We’ve all encountered someone who constantly bemoans the difficulties of their life. Everyone needs to vent, but some people take it to an Olympic level. It can be exhausting to listen to all that misery. Because it is such an irritating trait in others, many of us are reticent to express our sorrow too much (at least not aloud).
No one wants to be seen as ‘that person who wallows in self-pity’, and sometimes in our desire to not burden others we begin to chastise our own emotions and try to fend them off entirely. During emotionally challenging times, it is important that we recognize the difference between self-compassion and self-pity.
Why It Matters
Self-compassion vs self-pity: does it really matter what we call it? Yes, the words do matter because of the meaning we extract that shapes our feelings and behaviors. The word pity has a derogatory connotation; it suggests “feeling sorry for,” rather than “feeling sorry with.” This subtle distinction is what makes all the difference when it comes to self-compassion vs self-pity. If you have compassion for someone, you can empathize with their struggles.
When turned inwardly, compassion is a learning experience, whereas self-pity is a reinforcement of being a victim. Someone who can reflect on their own difficult experiences through a lens of self-compassion is more objective about their suffering than one who is stuck in self-pity mode.
The difference is the perception of outcome and how to get there. A person who has self-pity tends to view themselves as a victim, thus relying on external rescue for things to improve. Someone who has self-compassion can register their struggles, acknowledge how difficult it has been and examine ways to cope and improve the situation.
Growing Your Self-Compassion
It’s time we embrace self-compassion as a means of coping with strife; in doing so we can move out of our pain and learn more about how to get our needs met. Self-compassion is not the same as martyrdom; suffering in silence is another offshoot of self-pity. We need to be emotionally aware and honest about the impact of our experiences, sharing them with others as a means of fostering connection and community.
- Write it out:
Even if you are not a person who enjoys keeping a journal or diary, it can help to process thoughts and feelings on paper occasionally. The writing is just for you, so don’t worry about how it looks or sounds. It is about the process not the outcome.
- Talk it out:
Sharing difficulties is an important part of feeling validated and healing. As you talk about challenges, ask friends for advice and ask them to brainstorm solutions with you.
- Observe yourself:
Practice sitting with your thoughts and feelings without passing judgment on them. If you start feeling sad, pay attention to that feeling without judging yourself for it.
Maybe you observe a negative thought about someone; listen and acknowledge the thought and consider the feeling that is accompanying it. The more we learn to allow our feelings to exist and stop fighting our thought content, the more likely it is that we can have a safe relationship with our own minds.
- Allow for quiet:
One of the ways we sabotage our self-compassion is through avoidance. Self-compassion often requires a quieting of the soul. As much as we love all things electronic, it can pull us away from the emotional work we need to do.
Try unplugging for an hour or two. Get out in nature and allow your senses a break from information overload. Be with yourself, in the moment.
- Spend time alone:
Self-compassion work often begs for solitude. It can be difficult to create mental space for introspection when your mind is competing with so many distractions. Devoting as little as a half-hour of time per day to being alone can help improve your self-compassion.
Changing a mindset is difficult
If you notice that you lapse back into self-pity mode at times, you can shift yourself back over to self-compassion by taking time to reflect on your needs and action steps toward feeling better. As you use these skills, they will become primary responses rather than an afterthought.