What to Do When You’re Feeling Sorry for Yourself

No one wants to feel sorry for themselves. It’s got a pretty bad rap. I mean, who wants to wallow in self-pity, or stay stuck in the victim role, or dwell on the past?

Yet we do feel sorry for ourselves, and for good reason. People wrong us. We get hurt. Things don’t go as we wish they would. It’s hard, being a person. It really is, for everyone.

When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, there’s something you’re after, something you genuinely need. Want to find out how to get it? All you need to start is a memory of someone or some situation that has really done you wrong. Got one? Awesome! Click play to learn what to do next…

I’d love to hear what you think? Let me know below how you think this might be useful in your life.

View Video Transcript
What to Do When You’re Feeling Sorry for Yourself
Steve Bearman
August 11, 2014

Think of someone who has hurt you or wronged you in some way, abandoned you or rejected you or betrayed you or let you down and think about the effect that had on you, the kind of difficulty or challenge that it imposed on you, the suffering that you experienced as a result and now I want you to imagine that that person comes to you and apologizes to you, exactly the kind of apology you most wish you could hear, the kind of apology where they really get the impact that they had on you, they can tell you that they imagine how hard it’s been for you the thing that they did and they really empathize with your experience. Imagine they have given you this apology and, as a result, in some way you feel met, you feel understood. The ways that you’ve been recognized in by the person who’s most involved in the experience of the hurt with you: The person who hurt you. It’s so nice to receive an apology like that. It feels so good. It completes something. It’s like the effects of having been hurt or wronged stay with you and the apology completes something. The simple act of being met and empathized with and understood in the experience that you’re having completes it. It doesn’t mean that the past didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have effects but it brings you into the present moment instead of continuing to dwell in the past where you simply have to ask the question, “Okay, what now?” “That happened, what now?” Unfortunately it’s far too rare to receive those kinds of ideal apologies from the people who have hurt us. They’re just not available for that and so in the absence of those apologies we may sometimes find ourselves instead of the other person telling us that they’re sorry feeling sorry for ourselves. Feeling sorry for ourselves has gotten a bad reputation, [laughs] why? Because there’s a way that feeling sorry for yourself can be about an experience of self-pity. It can be an experience of dwelling in the past in a state of victimhood in which you sense that something terrible was done to you or where you feel entitled to have the world treat you better than it did. That quality of self-pity causes us to potentially wallow indefinitely in this space of suffering. So it’s not helpful and so of course people say, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself” but, in actuality, in the moments where you’re feeling sorry for yourself, what you need to recognize is [laughs] that you are feeling sorry because you need an apology and the best person to give you that apology is you. You don’t need the other person at all. You can completely eliminate the middle man. If you feel sorry for yourself and somebody else has done something to you or hurt or wronged you in some way, you can give yourself the kind of apology you most wish you could get. So for instance I might say to myself something like I would say to me if I was a younger version of me and I was holding me in my lap or in my arms and being sweet with myself, I might say, “Steve I’m so sorry that she rejected you, that was really hard, you really wanted to be close to her and she didn’t want that and it sucks. It really feels bad. I’m really sorry that that happened” or I might say, “I’m sorry that he hurt you. He really didn’t get what an impact it was that he had on you and the things that he said, the rumor that he spread about you really has made you feel scared and more alone in the world and I’m sorry that you’ve had to feel that way.” It’s [laughs] very satisfying to have that kind of empathy even though I’m the one who just gave it to myself and I’m the perfect one to give it to myself more than the other person who in some way may have hurt or wronged me I really get what it’s like for me. I can give myself the perfect kind of empathy. Now of course when I’m feeling sorry for myself it may not be about anybody else at all. In fact far more often it’s simply about circumstances that no one else had anything to do with. I may be suffering because I failed the test because I am in some kind of chronic pain that I wish I didn’t have to be in that’s really hard for me or because I planned a beautiful party on a sunny day and it turned out to rain on my party, all right? Any number of things could happen for which there is no one to blame. Maybe I would blame myself. Maybe I would blame the world but really there is no specific person out there to blame and I may feel sorry for myself and all that means is it’s an indicator that I could use some empathy because apologies, when they’re well-done, create empathy and so in those moments I can do the very same thing. I can say to myself, “I’m really sorry that you failed, you know? You worked hard for that and it didn’t work out and now you have to start all over again, whhhhhoah, whoa,” you know, or I might say, “I’m sorry that you’re in so much pain and not only that but it’s kind of invisible and so many people around you take for granted not being in pain, they’re just unaware of how great their bodies feel and you have this extra thing you have to contend with and it makes everything harder and nobody gets it and you feel alone with it and I’m sorry that you have to feel that or “gosh, you really wanted that party to be a sunny experience and it was wet and rainy and cold instead and I’m sorry.” Simple apology that I am giving to myself because I noticed that I was feeling sorry for myself because I noticed I was feeling sorry for myself and when I give myself that kind of empathy I can simply accept that what happened happened. It’s not how I wish it was. It’s not ideal but it is what it is and it allows me to get to the place where I can say, “All right that happened, what now?” Feeling sorry for yourself does not have to be about wallowing in the past. It can simply be an indicator that you are in need of some empathy and you are the very best person to give that for yourself and so just know if you feel sorry for yourself it means [laughs] apologize to yourself. That’s all that’s required of you and it allows you to move on. You can do this of course for other people, too. It’s not that you necessarily have to apologize to them but do note that when you apologize to other people there’s a fundamental similarity between saying, “I’m sorry I hurt you by criticizing you so badly” and saying, “I’m sorry that your mom died.” Even one of them is something I did and the other is something I had nothing to do with in both cases I’m just giving empathy about what the experience is like for you of having you criticized, which hurts or having your mom die, which I imagine for me would feel like an incredible loss, like an amputation. I’m offering that empathy to somebody else, whether I did something or not. That’s the value and the beauty of apologies so when someone else is feeling sorry for themselves you can start off by offering them the apology many wish they could receive from somebody and then helping them to give themselves that apology because it is after all themselves that they feel sorry for. So the lost art of feeling sorry for [laughs] yourself involves apologizing to yourself when you can tell that you need the empathy. It’s a great way to love yourself.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.