“Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.” – Maya Angelou
The other day on the carpool home from school, my daughter teed off when her friend said something about being called on in class. “I never get called on in class!” and “I never get to say my ideas!”
Self-pity is the emotion that I have the most trouble with. I think the idea that we should never feel or express self-pity was inculcated in me from an early age. My memory is that it was communicated in statements like “You can join us again when you are feeling more positive.” Or “Can I join the pity party?” or “Toughen up, Buttercup.”
So I think I came by my intolerance of self-pity in myself or others honestly from probably generations of family habits. But a little self-reflection shows me that the complete shutdown in my ability to listen and feel when self-pity appears is neither the person or parent I want to be.
I was mulling this over when I heard a Ten Percent Happier podcast with therapist Dr. Jacob Ham that helped clarify the underlying question. In the course of the conversation the topic of whether you have to love yourself to love another came up. Dr. Ham’s answer was it depends – “It depends if your fear is so great that it inhibits connection to yourself or another.”
While my natural inclination is not to name the feeling as fear, it gets at the heart of the question of solving things in ourselves so they don’t hinder our connection to others. I still have trouble thinking of self-pity as anything useful – but I also know my resistance tells me that it’s inhibiting the Flow of life somewhere and it’s worth a look.
In the car when I was listening to my daughter’s complaints, I could relate that I often see a skewed version of events when I’m tired or not feeling well. In my daughter’s case, I think she was both tired and hungry so I asked if we could come back to it after we filled her tank.
She said it was frustrating not to feel seen at times but after acknowledging that, we made a list of things she wants to do so that she can speak up about her ideas like raising her hand more enthusiastically. We’ll see if it works but I’m just grateful that I held on long enough to participate in the conversation.
(featured photo from Pexels)