Why Self-Pity is Harmful and How to Let It Go

Letting Go of Self Pity

“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.” ~Walter Anderson

Some of us experience more adversity and painful events in our lives than others. We wonder why our difficulties don’t happen to the “bad” people out there instead of us. Unfortunately, life is not fair.

Awful things happen. Dreadful circumstances or tragedies will affect most of our lives at some point. It’s okay to cry and feel sorry for yourself and your circumstances, mope around, or get angry. But at some point you must shake it off, let go of the past, and choose to not let it consume you entirely. Otherwise, you won’t be able to learn from the experience and move forward in a constructive way.

Now, I am not addressing true clinical depression here. I am talking about self-pity, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a self-indulgent dwelling on your own sorrows or misfortunes.”

My Own Pity Party

When I was young, I moved from Florida to Minnesota for a new job. I met a guy there and thought I was in love.

Then the guy got a new job across the country in Oregon and asked me to move there with him. Thinking I was in love, I got a job transfer as close as possible to his new city (two-and-a-half-hour drive each way) to live with him in his new house. I thought we would get married.

A few months later, we broke up. (I bet you saw that coming, right?) I had nowhere to live, no friends in that state, and I was stuck all the way across the country from anyone else I knew. I felt alone, abandoned, and unloved. I was also trapped with no money, as I’d put everything I had into his house.

I was a hapless victim of love, and I played my part like Shakespeare had written it for me. I gave in completely to self-pity. I cried in public for the poor cashier at the grocery store. I wore my swollen eyes like a badge of honor.

Kind and compassionate coworkers found me a roommate with a twenty-minute commute instead of two and a half hours. They gave me solid proof that I was not alone, not abandoned, and not unloved, yet I refused to be consoled. I allowed self-pity to consume me and held tightly to my belief of being alone and unloved. Poor me, UGH!

I’m sure there were other people around me who were also in pain, struggling with homelessness, sickness, financial difficulties, bereavement, worries over children. But I didn’t see them or notice them. I didn’t care about them. I only cared about myself and my broken heart. I fed on my own misery.

When I look back on that time, I see how fortunate I was that I didn’t marry that guy, and I am amazed that I didn’t give more consideration to the kind people who helped me. Self-pity also made me less gracious toward my friends.

Self-Pity is a Choice

When we fall into the depression of self-pity, we allow it to take control of our lives. We become completely self-absorbed. It is destructive to dwell on negative events and carry that bitterness and resentment forward. When we keep our focus on the hurt, we aren’t focused on taking control of our lives.

If we blame negative circumstances for our place in life, we are giving up responsibility and control.

We whine and feel sorry for ourselves. We can choose to spread our misery, or we can choose to rise above our circumstances.

Self-pity is a form of selfishness. It makes us less aware of the needs and suffering of others. Our own suffering is all we think or care about in our self-absorbed state.

The Story of Tony Melendez

Tony Melendez

Tony Melendez was born with no arms and a clubfoot. Despite his misfortune, Tony chose to control his own life and happiness. He improved his circumstances as far as he could control them. He made positive choices and took responsibility for his own future.

As stated in the biography page of his website, Tony is “a man who has spent his life putting personal confidence above his handicap.” How? By learning to play the guitar with his toes!

He began his career in Los Angeles. Tony is a musician and vocalist with several successful albums. He is also a composer, motivational speaker, and writer.

In 1987 Tony played for Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles. The Holy Father was so moved that he approached Tony on the stage and commissioned him “to give hope to all the people.”

Tony took the pope’s words to heart. Tony Melendez Ministries is a non-profit organization that helps people throughout the world, bringing them hope, compassion, scholarships, and other funding.

Tony Melendez and the Toe Jam Band have a busy tour schedule. There is no room for self-pity in Tony’s busy life because he does not focus on himself. He unselfishly gives to others he feels are less fortunate.

But don’t expect Tony to play at your pity party. He will give you an example to overcome self-pity and inspire you to achieve a wonderful life.

You can choose to lift yourself up and enjoy life! You are in charge of your own happiness. It is your personal responsibility.

So go ahead and cry and mope and feel sorry for yourself and stay in bed all day. Feel the pain and the hurt. Live your reality and misery. It’s okay and even healthy to do that. But then let it go!

Don’t let it consume your life. You are not alone or unloved. Remember there are other people in your life who need you. There are people you haven’t even met yet who need you! You can’t help anyone else if you only see yourself.

You cannot change the past, but you can change your future.

