Sunday, January 29, 2012

Something about self-pity

Artist: Henri d Toulouse-Lautrec

One of my Facebook friends posted the following today by Inayat Khan. I do think it is a very insightful observation:
"If one studies one's surroundings one finds that those who are happy are so because they have less thought of self. If they are unhappy it is because they think of themselves too much. A person is more bearable when he thinks less of himself. And a person is unbearable when he is always thinking of himself. There are many miseries in life, but the greatest misery is self-pity."
Now, I want to hasten to add that self-pity is not the same as self-compassion. It's very important that we have compassion for ourselves because (among other reasons) if we don't, we are likely to project that lack of compassion onto others.

Self-pity is not only unattractive, it is profoundly dis-empowering.

When you think about it, Jesus was never given to self-pity. But he certainly had compassion on himself as well as on others.


  1. can you say a little something about what the difference between self compassion and self pity looks like?

  2. For me, self pity shows up anytime I feel like a can include resentment and blame.Like Sister said, it is very dis-empowering, and I am left feeling diminished.

    Self compassion has more to do with caring for myself on a deep level, for example, when I am hurting or feeling vulnerable. Opening to and fully accepting these feelings seems to give rise to their full expression and then they are lifted, almost absolved, as if by magic.

  3. p.s.

    annie c wrote the above comment...

  4. Good way of describing the distinction Annie. Although dictionaries will list pity as a synonym for compassion I would argue that is because the writers of dictionaries are viewing the words in a very shallow manner. It seems to me that this definition defines best how the word "compassion" is most commonly used: Deep awareness of the suffering of another (or in this case of oneself) coupled with the wish to relieve it.) By contrast the word "pity" is more often used in either a condescending manner: "I pity his lack of ability to grasp the impact of his cold heartedness." Or pity may also commonly be used as a way of describing standing at arms length and observing the ones plight or that of another but without any intention to try to do something about it. I can't imagine compassion being used to describe a situation where the person having the compassion had or has no intention of putting forth an effort to make things better - whether for oneself or for another.

  5. While it is definitely possible to find examples in literature and in life where the words, pity and compassion, might be interchangeable synonyms, that is only evidence that their range of meanings do intersect with one another. But one only need think of instances in literature of life where one person says to another in a tone of disgust and reproach, “I pity you!” to become aware that there are significant areas where the words, pity and compassion have very different connotations. I cannot imagine a writer writing or a real world person saying, “I have compassion for you!” where the connotation implies disgust or reproach.

  6. There are some very good responses here for Patty.

    I particularly agree that self-pity tends to draw a person into a victim mentality (which is profoundly dis-empowering) and self-pity tends to give rise to contempt or disdain for oneself.

  7. thank you all. i can get caught in self pity. jesus said love thy neighbor as thy self. it has always seemed to me that the message is traditionally interpreted as one of self denial, i.e. care more about someone else than you do about your self. which then gets interpreted further into self care is wrong which, paradoxically, probably results in a kind of dysfunctional, guilt-ridden self care that is self pity. i'm not sure if that makes sense. but i try to remember that implicit in jesus' statement is that one should love onself, too. as ellie says, jesus had to have self compassion. how else could he have done what he did? i have a feeling i will want to re-read this thread. thanks

  8. Well Pattie, Jesus definitely didn't say "Love thy neighbor more than thyself. He said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself. But it is understandable why people find that message confusing when it is put together with the fact that he himself died for love of others. There are many theological arguments that could be made about that, most of which would probably center on the theology that that is why he came into the world. I don't really buy that approach. We all need to have a sense that there is a purpose to our lives. Some feel that as a call that is so powerful that they can only feel fulfilled when they give fully of themselves for the good of others. Most of us don't feel that level of call. A poor comparison might be that many people feel called to maintain their bodies in good physical condition, but only a few feel they can only be fulfilled by actually sacrificing much of what they might desire and actually suffering in order to keep themselves in Olympic physical condition. But they do that because they love themselves. And I suppose compassion comes into play because the suffering they endure to remain in top physical condition brings them the sense of purpose and accomplishment for which their heart most deeply yearns. I suppose spiritual sacrifice is like that. But for all of us compassion for ourselves and for others is about finding the optimum, the point of balance that brings us spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical fulfillment. It there is a goal worth striving for it is finding what is the optimum balance in your life. I don't think I do a very good job in that regard. I don't think most people do. But, if I were to attempt to identify the goal, that is the best way I know how to name it.

  9. thank you tom. i work as a life coach/psychologist helping people create and pursue meaningful goals. i like the way that you connect compassion for self and others with the idea of balance. i will contemplate that one; i think it can help me as well as the people i work with.


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