Why Do We Enjoy Feeling Sorry For Ourselves?

Pity party of one, please.
Do you have pity parties by yourself?
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Do you have pity parties by yourself?

I’m due for a cry. I know that, because every inconvenience I’ve experienced which would normally send me into a quick burst of tears, I’ve sucked up and delayed for a more satisfying breakdown later on. Tears in arrears, as one social media user dubbed it.

So at a more convenient time, I will put on that one sad song, I’ll get my journal out and and let my sadness build into a crescendo that will end in a puddle. But it’s okay, I’m okay. It’s all catharsis. Once I’m done, I’ll let the sadness go. Until the next time, at least.

So why does it feel good to go through the motions and let yourself feel all the feels from time to time? And does it ever run the risk of becoming a bit damaging?

If I had regular breakdowns, for example, I can’t imagine that being healthy. (Also, it has to be noted that these pity parties I hold for myself coincide with my periods, go figure).

We spoke to Lee Chambers, a psychologist and wellbeing consultant, to ask why we (sometimes) enjoy feeling sorry for ourselves – just a little bit.

“Feeling self-pity is human,” Chambers tells HuffPost UK, “and one of the range of emotions that we experience. It is normal, and can actually feel good when we feel sorry for ourselves when times are challenging.”

Sitting with the emotion of self-pity can feel good, because it enables us to withdraw when things don’t go our way and pass up ownership of the issue.

And while some people like to throw these pity parties in solitude, others like to wallow in company, which can help “validate us as a victim in the situation”.

“This feels like permission to blame someone or something else for the circumstances, and others are likely to validate your wallowing by asking you about it,” Chambers explains.

“This gives us attention and has others giving us their concern, which makes us feel that they care. It also gives us a platform to indulge in comfortable behaviours like eating, hiding away and listening to sad songs. All these factors come together to make self-pity an attractive place to be when it feels like the world is against you.”

Just as with any feel-good behaviours, it can become a little too appealing and make you want to keep doing it. But, ultimately that hinders your progress and ability to move on, says Chambers.

Because of this, it’s important to process where this desire for self-pity is coming from, and to address the underlying situation.

There’s a balance to be struck between giving yourself a break, and making sure your underlying needs are actually met.

“One of the best ways to counter it becoming an issue is to become more self-compassionate and be able to have moments of self-pity, but then move back into a place of acceptance and action,” Chambers explains.

“It also helps to find prompts that remind you that it is a shared human experience and we all feel this way sometimes, can empower you to see things from a wider perspective and move through it.”

Self-pity can be helpful in the moment, but when it pulls you back into past events, it stops you from being truly present and appreciating the here and now.

This is why Chambers recommends practicing mindfulness if you think self-pity is getting out of hand. Classic exercises include noting five things you can see in a certain colour, or seeing how many sounds you can hear around you.

“Finally, practising gratitude can help you feel more settled and less like to feel like a victim, and also helps us to see more positivity,” says Chambers. “And while we might want to hide under the duvet, so often self-pity makes us look at the problems, when we have the power to start looking for the solutions.”