Self-Pity: What it is and how to overcome it



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.


The false comfort of self-pity screens me from reality only momentarily and then demands, like a drug, that I take an ever bigger dose. If I succumb to this it could lead to a relapse into drinking. What can I do? One certain antidote is to turn my attention, however slightly at first, toward others who are genuinely less fortunate than I, preferably other alcoholics. In the same degree that I actively demonstrate my empathy with them, I will lessen my own exaggerated suffering. From the book Daily Reflections April 13th

Pity refers to a situation where an individual feels sympathy for another person who is suffering or in pain. Rightly acquired and cultivated, the virtue of pity enables us to cultivate compassion for our fellows and perform acts of kindness and service for others.

Self-pity is a contradiction: it turns something that by its nature is meant to concern itself with the suffering of others inward towards oneself alone. It is a habit of concentrating one’s inner thoughts and attention on one’s own troubles or on one particular cause for sorrow.

The roots of self-pity are selfishness, self-centeredness, resentment and pride. It arises out of a belief that our suffering is unfair or unreasonable. We believe that we are a blameless victim of circumstances beyond our control and therefore deserving of condolences, sympathy and support.

Self-pity also arises from the irrational beliefs that one should be upset over other people’s disturbances and difficulties and that it is vitally important to our existence what other people do and that we should make great efforts to change them in the direction we would like then to be.

When we are full of self-pity, we feel sorry for ourselves: we think that we are not getting what we deserve and that we should not have to go through whatever we are going through. We are full of bitter resentment against others who are held responsible for the sufferings we must endure. We are selfish and centered because we do not like the role that God has assigned to us. We think that we know more than God what we should have or how others should behave or treat us.

The AA Big Book illustrates this on pages 61-62:

“Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?  Our actor is self-centered – ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. (AA BB pg. 62)

Self-pity is dangerous because all it does is to numb the pain, not address it. If we are a victim of circumstances our misery is inflicted upon us from without rather than from within. We are not responsible for our pain and everything becomes the responsibility of a third party. The root of our problem, as it says in the AA BB is “Selfishness, self-centeredness! …… Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self, which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making”. (pg. 62)

How to overcome self-pity:

1. Identify the feeling: recognize the feeling and then acknowledge it.

2. Evaluate/Assess:

Why it is that I am feeling this way?
Is there anything that preceded it?
What is this affecting?
What is the exact nature of my wrongs in this?

3. Meditate and ask for guidance on this, even for a few minutes.

4. Turn it over to someone else: talk to someone about it – sponsor, a friend in AA, etc.

5. Stop the negative thoughts or feelings— Do the opposite: think, act or feel the reverse.

6. Practice gratitude:  write a gratitude list.  Gratitude is the antidote to self-pity.  When I focus on what I have to be grateful for, it counteracts the feeling of self-pity.  I change my perspective and notice what I have instead of what I don’t have, or think I don’t have

7. Accept personal responsibility for my life and consciously choose to change the situations that I can change, and accept the things that I cannot change.  Say the Serenity Prayer.

8. Pray and turn my attention to someone else. Getting out of self will stop me from sliding further into self-pity.


How To Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself

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