5 Steps to Moving Off the Island of Self-Pity

One of my favorite things to do is feel sorry for myself. It’s so gratifying. So deliciously satisfying. If someone lets me down, hurts me or disappoints me, or if I’m just in some kind of physical pain, I assume no one can understand what it’s like. That no one cares. And it feels so good to tell myself that.

Poor, poor, little me.

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It takes only minutes for me to call my travel agent and get a one-way ticket to the Island of Self-Pity, but it’s huge pain to get back because I start to act like one of the locals. Shoot, at that point, I am the locals. But only if I stay too long.

This is like the Island of Self-Pity, except not as tropical. So don’t get any ideas about how great it is. It is not great.

Why is Self-Pity an island? Why not a bustling metropolis? Well, you know that old saying “No one wants to come to your pity party”? It’s cause it’s true. No one wants to come.

As soon as we feel bad for ourselves, we build a wall. We end up having so much (false) compassion for ourselves, we use it all up and there’s none left for anyone else to give us. Then, from our lonely campsite, we whip out our binoculars and look across the sea to land, where all our friends and family ignore our “obvious” needs and just move on with their lives. Or if we’ve been on the island long enough, it looks like they’re all having a party without us.

Self-pity is lonely because it can’t invite others in. Or it just won’t. It’s stubborn. It is the opposite of invitational, and it sets itself up for rejection and loneliness, the very thing it’s trying to protect you from.

So let’s get real: self-pity is a back-stabbing friend. It soothes you with its seemingly kind, understanding words. “Oh, your friends just don’t understand you. Your family is always leaving you alone. No one cares about you.” But as soon as you bite that line, you’re hooked. You believe. Your brain begins to atrophy. You lose touch with your human connections. Simply put, when you believe a statement that says “No one cares about you”, you stop engaging with the very people who can help support you in your crisis.

How do we move off the Island of Self-Pity? If you’re there, or if you make frequent visits, move fast. You don’t have much time. This is a seriously nasty, toxic, poisonous, accusing, isolating, liar-liar-pants-on-fire voice in your head. It will put you in survival mode and steal your ability to think creatively and use your imagination. (Don’t believe me? This article about how listening to complaining makes people literally dumber will prove my point.

Don’t give self-pity air time or you will never keep friends. Promise.

Here are 5 Steps to moving off the Island of Self-Pity and getting your real needs met:

1. Tell your friends and/or family how you feel. Tell them about your physical or emotional pain. Tell them if they’ve let you down, or just tell them what is going on in your life that’s so hard for you at that moment. Do the difficult work to be honest and keep the communication door open.

2. Tell your friends and/or family what you really need from them. They are not mind-readers, and they do not exist for your every whim. So don’t hold that against them. Instead, tell them kindly what you need most from them: someone to listen; someone to sit with you and not say anything; someone to give empathy, like, “If I was in your situation, that would be really awful/tragic/heartbreaking/lonely.” I usually need someone who will listen and not try to solve the problem, and then who will empathize by imagining themselves in my shoes. That is serious therapy for me!

3. Forgive the friends/family/co-workers/church people/neighbors who have disappointed you. They’re not God, and even God disappoints us sometimes, doesn’t he? People will let you down, guaranteed. If you want friends, you have to accept that. Make forgiveness a discipline. (NOTE: If you feel the pang of hurt and anger about someone or some thing, that’s a sign you have more forgiving to do. And if you’re a Christian, forgiveness isn’t an opt-in or opt-out thing. It’s really the only caveat God puts on his forgiveness of us, but if we choose not to forgive, we choose not be forgiven. No, thank you.)

4. Remember: being alone is a choice. It’s a state of mind. We can invite people into our lives by giving them the benefit of the doubt, telling them what we need, and then making an effort to move forward. No one wants to be friends with someone who spends most of their time talking about their problems, is super negative or obsesses over a relationship that ended two years ago. If you are stuck, that’s okay, but talk with a professional. Your friends are your any-time support, but they’re not getting paid so don’t abuse them.

5. Figure out how to give back to your friendships. Say thank you, even when they don’t do it perfectly, because good friends will at least try to give you what you need. Ask your friends what they need from you when they’re having a hard time, just in case they forget to ask. And offer empathy as a standard rule. It is almost always what people really want, but are unsure of what to ask for.

And finally, if you are mad at me for saying any of the above things, you live on the Island of Self-Pity. I’m sorry I’m not sorry. Take a step to rejoin us over here by telling us what you need. Cause if you don’t tell us, we won’t be able to help you.

{Got any tricks for getting out of Self-Pity mode? Share them with me below.}

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3 thoughts on “5 Steps to Moving Off the Island of Self-Pity

    1. Traci, thanks so much for reading. I agree. I need to read and live this out too. I was having a pity party just this morning and was a little mad I had written this post cause I realized it was for me. Lol.

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