Stop feeling sorry for yourself

16 MAY 2009

Stephen Fry, talking to Mark Lawson on TV in September 2007 said:

Certainly the most destructive vice, if you like, that a person can have – more than pride, which is supposedly the number one of the cardinal sins – is self-pity.

I think self-pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive.

It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred (and I think that hatred is a subset of self-pity, not the other way around) it destroys everything around it except itself.

Self-pity will destroy relationships; it will destroy anything that’s good, it will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself.

It is so simple to imagine that one is hard done by and that things are unfair and that one is under-appreciated and that if only one had a chance at this or if only one had a chance at that things would have gone better: you would be happier if only this.. that one is unlucky.

All those things. And some of them may well even be true.

But to pity oneself as a result of them, is to do oneself an enormous disservice. [..]

I almost wanted once to publish a self-help book saying “How to be happy” by Stephen Fry.

“Guaranteed success”

And then people would buy this huge book and it’s all blank pages. And the first page would just say:

Stop feeling sorry for yourself

and you will be happy.

Use the rest of the book to write down your interesting thoughts and drawings.”

And that’s what the book would be and it would be true. It sounds like “oh, that’s so simple.”

But, of course, it’s not simple to stop feeling sorry for yourself. Bloody hard. Because we do feel sorry for ourselves.

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6 thoughts on “Stop feeling sorry for yourself

  1. I absolutely love this quote. Thank you so much for transcribing it so faithfully.

  2. There is nothing wrong with self-pity, it’s a natural feeling and a growth oriented process.
    People who say to “Stop feeling sorry for yourself” are repressive, dysfunctional and destructive towards others Their objective is to invalidate the pain of others and make them fell insecure for experiencing the pain of their lives. It is an attack on people for sharing the pain of their lives.
    IT is an attack of repressive people.
    Rejoice in self-pity, defend it and tell the attackers to go to hades!
    Viva Self-Pity!
    People who love themselves fell sorry for themselves, it is only natural and on felling sorry for themselves they take care to identify what has caused them pain and to deal with who and what has caused them pain and nourish themselves to be happy.
    I encourage people who have denied themselves self-pity to re-integrate this feeling back into their personality or else you became like the Nazi personality without empathy or warmth.

  3. Max,

    You’re off base here. You are correct that self-pity is a natural feeling. It happens, and is part of the human experience. When people say, “stop feeling sorry for yourself”, you changed what they mean to “stop feeling”. This is a misrepresentation.

    While the practice of acknowledging what one exieriences in the moment (self-awareness) can be beneficial, there exists a common counterfeit (self-pity) which is destructive. This is where people move from living in the present to living in the past and/or future, robbing themselves of happiness. Self-awareness in the present is information, and does not interfere with one’s life. Basting the present with the hurts of the past is destructive, and provides psychologists with a comfortable lifestyle. This destructive practice is what people say to stop. The feeling is not what people here are talking about. The feeling just is. The habit of stewing in one’s own soup is a habit formed from repeated decisions.

    Moving from the destructive to the constructive versions requires a shift in how one looks at things. I wrote an review called Get the Hell Out of Hell as it relates to getting fit.

    @Paola: Thanks for the article. It was a nice lift for the morning.

  4. Yup. Unless one’s wallowed in self-pity and let the present slip by, un-lived, Stephen’s words won’t mean anything to you.

    Self-pity is a danger when it becomes a habit; a way of thinking and living one’s life. It’s when one lets regrets and disappointments hinder any pleasure of the present or prospects for the future.

  5. You need to feel sorry for yourself in order to make changes. If you simply acknowledge ‘I feel sad / angry, depressed’ or whatever without asking yourself why (which will almost inevitably lead to at least a bit of self pity) then you can’t figure out any changes. Of course it’s easy to slip into a cycle of self pity, but more often that not I find a bit of self pity can act as a pressure release. It’s better you beat yourself up (for a short while) than beat up someone else. I think Fry’s recommendation is no more profound than saying ‘Be happy’.

  6. THIS right here hit the nail on the HEAD…yes yes yes yesssss to every word!

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