When going through a tough time, you may find yourself on a downward spiral, looking for comfort with self-pity.
Whether you’ve been wronged by someone else or certain choices have taken you down a bad path, it’s in our nature to fixate on blaming or feeling sorry for yourself.
This pattern might feel inescapable.
Similar to a monkey swinging through a forest, grasping vine after vine, humans have a tendency to grab onto one self-pitying thought and swing to the next.
It’s not until we are deep into the dark jungle, feeling too scared to jump down, that we start looking for a way out.
To help take those steps back home, we have found 13 ways to overcome self-pity.
How do I get rid of self-pity?
What does it mean when you feel sorry for yourself and how can you stop?
When we go through a spiral, it isn’t always as easy as taking a deep breath.
That can certainly help, but many of the causes are more deeply rooted in issues of self-esteem and often anxiety.
Self-pitying can feel good a first, like hiding under the covers.
We build this mechanism for ourselves as children and often maintain it through adulthood to protect the wounded kid that we still carry with us.
We are all capable of finding better coping mechanisms for pain and loss.
This means acknowledging and thanking the protective part of yourself while asking it to step aside so that you can take action to feel better. Here are a few first steps:
How to Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself: 13 Proven Steps
1. Tune in to your body.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions fully. Like anxiety, self-pity creates a story in your mind that manifests as a sensation in your body. These stories are rarely true but are based on past experiences. Your past is not your present, and pain is not your future forever.
Your emotions often present themselves physically: tightness in your chest, numbness, tears, etc. Focus on that feeling and allow it to pass rather than trying to explain it away.
Try not to attach guilt to those sensations, because they are perfectly normal. Feelings are good, and they are a guide.
2. Be a friend to someone.
When focusing on self-pity, we get caught focusing only on ourselves. It can help to bring yourself out of the clouded brain space to be present for someone else. You may find yourself giving advice that you may need to hear yourself.
Putting yourself in someone’s shoes can help put things into perspective. You don’t have to give advice or have all the answers — just be there and listen. Sometimes, that’s the best thing you can do for yourself too.
3. Indulge your imagination.
When self-pitying thoughts cloud your brain, try putting that brainpower towards imagining a beautiful future for yourself. You still have that same ability to dream that you had as a child.
Tap into your imagination, and allow yourself to fantasize about all the fantastic things you could do and experience with your life. Don’t get bogged down by the how of it all. Instead, just let your mind weave an exciting story for yourself.
Journal about this practice and return to it when you need to.
4. Find gratitude where you are.
You have made it so far and gone through so much. You are allowed to feel anger for the tough times, the pain you’ve experienced, and for how you’ve been hurt.
Anger can be a productive and useful tool, but you shouldn’t dwell on it too long. It’s best used to motivate.
Chronic pessimism leads to oppression and repression of your emotions while motivating anger, hope, and gratitude are tools for survival and positive action.
Find strength in your accomplishments, use your anger to take action, and feel grateful for where you are and all you’ve received.
Hope isn’t lost — it finds a home within us. Self-pity can bury that hope, but if you water it with gratitude and let it bask in the sunlight, hope springs eternal.
5. Use guided meditation.
Meditation has become an increasingly common and accessible practice. Free guided meditations are available on many platforms, such as Youtube.
This practice allows you to combat anxiety and address your thoughts without dwelling or ignoring them. Try searching for “guided meditations for self-compassion” or “guided meditations for self-love” and see what you find.
When you are on a self-pity spiral, it can help to put someone else’s voice in your head to change your thinking and lead you on a positive path. You don’t have to do this on your own.
6. Ask yourself, “Is this true?”
When you experience a self pitying thought, examine the reality of it. Think to yourself: If I said this to my best friend/parent/sibling, would they agree with it?
Be your own defense attorney, and poke holes in your accusation against yourself. Try and observe your reality differently and question your perceptions. If things seem to be going terribly, then ask yourself what things are going well? If you’ve messed up, what are a few things you’ve gotten right?
