Have you ever said , Nothing ever goes right for me?” I have. Lord knows I’ve tried to be a successful pastor, coach, and teacher, and husband. But in spite of my best efforts and highest dreams, they often crashed and burned.
In those times, I’d have a pity party. I felt sorry for myself. Worthless. Failure. Mad. No good for anything. Then I’d get up and try harder. But, the cycle repeated over and over. I’ve had a lot of pity parties.
Yea, sometimes what I tried worked. Then, I felt satisfied, like I accomplished something, and like I was somebody valued by me and others.
But in failure, I felt sorry for myself. I felt insufficient and incomplete like something was lacking in me. I felt shame. I pitied myself.
What self-pity is, I discovered, is really an attempt to hide my feelings and avoid showing my heart. In this case, it is an attempt to hide sadness over a loss. Maybe, it’s the loss of a dream, a spouse, a job, or whatever you highly value.
Wallowing in the mire of self-pity is an attempt to make others feel sad for us. “Oh, you poor dear. How could he do that to you? That is so sad.”
Self-pity is also a failed attempt to express my heart of sadness. I can’t express sadness because I am afraid to express my true emotions. So, I will express pity for myself in hopes someone else will express my sadness for me because that emotion is blocked and locked away.
Perhaps you weren’t free to express your emotion of sadness as a child. “Quit that crying. Don’t act like a baby. Grow up! You have so much to be thankful for! So, we dump our sadness inside and lock it away. Our emotion of sadness is squelched out of fear to express and be ourself.
In addition, self-pity is an attempt to make someone sad for me because I can’t let myself feel sad. If I express sadness, you might see the real, vulnerable me, and that will never do. You might not like me if you see the real me. I won’t feel valued. But, if I can appear helpless, you will value me. You will rescue me from feeling like a worthless failure. You will make me feel OK about myself again even if it’s only a temporary good feeling.
I’ve coached youth baseball for over twenty years and have seen first hand how sadness can quickly turn into self-pity. A boy struck out and then slinked to the far side of the dugout. He was sad. He cried. His mom came running into the dugout, sat beside him, and wiped his tears. His sadness turned into self-pity because his mom wouldn’t let him feel sadness. Imagine how she is training him to manipulate her. He will learn that whenever something doesn’t go his way, he can manipulate his mom and later in life manipulate others to fix him instead of him taking responsibility to fix himself.
On the other hand, I remember striking out in an all star tournament when I was a kid. Dad was there and mom wasn’t. I too went to the corner of the dugout all sad and downcast. But dad didn’t coming running in there. Mom would have! Dad allowed me to deal with my sadness, and he didn’t say anything about me striking out after the game either. He let me sulk and be sad. He allowed me to feel my emotion of sadness instead of turning it into a pity party.
Suppressing sadness is like a bridge washing out in a flood. Debris collects at the bridge because it can’t pass under. Eventually, the bridge finally collapses from the strength of the flood.
Sad emotions not properly expressed are like debris piling up until we collapse broken and and washed out.
But, when our emotions are valued by us, and we are emotionally honest with ourselves, we don’t have to deal with the debris that arises from denying our grief and loss. We can experience sadness and value the losses our sadness declares. Feeling sadness and grieving properly over loss eventually restores our soul and makes us whole.
So, when dreams fail, when plans don’t work out, and when relationships break apart, grieve the loss. Don’t expect or manipulate someone else to grieve the loss for you by you saying, “You know, no matter what I try to do, I fail. I might as well give up and quit. It’s no use.”
Yes, dreams go up in smoke. Relationships fail, and that which you highly value can be destroyed. When these loses occur and because loss is part of our common human experience, grieve them with true sadness.
Sadness is a cleansing feeling. Tears are gifts that we give ourselves to whatever we lose.
Sadness allows our heart to be exposed to its true ability to value and honor someone or some thing. Without the emotional work of grief and sadness to bring us to the point of accepting our loss, we can never risk dreaming or trying again. We can never value anything or anyone. We can never love again. We are stuck in the past and resigned to self-pity that “nothing ever goes right for me so why bother?”
And it’s good to know that characters in the Bible pittied themselves. David is one of them and often wrote of his despair and loneliness. He wrote, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 NIV). The Lord knows our sorrow and grief. He feels with us and allows us to fully grieve our losses and not to engage in a self-pity party with us. Instead, He is present to engage us with his redeeming power and to save us from our crushed spirit. He gives us the power and motivation to dream again, try again, to live again, and to help us fully and successfully come through our sadness and grief.
(Note: I am grateful for Chip Dodd’s insights from his chapter on the feeling of sadness in “The Voice of the Heart”).