We all have tendencies to self pity. We will never be perfectly free from it. In fact, in some ways, self-pity is normal and may even be helpful as part of the process of grieving our losses, and coming to terms with unresolved childhood wounds.
Pete Walker, in “Recovering: The Adventure of Life Beyond Addiction,” has this to say about self-pity: “Everyone needs to occasionally feel sorry for themselves. Tears for the self are some of the most potently healing experiences of recovery. Self-pity, in balance and moderation, is extremely healing. Recovery, in fact, is often very limited until there are profound experiences of feeling sorry for the self.”
But there is a limit. Indulging too much in self pity is destructive, sucking the joy and energy out of life. Self pity is often characterized by a drained, apathetic, low-energy bearing. Self-pitying people seem tired, and also sometimes resentful. When someone exhibits a low energy or apathetic bearing, and seems resentful at the same time, you can assume that self-pity is eating them up inside.
The danger of indulging in self-pity is that it can serve to prevent our moving forward in recovery (if we stay stuck in it). Self-pity can even lead to re- lapse. This makes sense if you realize that self-pity was often an important ingredient in our thinking that justified our acting out when we were active in our addiction.
As long as we could feel sorry for ourselves and blame someone else for our problems, we didn’t have to accept things that happened to us as consequences for our actions. Self-pity is also part of the despair that is part of the addiction cycle. After we have acted out, we feel a terrible sense of despair, that nothing is ever going to change about our addiction … that we are beyond help. As long as we believe this, we don’t have to go through the hard work of change. We can just stay stuck.
The antidote for destructive self-pity is gratitude. We can be aware of the ways in which we have been hurt, and not minimize the suffering in our lives … and yet all the while also live with gratitude. It doesn’t have to be either/or. We can grieve our losses, and also be grateful for our blessings. That is the road to authenticity … and recovery.