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Issue 87

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In this issue ~~

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The Trap of Self-Pity

Picture this:  You've set a goal.  You're pursuing a dream.  You're taking steps toward it.  You feel like you're working hard, you're trying things, and yet, nothing seems to work.  You can't understand why.

While fear is a big deterrent for many people, fear is usually pretty "in your face."  When you're scared,  you're very aware of it.  There's something else – something you may think of as harmless – that may be what's really getting in your way.

If I had to name the biggest hidden impediment to getting ahead, I would have to say it's self-pity. You're working toward a goal and you hit an obstacle. You feel deflated.  You say to yourself, "Why bother?"  And you give up, or make half-hearted, ineffectual attempts to keep going.

The trap of self-pity is that it feels sooooooooo good.  Who hasn't enjoyed throwing a good pity party at one time or another?  But self-pity can really drag you down.  And what's worse, it can be addictive, and it can become your default emotion when things get tough. For a time, it soothes a wounded ego, but ultimately, it's going to keep you stuck and frustrated. It can prevent you from expressing your precious creativity and sharing it with the world.

Self-pity is running rampant these days.  We're living in a time and place that sets a very high bar.  We look around and rate ourselves by the images we see on TV.  By comparison, we're too old, too fat, have too many wrinkles, don't have a gorgeous partner who adores us, have no talent, and aren't fabulously wealthy and successful. 

The media tends to portray a glossed-over version of reality.  It seems like everybody looks great, has a fabulous relationship, and is amazingly successful.  And it comes to them effortlessly.  It's very easy to start feeling sorry for yourself for how inadequate you feel compared to all these people – even though what we're seeing of them is not real.

Here are a few antidotes for self-pity:

~ Take stock of your reality.  If you weren't comparing yourself to others, how would your life rate?  Which areas look pretty good?  Which areas would you change?  What steps can you take to do that?

~ Change the way you talk to yourself.  People who are mired in self-pity generally have thoughts like:

  – Nothing works for me.

  – I've failed again!

  – People must think I'm a loser.

Instead, think positive, but realistic thoughts:

  – I'm still learning.  Each time I get it wrong is one step closer to getting it right.

  – It didn't work this time, but I'll keep going until it does.

  – I'm so proud of myself for sticking with this!

~ Get your attention off yourself.  Think, instead, how you can use your gifts and talents to serve others. Think about how fortunate you are compared to millions of people in the world who go to bed hungry, or who don't have the freedom to express their creativity.

You may have to get tough with yourself.  Once self-pity settles over you, it's very hard to shake. Start by becoming aware of when you fall into self-pity.  Catch yourself in the act.  Then, stop what you're doing.  Notice your thought process – very often, it's taken on a life of its own.  By a deliberate act, stop the thought process.  If you need to, say "Stop!" out loud.  Then, consciously redirect your thoughts down another path.  This can be tough at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will get.

And count your blessings.  We get a lot of support these days to focus on what's wrong with us and where we fall short (by whose estimate??).  Instead, be grateful for all you've got.  Acknowledge yourself when you do take a step forward.  And forgive yourself when you don't get the result you want.

Self-pity will still come up at times, but by practicing these techniques, you'll see it for what it is and send it on its way before you sink too deep.  Pity parties can be fun, but how about aiming for a *real* party celebrating all the successes you'll have when self-pity is no longer part of your daily fare!

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Action Challenge

In the coming week, every time you find yourself falling into self-pity, say to yourself (out loud or silently), "Stop!"  Say it again if necessary.  Then, consciously choose to redirect your thoughts to something positive, like, "I'm going to make this work. I know I can do it" Then, take an action to support that new direction.

 

Wise Words

"Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the nonpharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality."

~ John W. Gardner

"Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world - making the most of one's best."

~ Harry Emerson Fosdick

"Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable."

~ Maya Angelou

"This is interesting to me: On one hand you have just feeling happy: I don't mean, like, laughing and giddy, but feeling light, like you're free. And on the other hand, you have murky discomfort, whiny self-pity. And I personally know the steps to get to both."

~ Tobey Maguire

When asked, "Has exile helped you? Have you found strength in it?":
"Oh yes! Without a doubt, I can try to tell you why. When, at some point in our lives, we meet a real tragedy - which could happen to any one of us - we can react in two ways. Obviously we can lose hope, let ourselves slip into discouragement, into alcohol, drugs, unending sadness. Or else we can wake ourselves up; discover in ourselves an energy that was hidden there, and act with more clarity, more force."

~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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Bookshelf

(click on the book or tape graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self . . . Rosalene Glickman

Discipline: Training the Mind to Manage Your Life . . .  Harris Kern, Karen Willi

Ultimate Guide to Mental Toughness: How to Raise Your Motivation, Focus and Confidence Like Pushing a Button . . . Daniel Teitelbaum

Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior . . . Mark Goulston, Philip Goldberg

When Misery is Company: End Self-Sabotage and Become Content . . . Anne Katherine

Freedom from Self-Pity . . . Lazaris (Audio Cassette)

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© 2006 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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