It’s Not Self Pity When It’s Happening To You – Re: Classifying Other People’s Life’s Pain Derogatorily as “Self Pity”
This has become a very big pet peeve of mine in the last few years.
There are people out there, who, if you go to them when you’re undergoing a rough patch in your life, seeking empathy or encouragement – say, after the death of a family member, or what have you – they will later refer to this behavior of yours insultingly as “self pity.”
I have run into two people so far in the last few years who have classified my struggles as being “self pity,” with one of these people engaging in that behavior herself, but of course, she does not regard herself writing to me about being stressed or hurting as “self pity,” no.
I’ve also seen people on other sites refer to other people’s struggle to cope with depression, grief, job loss, or what have you, with the phrase “self pity.”
I am not convinced that any and all negative reactions to hurt, pain, and anxiety in life is always “self pity.” I think it’s often not self pity.
Growing up, I was a very shy kid, and my family moved often. Consequently, I never made many friends my own age.
My mother was my safe port in the storm. She was always my best friend and a source of comfort to me.
My mother was one of the few people I could go and talk to, and she listened without judging or giving advice.
I now have some problems with some of her parenting, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but she was a great source of comfort to me, which I value to this day.
After my mother died, I had no one to talk to about my grief.
I had nobody to hold my hand as I cried and struggled to process my mother’s loss, and I was very much wanting or needing someone to be there for me during that time of grief, to just listen to me, act as a sounding board, be a rock for me to lean on at that time.
But I had to get through the grief alone.
After my mother died, I moved to a new city where many of my extended family live.
The Aunt And Uncle
One of my Uncles and his Wife, my Aunt, live a mere 15 minute car drive from where I live.
The first few years I lived here, the Aunt, other than sending me a birthday card via snail mail one year (which I concede was quite thoughtful of her and I appreciated it), and knowing of my situation (my mother is dead, I’m new in town, have no husband, etc), made no effort to be there for me (neither did my other Aunts, but that’s another story for another time).
Although this Aunt is friends with me on Facebook, she seldom talks to me on Facebook, not even the first few years I was new in town, though I’d sometimes leave friendly comments below some of her posts on that social media platform.
This Aunt of mine was in good health the first few years when I moved up here. She’s been retired for years. She and my Uncle are solidly middle class, and they live in a lovely two story home in a pretty neighborhood.
There was nothing preventing that Aunt of mine from reaching out to me when I first moved up here, and it was within months after my mother’s passing.
A few years later, I was contacting my Uncle about something or other over the phone.
I don’t remember exactly what I was phoning this Uncle about, I think I was upset about something, and when replying to me about being upset about some other topic entirely, he was describing my behavior post- my- mother’s- death, as “when you were feeling sorry for yourself.”
In other words, this Uncle was referring to my grieving period as being nothing but Self Pity.
It’s perfectly normal for most people to spend two to four years in grief after a close loved one dies, as I did.
Yes, after my mother died, I did not leave the house much (I’m an introvert and don’t go out much in the first place).
Yes, I spent a lot of time sobbing and trying to accept the fact that my mother was gone and I missed her.
I then went through a phase where I had to come to terms that I had nobody to turn to when I was upset and in need of emotional support.
My mother had provided that for me, and there’s been a vacuum there ever since.
I had to learn to cope without consistent, reliable support and companionship. It was a very large transitional phase for me to go through, and I walked through it alone.
I had no road map for any of that.
I did not have any books, or magazine articles, or blog posts by other people to read to learn how to cope and make that change. It was quite difficult.
I had to figure out all by myself how to get accustomed to no longer having one, close, steady friend in my life (my mother) whom I could always count on for support.
That is a process, a very painful process to have to endure. I sometimes cried, felt despondent, or felt a lot of fear.
How dare this Uncle (or anyone) categorize any of that, or me reaching out to him at a later date for support (as I had nobody else to turn to), as being “feeling sorry for yourself.”
And allow me to interject that the books I did read at that time told me to stop keeping to myself, that it was not healthy.
I had books by Christian and Non-Christian doctors who said “you need to reach out to others to tell them you need their emotional support.” -Which I tried, but that met with no success.
Most people I went to for support, as the doctors advised me to do, viewed me getting transparent with them and asking for emotional support or empathy as being “self pity,” or viewed it as being an imposition, annoying, needy, or clingy (never mind I was only phoning or writing some of these people merely once every four to six months, NOT every day or every week).
So, doctors were telling me in these books I was reading to reach out if I am upset or hurt and needing encouragement, which I forced myself to do.
And boy, did it feel awkward and embarrassing to reach out to other people, as I’m an introvert, and my father shamed me from opening up to others, but my repeated attempts (spread months apart, not daily!) with various church people, aunts, and some online friends was met with criticism, judgement, and accusations of I was having “self pity,” from those I was going to.
At any rate, contra my Uncle, grieving is not “self pity,” but is rather a normal reaction a lot of people have to the death of a family member.
