Existential Psychology

Mired in Self-Pity

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“Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” A difficult life situation can feel intolerable when we feel it is unjust, that we did nothing to cause what has happened. We want to believe that the world is basically a fair place, that people get their just desserts, that if we play by the rules we can expect a good outcome, but obviously that’s not always the case.

If you find yourself mired in self-pity you’ve got to realize that however unfair your situation may seem, it is yours and yours alone, and focusing on the unjust aspect won’t change anything. You are only compounding your misery by thinking about how unfair your circumstances are, using your psychic energy in a way that can only lead to more negative feelings.

If you can accept your situation as it is, the question becomes “What can I do to make this better?” instead of “What did I do to deserve this?” One puts you into forward motion, the other leads to a downward spiral. You’re not the first person to have something bad happen to you when you didn’t deserve it, and you certainly won’t be the last.

In an existential sense whatever bad event has happened to you, what lurks behind it and causes even more emotional turmoil is your sense of freedom having been replaced with a sense of powerlessness. Deciding to focus on what you can do to make your situation better, even if it’s relatively small, is an act of power and immediately increases your sphere of freedom by opening up new choices for thinking and acting. When you stay mired in self-pity, railing against what has happened, you stay powerless because you stay stuck in the past. Contemplating why bad things sometimes happen to good people and good things sometimes happen to bad people is pointless for your concrete situation. What matters is accepting that is has happened, moving through your grief, and looking for ways, however marginal they may seem, to improve your life as it currently is, not as you would like it to be.