Grief vs. Self-Pity

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Copyright 2007-2018


There is a difference between self-pity and grief.  It’s just not always easy to figure it out when you’re in the throes of emotion.

Last year someone asked me to describe the difference between grief and self-pity. Not that self-pity is necessarily wrong, but too much of it will keep you VERY VERY stuck.

Listen to your words, listen to your actions. Are you grieving and saying “I hurt and this sucks”? or are you saying “Look at what you did TO ME.” Therein lies the difference.

Grieving over a loss involves some self-pity because we have to love ourselves enough to soothe ourselves and say “There, there, you hurt and it’s hard.” the same way we would if our best friend was feeling hurt and alone.

We cry and it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to feel some amount of self-pity when you cry. But there are healing tears and hollow tears. Self-pity alone leads to hollow tears that don’t really cleanse the soul and help heal the heart. Grief work, even if it involves self-pity, leads to healing tears.

The core issue in grief work is “I am alone. I am never going to have X again. My life has changed and I hate it.” It’s a very self-centered type of work because you have been deeply wounded. Some, again SOME, self-pity and self-absorption is normal and natural. You’ve been hurt. You hurt. You have to feel sorry for yourself in some way. It’s okay.

But avoid blame and recriminations toward the ex, “I only tried to love you and you did this to me!” That REEKS of self-pity. When the message is “I am wonderful and you stomped on me.” it is FINE when you are using that statement to take back your power, to realize the ex HURT you and this isn’t someone you want in your life.

It is NOT okay when the statement is being said in a “poor me, I was so good to you and you screwed me” kind of way. It’s not okay when you are saying, “The ex and the courts and the new girlfriend/boyfriend are treating me like crap.” and you’re not doing anything about it. Put boundaries in place. Stop blaming people, places and things for your predictament. Learn to take back your power and your dignity.

Stop saying “S/he did this….” and start saying, “I allowed this…….” and then IMMEDIATELY affirm that you are not allowing it again.

LISTEN TO YOUR SELF TALK. How much begins with “YOU DID THIS TO ME”? Are you being a martyr? Are you sitting around wringing your hands and wondering why all of this is happening to you? Wonder no more. Do your journaling, do your inventories, DIG INTO YOUR LIFE and figure out what is going wrong and why it goes wrong again and again.

Life is NOT what happens to you, it’s what you make happen. Your ex and you did not have this screwy relationship simply because your ex is an F-up or a sadistic bastard or bastette. NO,you had some part in all of this. You picked this loser. Why? You have to change the things you CAN and that is YOU. And you will never change you so long as you sit around feeling sorry for yourself and wishing you would just be strong enough to be done with it.

Self-pity will keep you a victim. Self-pity will keep you from taking charge of your life. Self-pity continues to give your ex power and control over your life. Power and control the ex does not deserve.

Take back your power.

Much grief work can feel like “oh woe is me” but it’s not just that. Yes you have to recognize you have been hurt. Yes, you have to feel bad about that, but in an empowering way, NOT in a victim way. In a way that says “I’m never allowing this again.” In a way that says, “I’ve learned my lesson.” Not in a way that say “Why why why?”

You also have to work through all the emotions, the anger, the pain, the guilt, the sense of betrayal and change. It’s exhausting and sometimes we are having mental and emotional temper tantrums and might even think “Why is this happening to ME???” It’s all part of the emotional spectrum of grief.

Doing grief work is much like having a bad toothache…YOUR pain is all you can think about…and becomes very all-encompassing. It’s about “*I* hurt” and sometimes we can and do feel sorry for ourselves in the process. why me why me why me is part of it. BUT A TINY FLEETING PART OF IT. Don’t dwell there. Don’t get stuck there.

Keep reminding yourself that you can do this. Keep telling yourself you WILL get beyond this. Keep telling yourself you are strong and powerful and fabulous and you can and you WILL move beyond all this.

Self-pity is part of the process. The important thing is that it’s not the only part of the process.

It’s hard and it hurts.

Cry…let it out…whether it is because you are alone and you feel sorry for yourself or because you miss this person or this situation (ie marriage).

Just make sure that self-pity is one of many states that you are experiencing…not the only one.

And like all of them: this too shall pass.

Copyright 2017 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
I Teach What I Know. I Have The Degrees, but I Have The EXPERIENCE and I don’t ask anyone to do anything I have not done.”

All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author

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