Self-Compassion Vs. Self-Pity

There is a difference between self-compassion and self-pity. It is easy to mistaken our egocentric self-pity as justifiable when we act out and behave inappropriately. These theatrical responses are generated because we feel we are not being heard or seen, just like we yell when we think no one is listening. Anger – even sadness – both enable a sense of empowerment when we feel confused and isolated. We live in a society that demands perfection and “normalcy” that pushes us further away into isolation as we try to blend in and be like everyone else by thinking those feelings are wrong. 

However, underlying these responses is the real ‘human’ that is attempting to avoid our fears – fear of abandonment, of being mistreated or feeling hurt – and what this exposes is the irrational motivations prompted by self-pity that can place us at risk of continuing a vicious cycle. Like cigarette smoking, we start the habit because we believe it may alleviate our tensions, soon enough we become addicted that despite it hurting us believe that we cannot live without it, until finally we become sick from it.

Self-compassion is an objective awareness of our hardships and suffering, but it is also recognising that while we may feel hurt by some of our experiences and that indeed we may have been mistreated by some very bad people, we are not alone or separate from the world. We recognise that it is not our fault and that we care for ourselves enough to recognise that. When we don’t have self-compassion, we may still be aware that we are mistreated, but we still believe that some part of their mistreatment is probably true, that we deserved it, that we are ugly, or worthless. It may not show, but it shows in other ways. The relationships we end up in, the friends we have, the things that we do. Or the lack thereof. 

I have encountered covert narcissists and violent men, but they have the problem, no matter how good they are trying to make it about me. Even so, I certainly do not think every man is like that, do not generalise, do not fear, and despite developing healthy boundaries, I do not react to those few terrible experiences. Why? Because, I care about me. In the Bible, it writes, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” That means, to love others as you would love yourself. That mean, we are supposed to love ourselves. Love is to care, to have self-respect, and to not need the congratulations from those around us. To just be, and be content about it.

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Most people feel hurt, but they push it aside, they give themselves hope and motivate themselves to ‘move on’ from the pain. I think we should embrace that pain and recognise that pain is supposed to be painful and that our interpersonal relationships and friendships is supposed to be challenging. However, if we ignore the pain, we release it in all the wrong ways. Kristen Neff states that self-compassion is:

  1. Self-kindness
  2. Common humanity
  3. Mindfullness

Mindfulness is about the present and not the past. It is about having the courage to be accountable and accept that you can make some mistakes, sometimes that mistake itself is believing that maybe you are worthless. It is about being conscious of ourselves and that, yes, we can make mistakes, but that we can improve and change, something self-pity can blind us from realising. Feeling broken is hard to admit because we do not want to feel vulnerable and emotional.

Self-compassion is about treating yourself like a human, like you would a best friend, tolerant of a person who is flawed and vulnerable. When one speaks about how they are feeling, such exposure of their vulnerabilities and fears leaves them weak, sensitive and anxious rather than relieved. It is courageous to be open about how you are feeling. Courage is the outcome of experiencing fear, sensitivity and weakness and doing what you can to overcome it.