The Path to No Path

Self-pity

For many years, I used to occasionally dream that I was in hospital, being taken care of. I somehow felt in the dream that I needed this support. The dream was a call for help, a sort of self-pitying “poor, poor me”.

The New Oxford Dictionary of English gives one definition of pity as: 'the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the sufferings and misfortunes of others', but this is incorrect: to pity somebody is to look down on them, seeing them as inferior and somehow hopeless; pity is certainly not the same as compassion, which is to feel with the other as if the other's troubles are your own (though without identifying with them). In compassion, you are on equal terms with the other; in pity, you consider yourself superior.

Of course, pity carries within it the seed of hatred. I only pity myself because I consider that I am not good enough.

Feeling compassion for oneself is quite different. It is a phase I went through some time after starting in therapy, and it was an acknowledgement that I had indeed suffered greatly in the past, and that I still continued to suffer, and that it was OK to acknowledge the suffering, that I didn’t need to flee from it any more. This is being a good, supportive friend to oneself, like a crutch that helps one to walk while one's broken leg is in a plaster cast.

Self-pity is quite different – it is the attitude that deep down I really am not good enough, that I should 'pull myself together', and that I shouldn't be the way I am – all this with the pretence of caring.

Self-pity is like using crutches when my legs are perfectly capable of supporting me unaided, and at the same time blaming myself for using them.

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If you should wish to contact me about anything you have read here, especially if you feel strongly for or against what you have read, or if you feel that something is missing, I offer you an opportunity to share.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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