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Self-Pity and Sorrow

(By John Joseph*)

One of the best things I’ve learned in my recovery is the big difference between self-pity and sorrow. One is useful; the other isn’t. One can benefit the process of healing; the other exacerbates the problem. One is like poison and the other is more like necessary medicine—it might not taste good, but it brings health in the end. You already know which is which.

Self-pity is, of course, one of the worst indulgences a recovering person can entertain. It focuses all emotional resources on the self and its pain, abuses, maladies, and bad luck. Self-pity is the iconic “smiley face” always turned upside down. "Poor me," it says. "Nobody loves me. I’m a victim forever. Nothing good ever happens to me." Such repetitive inner messages never uplift the soul, but drive it deeper into despair.

Sorrow, on the other hand, is a necessary part of the healing process. We were victimized. We were unloved by someone, at least in the abusive moment. Abuse was something bad that happened in our past. But to focus solely on those unfortunate moments and to constantly indulge them is to empower them.

The abuse in my life was real. It did happen. But the moment I have right now doesn’t have to be wasted on feeling sorry for myself. I can, at least as an act of faith, decide that I will let sorrow over the things that happened take its proper time to lead me into productivity and acts of kindness for others.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thx. It can be challenging to recognize that being sorry that something happened to that person (you) is not the same as self-pity. It's darned fine to be sorry for that person, and to go back and hold them, or comfort them, and mourn that they had to experience that event. But it's also hard, because there is the risk of feeling that sorrow for yourself. And the whole point of burying that stuff is so that you don't have to feel it.

But it's nice to hear someone say that this is not self-pity. And it's really nice to hear it said in something other than the language of healing your inner child. Because when you're resisting feeling it's really helpful to stay away from images of child-like innocence. ha-ha.