9 Ways to Get Past Self-Pity

How to stop a downward spiral before it starts.

Posted May 08, 2015

luxorphoto/Shutterstock
Source: luxorphoto/Shutterstock

Whether you’ve been rejected by a love interest or you’re overwhelmed by a looming deadline, throwing a pity party won’t help. In fact, feeling sorry for yourself can be downright self-destructive. It makes overcoming adversity difficult—if not impossible—and it keeps you stuck.

Mentally strong people refuse to allow self-pity to sabotage their goals. Instead, they use life’s inevitable hardships as a way to grow stronger and become better. Here are 9 ways they avoid the trap:

1. They Face Their Feelings

Mentally strong people allow themselves to experience emotions like grief, disappointment, and loneliness head-on. They do not distract themselves from uncomfortable emotions by questioning whether their problems are "fair," or by convincing themselves they’ve suffered more than those around them. They know the best way to deal with discomfort is to just get through it.

2. They Recognize Warning Signs of the Downward Spiral

When you focus on everything that is going wrong, your thoughts become exaggeratedly negative, and those thoughts will negatively affect your behavior if you dwell on them. The combination of negative thinking and inactivity fuels further feelings of self-pity. Mentally strong people recognize when they are at risk of becoming caught in a downward spiral and take action to prevent themselves from living a pitiful life.

3. They Question Their Perceptions

Our emotional state influences how we perceive reality. When you feel sorry for yourself, you likely focus on the bad things going on in your life, while overlooking the good. Mentally strong people question whether their thoughts represent reality. They ask themselves questions like, “Is my luck always bad?” or, “Is my entire life really ruined?” Such questions allow them to recognize when their outlook isn’t realistic, and to create a more realistic perception of their situation.

4. They Turn Their Negative Thoughts Into Behavioral Experiments

Mentally strong people don’t allow negative thoughts to turn into self-fulfilling prophecies; they perform behavioral experiments to prove those thoughts wrong. When they find themselves thinking things like, “I could never put on a presentation as good as this one,” they respond with, “Challenge accepted!”

5. They Reserve their Resources for Productive Activities

Every minute you dwell on self-pity is 60 seconds you delay working on a solution to your problems. Mentally strong people refuse to waste precious time and energy on their misery. Instead, they devote their finite resources to productive activities that can improve the situation.

6. They Practice Gratitude

It’s hard to feel self-pity and gratitude at the same time. Self-pity is about thinking, “I deserve better." Gratitude is about thinking, “I have more than I need.” Mentally strong people recognize all that they have to be grateful for in life—right down to the fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink.

7. They Help Other People

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re busy helping those who are less fortunate. Problems like demanding customers or declining sales don’t seem so bad when you’re reminded that there are people who lack food and shelter. Rather than ruminate on their own inconveniences, mentally strong people strive to improve the lives of others.

8. They Refuse to Complain

Venting to other people about the magnitude of your problems fuels feelings of self-pity. Mentally strong people don’t try to gain sympathy from others by complaining about their difficult circumstances. Instead, they either take action to make things better, or accept the situations that they cannot change.

9. They Maintain an Optimistic Outlook

Some of life’s problems cannot be prevented or solved. The loss of loved ones, natural disasters, and certain health conditions are problems most of us will face at one time or another, but mentally strong people keep an optimistic outlook about their ability to handle whatever life throws their way.

Build Mental Strength

Developing mental strength is similar to building physical strength. If you wanted to become physically strong you would need good habits, like lifting weights. You would also need to get rid of bad habits, like eating too many sweets. Developing mental strength also requires you to have good habits—and to give up destructive ones, like self-pity. By developing an increased ability to regulate your thoughts, managing your emotions, and behaving productively despite your circumstances, you will grow stronger and become better.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages. Watch the book trailer below to see the story behind her viral article turned book.