Constructive Wallowing

How to beat bad feelings by letting yourself have them

Self-Pity Doesn't Look Like This

If you think you’re wallowing in it, you’re probably not

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When it comes to wallowing in self-pity, Jocelyn (not her real name) believes she has it down pat.

Forty-two years old and never married, she feels as if life has passed her by. All the tomorrows she used to look forward to have become today – this is it. And it feels empty.

Jocelyn has few friends and no prospects for romance, let alone a husband. Her life consists of going to work and going home again.

She used to be active in a co-ed softball league, which she enjoyed, but lately she can’t be bothered to do much of anything outside of her routine.

She spends weekends mostly in her pajamas, with only a couple of bottles of wine for company.

She feels trapped in a deep, dark hole with no way out. She doesn’t want to kill herself, but the prospect of spending her life "wallowing in self-pity" like this is too bleak to contemplate.

On Mondays when she returns to work, she feels terrible – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. She’s wasted another weekend of her life and feels as if nothing is ever going to change.

According to Jocelyn, wallowing not only doesn’t work to heal her pain – it actually makes things worse. What Jocelyn doesn’t realize is that she’s not wallowing at all.

Remember that wallowing without the initial “w” is “allow.” Jocelyn is not really allowing herself to feel her true feelings.

When she breaks down and cries, mostly what she’s feeling is disgust with herself. Her tears are interspersed with harsh self-criticism, rather than soothing self-compassion.

The deep grief over her loss of time, youth and potential remains largely invisible to her. She is only aware of hating herself.

The alcohol she drinks creates a false defense against her pain. It numbs her sensibilities and keeps her from being present to her real emotions.

Instead of embracing her feelings, she sits in front of the TV in a numbing haze, distracted from reality.

When she’s high like this, she can barely feel her lips, let alone be fully aware of the sting of her regrets and despair.

When she comes back to reality, the pain that was there before she took a drink will be waiting for her. It’s always there to meet her when she comes back to herself. Where was it supposed to go?

Feelings that haven’t been fully, consciously, willingly and compassionately experienced can’t resolve. They just stay inside us till we open the door to them and look them in the eye, stone cold sober.

Although she thinks she’s wallowing in self-pity, there is very little genuine pity apparent in Jocelyn’s thoughts, feelings or behavior toward herself.

During these lost weekends she doesn’t shower, doesn’t feed herself properly, drinks enough to make herself sick, entertains hateful thoughts about herself, calls herself names like “pathetic loser,” and rudely brushes aside the sad truth her tears are trying to show her.

If she were really feeling pity for herself, she would ditch the self-loathing and wrap herself in compassion and caring.

She would cry healing tears of grief, instead of fruitless tears of recrimination and shame.

You may not use alcohol the way Jocelyn does, but ask yourself the following questions:

Do you combat feelings with food, either by starving yourself, overeating, or both?

Do you drown out your inner voice with casual sex, too much shopping or Internet surfing, drugs or something else?

Do you worry about things that, deep down, you know don’t really matter, just to stay distracted from your authentic self?

If so, you haven't been wallowing in self-pity. But maybe you should.

 

Counselor and workshop leader Tina Gilbertson, LPC is the author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.

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