Self pity mostly has a negative effect on us, but there is one positive aspect to consider. Even in this world, God hears our sighs, and they have an effect on the world:
Every drop of blood shed by the valiant martyrs, every sigh heaved by the silent victims of oppression, every supplication for divine assistance offered by the faithful, has released, and will continue mysteriously to release, forces over which no antagonist of the Faith has any control, and which, as marshalled by an All-Watchful Providence, have served to noise abroad the name and fame of the Faith to the masses of humanity in all continents. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 167)
As for the negative effects . . .
1. Inferiority Complex: It can lead to an inferiority complex. Self pity keeps you from believing in yourself, God or others. You can’t be the light of the world hiding behind your self when you say things like: “When I’m not depressed, then I’ll help someone”. The Bábi’s didn’t have time for self pity because they were off teaching the Faith and making a difference. Bahá’u’lláh tells us:
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 72
2. Unworthiness: Self pity results in a sense of unrecognized worthiness. For example, when I was first dealing with the fallout from childhood abuse, I believed I was a “worthless piece of s**t” and refused to believe the Words of God, which said I was “created noble” and was a “mine rich in gems of inestimable value”. Rather than face it, acknowledge it, take responsibility for it, ask God for forgiveness for it (which is what God wants for us), I retreated into it.
We have set forth the whole matter before thee, that perchance thou might realize what thou hast done, might desist from inflicting on others the hurt thou hast inflicted on Us, and might be of them that have truly repented to God, Who created thee and created all things, and might act with discernment in the future. Better is this for thee than all thou dost possess, than thy ministry whose days are numbered. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 229)
The truth is, we are all unworthy:
I confess, O my God, that whatever proceedeth from me is wholly unworthy of Thy sovereignty and falleth short of Thy majesty. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 81)
But we can’t let these feelings stop us from moving forward:
If the friends always waited until they were fully qualified to do any particular task, the work of the Cause would be almost at a standstill! But the very act of striving to serve, however unworthy one may feel, attracts the blessings of God and enables one to become more fitted for the task. (Shoghi Effendi, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 3)
We can turn to God, confident of His love and forgiveness, by using these prayers:
I beseech Thee . . . to give me to drink of the wine of Thy mercy and of the pure beverage of Thy favor, which have streamed forth from the right hand of Thy will, that I may so fix my gaze upon Thee and be so detached from all else but Thee, that the world and all that hath been created therein may appear before me as a fleeting day which Thou hast not deigned to create. I moreover entreat Thee, O my God, to rain down, from the heaven of Thy will and the clouds of Thy mercy, that which will cleanse us from the noisome savors of our transgressions, O Thou Who hast called Thyself the God of Mercy! Thou art, verily, the Most Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 81-82)
I implore Thee, O Thou Fashioner of the nations and the King of eternity, to guard Thy handmaidens within the tabernacle of Thy chastity, and to cancel such of their deeds as are unworthy of Thy days. Purge out, then, from them, O my God, all doubts and idle fancies, and sanctify them from whatsoever becometh not their kinship with Thee, O Thou Who art the Lord of names, and the Source of utterance. Thou art He in Whose grasp are the reins of the entire creation. No God is there but Thee, the Almighty, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, the Self-Subsisting. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 231)
Another way unworthiness manifests itself is this: Perhaps you know that you have done something worthy of recognition, either from just being you; or from some accomplishment, and you feel sorry for yourself when someone didn’t treat you as a noble being, or as a “mine rich in gems of inestimable value”. For example, some of my self pity came when my mother didn’t attend an awards banquet in which I won 5 major awards, or when my father didn’t come to my wedding. I wanted them there to witness my triumph and believed their lack of presence meant my victory didn’t mean anything to them. Not only did this keep me in self pity, believing my accomplishments didn’t matter, it also kept me bitter and unforgiving for decades. If only I had known and understood these quotes then, I could have saved myself many years of self pity!