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7. Give yourself time.
When you experience negative emotions, it’s okay to really feel them. Sometimes, it feels necessary to indulge these thoughts, and sometimes it can help to accept them. However, it’s important to set a boundary for how this happens.
Try setting an actual time limit on your “pity party.” Open the alarm clock on your phone, set a timer for five minutes, curl up under your covers, and have a good cry. When the timer goes off, throw off your blanket, stand up, and stretch.
Maybe give yourself a nice treat, like a cup of tea or watching an episode of your favorite TV show. When you are feeling emotionally fragile, it’s essential to take care of yourself.
8. Pay attention to early warning signs.
A spiral begins with a series of thoughts that are usually responses to a self-imposed question: Why am I like this? Why do I keep messing up?
Instead of answering these questions and sending yourself down a negative thought spiral, allow them to serve as a signal.
When your ears perk up to a negative question, replace it with a positive question.
Allow these reframed questions to motivate you to take action in a positive and productive direction.
9. Take the first step.
Self-pity often crops up when we feel like we haven’t reached our goals fast enough — or at all.
To bust through your inner angst, try breaking down large goals into smaller ones. Then break those smaller ones down even more. Make a plan for one small step you can take to feel better, achieve your goal, or begin a journey.
If you are stuck in a situation that upsets you and brings you to this place, start with the simplest thing to take yourself out of it. The first step is the most difficult, but it creates the momentum you need.
10. Make a plan for next time.
When your mind is occupied with feelings of self-pity, it isn’t easy to come up with ways to get out of it in the moment. While you are feeling clear-headed, make a plan.
If any of the steps outlined here resonate with you, write a simple step-by-step process that you can follow when you need it. That way, you won’t have to overthink it. You can just follow the steps. The process will become a habit, making it easier each time to go through.
11. Challenge yourself.
Self-pity can feel insurmountable. You might have thoughts like, “I will never be good at drawing,” or “I’m never going to be able to run a 5k.” You might believe them, and that’s okay.
So, try and make that thought a goal or a challenge: “What if I ran for five minutes every day this week, or what if I signed up for an online drawing class.”
Your negative thought could become the perfect opportunity to prove yourself wrong. It’s also totally fine to think, “I’m never going to be able to run a 5k” and reframe that thought as, “Well, I don’t love running, and it’s not my dream to run a 5k, so I’m OK with that.”
12. Speak Your Thoughts.
Whether it’s to a friend, family member, professional, or even out loud to yourself, speaking your thoughts can help you identify the mistruths and exaggerations in them.
It also forces you to articulate a particular problem, rather than following thoughts down a never-ending mental labyrinth. Locating a specific problem can help you find a working solution.
13. Write down positive affirmations.
Give yourself reminders of your positive qualities (and you have many!) by leaving little notes of positive affirmations around your house.
The affirmations trigger your brain to start the process of unwinding your tangled thoughts of self-pity and bring you back down to Earth and the reality of who you are.
When you repeat affirmations regularly, you’ll begin to loosen the grip of negative mental habits and replace them with thoughts that reflect a more positive outlook.
Is it ever ok to feel sorry for yourself?
Sometimes we need to indulge these feelings, and that’s okay. Always focusing on positive thinking can sometimes lead us to suppressing necessary emotional releases. The trick is balance.
Learn how to be productive in a way that serves you, but also understand that you aren’t defined by your productivity. You are allowed to do nothing sometimes. That’s called rest.
Everyone needs a break sometimes, even from being our efforts at being happier. However, balance is needed to prevent us from dwelling for too long.
Here are a few tools to feel sorry for yourself safely:
It’s common to hear, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” when you express genuine self-doubt. It isn’t so easy to get yourself out of that headspace. You don’t just stop.
For most people, self-compassion takes practice. Forgive yourself and be kind to yourself on the journey toward change. Take pauses to acknowledge all of your accomplishments and experiences — good and bad. They have all contributed to your growth and who you are.