No One Left To Whine To: On Self-Pity

Self pityThis month I've been focusing on eliminating my bouts of self-pity while noticing it more in others (especially white Trump supporters--a tautology, does he have any nonwhite supporters?--and pretty much everyone on Twitter).

Self-pity goes with self-indulgence, so reducing one cuts down on the other. 

Today a month-old New York Times article on microcomplaining popped up in my Facebook feed. It describes how social media encourages complaining from people who want attention but have little room to gripe: 

"The victim now appeals for support from third parties while 'emphasizing one’s own oppression,' often through social media. So pervasive is this sentiment that it breeds 'competitive victimhood,' infecting even those who have relatively little standing to cite their persecution — for instance, white people who bring up reverse racism, or various Fox News broadcasters."

Self-Pity in Literature

Reading about the absurdity and uselessness of self-pity is a useful antidote to the feeling.

The D.H. Lawrence poem "Self-Pity" nails it:

"I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself."

D.H. Lawrence self-pity quote tattoo

Goodreads has a bunch of other good quotes on self-pity. This comes from Tom Robbins' Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates:

"Now, unless someone stronger and wiser...can josh us out of it, can elevate us and show us how petty and pompous and monumentally useless it is to take ourselves so seriously, then depression can become a habit, which, in tern, can produce a neurological imprint. Are you with me? Gradually, our brain chemistry becomes conditioned to react to negative stimuli in a particular, predictable way. One thing'll go wrong and it'll automatically switch on its blender and mix us that black cocktail, the ol' doomsday daiquiri, and before we know it, we're soused to the gills from the inside out. Once depression has become electrochemically integrated, it can be extremely difficult to philosophically or psychologically override it; by then it's playing by physical rules, a whole different ball game. That's why Switters my dearest, every time you've shown signs of feeling sorry for yourself, I've played my blues records really loud or read to you from The Horse's Mouth. And that's why when you've exhibited the slightest tendency toward self-importance, I've reminded you that you and me - you and I: excuse me - may be every bit as important as the President or the pope or the biggest prime-time icon in Hollywood, but none of us is much more than a pimple on the ass-end of creation, so let's not get carried away with ourselves. Preventive medicine, boy. It's preventive medicine...Self-esteem is for sissies. Accept that you're a pimple and try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace - and maybe even glory.”

And here's Eckhart Tolle (from A New Earth): 

"The ego does not want an end to its 'problems' because they are part of its identity. If no one will listen to my sad story, I can tell it to myself in my head, over and over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God. It gives definition to my self-image, makes me into someone, and that is all that matters to the ego."

From the great Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending:

"In my terms, I settled for the realities of life, and submitted to its necessities: if this, then that, and so the years passed. In Adrian's terms, I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came. And so, for the first time, I began to feel a more general remorse - a feeling somewhere between self-pity and self-hatred - about my whole life. All of it. I had lost the friends of my youth. I had lost the love of my wife. I had abandoned the ambitions I had entertained. I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded - and how pitiful that was."

And John Gardner:

"Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality."

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