Though no one wants to admit to it, we all have self-pity to some degree; some more than others, some less than others. So what is it? How do we know we have it? Where does it come from? How does it affect us and others? What does God think about it? Why should we try to overcome it and how do we do it? These are all some of the questions we will answer in this new series of blog postings. So let’s start by looking at what it is.
Fist of all, we need to know that self pity is not the same as depression and grief and sadness, but if not dealt with, all of those can lead to self pity. God knows how easy it is for us to stay stuck in grief and sadness, which is why He tells us to “sorrow not”:
Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69).
And “grieve not”:
When the winds blow severely, rains fall fiercely, the lightning flashes, the thunder roars, the bolt descends and storms of trial become severe, grieve not; for after this storm, verily, the divine spring will arrive, the hills and fields will become verdant, the expanses of grain will joyfully wave, the earth will become covered with blossoms, the trees will be clothed with green garments and adorned with blossoms and fruits. Thus blessings become manifest in all countries. These favors are results of those storms and hurricanes. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 394)
Grieve not at the divine trials. Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty. Verily thy Lord loveth His maidservants who are patient, believing and firm. He draws them nigh unto Him through these ordeals and trials. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 50)
Grieve not at what hath befallen thee, but put thy whole trust in God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the Wise. Raise thy house upon the solid foundation of divine utterances, and give praise to thy Lord. He, verily, shall suffice thee above all the peoples of the earth. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 151)
In these quotes He promises us that things will get better; He reminds us to turn to God in prayer and gratitude; be patient; trust God; and read the Writings. This then could be a remedy for self pity.
Self pity is . . .
1. Self indulgent: Self pity is a self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc, causing people to dwell on their sorrows or misfortunes. God does not want us to dwell on the unpleasant things of life:
Do not dwell on what is coming to pass . . . and be ye in no wise alarmed. Whatsoever may happen is for the best, because affliction is but the essence of bounty, and sorrow and toil are mercy unalloyed, and anguish is peace of mind, and to make a sacrifice is to receive a gift, and whatsoever may come to pass hath issued from God’s grace. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 245)
I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 151)
2. Paralyzing: Self pity is a paralyzing state of mind where someone has notaccepted a situation and does not have the confidence nor the ability to cope with it. It can lead to apathy and lethargy, which God doesn’t want either:
Underlying all these outward afflictions is the spiritual damage reflected in the apathy that has gripped the mass of the peoples of all nations and by the extinction of hope in the hearts of deprived and anguished millions. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Oct, The Promise of World Peace)
‘Abdul-Bahá challenges us:
Is it commendable that you should waste and fritter away in apathy the brilliance that is your birthright, your native competence, your inborn understanding? (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 91)
God understands that to overcome it is challenging, but tells us:
The apathy and lethargy that paralyze their spiritual faculties — these are among the formidable obstacles that stand in the path of every world-be warrior in the service of Bahá’u’lláh, obstacles which he must battle against the surmount in his crusade for the redemption of his own countrymen. (Shoghi Effendi: Citadel of Faith, p. 149
3. Victimizing: Self pity wants to take you back to a time before the suffering started because you can’t stand the now. It is characterized by a person’s belief that he or she is the victim of events and is therefore deserving of condolence.
God doesn’t want us to feel sorry for ourselves, or to blame anyone for what has happened to us:
Grieve not at the things that have befallen Thee, for erelong shall God raise up a people who will see with their own eyes and will recall Thy tribulations. Withhold Thy pen from the mention of Thine enemies, and bestir it in the praise of the Eternal King. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 17)
4. Addictive: Self pity is a powerful enemy. It will lead you into addictions to substances (drugs, alcohol) or behaviors (sex outside marriage, shopping, workaholism) looking for comfort and it will make you think you’ve been so badly wronged that it can justify the addiction.
An addiction is whatever you put your affections on; whatever you focus on repetitiously. By this definition, self pity is a powerful drug. It anesthetizes the pain, puts you to sleep (physically and spiritually) and keeps you safe from intrusion. It’s a mood altering substance that should only be available by prescription! It’s addictive and draws others down with you.
