuit to a potential employer of mine (long story). I am having a hard time not feeling sorry for myself. I’m scared that I am unable to find a job good enough to provide for myself and my kids. Our lifestyle since I left my husband is much lower now as we live with my parents while I’m trying to regroup. The ex has managed to drag out the proceeding of the divorce through changes of venue and changes of lawyers so that I am still without a settlement or a permanent custody agreement. I opted to get the divorce (after an 18 month separation) prior to settling everything and I took back my maiden name.
    He constantly finds things wrong with our children, in particular their health and their clothes. He constantly feels the need to belittle me and claim that I am a bad mother. We no longer speak so this is done via text and email. For the life of me, I don’t know what he’s mad about. Reading your posts, I guess it’s that I caused him shame by divorcing him and now he must damage me in return. The thing is, I’m not mad, I’m just done. Why can’t he be done, too?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Yes, it’s definitely about shame. He will never be “done” with shame until he faces it, and sadly, this type of vindictive narcissist almost never does.

  24. marquis - daughter of narc mother (father too) says:

    Love the post more real than some other mental health professionals (no offense to you). People say I do a lot of self-pity, I told them runs in my family. When you said your therapist told you some ways to financially support yourself, mine hasn’t told me anything for me. She knows I am looking for a job, but in the state we live in, it’s an agricultural state and really hard to find any work and I have a college degree that isn’t helping me.

    I didn’t hold many jobs at all just one so that is biting me hard. I have been volunteering, but have no skills to find ways to support myself financially since that wasn’t taught growing up. My therapist said keep looking for work, how much longer is that going to take? She said I was having self-pity, I said well, you aren’t giving me better suggestions….

  25. marquis - daughter of narc mother (father too) says:

    I also forgot to mention writing isn’t easy, not easy to make money, and hard to do as it shouldn’t be.

  26. Maureen says:

    I think it’s important to get clear about what fuels self pity, which is often honest frustration over a lack of knowledge or know-how as to how get where you want to go. This is where re-framing entitlement comes in handy. If I decide that I am entitled to success, then I feel entitled to learn what I need to learn, and accept that learning anything is challenging and learning how to do it well, frustrating. Then, when the inevitable frustration arrives, I don’t have to feel like a victim, or expect some benevolent force to fix it for me or do the work because I know that it’s just how it is, and I can get on with it. Self pity means I need to change my expectations or cultivate a set of skills that make those expectations do-able. Realizing that life isn’t supposed to be “easy” has gone a long way to help me manage my frustration and fear of failure. When it comes to the past, I find that reminding myself that NO ONE has an easy childhood, or life, period, is helpful. And yes, I have to remind myself about 20 times a day that this is so.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Your descriptions of self-pity and entitlement don’t correspond to my own views of those experiences. In my view, they imply that you shouldn’t have to learn or work.

      • Matthew says:

        I must confess that I resprctfully disagree with your post and viewpoint regarding self-pity, Mr. Burgo. While it is indeed true that people are much better off without self-pity or any such dilapidating emotion, there is a large number of people today who cannot help but feel sorry for themselves, regardless of whatever psychological, intellectual, or moral objections may be put forth before them to show them the error of their thinking. This is perhaps especially true for children and teenagers who come from abusive and/or socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and also those who suffer from certain personal as well as social issues which further their inferior status and view of themselves (physical unattractiveness, mental illness, obesity, not being accepted into a desired organization, underachievement in any aspect of life, verbal maltreatment or destructive criticism, or rejection from peers/loved ones/romantic interests).

        Here in America, with its doctrine of autonomy, its easy to see why self-pity is the object of vilification. Ironically, America is perhaps the place were self-pity is most prevalent. This is a country whose mental health, social, moral, and educational systems are so biased, dishonest, and broken that they produce individuals of this nature. People must be seen as wholly autonomous because to propose or imply the influence of social and psychological conditioning would be to reduce them to zombies. Yes, we have free will, but that does not make us exempt from being broken down to the point of desperation or madness by social problems, severe misfortune, or the venomous words of condescending, self-righteous, and overbearing people. Many can bear these adversities, but not everyone. Thee are people who come into this world less-equipped for life than others. I think this is the reason why there are such high depression and suicide rates.

  27. marquis - daughter of narc parents says:

    Hmmm. I guess you can say I am confused about self-pity. My therapist and I had this long talk about it. She said going around saying poor me and getting people to feel sorry for me wasn’t the way to go and I need to stop feeling sorry for myself as it could have been worse and others had it worse than me.

    I was told that by an ex-friend in high school long ago. I told my therapist ‘I don’t care how worse it could have gotten, it is still worse enough as it is. I have heard many stories of horrific child abuse, but I have a right to my feelings not you. How do you expect me to overcome when I can’t be in a position to overcome? Nobody else really cares to hear child abuse if you really think about it, most people think these kids did something etc. Who wants to hear a story, a true story, on child abuse? A lot of people want to hear the white picket fence fairy tale story. I feel I should’ve had better parents and better everything else, etc. This is what you call immense betrayal/hurt from your own parents. Have you had that happen to you?’

    After that, she just looked at me as always. I told her how some people can’t overcome their abuse and I feel I am one of them since nobody didn’t take me away from my parents when I was a kid and had no idea how to survive on my own at 18 (I am 27 now) and have to relearn these things that were not taught. She talks as if life is easy street but she did let a piece slip about her saying if you ever ask her about her baggage – watch out. I also told her rising above when you have no one helping you and tell you ‘be kind to these parents of yours and forget about abuse pretend it don’t happen,’ doesn’t help anybody. You can only get so much from the mental health professional (MHP) that is does some good but not enough. I am trying on my own to overcome and it is still difficult…

    I agree with Matthew. These mental health professionals have no idea what kind of lives these clients live and they talk so easily like it is simple to do. They always seem to come across as God or self-righteous and do agree about the dishonesty. Why is the therapy so bland and boring? There needs to be more action instead of doing these exercises they have you to do. I have heard stories of people who’ve never got the help they needed and ended up being lost even more because of some of these therapists tell their clients that it doesn’t exist (their issues), what kind of therapy is that?

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