What is self-pity and why is it addictive?

self-pity versus self-esteemThe Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-pity as “a self-indulgent dwelling on your own sorrows or misfortunes”.   Here are some of the reasons why self-pity is so destructive:

  • It is addictive. You want people to feel sorry for you. It becomes a habit and just like any other habit, it is hard to kick.
  • It makes you into a victim. It prevents you from being completely honest about your own actions and the control you have over your own choices.
  • It makes you selfish. You are so consumed with your own pain that your entire focus is inward. You don’t even see the pain of others and you are unable to feel grateful when people try to help you.
  • It is self-indulgent as it is the easy route to take and prevents you from growing into all you can be as a person. It gives you an excuse to not apply yourself. You don’t have to account for your own failings, or look at other people fairly.


This is the script for self-pity: “I am in a really bad situation. I don’t understand why this has happened to me. I can’t do anything to help myself because it’s so bad.” This effectively absolves you from any blame and from taking any responsibility.

10 self-pity quotes

Here are some quotes that reveal the destructive nature of self-pity.

“Self-pity is the UGLIEST EMOTION in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is we’ll feel sorry for you, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. ” (Stephen Fry)

“Self-pity is our WORST ENEMY and if we yield to it, we can never do anything good in the world.” (Helen Keller)

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is ADDICTIVE, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” (John W. Gardner)

“Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition, is not only a waste of energy but the WORST HABIT you could possibly have.” (Dale Carnegie)

“Self-pity is AN ACID which eats holes in happiness.” (Earl Nightingale)

“Try to avoid complaints. Self-pity, even when legitimate, never fails to UNDERMINE YOUR STRENGTH.” (Mariane Pearl)

“Self-pity is EGOTISM UNDILUTED after all – self-centredness in its purist form.” (Rick Yancy)

“Never feel self-pity, the most DESTRUCTIVE EMOTION there is. How awful to be caught up in the terrible squirrel cage of self.” (Millicent Fenwick)

“Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a DEADLY THING with power to destroy you.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it for yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in …… Self-pity is a DEAD-END ROAD. You make a choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.” (Cheryl Strayed)

Triggers that fuel self-pity

self-pity Dr Seuss quote

I think one of the major triggers of self-pity is to compare yourself with other people. You want what other people have and resent them for having more than you. You think that you are ‘unlucky’ and that life is ‘unfair’. You have convinced yourself that your misery is not your own fault and they are ‘luckier’ than you.  You invent excuses for your failings and build up an inaccurate vision of the lives of those around  you. Social media can fuel this – going on Facebook, for example, can make you feel that everyone has a better lifethan you because you only see what others want you to see – you don’t see into their real lives with all its struggles.

Another trigger is focusing on what is missing from your life instead of focusing on what you have. I recently went into a state of self-pity when I arrived home to find my house in chaos. Papers had been strewn all over, drawers and cupboards were open and I realized I had been burgled. I discovered that my laptop had been stolen and my day ended with a trip to the police station to make a report. I immediately went into victim mode – I was a defenseless woman without a husband, living in a house with inadequate security. I had a real pity party that lasted for a few days. We all feel self-pity at times – the problem comes when we remain in that mode and use it as a crutch.

Choose to value yourself

  1. Realize that you have a choice
    Self-pity is an ugly, self-indulgent emotion that you need to reject.  You always have a choice as to how you respond to your adversities. It is not up to your parents, your partner, your children or your friends to make you happy. You can choose to act the victim, feeling bitter and helpless when your life does not work out the way you expected. If you’re facing challenging circumstances, feeling sorry for yourself is understandable.  It may even be part of the route towards healing. However, you have to be careful that you don’t start using self-pity as a crutch in the face of the everyday challenges. If this is the case, you need to do everything you can to deal with your frame of mind or it will destroy you.
  2. Apathy is your enemy
    I think we all have a childish desire for someone else to take care of our problems. We want them to rescue us and carry us to safe ground. We feel insecure and lacking in the strength we need to take action. We would rather just curl up in a ball, make no decisions and abdicate from any responsibility. Even if someone does come to our rescue, we will never know our own strength unless we learn how to take responsibility and act, based on who are are and what we stand for.
  3. Let go of the myth of fairness
    Life is not fair. Adversities are not evenly distributed. The reality is that everyone faces adversity in one form or another in their lives. Just watch the news and you see wars, floods, famine and other calamities. Even in your own close circle you see tragedy, loss and death. It is the response to adversity that matters.  People are able to overcome apparently insurmountable odds. Helen Keller overcame her deafness and blindness, becoming a strong, influential woman whose words still inspire us. Winston Churchill used to stutter and performed badly at school but became Prime Minister of the U.K. and a very influential political leader, known for his powerful speeches. Oprah Winfrey overcame the challenges of poverty and sexual abuse, becoming one of the most powerful and influential women in the world.

You have to accept responsibility for your own failures and victories and stop measuring your life against the lives of others . Becoming bitter about what life has dished out to you and whining will not serve you. When you respond constructively to life’s challenges, qualities of courage, strength and perseverance shine through and you become an encouragement to others.




4 thoughts on “What is self-pity and why is it addictive?”

  1. This is exactly what I have been telling myself when I get rejected or think I have been rejected by my grown children.

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