I was horrified that my Uncle would do that, that he had the insensitivity and audacity to refer to my grief as “self pity” or as “feeling sorry for yourself.”
I sat there in shock over the phone and didn’t say a thing, but I was insulted, stunned, and hurt by that.
My Uncle’s callous behavior, his mis-categorizing my grief as being nothing but a pity party, reminded me of this editorial I saw a couple of years after:
At any rate, considering I had nobody to turn to after my Mother died, and that I did not have health insurance and no an income – so I could not afford to see a therapist – means I had to get through the grief, (which dragged on for a few years), all alone.
As this Uncle (and his wife, my Aunt) were not there for me after my mother died – neither one offered to show me around town when I moved here, to acclimate me to the place, neither one phoned me to check on me, and that they would not even e-mail me or comment on Facebook posts I made at that time – means they have absolutely NO PLACE and NO RIGHT to sit in judgement of how I got through the grief, or to say how I endured it was “self pity.”
If you did not help me through the period of grief, it’s not your place to judge how I got through it, or how long it took me to get through it, or to slap inaccurate labels on the grief.
That just makes me livid.
Judy The Friend
This brings me to an internet friend I had for over ten years, whom I shall refer to as Judy.
The first few years we were friends on different sites, social media, and so on, Judy would contact me privately to tell me that she was very lonely. (She also complained about many other things.)
Judy, who is several years older than I am, was married to a guy whose employer would send him away for months at a time.
Then Judy’s spouse would get to come home to be with her for two or three months, then his employer would send him away for another 9 to 12 months or longer, leaving her all alone again.
This must have gone on for two or three years.
During those months of solitary living, Judy would often complain to me and cry on my shoulder, over forums, in private, and e-mails and so forth, about how she didn’t have any friends in real life.
The loneliness was killing her.
For the first several months to year of that complaining, I empathized with Judy.
I told her I was sorry she was hurting and alone. I did not judge her.
I did not tell her she was feeling sorry for herself.
I didn’t give her a list of things to do. I simply validated her struggle. I was compassionate.
Well, after about a year of simply validating her, and she continued to sob on my shoulder about being so lonely, it crossed my mind that she was never going to cease being lonely if she just complained about it to me but did nothing to change it.
Judy spent all of her time in her nice, middle class home, where she would watch a lot of television and get on the internet.
How was she going to make friends if she never went out and met people?
So, I began giving her suggestions on how she could end her loneliness by making friends – which would have to involve her getting out of her house and being around people.
I came up with several wonderful suggestions of where and how she could make friends.
She turned each and every one of them down, in a sort of whiny-sounding online voice or demeanor.
Judy and I had friended each other on Facebook about this same time.
One day, I checked my Facebook account to see that she left this comment on her Facebook page:
“I am so tired of people giving me suggestions on what to do if I tell them I am hurting and upset or lonely. I don’t want you telling me what to do.”
Now, that comment by her came just a day after I had given her another suggestion on how she could make friends – because, you know, she was always saying she was so lonely and friendless, but she’d not make any effort to change the status quo.
So, I take it that my latest suggestion on how she could make friends on the forum we were friends on was what prompted that Facebook post of hers.
I did not reply to that Facebook post of hers; I left it alone.
Some more time passed, and Judy kept complaining about being lonely and friendless to me on a private forum where we both posted.
I therefore gave her my phone number on that forum.
I told her if you are hurting, lonely, or just bored and would like a buddy to chat with, please feel free to phone me. I told her I’m just as nice on the phone as online. I won’t judge you. I will just listen.
She left me a reply where she said, “Thank you. I will think about it.”
The next day, I went to Facebook, and Judy, after my chat with her where I had given her my phone number, had left this comment on her Facebook page:
“I am so alone. I have no friends to talk to. I have nobody to phone. Nobody calls me. If I were to die alone in this big house, would anyone notice? I don’t think so.”
Up ’til that point, I had felt sorry for Judy.
But she made that attention-seeking comment just a day after I had just told her on the other site (a comment that she saw),
“Here’s my phone number, call me any time you are hurting or lonely, and I will be there for you.”
It was at this point that it dawned on me that Judy was being a Self Pitying Attention Whore.
But did I tell her that? No.
I just dialed back my emotional support, since she seemed to take it for granted, or it made no difference to her or in her life.
Judy seemed to want bucket loads of empathy, pity, and sympathy from people, but she didn’t want to do anything to change what was making her unhappy.
Do you know what incredibly socially shy and introverted me did during times I was lonely, and some of this was even during the time I was online friends with Judy?
I forced myself to get my ass off the couch and visit churches where I lived, that’s what. I even went to some church- sponsored social events all by myself, which was really difficult for me to do.
I did not send Judy a trillion messages on forums or e-mails or on Facebook at that time, as she was doing to me, going on and on about how lonely and friendless I was.
I kept that to myself, and just went out and met people.
I was there for Judy for many years. When she wrote to me upset about whatever, I always wrote her back and was empathetic.
In the last few years, however, I notice whenever I wrote to her over things that were upsetting me in my life, she would ignore my messages about 95% of the time.
