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Pity Party Pooper

The topic of self-pity came up during Thursday’s Leadershift call. We were discussing questions that are a bridge to expanding our personal awareness. Good questions are at the heart of reflection- and reflection is a key practice of every great leader. As Mike stated on the call, “Reflection turns experience into insight.” As we’ve touched on previously- experience won’t lead to growth unless it is evaluated. This all ties together because taking the time to evaluate your experiences and break down the positives and negatives requires an intentional, set aside time to reflect. So as we ran through 10 different questions that require you to pause and actually think, Mike personally answered each question while on the call. As we reached the question “What is my least worthwhile emotion?” Mike answered for all of us: self-pity.

There are many unbeneficial emotions that I experience from time to time, such as attention-seeking, annoyance, and resentment; but self-pity truly is a worthless emotion to have. Do you know how the dictionary defines it? “Self-pity: excessive, self-absorbed unhappiness over one’s troubles.” There is nothing good in that!

Yet- how easy can it be to fall into?

Pity is good. Pity is “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.” Despite people saying- “Oh don’t pity me” or “I don’t want your pity,” pity truly is a positive and worthwhile emotion. It is self-pity that is dangerous. Eugene Peterson has great insight on the damaging impact of this emotion. In his book Earth and Alter, he says the following:

“Pity is the capacity to enter into the pain of another in order to do something about it; self-pity is an incapacity, a crippling emotional disease that severely distorts our perception of reality.

Pity discovers the need in others for love and healing and then fashions speech and action that bring strength; self-pity reduces the universe to a personal wound that is displayed as proof of significance.

Pity is adrenaline for acts of mercy; self-pity is a narcotic that leaves its addicts wasted and derelict.

Self-pity is something you must avoid, like a dangerous drug that will ruin your life.”

In my life, my husband calls this emotion my, “Woe is me.” At first it was annoying. I wanted to be left alone in my misery, able to feel how I felt without any repercussions. Feeling bad for myself and moping about how upsetting my troubles were was self-validating. However, the more my husband would call me out when my “Woe is me” aura began setting in, the more aware I became of how unbecoming and detrimental that mindset truly is. Self-pity places me at the center of everything I’m doing. Self-pity insists that I didn’t get my way and that it isn’t fair. Self-pity declares pride and entitlement and demands your time and energy.

It makes sense that Mike would conclude that self-pity is the least worthwhile emotion. See, it’s not wrong to grieve and feel burdened when trouble comes your way. That is a normal reaction of any person. I would be concerned if you didn’t experience those very real emotions. The difference is, a leader doesn’t’ sulk, despair, and wave their tragedy in the air, crying out for attention. A leader doesn’t let trouble destroy them. Rather, a leader uses that trouble as a catalyst for growth, no matter how painful it may be.