If you are sad, and pass a child who is laughing, the child, seeing your sad face, will cease to laugh, not knowing why. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 124)
The person who engages in self-pity is looking for sympathy from others, usually, for in that sympathy they hope to find their happiness, their pleasant feelings. They’re depending on support and encouragement from others to make them feel better; unfortunately, such a dependence is very similar to a chemical dependence–the high soon wears off, and they need another fix. Like an addict, one dose of self pity is not enough. You’re hooked for life. At first, it’s met with joy. You chew on it and it feels good, but after awhile, the honeymoon is over and you won’t want it anymore, but it will be too late. It will already be part of your personality.
For example, after retrieving memories of a lifetime of abuse, I was mired in self pity. And whenever I told my story, people responded with compassion. I felt like nobody had ever lived through the things I lived through. I read Writings which said: “Remember My days during thy days”, and thought that the Manifestation of God had no idea of what I went through. His life had nothing to do with mine. (Can you see how I then slipped into pride?) Over time, I slipped into chronic depression and anxiety and was labeled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (my self pity was driving me further and further from God and from others). I believed I was my diagnoses; and despair and hopelessness became my constant companions. I spent my days wanting to die. Doesn’t this sound like the life of an addict?
5. Self soothing: Self-pity is a way of paying attention to oneself, albeit negatively; it is a means self-soothing or self-nurturing (“I hurt so much”). Self pity often starts in childhood, where children who are hurting need it for their very survival. It might have been one of the only tools available to draw attention to themselves, and as a child it served them well. But what was necessary for a child and adolescent becomes repulsive when seen in adults. For example, it’s almost endearing to see a child sucking his thumb and holding on to a security blanket, but the same behavior won’t get you a lot of respect from your peers as an adult.
Perhaps the child received attention, support, and nurturing while being sick or hurt. They grow up having learned either to give attention to himself (or ask for attention from others) looking for sympathy from others (for example, someone might use the phrase “oh, you poor thing” to comfort the person in self-pity).
6. Fear based: Self pity is fear based, not faith based. Fear and faith are equal: both project into the future and both demand to be fulfilled. Faith is reaching for the good things you’re hoping for, and fear is believing that only bad things are coming your way. You get to choose: Are you going to be the servant of faith or the servant of fear? Self pity is the opposite of having faith. It is a sinkhole from which no rescuing hand can save you, because you have chosen to sink.
Those who are trying to help lift the spirits of those indulging in self pity often get discouraged because they don’t understand the basis of it. It will wear you out because you’re trying so hard to help someone and they don’t really want to be helped at all. They want to complain, but can’t see anything better:
Never shall . . . the lifeless heart delight in aught but in the withered bloom. For like seeketh like, and taketh pleasure in the company of its kind. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 10)
We need to bring our fears into perspective: whether we live or whether we die, we belong to God. We weren’t created for our own pleasure, but to know and worship God. We need to abide by His Will, not our own.
We can take steps to freedom through faith or steps to bondage by fear. Both are a journey. Both are a choice. One leads to happiness; the other to misery. Self pity won’t let you take the journey. It keeps you stuck in the past, which is why you need to be constantly vigilant. Your lower nature is just waiting to lure you back into the prison of self. Patience is needed, as is endurance and long suffering. Resisting self pity takes effort, but do does staying in it.
We’re told: “Draw nigh unto God and He will draw nigh unto you” – not the other way around.
Draw nigh unto Him with a pure heart, cheerful face, gazing eye and a joyful spirit and plunge with thy whole being into the sea of the love of God and forget all else save Him, so that thou mayest be filled with such spiritual sentiments from the kingdom of God, which will take the reins of desire from thy hands and move thee with the power of thy Lord, just as the wind moveth a mote in the open air as it willeth. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 200)
But in order to do it, it requires an act of faith on your part, and the rewards are great:
If a soul of his own accord advances toward God he will be accepted at the Threshold of Oneness, for such a one is free of personal considerations, of greed and selfish interests, and he has taken refuge within the sheltering protection of his Lord. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 46)
The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls, so it is to this we must look to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)
Self pity doesn’t trust anything. It always wants to be convinced. By always looking for proof, it can’t have faith.
