Why We Sometimes Enjoy Pity and How to Stop

Sad Face

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” ~Mark Twain

When I was younger, I remember occasionally hurting myself while playing outside.

If I rolled my ankle, I might fall to the ground clutching it, but not feel too bad overall. Then, when someone from my family or a friend would run up to me and see if I was okay, I’d start getting choked up.

At the time, this confused me and made me even more upset. Why could I not control myself?

I experienced a lot of self-pity, because I felt like I was weak and could not handle my emotions. And then I would break out in tears.

None of this made any sense to me then, but it would happen the same way every time.

Now that I’m older, I think I “get” it. I actually enjoyed the feeling of pity, and would subconsciously seek it out.

This doesn’t just happen in children. Did you ever notice how when some people get sick or injured, they will practically brag about it?

“Hey everyone! I totally broke my arm the other day. Look at me!”

This whole “enjoyment of being pitied” business is a particularly nefarious form of attention-seeking behavior.

It is a sign of insecurity. We want to be pitied because we crave attention, and without pity, we worry that nobody will care about us.

Pity is a form of external validation that is based off feelings of inferiority. The desire for external validation and the internal lack of self-esteem is a serious one-two punch knocking down our happiness levels.

How does this sort of behavior start? What is the original cause? Why do we think this negative external validation is a good thing?

We all have beliefs about ourselves that require some form of validation for us to convince ourselves that these beliefs are true.

There is something inherently alluring about having a victim mentality. If you believe yourself to be a victim, you surrender your personal responsibility, which essentially gives you “permission” to blame someone or something else for your negative situation.

It also means that you “deserve” pity.

So if something bad happens, your ego seeks out pity in order to reinforce a victim mentality, which then allows you to abdicate your personal responsibility to do something to change your circumstance—while receiving attention that you might associate with feeling important or loved.

This sort of process is most likely internalized through childhood conditioning. For example, when I was visibly in pain, everyone focused on me, which I enjoyed, so I learned to prolong that by crying.

And pity-seeking behavior goes hand in hand with self-pity, which presents a huge obstacle to happiness since you can’t feel good if you’re choosing to feel bad for yourself.

Of course, like all of our ego’s defense mechanisms, pity-seeking behavior will try to hide itself from you.

How Can You Recognize These Behaviors?

You may be seeking pity if you:

  • Frequently start sentences with “I didn’t deserve…”
  • Regularly tells others that life or parts of your life are unfair
  • Repeatedly talk about how someone has harmed you
  • Draw attention to your problems and ask why they had to happen to you
  • Subtly wish for negative outcomes so you can talk about them
  • Get caught up in your own head and become unaware of other people
  • Look at someone else’s misfortune through how it negatively impacts you

With that last one, someone else’s troubles allow you to create a story that you can use to garner more sympathy for yourself.

An example would be a person who explains to her friends about how her husband lost her job. Instead of feeling compassion for him, she focuses on how she’s affected by his loss, as if it’s harder for her than him.

We all do this time to time, but when it becomes a habit, it can interfere with our happiness and our relationships.

How Do You Stop?

As I said earlier, the two main drives that cause these behaviors are a reliance on external validation and a low self-esteem.

In order to fully eliminate these behaviors, you need to address both of these causes.

The first step is to consciously recognize that you are engaging in these behaviors. Once you’ve accepted this, you should take some time to meditate on the effect they have on your life.

Are you more frequently in a bad mood? Do you find yourself sabotaging your own efforts? Have your relationships suffered?

Perhaps you can’t emotionally connect with others since you are so focused on yourself. Or maybe you’re keeping yourself stuck personally or professionally because you’re committed to talking about the unfairness of it all.

Recognizing these effects builds leverage that will help motivate you to change.

Now, when you notice yourself engaging in pity-seeking behaviors, short-circuit your conditioning by practicing gratitude and recognizing how good it feels.

Instead of focusing on how you have been wronged or hurt, immediately think about something positive in your life. Sure, you broke your arm while skiing, but you were able to use your two legs to take a walk in the park, and you enjoyed that without needing any type of negative attention.

Repeatedly practicing gratitude will reverse the conditioning that caused your behaviors in the first place and help you create positive feelings without needing negative reinforcement.

Over the long term, you need to build a sense of self-worth by accepting personal responsibility for your life and consciously choosing to change the situations that aren’t working for you. When you feel like you control your own fate, you stop being a victim and you feel far more valuable as a person.

It feels much better to actually enjoy your life than it does to talk about how much you don’t.

This isn’t an issue that you deal with once and then it goes away forever. It is deep seated within us, and it requires consistent self-improvement to minimize it.