The indifference and scorn of the world matters not at all, whereas your lives will be of the greatest importance. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 118)
To be approved of God alone should be one’s aim. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)
. . . at all times seeking the approval of men is many times the cause of imperiling the approval of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, June 24, 1915)
3. As a way to get attention: Sometimes people get sick and are grateful because people pay attention to them. When others call to see how you are doing, you have someone to complain to. Self pity is the greatest codependency-making disease in the world because it plays on the love of other people. But those mired in it, don’t want your love or friendship. They just want someone to complain to: “misery loves company”, and if you don’t cater to it, you’ll be on the “hit list” or worse, labeled “evil”.
There are a lot of sick people trying to serve God, suggesting that somehow their suffering is noble: “It’s such a small thing to suffer for Bahá’u’lláh”. They have a martyr-complex. There’s a difference between true martyrs (who lay down their lives with joy) and false martyrs (who use their disease to gain sympathy, and who draw attention to themselves).
Souls have appeared in the world who were pure and undefiled, who have directed their attention toward God, seeking the reward of God, attaining nearness to the threshold of God, acceptable in the good pleasure of God. They have been the lights of guidance and stars of the Supreme Concourse. Consider these souls, shining like stars in the horizon of sanctity forevermore. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)
But wouldn’t it be easier to serve God if you were well? God wants you to be healthy, and to take care of your health (physical, mental and spiritual), so there is no room left for self-pity:
You should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body — is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer meditation, but for real rest and relaxation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)
If you truly believe that God gave you whatever is causing you to feel sorry for yourself, and that you’re using your suffering for His Glory, then what incentive would there be to get well? What reason would you have for going to a doctor? It would be like me offering you a glass of water and you declining it, saying you’d rather die of thirst.
4. Separates you: Self pity separates you from God, yourself and others, and makes it impossible for you to take nourishment from the Writings:
Souls are liable to estrangement. Such methods should be adopted that the estrangement should be first removed, then the Word will have effect. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 385)
5. Traps you deep inside the prison of self, and what a horrible place that is to be! Only by using our wills, will be will able to receive God’s confirmations.
The afflictions which come to humanity sometimes tend to centre the consciousness upon the limitations, and this is a veritable prison. Release comes by making of the will a Door through which the confirmations of the Spirit come. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 120)
6. Paralyzes you into inaction: Self pity paralyzes thoughts and feelings and actions in the world and keeps you stuck. ‘Abdul-Bahá tells us at great length, the reality of who we are, and then asks us why we’re wallowing:
O ye roses in the garden of God’s love! O ye bright lamps in the assemblage of His knowledge! May the soft breathings of God pass over you, may the Glory of God illumine the horizon of your hearts. Ye are the waves of the deep sea of knowledge, ye are the massed armies on the plains of certitude, ye are the stars in the skies of God’s compassion, ye are the stones that put the people of perdition to flight, ye are clouds of divine pity over the gardens of life, ye are the abundant grace of God’s oneness that is shed upon the essences of all created things. On the outspread tablet of this world, ye are the verses of His singleness; and atop lofty palace towers, ye are the banners of the Lord. In His bowers are ye the blossoms and sweet-smelling herbs, in the rose garden of the spirit the nightingales that utter plaintive cries. Ye are the birds that soar upward into the firmament of knowledge, the royal falcons on the wrist of God. Why then are ye quenched, why silent, why leaden and dull? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
7. Looking elsewhere for healing: People who are full of self-pity turn everywhere else for healing, never looking at the Word of God.
They are even as dead and lifeless, except him whom thy Lord, the Almighty, the Unconstrained, hath willed to exempt. Such a one is indeed of those endued with knowledge in the sight of Him Who is the All-Knowing. (Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 76)
But without reading and understanding the Word of God, we’ll never be successful:
Not until thou hast grasped the mysteries concealed in that which We shall relate unto thee canst thou hope to attain to the stations of faith and certitude in the Cause of God. (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 5)
8. Keeps you feeling negative: Self pity is very powerful and contagious. You become what you think, so if you “dwell on the unpleasant things of life”, that will be all you see.
