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Learn how to stop self-pity with these tips

January 20, 2023 - 18 min read


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What’s self-pity?

Why we experience self-pity

Self-pity versus victim mentality

Self-pity versus depression

8 tips for combatting self-pity

Taking control

We’ve all gone through difficult moments in life. A marriage ends or a friendship dissolves. You lose a loved one or confront a chronic illness. Maybe you feel down about an unsuccessful job search due to the economic climate.

When we're in the middle of a rough patch, it's easy to feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts. We’re struggling while others thrive and feel lonely in our frustration. This perceived isolation only increases negative feelings like self-pity. 

Luckily, we can break this self-destructive cycle and feel more capable and self-determined, even when we’re discouraged to learn how to stop self-pity in its tracks.

What’s self-pity?

Self-pity’s definition is the negative mental head space we can get into when we’re feeling low. We feel empathetic toward ourselves for the hardship we endure. This self-directed sadness often makes us feel worse or act as a cry for help, hoping others will notice and console us.

Self-pity manifests itself differently for everyone. Here are some of the common thoughts self-pity might trigger:

  • People don't like you

  • You’re a failure

  • You have bad luck

  • Life’s always harder for you

  • Life’s unfair

  • Change is unattainable

Combatting these negative or automatic thoughts, whether you experience none or all of them, may grow overwhelming, contributing to a downward spiral.

And self-pity isn’t inherently bad. It’s a normal state of mind when bad things happen. Feeling frustrated for yourself because something difficult happened is healthy — as long as it doesn’t last forever. Leaning into the negativity for a bit is OK, but it’s important not to let it become a pattern.

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Why we experience self-pity

Self-pity is often caused and encouraged by the same sources, so pinpointing why you feel this way is the first step to stopping it. Here are some common reasons for feeling self-pity:

  • Trauma: Being taken advantage of or verbally abused can make us feel worthless and like life is against us. 

  • Grief: Extreme sadness feels so terrible it’s difficult not to feel sympathetic for ourselves. 

  • Feelings of failure: When we experience failure, it’s often easier to blame external forces instead of taking responsibility. 

  • Illness or chronic pain: If everyone around us is healthy and thriving, our discomfort and suffering can feel unfair. 

  • Feelings of loneliness: Feeling isolated in our experiences often promotes self-pity.

  • Imposter syndrome: Some of our negative thinking may be rooted in feeling like we’re not qualified or don’t belong somewhere. This imposter syndrome is likely irrational, and we can battle it by improving our skills and building confidence.


Self-pity versus victim mentality

Sometimes, self-pity may lead us to adopt a victim mentality, in the sense that when we experience self-pity, we often feel like the victims of what life throws at us. But self-pity is typically short-term and easily overcome. People with this mentality feel that bad things happen to them no matter what they do. 

Psychologists believe that victim mentality is a subconscious coping mechanism in response to trauma, making it much harder to combat. Things simply happen to them and get wrapped up in bad circumstances or situations at no fault of their own. 

Many victims of traumatic experiences become afflicted by a natural psychological phenomenon called learned helplessness. This unconscious learning programs us to feel a general hopelessness about our future.

We feel like there’s no escape from our fate, no matter what we do, which contributes to the development of victim mentalities. 

Self-pity and victim mentalities share this feeling of hopelessness, where external causes trigger internal anxiety and a lack of optimism. No matter our past, prolonged bouts of negative talk can teach us nothing will change, and self-pity becomes another coping mechanism to reinforce that sensation. 

But it’s never impossible to flip the script and turn self-pity into self-empowerment, adopt a growth mindset, and unlearn self-sabotaging behaviors.

Self-pity versus depression

While self-pity and depression share a couple of symptoms, such as low self-esteem and motivation levels, they’re not the same. 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a common but serious mood disorder that impacts how we interact with ourselves and the world around us. While negative experiences can trigger depression, it’s most often caused by chemical imbalances. And if you’re living with depression, self-pity may be a symptom you experience. 

So what does self-pity mean for you? If you think your mental well-being is impacted by more than just self-pity, consider seeing a mental health professional for the support you need.


