In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a much repeated saying:
> Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink
This refers to the tendency of self pity to lead people back to their addiction. It provides justification for a relapse because it means the individual can blame other people, their circumstances, or their luck for the decision. The individual may sometimes have good reasons to feel sorry for themselves but indulging in such thinking is a risky and a waste of time. It is going to be far more productive if the individual uses their disappointments as a motivation to improve their life.
The word pity usually refers to a situation where an individual feels sympathy and sorrow arise due to the misfortune or suffering of another. Self pity then occurs when the individual is directing these feelings towards their own suffering and misfortune. It can be defined as exaggerated and self indulgent pity. A more technical way of describing self pity would be to say that it is a psychological state of mind of an individual in perceived adverse situations who has not accepted the situation and does not have the confidence nor ability to cope with it.
DH Lawrence once described in a poem how self pity is a purely human emotion:
> I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.
Self pity is a negative way of thinking that seems to serve no practical purpose. It drains away a person’s power, and those who regularly indulge in such thinking will feel pessimistic about the future. Those who are full of self pity feel victimized, and the world becomes a terrifying place where they have no real control. It gives the individual the excuse to not even try to improve their own situation. It ultimately leads to a form of learned helplessness where the individual becomes completely dependent on other people.
Addicts will use feelings of self pity to justify their substance abuse. One aspect of the addictive personality is that the individual subjectively feels like they are faced with a high degree of stress in their life. In reality their difficulties in life may be similar to what other people experience, but they perceive these challenges as overwhelming. This occurs when a person has not developed the coping skills to deal with the normal ups and downs in life. Alcohol and drugs offer a temporary reprieve from life, and the individual uses their self pity to justify their behavior. If this person becomes sober, and they continue to indulge in excessive self pity, it could prove to be their downfall.
The inspirational Helen Keller once claimed that:
> Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.
The dangers of self pity for people in recovery from addiction include:
* It can be used as an excuse to return to alcohol or drug abuse. The individual can deny responsibility for their own relapse by blaming it on other people, places, or things.
* It causes people to feel powerless. This means that they will not have the motivation to do those things they need to do in order to build a good life away from addiction.
* It is a type of negativity known as stinking thinking. This mode of thinking can be a source of great misery in recovery.
* It reduces the individual’s self esteem, and this means that they might not even feel worthy of a better life. Low self esteem is a common problem for substance abusers, and this type of negative thinking can follow them into recovery.
* It can cause people to become stuck in their recovery. This means they will feel uncomfortable and will be tempted to turn to maladaptive behaviors as an escape from this.
* An occasional brief episode of self pity is perfectly normal but some people can become trapped in this mode of thinking.
* Self pity is an unattractive human trait. It may mean the individual struggles to develop meaningful relationships.
Self pity is a form of negative thinking that addicts tend to indulge in. If they indulge in the same pattern of thinking when they are sober it will prevent them from finding happiness and may cause them to relapse. Other types of negative thinking include:
* Schadenfreude – this is where people get enjoyment out of watching other people fail.
* Viewing every issue as black and white or right and wrong. There are many grey areas in life and refusing to acknowledge this can lead to suffering.
* The individual spends an excessive amount of time focusing on the faults of other people.
* They are full of bitterness about things that happened in the past – this will be mixed with feelings of self pity.
* They feel superior to other people.
* They feel inferior to other people.
* They feel ill-will towards any strangers they meet. Rather than viewing strangers as a potential friend they see them as a potential enemy.
* Thinking in a grandiose manner.
* Always blaming problems on other people. The individual refuses to accept responsibility for their own mistakes.
* The individual is self centered.
* They will tend to blow everything out of proportion. Even a minor inconvenience can drive them into the depths of self pity.
* This type of person will tend to have a pessimistic view of the future.
When people suffer from low self esteem they are more likely to engage in self pity. This is because they feel incapable of taking charge of their own life, and they might not even believe that they deserve any better. It is common for people with low self esteem to fall into substance abuse because this can temporarily make them feel a bit better about themselves. The problem is that this will lead them into addiction, and this will give them more reasons to feel bad about their life. The fact that they have such low self esteem means they can stay trapped in their misery because they feel powerless to extract themselves.
The author John Gardner is quoted as saying:
> Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.
There are things that people can do so that they do not fall into the trap of self pity including:
* The first thing that people need to do is recognize the uselessness of this type of thinking. They should view it as a danger to their sobriety and therefore something to be avoided as much as possible.
* In order to overcome adversity the individual needs to concentrate on what they can do and not what they can’t do. It is action that will help improve a person’s life and not feelings of self pity.
* Some people have the mistake idea that they should feel happy all the time. Nobody gets to enjoy a free ride in life and to expect this is completely unrealistic.
* Instead of feeling hard done by the individual needs to take responsibility for their own situation. This is the only way that they can escape the misfortunes in life.
* One of the goals of recovery is to increase self esteem. The individual can start off by achieving small goals but over time they will feel confident enough to tackle larger goals.
* Emotional sobriety is the ability to face life on life’s terms and it also means not being afraid to feel emotions. It is possible to become physically sober in a matter of hours, but it can take significantly longer in recovery to develop emotional sobriety.
* Activities such as mindfulness meditation can help people develop emotional sobriety.
* Journaling is a good way for people to unburden their disappointments in life. By adding to this on a daily basis the individual will notice when they are being taken over by self pity.
* The worst thing that people can do when they have these negative feelings is to isolate at home.
* Exercise can be a good way to increase inner strength. Just going for a long walk can be enough to allow people to see the bigger picture and get beyond feeling sorry for themselves.
* Rather than viewing the challenges in life negatively it is better to see them as a chance to grow. People reach their potential because of the difficult days they face and not the good days – these can be viewed as a reward for dealing with the bad days.