As I grew up, improved my self-esteem, and started to take responsibility for my life, my pity-seeking behavior decreased drastically, but it still exists.

What’s important isn’t to eliminate the behaviors entirely, but to deal with the underlying causes as best we can.

Do you enjoy seeking pity? Why do you think you do it?

Photo by lupzdut

About Michael Davidson

Michael Davidson has written for over a year about finding happiness and health. The keys to his heart are dark chocolate and an encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons quotes. Get his free 8 day e-course on how to create a healthy lifestyle that makes you happy and follow him on Twitter.

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  • Lorrie Jones, MBSR

    I love your honest and inspiring article on pity and thank you for it. I had an opportunity a few short years ago to bring out the pity in everyone I knew. I was in a car accident and survived life support – and a long healing process. I found that pity didn’t ‘work’ for me…I felt disconnected from the other person and kind of alone and sad. When I was able to talk again, I voiced (most sincerely) how grateful I was for being alive, having such loving care-takers and for the promise of recovery. I noticed a sunlit day, the quiet of a dark night in the hospital, re-read the lovely cards and messages from family and friends and experienced deep happiness when my grown children and grandchildren visited.

    Now in my life, pity isn’t an option for me. I’m not even tempted. Gratitude was my way and I hope it can be for others as well.

  • Great Article Michael !
    I am glad I read that I never saw this as one of the results of low self esteem.
    Suddenly everything falls in place and I understand why I have done some things to get some pity and why others were doing it as well.
    I think I will write a post on my site about this topic as well 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration !
    Have a good one Michael !

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for being so vulnerable with your message, and being so open and honest about such a sensitive topic. Wonderful insight, advice, and perspective!!!! 🙂

  • Jo Atkinson

    I honestly feel that every time I stop to read a new post, it is speaking directly to me. This has helped me immensely this morning, thank you! Today I start with gratitude for the wonderful things in my life, NOT the challenges (although, I can now be grateful for those too).

  • Kai

    This hit the spot. Thanks for making me a better man 🙂

  • Just Me

    I might appreciate a few moments of compassion when injured, but do you really feel pitied in those cases?? What an unusual emotional response.

  • kk

    yes very true full article, i lost my victim mentality through some years of effort and help from loved one. i was glad to have someone fighting for me and not loving me as I was.

  • PKS

    I couldn’t have read this post at a more apt time in my life. I am going through a professional crisis and showering myself with self pity in the EXACT same way you’ve described in your post. Your honesty allowed me to brutally honest with myself and accept the fact that I have indeed been seeking pity all my life, and with that came a sense of relief. Every time I went through a personal or professional crisis, I made it a point to call all my friends and tell them about what I was going through. The funny part is that I used to share my tales of woe with them so that they could validate my feeling of worthlessness and give me a perverse sense of satisfaction. Although as a person I’ve always looked to improve myself, little did I know that by doing this I was actually inhibiting my growth and ruining my self-esteem. Having had this mentality for a long time now, I’ve found it difficult to get past it for good but I have managed to identify it when it resurfaces and continued to take that one crucial step forward. Posts like this and many such posts on Tiny Buddha inspire me to move forward everyday, giving me the assurance that I am not alone and need not take the difficult road to peace and happiness alone. Thank you for this honest post!

  • -A

    I was never able come to understand what’s wrong with me and how much I enjoy being pitied by others and after reading this article, i have to agree this is true. great article~!

  • Aly

    Thank you for this message, it means a whole lot to someone like me. I experience feelings of self-pity constantly and feel ashamed of them. I know I am pushing away the people I care about most, and with the negative attitudes towards people who engage in self-pity, it’s causing me to spiral down even further. Most people tend to shame someone who pities themselves, and look down upon the person/view them as toxic. I am a firm believer that it has to do with the situations you’re in and your level of resilience. What about those of us who are not so resilient, and cannot just bounce back from negative situations easily? I have fought so hard against my own feelings, but I’ve always lost. I honestly cannot help dwelling on something negative, such as someone who has wronged me. It does feel nice to know that someone cares, when you feel as though no one ever would. The best thing about this article is that it doesn’t shame or make hateful statements against people who feel sorry for themselves, but instead it offers encouragement and advice to help the person become better.

  • Miranda Linkous

    “We want to be pitied because we crave attention, and without pity, we worry that nobody will care about us” — that’s me. If you can’t be liked for who you are (and as a child I wasn’t) then you can make them pay attention to you when you cry. I needed this so much. Excellently written. Thank you!

  • vishwanadh

    An eye opening article for me. I have scored 7/7 and have recongnized I have been seeking self pity throughout my life, I use to call my relatives and share my bad experiences and seek self pity all the time. I also understand now it is a sign of insecurity.