Photo by jeronimo sanz

About Deborah Shelby

Deborah Shelby writes inspiration for a happier and better life on her blog  She shares ideas for improving your outlook on life, your relationships at home with your kids, at work or in your spiritual life.  She is a full-time working mom who enjoys life with her two teens whenever she can.

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  • Without self-pity we wouldn’t have good comedy.

  • Sophia

    Interesting post Deborah. I get the point how it is not helpful for us in the long term, to not dwell on what we perceived to be our apparent ‘misfortune’. I discussed how when bad things happen we should allow it, and not focus purely on negatives in one of my recent articles
    In terms of self-pity I see it as a person viewing things from a ‘false’ representation – misguided viewpoint. They’re focusing on the negatives and not seeing the whole picture. How the apparent misfortune of the break-up, can actually be a blessing. In terms of being needed, I see it more of sharing and connecting with love. Not too sure of using the term selfish, as that has many meanings. Often the focus is on the negative – but are you best to serve people when you can also address those needs in yourself. Be the change you want to see in people.

  • Sophia

    It’s good to ‘laugh, rather to cry’.

  • Thanks for this post Deborah! This is definitely a reminder that we all need from time to time! And I’m realizing that while I’ve heard of Tony Melendez before, I’ve never actually listened to his music. Time to head over to YouTube!

  • Noel

    Great article Deborah! I felt like I was hit by a truck upon reading this because this was totally me a couple of months ago. Always the victim, never the victor. I don’t know what it is but I’ve always had the victim mentality for some time. I only got around it when I started getting into self-improvement which was actually a product of failure. Self-pity is indeed a choice but so is happiness and I’ve learned to choose the latter since then.

  • Great article. I used to get so wrapped up in self-pity it was pitiful. I should’ve just wore a sign around my neck all the time that said woe is me. I’m over that now, thankfully.

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thank you for commenting, Lovelyn! I’m glad you’re feeling better. I almost think learning to deal with self-pity is a right of passage to maturity. Sounds like you nailed it!

  • Deborah Shelby

    Good for you, Noel! I’m glad you chose happiness! I think most of us have to experience some type of loss to motivate us towards making those positive choices for ourselves.

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thanks, Ed. He is pretty amazing! There is a very emotional quality to his work.

  • Deborah Shelby

    I love your insight, Sophia, thanks!

  • Deborah Shelby

    LOL, interesting point, thanks!

  • Ian Wilson

    What a great article- I’ll come back to this when I get in that rut of negative thoughts and self pity.

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thanks so much, Ian! You’re right, I think we do get in a “rut” of negativity sometimes. We have to consciously choose to be positive until it becomes our habit.

  • That story is so inspirational! And the post itself is also very encouraging. Thank you for the reminder to always seize the day and take control of what is already yours 🙂

    -Riley XO

  • That story is so inspirational..i will appear a back to this if I get in that rut of abrogating thoughts and cocky pity.

  • This article is so true to me. I was stuck in the same badge of honor self pity situation. I became a drug addict and destroyed all my meaningful relationships to stay stagnant in my depression. It took me 2 years of cold turkey to get where I am now, and i see my friends in the same self-destructive behavioral pattern and it truly hurts me trying to help them when they wont help themselves.
    I was manipulated by a girl for 9 years before i broke out of it, and only because I had to or I would kill myself with the chemicals I was sticking into my body.
    I now spend my time helping my friends out of this loop.
    I’m only 23, and I’ve been homeless, I’m a recovered drug addict and I’ve now just started a spiritual self-development blog to share my story and help others to help themselves.
    Reading this article almost led me to tears just recounting my own timeline against the story of yours,
    Thanks Deborah, and you are right no one is unloved or unwanted, people feel like the ones who don’t love them are the ones they need
    They are not the ones you need, there are people who care for you and will support you.

    Thanks again 🙂

  • Deborah Shelby

    Wow, I am very moved by your story. Congratulations on getting yourself straight. That must have been so very difficult, I can’t even imagine. You are a very special person that you are now dedicating your life to helping others. You are an inspiration! I wish you much love and happiness.

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thanks very much! I’m so glad you liked the story!

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thank you very much, Riley. “Take control of what is already yours.” I love that!

  • Thanks Deborah, again your article was very moving. Your Shakespeare analogy particularly resonated with me, I’ll be paying attention to your personal site in future. Thanks for the encouragement

  • lv2terp

    Truly inspiring!!!! Thank you for this post! I love this when you wrote,”You can choose to lift yourself up and enjoy life! You are in charge of your own happiness. It is your personal responsibility.” 🙂

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thank you so much! That’s my favorite part too. For far too long I thought I had to accept life as it happened to me. I didn’t realize for a long time that I could control my own life!

