Feeling sorry for ourselves can feel really good. It is comforting to ‘wrap ourselves around with the warm cloak of self-pity.’ It can provide a welcome relief from the responsibilities of life – ‘well I always knew I was useless, now I have gone and proved it!’ It has the potential to attract sympathy, pity, even comfort from well-meaning but misguided onlookers. Surely I have the right to a few moments of self-pity every once in a while!
The problem is that it is totally destructive – of ourselves and our relationships. John Gardner wrote, ‘Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.’ It can soothe us like a lullaby into a cocoon of complaint and if we are not careful, the transformation that takes place within the ‘warmth’ of the cocoon will make us, not only unrecognizable to others, but in the long run, we will lose touch with our true self. Self-pity will parch our attitudes, it will paralyze our abilities, immobilize our true potential, and it will put off our ability to achieve. It brings to a quick halt any moving toward excellence and prevents any kind of expansion of the mind, body, and soul. Millicent Fenwick said it this way, ‘Never feel self-pity, the most destructive emotion there is. How awful to be caught up in the terrible squirrel cage of self.’
I am always amazed by the life of Jesus. When he faced the awful agony of the most painful form of execution known to man he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. He didn’t whine or complain. He was concerned to prepare his disciples for what they would experience; he made sure his mother was cared for and that his executioners were forgiven. How did he do that? He was totally focussed on his relationship with his Father and on putting others first. How can we do that? By trusting him so that his life and his selflessness sets us free from that ‘terrible squirrel cage of self’ and we can step out into the freedom of self-forgetfulness.