If she bothered to reply, she would keep the replies very short.
The rest of the time, she’d lie and claim she never got the e-mails.
So, I would copy and paste the e-mails into a new e-mail, send that to her, then e-mail again asking, “Did you get the copy I just sent you.” And she’d lie again, and say, no.
Not too long ago, Judy got really angry at me over something – something stupid and trivial, and she misunderstood a comment I left her (she did not read the comment carefully – she thought I had insulted her, but I had not).
If she would go back and read the comments I had left her, she could see I was not saying what she thought I had said to her.
So, Judy left me some vitriolic comments, where she was bashing me and ridiculing me over some of the problems I’ve had in the last few years (she was even sharing personal information in public, on a site we are both on, when she was screaming at me about all this), and, she classified some of the issues I’ve been having, as being “Self Pity.”
Yes, Judy had the temerity to classify issues I had written to her about when I could’ve used her empathy, as being nothing but “Self Pity.”
First of all, I never told her that her needy posts that went on over a year – about how lonely she was – was “Self Pity’ (though after a year, it became clear to me, that yes, her constant complaining about being lonely was based on a lot of Self Pity), but, secondly (and thirdly and fourthly)…
Judy would post her “Pity Me” posts on Facebook, where everyone listed as her friend on there could see them, under her own name, but I seldom made those sorts of posts on Facebook myself, if I was having a problem.
I’m the Facebook friend who posts photos of kittens playing with balls of yarn.
I am not the Facebook friend who posts constant political rants or lots of Drama stuff all day, with posts saying, “Pity Me, my life is so tough right now.”
That would be Judy that did that.
I kept my drama personal and private (not on Facebook, not on places where people know my real name).
Judy more or less ignored most of the private notes I sent her, when I was telling her I was upset by thus and so an event in my life.
She would lie and claim she never got those messages.
Considering that she usually never put effort into replying to my private posts, why on earth would she feel justified screaming at me in the open about how my posts were examples of self pity, so she, I guess, was trying to say, she found them exhausting?
I used to reply to Judy’s many, many attention-seeking private messages.
Any time she wrote to me saying she was hurting, lonely, etc, I always sent her thoughtful replies.
I did not ignore her posts, as she did mine.
So even if my messages to her were filled with Self Pity (they were not), what would it matter to her, since she, in a manner of speaking, threw them away in the trash and didn’t read them all or did not reply?
She spent no time on them. She usually ignored most messages I sent to her.
My end point here is that during all the years Judy was writing to me because she was upset, and I wrote her back empathizing with her, Judy no doubt considers those trials at that time in her life as being normal.
But, when I went to her with trials in my own life, seeking emotional support, she considered that a form of “self pity.”
I did do a little bit of reading the other day about this.
There are a lot of articles out there, some by psychologists, which discuss what Self Pity is, how to avoid it, and so forth.
Common View: Your Pain is Valid, but Other People’s Pain is Self Pity
One thing I noticed is that it comes down to subjective perspective.
If you are the one going through a painful time in your life, and you go to a friend to talk to them about that pain, and you’re hoping to receive compassion, empathy, and encouragement in return, you are not going to think that your own pain or attempts to get your emotional needs met falls under the category of “self pity.”
If, however, your friend comes to you for the same thing – they are undergoing some trial in life and reach out to you for moral support, a sympathetic ear – you may see them and their behavior as being Self Pity.
There may be some people who are truly guilty of engaging in Self Pity.
I think my friend Judy at some point in her “I am lonely and friendless” attitude morphed into that.
Maybe initially, she was sincerely hurting, but after about a year, it seemed to go from normal “I need help” type behavior to “Pity me everyone” sort of attitude.
But. I am perturbed at how normal, healthy behavior – for goodness sake, psychologists say in many of their articles and books that when one is hurting, that one should absolutely seek out a caring friend to confide in, and even the Bible says to “weep with the one who weeps” – is sometimes derogatorily mis-labeled as being “Self Pity. ”
What about that song “Lean On Me”?
Here are some of the lyrics from that song (read full lyrics here):
Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
—- end lyrics —-
Does nobody actually believe in the lyrics of that song any more?
Did anyone ever believe in it? How about the person who first wrote it, did he or she believe in those lines?
Why are there songs about “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will be there,” (listen to that song here on You Tube), or, “Just call out my name, and I’ll come running to see you again” (listen to that song here on You Tube) if people are not supposed to rely on each other?
I don’t see the lyrics of such songs tacking on sentiments such as,
“And when you call on me, brother,
I’ll brush off your need as being nothing but Self Pity,
and I’ll tell you to shove off,
you are annoying and so needy,
But if I am the one who is hurting and coming to you,
that is a totally valid need, it is not clingy or Self Pity.”
I suppose at this stage in my life, I should stop being surprised by other people’s insensitivity and hypocrisy, but I’m not. I haven’t gotten there yet.
One person’s valid need is another selfish and lazy person’s Self Pity.
Listen to “Lean On Me” here: