Along with “Don’t be a victim,” “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” is one of those often-repeated declarations that most of us agree with.
In some ways, it makes sense. Constantly seeing ourselves as victims and/or wallowing in self pity is seldom helpful. Indeed, I’ve done that more times than I care to admit. However, there have also been times when I have been so concerned that people would see me as feeling sorry for myself that I decided to put whatever it was behind me and charge forward.
While many people applauded me for being “strong” and “dignified,” no one applauded me as much as I applauded myself in private. Granted, I didn’t use that word. However, there was just one problem: I wasn’t really over what had hurt me.
The hurt was still very much there, but I was too ashamed to acknowledge it or heaven forbid, let it come to the surface, lest I start feeling bad over what happened. After experiencing a major depressive episode in my 20s that led to me being prescribed medication, I also sought therapy. While there’s no denying that genetics played a role in my depression, there’s also no denying that my inability to acknowledge past trauma contributed just as much, if not more.
As one therapist put it: “You never gave yourself permission to feel sorry for yourself when you should have.”
Her words struck me. Like many things that are difficult to hear, my first response was denial. However, I eventually came to see that she was right.
As parents and caregivers, one of the traits that most of us try to cultivate in children is empathy. If a friend were going through a bad break-up, a sudden job loss, or death, the vast majority of us would feel empathy for them or at the very least try to.
However, when it comes to ourselves, many of us do not. In fact, I’ve even heard it said, “I can’t feel sorry for myself. Others have survived worse.”
That may be true. Compared to, say, surviving genocide, a break-up or the death of a single loved one may seem small in comparison. However, that doesn’t make the our traumatic or sad experiences unimportant. It also doesn’t make us whiny, attention-seeking, or overly dramatic if we chose to express our pain to others. (Indeed, I’ve found that sharing my experiences with supportive people actually makes it far easier to move on.)
While it may not be easy, it’s time to stop saying, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” on autopilot. There’s a time and place to feel sorry for ourselves and it’s not only okay, but totally appropriate.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Evan Yerburgh