  • Aycurumba

    Truly amazing and striking article. This sure has given me some hard answers and insight to how I can alter my thinking states. And thanks for being open with your message!

  • Janet .

    It is important to not get stuck in “victim mode”. Victim mode just keeps you immersed in a dark pit of depression , anger and hatred and a burning desire for vindication. I know all to well that feelng. Its very tempting to stay there ,and we all know of people who have succumbed to it , and remained there for life. It is helpful I think , to admit our own role in the bad event that we are feeling victimized from, so we learn and grow and not repeat. So often when you truthfully look back, you can see signs you chose to ignore then, at your own peril. Then you can take your power back, when you realze this. It makes you realize, you had momentarily may have tucked your power away but it was allways there.

  • Janet .

    I dont think I enjoy being pitied , its more of a need to be heard and understood when ive been badly hurt or poorly treated, and it manifests itself into a weakness and vulnerability, when I dont recieve it. Sometimes , you will not get it , and there has to be a way of being able to sustain oneself , without it. Thats what sets a person free I think. If youre a victim in your mind ,you are a slave .

  • Beth

    That is exactly the quote I just wrote in my journal as I was reading this article tonight, after coming home from a long day at work and realizing I was, once again, playing the woe-is-me victim once I got in the house in hopes of dragging my whole family down with me. Tired of my attitude, I sat and cried, prayed and then did what every hormone driven female does- scoured the Internet for answers. This article hit the nail on the head, and that statement in quotes particularly. I am still not sure why I feel worried that no one will care about me, as I’ve been more than adequately cared for all my life. More research is needed to unearth all that is catapulting me into my own little pity party almost daily. It’s time to stop.

  • JF

    This article hit the nail on the head for me. I have never gotten a career off the ground and never had a healthy loving relationship. I find myself trying to get random people online to pity me since there’s no one around in real life. Awful! At almost 50, I feel a sense of urgency if I am to salvage anything of my life. I’ve had horribly low self esteem always and am now trying to get serious about turning it around. It’s like trying to stop a speeding train and make it go in the opposite direction. I’m going to print out this article and refer to it. I think it will help me. Thanks. 🙂

  • pk

    hey PKS…keep optimism beneath your pillow,things will change.You are not alone.

  • pk

    Thank you very much for your post. My low self-esteem and external validation has reinforced my self-pitying behaviour. It has become my habit. I have to work hard to reduce it as much as possible.Thanks

  • are you kidding

    this is brutal – insult on top of injury. yes i know people who hate the world because it hasn’t given them what they think they deserve without seeing how blessed they’ve been. but this whole post is about pummeling someone for hurting – treating everyone in pain as if all they want is attention – usually so the person doing the judging doesn’t have to really do anything for the person since it’s all their fault. yes of course their are no victims. blame the victim – disgrace them – anything to shut them up.

  • Eowyn

    I know this is late, but right now I’m at a point in my life where I am overwhelmed by my own thoughts and emotions, and the deeper I fall into this cycle of self pitty, the more I hate myself, the more worried I am over EVERYTHING, and the more self concious I become, the less I am able to enjoy life and find happiness within it. Thank you so much for this post, I don’t know exactly where to begin but instead of filling my day with negative thoughts of how I screwed up and dwelling on things of the past, I will fill it with positive thoughts of self worth. My goal is to be a happier person, and to improve my relationship with others instead of focusing on myself. I do take yoga, and try to fill my day with excercise to relieve some stress, but I will keep working.

  • Flic Eden

    I keep feeling sorry for myself because I think I like the attention ,but I dont like the feeling. My partner has got Parkinsons and we have had a great 8 years travelling around lots of places in the world now its harder for him to do things. he has lost his ability to do things on his own so I have to give him a lot of support I feel a bit grudging about it. But I have had to stop a boring job and now I do part
    time gardening instead We arrange for friends to come so that I get to go to family weddings. I sing in a choir once a week. I am in a painting group.But I still feel sad that so many things we did together are becoming really difficult to do.

  • Kyle

    I had no idea I even did this, someone had said something to me and it got me thinking so I read this story and it inspired me I need to recognize this, it’s kind of funny as I was writing this post I thought of saying something negative and trying to get pity wow! At least I recognized it lol. It made me laugh, thank you michael, had an epiphany. Thank you!

  • Helen

    No doubt that the hurt is real. The key is to remove the motivation to allow our pain to be our landing strip and not our launching pad to regaining a positive outlook and a happy life. Being happy and having hope is quite simply a choice. No one is blaming the victim, but trying to encourage a person in pain to not wallow in it. Feel your pain, experience hurt, disappointment….just refuse to pitch your tent there. 🙂 I am worth having a happy life and I have the energy to take that step to get it! Somedays I will stumble, some days I will run like hell!

