Self Pity And Grieving: 6 Ways To Feel Better

Army Photography Contest – 2007 – FMWRC – Arts and Crafts – Fallin

Self pity and grieving are very different.  Self pity is the stuckness of despair. It can be a bitter feeling of longing for something you cannot have but need. Often what we want does not seem like too much to ask, which is why self pity can be so painful. Sometimes it feels like the end of the world.

Self Pity And The Loss Of The Self

Self pity can be very difficult to handle not only because it can be tied to our dreams but also because it can be tied to the expression of the good in ourselves and our natural drive toward self actualization. So when our dreams – even the simple ones –  do not come true a part of us often loses its optimism and resilience. Self pity is often the loss of our idea of our best self.  Self pity is also funny in a way. No matter how worked up we get about how the world has done us wrong, and often it has, it always makes us feel worse. Whatever the problem is does not get better with self pity, so hurting ourselves or someone else never helps. Self pity can cause a lot of harm and often feels as if it simply adds to our loss.

Differences Between Self Pity And Grieving

Grieving is different. Grieving is about the loss of something or someone we have had. When we grieve we feel the absence of something that lived in our hearts and lives. Grieving is often about a passing of someone or something from our lives as a chapter ends and another begins.

Grieving is sad but does not come with the same desperation of self pity. Self pity can occur when we lose something we never had a chance to have. An example would be the person who lost their parents very early in life, and who feels sorry for themselves because their life has been such a struggle because not having parents does in fact make life more difficult. That experience is quantitatively and qualitatively different from the person who loses parents as an adult which causes grief but the loss is an ending. In the former case, the lost parents live in the imagination and in a dream; in the latter case, the lost parents live in experience and the heart.

Self pity and grief are both natural feelings. One is not more justified than the other. Self pity comes with a perception of damage to ourselves and our lives and the wistfulness of what might have been. Self pity is a hurt to our willingness to be a part of life in a positive way, because there is a feeling of not getting the chance at something.  Often the reasons are beyond our control. Grief can come at a more natural ending point of a phase of life or of a relationship. Grief accepts the transience of life and as such has a more graceful attitude toward change and loss. Grief has its pain but also its dignity. Self pity and grief may be different but that does not mean that they are mutually exclusive. But grief at some point diminishes. Because self pity often comes with a lot of anger, it may not end until we let go of one dream and replace it with another. It can take a long time.

Handling Feelings Of Loss

We live in a culture with few skills for handling negative feelings.  When our unhappy feelings are invalidated they go underground but are still there to be processed. When individuals cannot release those feelings, they may turn to “acceptable” forms of expressing their pain like alcohol and drugs. All feelings including negative ones run their natural course and need to be accepted.  Here are a few techniques for providing for your self pity and grief feelings whether your companions in life accept your feelings or not:

  • a journal can work wonders.  Of course, it should remain private.  I had one at one point, and scribbled my feelings in it which was a more energetic discharge of the feelings that also made my writing unintelligible. That worked for me!
  • meditation will help and I highly recommend making time every day for meditation.
  • embrace whatever you are grieving.  Can you make a shrine that you spend time with to honor your feelings and loss?
  • seek out a therapy group so that you can receive some compassionate care from others.
  • do not relinquish your idea of your best self because you are going through a tough time.  Often in our success driven society it can be hard to appreciate ourselves when we have a setback.  Your best self may have nothing to do with fame or social approval. Framing your journey as part of a larger human story can make acceptance easier.
  • good food and sleep are small acts of caring which do wonders.  Try to care of yourself.
We all deserve the best life we can have.  Part of life is handling our painful feelings. Hopefully this list will help you find a graceful path through sad moments by dignifying your experience and your life.


  1. Betty M says

    Two years I was in a car accident and was paralyzed. Since that day, I can’t help thinking, why me? I never dreamed of the day I wouldn’t be able to walk, but now that it has, I have never felt more alone. I know I can never have the life I once had before the accident. I am trying to cope with the loss of my legs with the help of my family and the ways I have found on this social work ceus website to help regain control of my life. I definitely recommend taking a look.

  2. says

    Hi Betty,
    I am sorry to hear about your accident and appreciate the information that you sent. It looks very interesting.

    I know a man, a family friend, who was in a diving accident when he was in his late teens and became paralyzed from the neck down. Of course his family was devastated, and it was very hard for him. He was a little bit spoiled and happy go lucky so the accident was a huge challenge for him. With the support of his family, he went to law school and has a practice in Boston.

    I am not suggesting law school for you. However, if there is a way that you can use the accident to find a purpose or mission from it I would encourage you to seek it. The internet makes it possible for people to use their experiences for the benefit of others and that might be an option for you.

    I don’t know you well enough to suggest the proper course, but I encourage you to find a way to transform the accident into a purpose. I realize that you are new to dealing with this major life change so that charting a new life course may be premature, but please believe in yourself. It will be worth it.

    I encourage you to seek others on the internet who have experienced similar challenges or major health problems. There is a group on LinkedIn, Pain Sufferers Speak run by Liz Hall, who is wonderful. It is a group of people who have serious lifelong disabilities and serious pain problems; they are very supportive and generous if you would like to talk with others.

    Please let me know how it is going for you and if there is anything I can do to help. I would love to hear of your progress.

    All the best,

  3. Honey Apostos says

    This is one of the best descriptions depicting the difference between grief and self-pity I have ever read.

  4. Marina says

    Thanks very much for this post. I have experienced both feelings simultaneously, though you are so right, grieving actually ends, but my self-pity has continued (though fingers-crossed, I think I may just be coming out the other side of that-after many tears, self-doubt, feelings of hopelessness etc). We need to experience these feelings in order to recover, but self-pity can become really dangerous if we let it continue endlessly. Therapy, being open about my feelings with others, journaling and surrounding myself with positive, soothing quotes (there are so many sites on the web that can deliver these to you daily) have all helped me. Good luck to anyone out there struggling, it does get better, I promise. Remember to be kind yourself too.

    • says

      Thanks, Marina,

      I agree with you that self pity can be dangerous. I appreciate your taking the time to write and also to encourage others who are struggling with their feelings. It is a difficult world we live in and our feelings are justified even if we also have to work through them and let them go. We all need much more kindness.

      All the best,

  5. says

    Wow Maria, thank you for this. What an incredibly concise distinction between the two concepts. I’ve never thought of “Self pity occurring when we lose something we never had a chance to have”. That’s really interesting.

    I think it can happen as we point to the future as well – we can self-pity over believing that we will never have the things we want. This can be driven by a lack of self-worth or entitlement, i.e. believing that you will never acheive the things you want to acheive just because of who you are and your view of yourself. It’s interesting to delve in and see where this stems from – I think many of us experience these sorts of feelings at least in fleeting moments, if not more permanently.

    Thanks again for this!

    • says

      Hi Andy,

      Grieving and self pity definitely have different qualities. Grieving has the sharp pain of loss where self pity gets tied up in our longing so I think you are right that it can extend into the future.

      Thanks for your insight!

  6. Thomas says

    Thank you Maria, I lost my partner 7 months ago and I am having trouble with it,I been to a manage better course but still struggling,when I read what you write it all made sense,my future is changed and realise that alot of my Greif is self pity,I could not explain the whys I have found some help but trust that you have helped

    • says

      Thanks, Thomas. I am glad that I could help in some small way. 7 months is not really a long time to grieve so please do not be too hard on yourself. I recently heard good things about a book that might help. It is called The Art Of Comforting by Val Walker.

      All the best,

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