  • Raza

    But What About the luck Which is not working for such a very long time .. give some suggestions about my bad luck who is my worst enemy in my life .. everything i want to do becomes reverse of it .. Until a thing I think which I am gonna do becomes reverse .. What are your comments about my Worst luck ???

  • Deborah Shelby

    Raza, I’m sorry you’re having a rough time in life. I am not qualified to speak to the type of healing or help that may run more deeply. I can only say that for us “average joes,” our own actions create our own luck or lack of it. Most success in life can be achieved through careful planning, patience and very hard work.
    But there are other circumstances when you may need the strength of another person to talk to or lean on. I hope there is someone in your life who can advise and help you to get through your difficulties.

  • lv2terp

    That is an awesome shift, congratulations!!! New chapters bring such a beautiful excitement!!! 🙂

  • Deborah Shelby

    Now YOU are inspiring ME! I absolutely agree with your words – New chapters bring such a beautiful excitement. Awesome!

  • Patsie Smith

    Beautiful article, enjoyed reading it, thank you Deborah. So true, and so need to be heard. It is always a choice and most people, myself included, in the past, either choose to remain ignorant or lack the courage to step out of their hole. I find gratitude always brings me back in line, and like you, inspiration from amazing souls that have the such strength and courage to turn what may appear least and worst into more and and ever more. Its always how we choose to perceive and what we choose to create from it that makes the difference. Blessings to you xo

  • Its so easy to wallow isn’t it? Its a choice we make and it’s the easiest. When we have to be strong, when we have to get over something and move on that’s when we grow and find our strength. Yet some choose to stay and be a victim. I am lucky my mother taught me to be a survivor, to go out there and grab life as you only have one. Your article is a great reminder to us all especially when you speak about Tony. There are so many people who appear to have less than ‘us’ and yet have so much more in spirit and purpose. Why is it those who are ‘disadvantaged’ in some way always strive for more, when other’s who have it all can wallow in self-pity? I guess, it’s our beliefs and with that we choose which direction we want to go in. It can take over and control us but at the end of the day it’s all down to us….

    Love this, thank you so much it’s made me grateful all over again!

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thank you so much, Paula! You are so right, and you bring up good points. For myself, I think in a perverse way I actually enjoyed wallowing in misery/self-pity as a way of garnering sympathy and attention when I was young. Then I grew more mature and realized that’s not the way to deal with misfortune in our lives, I love your wording, “We choose which direction we want to go in. It can take over and control us, but at the end of the day it’s all down to us.”

  • Deborah Shelby

    Thanks for your comment, Patsie. Excellent point, “Most people… lack the courage to step out of their hole.” You got me thinking about that. It does take courage to make any change in our lives, even positive ones, because change is always scary. If we’ve gotten sympathy and attention before from self-pity, then that is how we are comfortable reacting to adversity in our lives. It becomes our habit. It really would take courage to change and grow as a person, beyond that need for attention. I’m so glad you added this thought today.

  • Oversight

    You forgot the “how to let it go” part of the article.

  • Deborah Shelby

    Hi, “how to let it go” is under the heading “Self-Pity is a choice.” The paragraphs there explain that when we keep our focus on the hurt, we aren’t focused on taking control of our lives. By blaming negative circumstances for our place in life, we give up responsibility and control. We can choose to spread our misery, or we can choose to rise above our circumstances. How to let it go is by CHOOSING to be responsible for our own happiness and take positive steps to make it happen.

  • lv2terp

    🙂 hehe

  • Yes I think I enjoyed it too. I used to ‘host’ pity parties all the time! Yes we always have a choice 🙂

  • Laura Ann

    While i was wallowing in my own self-pity, I became addicted to my meds, and lost my kids. I was ALWAYS playing the victim! That was 12 years ago. Today I have my 3 kids, and my grandson in my life, however, i am watching my oldest daughter, the mother of my 4 yr old grandson, get into drugs and become the victim. I am now a survivor! I am so greatful for that, because now, clean and sober, i am able to be here to help my daughter. Thank you for sharing your experiences, so we can learn from you. 7 years ago, i lost my boyfriend to suicide, and recently almost lost my middle child. Thank you for being here

  • Chau

    YES! YES! You summed it up perfectly. And your ability to reflect on your experience, RECOGNIZE what you were doing is just inspirational. I think we’ve all fallen into traps of self-pity, but it’s whether or not we stay there forever or pull ourselves out and STOP HURTING other people (as well as ourselves) is what’s important. Some do, some don’t, and it’s frustrating to watch, as well as crippling to that person, and yet s/he sometimes appears to not even WANT to change. It’s not that I somehow was cursed with constant misfortune and thus I am always unhappy; it’s that I am more comfortable wallowing. Your story is an inspiration and a reminder for all of us.

