It has been a year like no other. Some of you have lost your job or took a major pay cut, have not left your home, turned to destructive habits, become more anxious or know someone who was sickened or succumbed to this terrible virus. So somewhere in between your next zoom meeting, take a minute to tell the world how you are feeling. Whatever your situation, there is no better time than now to feel sorry for yourself. This time, you may have a good reason.
As you vent your frustration you may feel some relief and you are likely to have a lot in common with your neighbor doing the same thing. Occasionally venting and acknowledging that your life has been far from perfect recently can be healthy. Sharing your challenges with others, on an emotional level, is a beneficial form of therapy. But like anything else in life, too much of one thing often leads to trouble.
If we let these feelings of dissatisfaction go too far, we risk slowly losing control. This constant obsession with what has gone wrong can easily lead to a perpetual state of discontent. When this occurs, you risk losing control of our life. Challenges and uncertainty are a part of any road forward, even before the start of a global pandemic. How you respond to tragedy and difficult situations is what will set you on the right path in life. One of the most devastating traits, and a common reaction to a difficult time, is the trap of falling into self-pity.
But it is this constant self-pity that does nothing more than perpetuate self-destructive tendencies and will many times prevent you from reaching your potential in life. A study published in the Journal of Personality found that with respect to personality, there was a strong association between self-pity and neuroticism, in particular depression. In addition, individuals that scored high in self-pity traits also showed generalized externality beliefs, meaning they saw themselves as governed by circumstances beyond their control.
If you believe that you are the victim—thrown into the abyss with no control—you will let uncontrollable events and other people guide you. You will relinquish control of your life. Instead, change your perception when challenges arise. When things do not go your way, embrace the events as a time to learn and grow. Immediately put the events into perspective and recognize that things could always be worse. Take control of the situation and stay away from excuses.
Try these tactics when you feel yourself on the brink of destructive self-pity.
- Talk through your problems with the right people. Choose someone you view as positive or inspiring. This will allow you to feed off their positive energy and there is a good chance your discussions will help find solutions to your problems rather than excuses.
- Avoid broadcasting your hardships. It is tempting to join the chorus on social media and search for empathy. This is not the best outlet, mostly because the feedback is not always positive and productive, and often unpredictable. Furthermore, it emboldens your role as a victim in a more public manner.
- Change how you ask tough questions in your mind. Why is this happening to me? Why doesn’t he or she like me? Why don’t I get paid enough? When we continually ask these questions, we train our minds to practice self-pity subconsciously. Instead of asking why, we should rephrase these questions in our head: How can I keep this from happening to me again? What can I do so he or she likes me more? How can I make more money? What are the next steps in righting my situation? What can I learn from this unfortunate situation?
- Verbalize Your Gratitude. When I work long stretches in the ICU, the nurses sometimes express empathy about my long hours. My response is always the same: “I am lucky to have a job, and I love my job.” The more I say those words, the more I convince myself they are true. More importantly, speaking my gratitude out loud helps prevent giving in to becoming a victim. The key is to verbalize your appreciation for what you have in life.
No matter how bad your situation is. It is your situation. You are the owner of your current state. Action, moving on, accepting reality and trying to right any wrong is the only productive option. As the challenges associated with COVID continue, it is ok to let your feelings of discontent be known, but do not let those feelings define who you are and who you strive to become.