Until I was 21, most of my friends and I were in the same stage of life. Post-college, this drastically changed; I affectionately refer to these years as “the mating season.” We entered our first apartment and I naively thought it’s was going to be a continuation of college slumber parties, late-night conversations and new adventures. Little did I know, this season did hold new adventures, but it seemed like they did not include me.
Self-pity is thinking you are the only one who cares for you. When we solely use our lives as the context for how the world operates, self-pity begins to define us. Self-pity is a “self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc.” There is a healthy dose of self-concern, sadness, mourning and sorrow. However, self-pity is distinguished from the crowd of other emotions with the keyword self-indulgent.
Self-indulgence looks like this: Your roommate starts seriously dating a guy and you enter that season with her. She’s cooking for him, he’s bringing her flowers, and you’re struggling to cut a sweet potato. You start asking yourself, “Why not me? Am I not good enough for flowers? Didn’t I live here first?”
Self-pity turns into all-consuming thought.
That, my friends, is self-indulgence. To indulge is to “yield to an inclination or desire.” It’s synonymous with a Starbucks decaf-vanilla-latte-with-two-packs-of-honey-AND-whip instead of sticking a K-cup in the Keurig at home. Self-indulgence is putting what feels good on cruise control, instead of developing the discipline to tell our thoughts where to go. We indulge at Starbucks, we indulge comparisons, we indulge selfish thoughts.
The good news is that there is hope of turning a self-pity party into a more freeing, healthy way of thinking:
1. We guard our minds.
Ancient scriptures suggest that, “more than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it.” We have to learn to exercise self-control with our minds, to say, “I’m not going there!”
The fact is, circumstances will often take our minds for a ride to where self-pity resides. Therefore, we have to actively protect our thoughts. We must stop our minds from driving full-speed into the city limits of Why Me. We must acknowledge hard circumstances, then deliberately put up a roadblock to stop our thoughts from continuing. Road Closed Ahead! Do Not Enter!
Let me acknowledge that this is hard work! It’s easy to let your thoughts roam with no boundaries. It takes discipline to guard your mind. Choosing discipline is never pleasant in the moment. However, the power to choose discipline lies not with our will, but our gaze. We must see the freedom that stems from peace-of-mind as worth the discipline inherent in the fight. “Seek freedom and become captive to your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.” (Dune by Frank Herbert)
…the power to choose discipline lies not with our will, but our gaze. We must see the freedom that stems from peace-of-mind as worth the discipline inherent in the fight.
2. We enter into others’ narratives.
Science, psychology, and world religions agree: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The Science of Good Deeds discusses brain studies that show there is a “profound state of joy and delight that comes from giving to others,” through “working to cultivate a generous quality — from interacting with people.”
When we enter into the narrative of others, we put a corrective lens over the eye of the heart. We find clarity when we realize there are storylines and narratives happening all around us; some intersect with our own and some are independently lovely without us as a character. We can see that outcome of the story will be lovely, even if our story is not what we hoped it would be in the moment. I never thought I would be single through a stage of life when most of my friends were married. That would be disheartening if my narrative were the only one taking place.
Thankfully, there is hope and freedom from self-pity because we are not the center, beginning or end of our own happiness. So, how can we continue an outward-focused gaze?
3. We hope in a better narrative.
We choose to roadblock negative spirals and, instead, think on what is lovely, both in and around us. Anne Frank summed it up nicely: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” She is right! There is still beauty left all around us — the warmth of the sun, the kindness of a stranger, the millions of gifts woven throughout a day. When we think on these things, we see the narrative does not stop with us. We are reminded there is always something beyond our current experience. There is yet another chapter, and we are all partaking in a greater story.