  • Miranda Linkous

    This has been me recently, I’m sorry to say. Unemployment and a relationship break within about a month really hit me hard in July. Now I have a great job, just now realizing how much I’ve depended on another for validity. Ouch. I used to be so good at seeing the bright side and being thankful…it seems unnatural for me now to pick myself up and put on a smile, as if the world needs to see the pain I’ve been through. Agh, not a good look. Thank you for this! This is a great start for me.

  • James

    I hope I can break out of mine. My girlfriend left me almost a year ago. I tried moving on. And not letting it consume me. Tried to date again and after 4 different attempts those other girls broke my heart to. Now throw in financial and legal issues and other issues. Now throw in the fact that my dad died and lost my olace i used to rent to a fire….I don’t really care about life anymore. Yeah call it self pity and self absorbed or selfish or whatever. A person can only take being hurt and shit on and damaged and everything else. To the point where there’s no point in trying anymore. I’m so to the point where I don’t care if I lose my job, my house, if I die, lose everything. Yeah self pity sucks I guess but it’s the only thing I got anymore I guess. I rather check out and wallow in it I guess because I don’t want to face the pain or the drama of everything. Im sick of puting my all into everything and failing. I can’t help it. The world sucks when nobody cares but yourself and you can’t come up with a solution to fix things. People say they care but they don’t. They try to give you hope or some BS that doesn’t work.

  • joan beltran

    I’ve been through enough people tell me I just feeling sorry for my self when do people stop caring

  • Andreas

    I find there’s something about integrity here, though. Pushing through a grieving process is disrespectful of yourself. I think self-pity comes out of a feeling that the grieving process is undeserved or “wrong”, and we don’t allow ourselves to really feel the emotions that we have inside.

    I think trying to stop self-pity is the wrong approach and isn’t helpful. It’s more helpful to ask why I’m feeling sorry for myself, feel and see that clearly, tend to those wounds for as long as they need to be tended.

  • Katchat

    Sometimes you might very well have a good reason for self pity.I have a newly diagnosed heart condition and I get left with a pile of Christmas decorations to put up while the husband goes to have cave time.I must admit I have wasted about an hour feeling hurt,unloved and sorry for myself but the truth of the matter is if I want something done I need to ask him to help and ignore what a dumb intensive ass he is and make it happen for myself.When I read things like it isd selfishness to have self pity that is bull shit.I am the most unselfish person there is…but to expect you are going to get the same love and consideration you offer others is just a fact in life you have to realize is not always or maybe never true.Suck it up and make it happen for yourself.I see self pity as letting go of my own power.

  • anonymous

    i ned help

  • Fredrik Andersen

    I don´t think self pity necessarily has to be a bad thing, as long as there isn´t too much of it. In moderate amounts I think self pity can build self esteem and help you get your emotions out instead of keeping them suppressed inside of yourself forever. It´s like having two sides of your self, one of them comforting the other. But of course, everything in moderation.

  • Kain

    While i agree with Andreas that we should respect our feelings and process them, i don’t agree that self-pity comes from the feeling that grieving, etc. is wrong. Instead, for myself, I’ve fallen head-first because i felt that someone else, an outside force, wasn’t or couldn’t understand what i was going thru, therefore they couldn’t feel how pained i was, and so i felt that my feelings were being invalidated or undermined. “Nobody understands me; they don’t take this seriously; my problems aren’t important.” And i know that given the opportunity, i can use my grieving period as a means to take advantage of one’s kind attention or help given to me.
    The bottom line is that life happens. Not one of us were born with the guarantee that we’d be living full, productive, and blessed lives. Loved ones die, we lose jobs & material possessions, we have health scares, and can become victims to any person, product, or situation out there. But staying within that jail of self-pity longer than is healthy, can cause an even deeper spiral downwards. Personal integrity to me is in one way defined as straightening your back, putting on a positive face (even just for a couple hours!!), participating in your day, and reaching out to others who are also struggling. When i get out of self, i can see so much of what i DO have today to be grateful for.
    Working thru painful emotions is necessary and healthy, as long as my legitimate sadness/anger/lonliness, etc isn’t allowed to become petulence, resentment and attention-seeking drama.