He strongly urges you not to dwell on yourself. Each one of us, if we look into our failures, is sure to feel unworthy and despondent, and this feeling only frustrates our constructive efforts and wastes time. The thing for us to focus on is the glory of the Cause and the Power of Bahá’u’lláh which can make of a mere drop a surging sea! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
9. Blame: One of the ingredients of self pity is refusing to take responsibility and blaming external sources.
It behoveth you, therefore, to attach blame to no one except to yourselves, for the things ye have committed, if ye but judge fairly. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 222-223)
10. Takes others down with them: Those who are indulging in self-pity don’t want to solve anything. They want to draw you down with them. Here’s a story of how that works:
The black-hearted scoundrel who befooled and manipulated this vain and flaccid man with consummate skill and unyielding persistence was a certain Siyyid Muhammad, a native of Isfahan, notorious for his inordinate ambition, his blind obstinacy and uncontrollable jealousy. To him Bahá’u’lláh had later referred in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas as the one who had “led astray” Mirza Yahya, and stigmatized him, in one of His Tablets, as the “source of envy and the quintessence of mischief,” while ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had described the relationship existing between these two as that of “the sucking child” to the “much-prized breast” of its mother. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 112-113)
Other people want to help when they see someone suffering, but you can never do enough to satisfy them. They never seem to listen when we point out what’s right in their lives, and just how much the positive out-balances the negative. They don’t want to acknowledge this because then they’d no longer have a reason to feel bad for themselves.
For example, I used to be numb to love. I had over 20 pages of testimonials from grateful recipients of services I’ve rendered, and it all meant nothing. I’d collect them, read them over when I was down, and didn’t believe any of them. I was so unhappy and felt so unworthy of love because I believed my mother when she said 50 year ago “I wish she’d never been born” and I’d spend the rest of my life collecting evidence that I didn’t matter to anyone. Because I never felt my parent’s approval, I could never be happy about my accomplishments or the positive things in my life. As long as I felt distant from God’s love, I was unable to love myself or receive the love from others, although I desperately craved it.
Here’s something to consider when trying to help others:
It is not merely material well- being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives — they need to know who they are’, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act towards one another; and, once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to every-day behavior. It is to the solution of this basic problem of mankind that the greater part of all our energy and resources should be directed. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 122)
11. Martyr complex: Sometimes people with self pity have a martyr-complex, but it’s rooted in self and not in true martyrdom:
The martyr’s field is the place of detachment from self, that the anthems of eternity may be upraised. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)
True martyrs are moved by God, not motivated by self:
Since the beginning of the Cause, there have been at least ten thousand men who went with gladness to suffer martyrdom, and people who saw them suffering this martyrdom thought it was through their own power, and did not know that a breeze had shaken them. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 499-500)
Shoghi Effendi is quite clear that we shouldn’t try to take on the suffering of others:
We cannot bear the burden of suffering of others, and we should not try to. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)
God is not calling most of us to be martyrs. He’s calling us to defeat self pity as we resolve the severe mental tests He sends for the perfection of our souls.
No matter how long the period that separates them from ultimate victory; however arduous the task; however formidable the exertions demanded of them; however dark the days which mankind, perplexed and sorely-tried, must, in its hour of travail, traverse; however severe the tests with which they who are to redeem its fortunes will be confronted; however afflictive the darts which their present enemies, as well as those whom Providence, will, through His mysterious dispensations raise up from within or from without, may rain upon them . . . I adjure them, as this solemn hour draws nigh, to resolve never to flinch, never to hesitate, never to relax, until each and every objective in the Plans to be proclaimed, at a later date, has been fully consummated. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 145)
12. Burden: Self pity is a heavy weight to carry. God understands our burdens and asks us to rise above them for a greater purpose:
Burden not your souls so as to cause exhaustion and weigh them down, but rather endeavour to lighten them, that they may soar on the wings of revealed Verses unto the dawning-place of His signs. This is conducive to nearer access unto God, were ye to comprehend. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 225)
I am fully aware of the sacrifices you have already made, and realize the urgent need of allaying the burden which weighs so heavily on some of the poor and distressed believers. But I realize also the uniqueness of the opportunity which it is our privilege to seize and utilize. The world is watching the progress of our Faith and the steady expansion of our institutions. (Shoghi Effendi, Extracts from the USBN)
What other effects can you think of? Post your comments here:
Other articles in this series: