February 2016 Blog Challenge: Blog 8 of 29
A Letter to Self Pity and What to Do About It…
I don’t feel I can write ‘Dear Victim’ – that is a distinctively un-coach-y thing to do and could (irony alert here) instil dangerous precedents into my neural path ways or invoke the dark side of the Law of Attraction … And as for writing ‘Dear Self Pity’, well that would just be oxymoronically weird… So I’ll just ‘thingy-ise’ this concept instead – firstly to dumb it down and lessen its impact, so that next I can move on to deconstructing and debunking it… Or maybe I’ll just stick some dynamite under it and blow it into smithereens – that would just be quicker and suit my sense of drama…
Well at least I’m laughing about it, now… I’ve had to watch a tight tendency to think that all is bleak, that I have nothing in the past; that I’m worth nothing, that I’m unloved and alone; that everything seems to go wrong or is unfeasibly difficult – and that I’d be doomed to end up destitute, in every possible sense.
Not so long ago, I was in my car, carefully taking a roundabout, when suddenly a horn started sounding. Next thing I knew a motor cyclist had pulled alongside me and was swearing and cursing. The short version of the ensuing exchange is this: ‘You are supposed to look before you pull out’ (is the sanitised version of what) he said. ‘But I did look and I saw nothing’ was what I (actually) replied. I’ve noticed that in the face of someone else’s bland logic, many people choose the path of insults and swearing. He was no exception to that observation… Having delivered his parting curses, he zoomed off on his motor bike. I was left behind, feeling angry that I, the innocent was accused of a wrong doing. Seconds later I wondered if I was really to blame and next I slipped into self-pity mode…
Self-pity has often permeated my psyche. For many years I’d slip into my self-pity pit and be unable to see through the ensuing darkness: Life didn’t go the way I’d planned – so yah boo sucks to all those who actually buy in to the Law of Attraction I thought… No – down in my treacly pit, I gained my significance from the fact that the ‘attract like for like’ theorising was clearly all a load of baloney – since all my life I’d trusted, taken action, had a good heart, and done all the right things… Then to be left with nothing, whilst everyone around me had… more than me.
In my own case there were parental behavioural pity patterns set. My mother in particular had a victim mentality, grown out of a difficult childhood where she felt unloved and unwanted. She felt ignored too, but had a strong determination that she should be heard – so she came out fighting – protecting herself with a loud bravura – by berating her parents and her circumstances and everyone around her. She rarely (as I recall), took personal responsibility, but why should she – it wasn’t something she was aware of – she simply was who she was and got on with life accordingly.
As someone in the circle of her blame, I got very used to constantly apologising for my actions and agreeing that I was at fault. That makes for a quiet life, but not a trouble free one. Blame attracts blame – both the giving and receiving of it – and so people tend to believe the worse of you and so you live down to their expectations, believing also, the worse of them.
I grew up deciding that pessimism was the safest and least disappointing path to follow. Self-pity and pessimism often go hand in hand and so that’s how I lived. I even remember how a university flat mate wrote to me, after we’d moved on to our separate ways into the big wide world and said how they missed my “warm, cheery depressions”…
And this permeated not just my own upbringing – you can see this blame culture in action all around us. There is a definite cultural bias towards ‘it’s your fault, therefore I have the right to be aggressive towards you’.
So – when you are badgered by a road rager – blaming and cursing you because of some real or perceived infraction of their space – the sub text could very well actually be: ‘I’m having a bad day. You have come into my consciousness and now I am going to take all my crappy feelings out on you and put you at fault. And because I deem you to be in the wrong – that now gives me complete freedom to be rude and aggressive towards you.’ You remonstrate and are countered with the following logic – ‘how dare you answer me back or protest your innocence – my righteous anger knows the truth and it’s my truth that is the truth here (whether of course, factually, it’s the truth or not).’
Think about this scenario in any skirmishes you may have had in your life – most of us have been on both sides of that blame fence at different points in our lives…
It’s odd isn’t that that all that aggressive behaviour comes from the ‘victim’ – since such a stance is not what we associate with the territory. That’s because there is a perception that being a victim is weak, when actually, for so many people – it is where they gain their significance and strength.
So as I grew up and experienced blame all around me, it seemed to feed upon itself. I have, for example, spent much of my corporate career in Human Resources (HR) and have smirked sardonically on more than one occasion, that HR is employed mainly to be the point of blame for all the wrong doings of many an organisation – whereas we poor beleaguered people professionals, go into the job to actually do good – misguided and misunderstood souls that we are…
So feeling constant self-pity got to be second nature for me. It was like a default trip switch that flicked on, plunging me into the darkness; just the same way the circuit breaker on my electrical supply at home does, when it detects a blown fuse.
Since this type of victimhood is a stance that we (often) unconsciously take, it can come as a real shock when someone points out to us that being a victim (in such circumstances) is usually a choice rather than a fact. Also that by choosing to be a victim, you decide to give your responsibility away to someone else. That makes blame easy, but means that it becomes really difficult to take any positive action and resolve a situation (what ever the merits of it may be). However, a lot of people are blind to this and will deny it, especially if they are in an emotional state.
I hated this concept of self responsibility when I first came across it. My victim mentality had defined me, so when it was suddenly wiped away with words, I now had the weight of doing something about my life in order to change it, and not to just to sit still and complain about it. It fundamentally boiled down to the truism that ‘with responsibility comes power’. It wasn’t power that I wanted though – it was always far easier to wallow in the self-pity pit.
As I exercised the responsibility though, I grew to love the power it gave me and the freedom over my thoughts. And when I started to choose the direction of my thoughts – that’s when I really started to feel powerful and actually in control – the complete opposite of being a victim.
So now I prefer facts and understanding to blame and criticism. I look for the patterns of thought and action that shape any given situation and choose to learn the lessons.
In the case of my skirmish with the motor cyclist, I mulled over the facts to see if there was anything I could have done better and differently. In this particular instance I really didn’t know. Next I thought about what lessons I could learn from this incident. I then I decided to focus on the positives – neither of us were hurt; there wasn’t a collision; I chose to take more care on roundabouts in future; I’m glad I didn’t get aggressive; and so on…
It’s a principle I like to employ for all of life’s happenings – big and small – accept what has happened (rather than rail against it), take responsibility for whatever my part in it was, and understand what I could do differently and better. Then I can decide and act accordingly, in positive power.
When it comes to where I am in life right now, I’ve learnt that I thrive most when I choose to count my blessings, rather than cuddle my curses close.
And that’s when self-pity crumbles in the face of positive power.
Coach, Author and Thinker
PS: As Valentine’s Day comes around and you are thinking of a gorgeous gift, a collection of the ‘Peachey Letters’ from this blog have been gathered together, along with new material, into a beautiful non fiction book. It makes the perfect present, for you and for your loved ones … You can buy Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life on my website here or from Amazon (in Paperback and Kindle), order it at any bookshop, or indeed buy it from all good book websites around the world…