  • Littlelamb

    I dated a guy for 2 years I have constantly been arguing about the situation that happened at the beginning of our relationship. He hasn’t trusted me much, always speculated that was talking to other men, flirting and has pushed me away do this last time he made a comment that I was cheating on him. We broke up. At this point he said he would forgive (everything) and move forward. I have to try to forgive him because it’s been difficult to deal with his attitude for the last few months towards me. I’m a very forgiving person, I just want to make sure I’m not being “dumb.” I’m very practical butt having a difficult time thinking if it’s self pity because I feel like everything he says to me is coming across as having a bad attitude or is it just me misinterpreting everything and taking everything negative. I just feel like I’ve put in a lot of work for this relationship to work and don’t know if I’m willing to start all over again:/ is it self pity that’s keeping me from moving forward and accepting his apology or am I having a bad attitude?

  • jerry

    Thanks for the great article and advise. I am trap in this situation for quite a while. Can I know are there any books that I can read or things that i can do to effectively get out of self pity

  • Vicktor Kings

    Thank you

  • Myself

    I have no choice than to be depressed. There is everything wrong in my life and i can’t change anything. I’ve let this misery to beat me and now its too late. 24 years of my life i wasted on bulshits and all the small things i didnt care about have turned into one huge devil that wants me to die. I am sorry for my bad english. Still learning this language.

  • Cheryl

    I feel the same that the devil wants me to die,but I also am so depressed, I don’t wanna be alive!! I have 5 cats that are my life,my husband left me,I have nobody, if not for my cats I’d kill myself, don’t know how I’m gonna live now, financially I cannot do it. I cry everyday in stores everywhere I go. I’m sad lonely hurt I have it all,my mind over powered my meds I’m scared I have nobody…

  • eee

    great article. my question is: there is link between mother spirituality and moodiness during pregnancy on child? the mother has impact on ?

  • Yongolini

    Thank you for the great article. I felt that it resonated so much with what I am going through, with health and financial problems for the past 18 months. I would go into a fit in public places and while I am able to laugh it off, I always felt like I am a burden to my companions when we hang out as I don’t know when I will get my next episode.

    While it sure sounds easy and encouraging on articles about getting out of the rut, I always felt that my own limitations (for example, having limited skills that made me felt like my career is stagnant).

    I know there are a lot more people with worse experiences than me, but I feel that the hardest part of getting out is to secure that opportunity and stop worrying if it’ll work out.

    I hope everyone who is going through a bad patch to be able to get out of it. I seriously wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

  • Chronic

    I ended up divorcing my selfish husband after 20 years of marriage. I didn’t feel self pity as much as I felt anger. He did some brutal things and so did his parents actually. We couldn’t have a discussion without him feeling self pity and/or getting violent. I mean a simple discussion. He drank every single weekend as well and took vacations with his father and his cousin! I was left at home and treated like the maid. Friends would tell me I was taking care of three children, not two. Finally, there was so much resentment on my part that I just wanted out. I saw him doing the same thing to his next woman except that she had support from her family so he didn’t get away with as much. His mother still demanded to be treated like a queen, however. One big incredibly selfish family. As for the Christmas ornaments, I would say don’t put them up. Don’t do anything that will hurt you. You don’t need the hassle.

  • Chronic

    I left a bad marriage 17 years ago and was living on unemployment insurance with an 18-year-old daughter at home. I was 50 years old. Not exactly the age to re-invent yourself. I was thoroughly depressed but I knew that tomorrow would be a better day, if I could just get through this one. Eventually I got a part-time job and worked my tail off. The part-time job became full time and I was able to start to not only make money but save money. Although it is hard, take a look at what you are good at and go from there. Everyone can do something. You might have to do a job you don’t like or want but you can reschool yourself to get a better job later. I have done lots of crappy jobs in the past, unfortunately. But those are just to get money coming in until you get a better job. Good luck!

  • Chronic

    Honestly, we women put up with so much crap because we are taught to be forgiving and understanding. Do what is good for YOU! Put yourself first. If you think the relationship is not going to work after putting so much into it, you probably would be wise to move on and not waste another moment with this man. Good luck!

  • Chronic

    Hi James. I am sorry to read about everything that has happened to you but I have always believed that tomorrow will be a better day. You do have more than self pity. You have self respect and youth and a future. And it does matter if you lose your job and your home because you need a foundation on which to rebuild your life. It is hard but we need to find our happiness from within and not rely on others. This doesn’t mean that others are not important to us but we need to love and respect ourselves. You should be your own best friend. Imagine that you are old and think, “What advice would I give to my young self?” I am pretty sure your old self will say to shape up and grab life by the horns. Don’t let it trample you to death. Peace.

  • Katchat

    Oh a narcissit! Good for you.