  • Niceice

    This article seems very inadequate. How can we tell what is considered looking for pity, versus needing an ounce of external compassion? Is that so wrong?

  • Thinking Freely

    Very true. I shudder to think what any of these people would say to a child who was being molested, or someone who had just seen their whole family shot dead.

  • dharma in heels

    I came across this article while researching from my own blog post about pity and this nails it 100% I loved everything about what you are saying. I feel there is nothing more destructive and debilitating than any kind of pity – especially the kind we put on ourselves!!

  • KBL

    Needed to hear that. The part about shifting personal responsibility resonated with me. It’s hard to take ownership of your life. It’s easier to resort to the millions of ways we can avoid it. But, then we don’t grow or make progress in life. When we don’t make progress, we aren’t happy.

  • Andrew Richey

    I was wondering if anyone can recommend a good book on this?

  • ninjaknifehand

    48 laws of power

  • apppi

    Yes I understand because when
    things are hard the easy and quickest way to feel better is to complain because you talk it out and feel better and it kind if feels like – well what could I do the situation was more or stronger than me
    But the thing us after a couple of these stories people begin to expect such stories from you then when you actually succeed people react strangely and kind of- oh look at that- first they might be supportive but latter resentful to see you succeed and then this is a problem because they don’t expect you to succeed and it becomes part of your life and people expect you to suck- you start to believe it.
    The most dangerous thing is not to fail but to expect to fail – to believe bad things always happen to you oh what can you do.
    But when you actually admit your short comments and mistakes yet just move past them and continue life – and if someone asks you just say – I’m on my way to achieve something, I’m trying let’s see what happens then people begin to believe you can actually succeed and then its so great when you do succeed cause peoples reaction is not – oh woe, congrats, wow you did it–
    Its more like – yay man way to go, I want to do that
    Then they admire you, you begin to admire yourself- its the best type of attention because if it doesn’t work out you just tell yourself – I’m trying and on my way – and it makes you free to try.

  • Shan

    Ughhhh humans are so weird

  • Xuanlynn

    See this is the reason why people who are in distress don’t tell others or anyone because they are too scared of being labelled as attention-seeker .So if you are being bullied or you feel sad but don’t tell anyone is way better right?This is why I don’t tell anyone how I truly feel or even tell them I cut though because people will be like thinking I am attention seeking.

  • Goliath

    I come from an abusive childhood, a painful past, and a life where I was totally abandoned by the world at large. – I stopped caring about my health, my appearance and life it’s self. I embarked on a journey of transformation after a thousand attempts at ending my life, and now the cycle is starting again. now that I’m stronger, no one cares, and I yearn for the weakness and attention that it got me… in the eyes of many I’m worthless… and soon I’ll be worthless again.


    Great post. Glad I found it. I hope you continue to post more in the future, and hopefully I can receive the updates.

  • Tenesha Graham

    This has helped me so much.I was truly inspired to write about my own struggle with self pity and referenced this article so my readers will know where the inspiration came from. Thank you so much

  • m0tiv8

    I enjoyed this article. As a child I didn’t get all the love and attention I expected to get. From there it’s on me to decide how I choose to look at it.

  • m0tiv8

    I feel you. Someone who really listens to you intently without judgement or attempting to fix you in anyway is showing compassion not pity. It’s pity when they try to fix you cus it implies something is wrong with you. There’s nothing “wrong” with you. Feeling sad is ok. When you don’t let yourself feel, you grow numb from denying feelings. It’s ok to talk about feelings it does not mean you are attention seeking. It’s a sign of strength to call out for help A weak or insecure person willl shame you because that is exactly how they talk to themselves…… it’s a little difficult to get compassion from another person who is too busy projecting their own shame onto others!

  • m0tiv8

    I hope it works out for you!

  • melissa roberts

    The World Actually Does Revolve Around You: A Guide To Spiritual Empowerment by Jodi Ashley

  • Bob

    I am so consistently trying to have people feel sorry for me that I must have developed this from somewhere and soon I will be 65. My earliest recollection of this behavior is in Junior High School. I was at a school dance and I think i forgot my keys to my house and my mom entered the dance and gave me the keys. I was dancing at the time. I was so embarrassed that I never told my parents if I danced again, ever. I should tell you that I was verbally abused as a child (wow there I go again). I think there may be mental health issues involved, also really. Bottom line is I look for opportunities to feel sorry for myself and no one cares. I also try sometimes to change my attitude and say “go from here”. It hasn’t worked either.