Ever been treated badly? Abandoned? Insulted? Ignored? Forgotten? Replaced? Taken for granted? Or you just feel like you never get a break? Nothing goes your way?
Join the club!
I have felt the sting (and sometimes the gut-punch) of all these abuses and misfortunes many times over in my lifetime. I haven’t always responded in the healthiest way. Anger, accusation, and resentment have been common. But my favorite go-to for a good portion of my life has been the cuddly-soft emotional blanket of self-pity.
The word “pity” comes from a Latin word that means dutiful respect or devotion. Its roots are closely related to the English word, “piety.” To show pity to others fundamentally refers to ‘dutifully showing respect’ for the pain or suffering of those around us. But when this pity is turned inward, all our attention and energy is ‘dutifully’ applied to the care and comfort of our own wounds and bruised feelings. The more we indulge in this warped type of “self-care,” the more it becomes an engrained pattern. And the less time and energy we have to direct sincere care outwards toward others as well as to respond to what God desires to show us.
Let’s be honest: it’s ugly!
Self-pity is one of those habits that we tend to notice in others before we identify in ourselves. When something goes wrong in a colleague or family member’s life, we see how often they view and verbalize their difficulties as the fault of circumstances and the bad intentions of others. Rarely do they take responsibility. They quickly move into nursing the perspective that such things ought never happen to them (life and God are so unfair). They typically assume they are experiencing worse treatment than anyone around them. This leads to lifting their own “suffering” above the difficulties of others and either minimizing or completely blinding themselves to the pain that those around them are experiencing. Without intervention, these patterns and conclusions become part of a person’s identity.
Don’t you hate it when people have such self-absorbed attitudes?
I do not remember when it finally dawned on me that I was one of those people. But it came with a bit of a shock. I rationalized and justified my self-absorbed response to the injustices I perceived had been committed against me. But in the end I could not get away from the truth that I was on a very slippery slope of self-indulgence and self-delusion. It was going to strangle my ability to compassionately respond to others, and even more importantly, cut off my sensitivity to God’s voice and promptings. I finally asked God for help.
God’s attitude toward it?
Beware when you make such a request of the Almighty. He doesn’t seem to think very highly of coddling our self-absorbed ways. This is what I heard Him say:
“Have no pity for your self-pity.”
I reluctantly chewed on this for awhile. It seemed harsh (self-pity seems to always get its feelings hurt and is so easily offended). But in the end, I came to the conclusion that I had to severely deal with this cancer growing in my heart, though it assured me that it always had my best interest in mind.
The next time I became aware that I was starting to feel sorry for myself, I told it to shut up! I said it out loud. I don’t remember if I had to explain myself to anyone who was standing within earshot. But that was the beginning of my standing up to this pathetic monster, though the battle definitely was not over.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that self-pity is actually an inverted form of pride. It’s a master of self-persuasion. When I allow it to run my life and lay my pain and sorrow at the feet of its syrupy-sweet comfort, I’m blinded. I believe whatever spin it puts on my circumstances, regardless if it is the opposite of what the wisest and most Spirit-led voices around me are saying. The perspective self-pity gives is the “truth” that I then live out and interpret all other things through — and woe to the person who tries to convince me otherwise.
For I KNOW that I am being treated the worst; I KNOW that no one really cares about me; I KNOW that good things are being given to others but not to me!
How? Because self-pity told me so (with its sad and woeful tones), and everything it says feels so true!
I am thus left wide open to envy, blame, anger, and all those self-fulfilling prophecies. And in a twisted sort of way it feels good. It massages my ego as a misunderstood martyr and even makes me look humble (soft of). But the long-term fruit will be ever so bitter and leave me very lonely.
I can fight it
So, even though I learned to tell self pity to “shut up,” I had to develop new patterns to support my defiance of this mild-mannered tyrant. Here are a few ways I recommend to counteract its poison:
Though I have yet to find anywhere in the Bible where the term “self-pity” is used, the spirit that animates it (pride and self-centeredness) is condemned all throughout the scriptures.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 ESV
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV
Don’t let it win!
Drown out its voice with generosity, thanksgiving, and the word of God!
Have no pity on self-pity!