It is such faith which sufficeth above all the things that exist on the earth, whereas no created thing on earth besides faith would suffice thee. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 122)
Without knowledge, you can’t have faith, which is why we’re told to read the Writings twice a day. It’s the only way we can know truth from falsehood. With faith comes our powers and blessings:
As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Readings, p. 313)
Reading the Words of God will give those with self pity, a proof they can hang on to:
If thou dost ponder a while, it will be evident that it is incumbent upon a lowly servant to acquiesce to whatever proof God hath appointed, and not to follow his own idle fancy. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 122)
But even without the Writings, we can have faith:
The early believers in both the East and the West, we must always remember, knew practically nothing compared to what the average Bahá’í knows about his Faith nowadays; yet they were the ones who shed their blood, the ones who arose and said: ‘I believe’, requiring no proof, and often never having read a single word of the Teachings. (Rúhiyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 322)
7. Idolatry: Self pity can be a form of idolatry, where you think the world rises and sets on you. For example, my self pity resulted in vain imaginings which had me believe that “if those who abused me knew that I was a noble being, they never would have treated me like that”, when in fact, their behavior had nothing to do with me. I was just the dumping ground for decisions arising from their lower natures. Perhaps that’s why we’re told to have an outward looking orientation; to be of service to others, so that we don’t focus so much on our own poor selves:
The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 335)
I hope that thou wilt cut thyself from all that is in this world; wilt sever thyself from all desires of this transitory world; wilt attach thy heart entirely to the light of truth and wilt, at all times, rise in the service of truth in the rose-garden of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 131)
8. Pride: Self pity (along with boasting) is one of the highest forms of pride, as you feel pride in your suffering. When people don’t want to get out of their slump of self-pity, resisting any efforts people make to try to make things better, it’s a form of pride, and Bahá’u’lláh tells us that this makes any kind of improvement impossible.
In brief, the pride and vanity of certain of the peoples of the world have made havoc of true understanding, and laid waste the home of justice and of equity. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 76)
Some people find it hard to think of self pity as a form of pride, because it often masks as self sacrifice. But it’s really a need arising from a wounded ego. For example, perhaps you feel sorry for all the tribulations you’ve had in life, and the effects it’s had on you. But you don’t want people to see you as helpless, so you try to do everything for yourself, without letting anyone help you. One thing you can remind yourself that it’s OK to be “broken” is to imagine yourself in this phrase:
O God, O God! This is a broken-winged bird and his flight is very slow — assist him so that he may fly toward the apex of prosperity and salvation, wing his way with the utmost joy and happiness throughout the illimitable space, raise his melody in Thy Supreme Name in all the regions, exhilarate the ears with this call, and brighten the eyes by beholding the signs of guidance. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 89)
It’s a form of pride when we exalt ourselves above God’s truth, which tells us we’ll always have adversity; we’ll always suffer but it’s all designed for the perfection of our souls.
Moreover, these afflictions shall be the cause of great advancement. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 238-239)
Self pity comes from our lower nature. It’s a form of pride and idolatry when we make our suffering higher than God and His goodness. We’re drawn away from God by our own lusts, our own affections. Many of God’s people can’t feel His love because they’re stuck in the addiction of self pity. The love is there but it’s walled off from them. They can’t take the action required to:
Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 5)
God has a different way of looking at life than we do. We are limited in our understanding. In His mercy, He’s sent us His Manifestations, to provide us with glimpses into His way of thinking.
Our purpose in life is to know God and to worship Him (or love Him). We need to want to please God more than we want anything else in life. And the best way to love God is to love one another:
The best way to thank God is to love one another. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 468)
9. Despair is the absolute extreme of self love; it turns its back on help so it can enjoy the luxury of being lost. It’s a form of hopelessness:
Things have come to such a pass that hope hath well nigh been banished from the hearts of Thy chosen ones, and the breaths of despair are ready to seize them, by reason of what hath befallen them in Thy days. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 335-336)
Despair is all you will get from self pity:
Despair, both here and hereafter, is all you will gain from self-indulgence . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 104-105)
We can’t fulfill our duties as teachers of the faith as long as we stay in self pity:
At this exact time in history when the peoples of the world are weighed down with soul-crushing difficulties and the shadow of despair threatens to eclipse the light of hope, there must be revived among the individual believers a sense of mission, a feeling of empowerment to minister to the urgent need of humanity for guidance and thus to win victories for the Faith in their own sphere of life. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
10. Manipulative: Self pity is often used to manipulate others; to make them feel guilty, and if you don’t yield, they use anger in order to control you. This is the standard we are called on to have:
Amongst all the teeming masses of the earth, only this community of the Most Great Name is free and clear of human schemes and hath no selfish purpose to promote. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 70)
What has been your experiences with self pity? Post your comments here:
Other articles in this series: