When the going gets tough, it is easy to turn down the self-pity highway and punch the gas! Surely when we overly focus on our unmet desires, compare ourselves or circumstances unfavorably to others, or repeatedly ask "Why Me?", we just sink deeper and deeper into despair and self-pity. The land of self-pity is barren with an emotionally gloom and doom landscape.
Self-pity is highly addictive, but like most addictions, it can be overcome. The media bombards us with advertising images of people with seemingly perfect lives. Do you really believe that someone who loses twenty-five pounds is going to have sustainable joy, just because they lost weight? Yes, that individual may feel better after losing weight, but this won’t stop his or her feelings of self-pity unless there is also a new sense of self-acceptance.
Moving away from the media, we all know that real life also holds challenges for all of us. We face obstacles and have setbacks. It is true that some of us have less stress and/or an easier time letting go of concerns than others. That said, I have seen few people who actually have charmed lives.
As a psychologist in practice over twenty-three years I have often been asked, "Don't you get burnt out listening to people's problems all day?" I will tell you that I have seldom felt burnt out hearing the struggles of others. The reality is that my clients usually inspire me—big time. This is because they have the courage to face their own emotional demons and the willingness to make positive changes in their lives.
While staying miserable can feel tempting, the fact is that doing things to better ourselves feels better. Maybe not so much in the moment, but over the long term it really does pay to get off the misery highway. Making misery your drug of choice just makes you move toward more misery.
Most people who chose to see me for counseling are paying me to help them get to a better place. Right off the bat I admire their commitment and positive energy to get past stewing and get into the doing. Some examples include:
- The terminally ill client who finds new joy in making crafts.
- The divorced man who wants to learn from his recent mistakes in his marriage and move on.
- The boy with ADHD and depression who lives in shame and wants to feel "normal."
- The incest survivor who chooses to work through her painful traumas of the past.
- The father who wants a better connection with his child.
- The girl who realizes that managing her anger will help her have more friends and get along better at home.
- The couple who realizes that expecting one another to change just is not happening and are now willing to work on accepting and loving each other as real, authentic human beings.
- The teenage girl who now wants to stop cutting and abusing drugs.
These examples and far too many more to mention here have been, and continue to be, wonderful reminders for me to get out of self-pity, be grateful for what I have, set goals, and keep moving forward. No doubt about it, if we let it, misery can always take us to a place of finding even more misery with others who are miserable.
The exciting news, though, is that if you look with awareness, there are angels of inspiration all around to help you climb up and off that slippery slope of misery. Nursing homes, children’ s hospitals,community fundraisers for those with disabilities or tragic circumstances, and even an "Inspiring Stories" Google or You Tube search, are great places to go to unshackle yourself from the trap of self-pity.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a licensed psychologist, internationally known relationship and child psychology expert, media consultant, executive coach, weight-loss coach and the author of four popular self-help books including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child and Why Can't You Read My Mind?. You can follow him on Twitter or visit his website at www.drjeffonline.com