8 tips for combatting self-pity

Self-pity is a mindset, and mindsets are malleable. Here are eight tips for decreasing your feelings of self-pity:

1. Face your feelings

Burying our feelings and pretending they’re not happening is a natural defense mechanism. But radical self-acceptance is a powerful self-care practice that allows us to embrace the good and bad within ourselves to build self-compassion.

One way to do this is to keep a feelings journal. Every morning, sit or lie down with your eyes closed and take 10 deep breaths while assessing your feelings. Write down three experiences that come up. This practice asks you to look inward and face your feelings head-on. 

You might also identify helpful patterns, like feeling worse on days you sleep in or being most negative on Mondays. Seeing trends in your past self-pity might help you recognize when it’s part of a habit, instead of a circumstance of the present moment.

Let that be a sign for you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and instead recognize what’s going on.

2. Recognize the warning signs

Understanding why you experience self-pity and how it manifests will help you catch it in its tracks. Here are a few of the most common warning signs: 

  • Experiencing obsessive negative thoughts

  • Feeling anger and frustration over your situation

  • Seeking constant validation

  • Feeling sorry for yourself when you make minor mistakes

  • Prioritizing your problems over others

3. Adopt a new perspective 

Bad situations can have positive impacts on our life. It’s hard to see at the moment, but failures are opportunities to learn and grow. We must embrace this worldview every day to help combat self-pity, increase our self-worth and mental strength, and make it harder for self-pity’s triggers to manifest.


4. Don't let pity take over 

Self-pity is so common because, on some level, it feels good. There’s a reason the term “pity party” exists. We don’t have to be accountable for our feelings or actions toward improving our situation. But in the long run, wallowing only leads to low self-worth and feelings of hopelessness. 

It takes practice and consistency to build new habits. Here are a few ways to turn negative thoughts into positive ones:

  • Think about what you learned from every experience
  • Focus on things you do well
  • When you feel you can’t do something, remind yourself of all the times you overcame a challenge
  • Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so try not to compare yourself to others

5. Give back to the community

Research from the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests people who volunteer in their community are happier. When we help others, it increases our self-worth because we know we’re contributing something valuable, often to those less fortunate than us.

It also puts our problems into perspective by helping us connect with others, combating loneliness, and distracting us from our negativity.

6. Practice gratitude

You can flip the script on your self-pity by noting things you appreciate in your life and experiences you’re thankful for. This will take your mind off hardship, help you see the good in life, and increase your self-esteem. 

Here are a few ways to practice gratefulness:

  • Write down five things you’re thankful for each day

  • Read daily affirmations to yourself

  • Practice mindfulness or guided meditation

7. Develop self-compassion

Kristin Neff, one of the world's leading experts on self-compassion, believes that the key to alleviating our sense of suffering is to build a deeper connection with ourselves. When we develop a close, loving relationship with ourselves we won’t want to put ourselves through the negative feelings self-pity creates. This reminds us that we’re good enough, no matter the scenario.

We can develop a more profound understanding of ourselves in the following ways: 

  • Physical touch: If you're feeling overwhelmed, comfort yourself with a hug or by putting one hand on your heart, one on your belly. Think about the love and care you’d give a partner, family member, or friend, and treat yourself the same way.


  • Value your feelings: When we acknowledge that what we want and how we feel have value, we feel more in control of our situation. Try starting each day by noting your wants, fears, and current feelings. Read them aloud to yourself to become more familiar with your perspective as an outsider.

8. Visualize your inner critic

Turning your inner critic into something separate from yourself can help you quiet it. Draw a character on a piece of paper and name it your inner critic. Talk to it, letting it know what it says is irrational, and asking it to be kinder.

When you experience a thought, acknowledge that it’s your inner critic’s voice. This exercise will make you feel you have more agency over your thoughts.

Taking control

Self-pity is a natural reaction when life’s challenging. Sending a little love your way or feeling frustrated and sad about a difficult experience is healthy, but when self-pity lasts a long time you may feel out of control and lonely. 

Self-pity is often fuelled by those around us — if your close circle is addressing life’s challenges this way it’s more likely you will. Try creating accountability and community by learning how to stop your self-pity with people close to you.

Ask someone you trust to note when you’re showing signs of self-pity and check in on progress. This will increase the speed with which you strengthen a more positive mindset.

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Published January 20, 2023

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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