By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Everyone has felt desperately alone at some point in their lives. Especially at those times, it is easy to get mired down in self-pity. These feelings can be paralyzing. When you feel this way, the best antidote is to remind yourself that others share your experiences.
What I’m suggesting is not that old adage of “misery loves company” in the sense that you will feel better knowing that others are miserable, too. This implies that you want others to suffer. Instead, reminding yourself that others have similar struggles is a way for you to feel more like you belong to a greater humanity. Rather than feeling inadequate or flawed, seeing others as similar to you can validate your humanity. It can help you feel whole and acceptable – even with your struggles.
Unfortunately, self-pity can be a quagmire that sucks you down. If you need a branch to grab onto so you can pull yourself out, consider doing the following:
Acknowledge your emotional pain: People often try to deny their pain, which prevents them from being able to address it. Sometimes they are successful in keeping their distress from their awareness, but then they feel confused when the building intensity of it finally blindsides them. So, as painful as it can be, it is still best to acknowledge your distress.
Think of others who have had similar struggles: Whatever your struggles, you are not alone. Turn your focus to others who have similar problems. Allow yourself to feel compassion for them. If this does not come naturally, get to know their stories and to understand what their lives feel like from within their experiences. This will help you to feel compassionate. It often helps to imagine how you would respond to a close friend with similar struggles.
Be compassionate to your own struggles: Once you can feel compassion for others with similar struggles, acknowledge to yourself that you deserve the same compassion. Doing this can be an elusive experience. So be persistent. When you find that you’ve wandered from having self-compassion to being self-critical, note this and redirect yourself back to the self-compassion. If this is too difficult to do, refocus on the compassion you feel for others and then eventually make your way back to self-compassion.
With self-compassion, you can focus more on understanding your pain and feel motivated to ease it. You will want to pull out of self-pity. And so self-compassion is a highly effective tool to help you feel better and to move your life in a positive direction.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.