Life can be hard. And yes, when it comes to self improvement sometimes situations far beyond your control can leave you feeling defeated, unhappy and frustrated. But feeling sorry for yourself has never solved anyone’s problems. Self-pity, while comforting, does not help you move forward with your life. So what exactly is self-pity? According to Merriam Webster, self pity is defined as “ pity for oneself; especially a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes.” And while focusing on all the ways the world has caused you unfair suffering might give you some initial reprieve, it won’t help you in the long run. As Melissa McCarthy so perfectly puts it in our favorite comedy Bridesmaids: “you are your problem; you’re also the solution.”
Think about it, how many times have you wasted all your energy feeling bad for yourself, to the point where you don’t have any energy left to tackle your goals? The good news is you are not alone. And the even better news is that self-pity can be eliminated. As Psychology Today reports, according to Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D., “self-pity is highly addictive, but like most addictions, it can be overcome.” He explains that while being miserable is tempting and an arguably easier reaction to hardship, “doing things to better ourselves feels better.” But how do you abandon self-pity and turn it into power? Here are 6 tips on self improvement to help you get started.
1. Stop thinking of yourself as the victim.
According to clinical psychologist and author Russell Grieger Ph.D., the power comes when you stop treating yourself like a victim of bad luck and start taking charge of your reality. He advises patients to “convince yourself that you can stand any adversity you face. You have stood every painful event from your past, you are standing it now, and you can stand it in the future.”
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2. Focus on the riches in your life.
Spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra argues that self-pity arises from feeling poor inside (as if you don’t have enough to offer), and you should instead focus on the qualities you do have. And if you don’t yet have them, make a list of the qualities you hope to gain over time. Your list might include items such as: “taking responsibility,” “feeling self-confident” and “standing up for myself.” Don’t just allow self-pity and failure to out-shadow the success and happiness in your life. He explains, “Your enemy is apathy…only action can fill your sense of lack.”
3. Find inspiration around you.
Sure, your life may be hard. But other people suffer hardships as well, and they have not only survived, but also thrived. Learn from their experiences. Gain strength from their positive energy, and set goals for your own wellbeing. Psychologist and author Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. argues that misery leads to more misery. On the flip side, “if you look with awareness, there are angels of inspiration all around to help you climb up and off that slippery slope of misery.”
4. Create a zero tolerance policy with self-pity.
This tactic for personal development might not be for everyone, but for those of us who get easily addicted to things that feel good, you might want to adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to feeling sorry for yourself. Yes, it’s easy to feel bad for yourself, and it’s even easier to get hooked on that feeling of “poor me.” If you let self-pity and negativity creep into your mind and stay there, it will be even harder to break that habit. Make a pact with yourself, and if you need outside help, enlist support from friends, family or experts to hold you to this pact.
5. Get active, and use your energy for positive change.
It’s no secret that exercise can help you get physically fit and change your body, inside and out. But what about your mind? Exercise can help with that too, according to experts. There is a strong connection between physical activity and how you feel emotionally. Michael Otto, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Boston University, explains, “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.” So what are you waiting for? When you start to feel sorry for yourself, take matters into your own hands (or feet).
6. Allow yourself to feel negative emotions, and then move on.
According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D, a leading researcher on self-compassion and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, it is important to recognize that as a human, you will be disappointed from time to time. And that’s OK. Personal development all about self-compassion (loving and accepting who you are, even when you fail), not self-esteem (feeling superior and accomplished at all times). When you practice self-compassion you allow yourself to feel negative emotions, because they give you motivation to try harder next time. But be careful not to be too harsh of a self-critic. “Self-compassion doesn’t mean wallowing in self-pity. It means always keeping your best interest at heart, and it isn’t in your best interest to stay home in PJs for an entire week.”