When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic

I must admit that, in the course of my life, I have had more than my fair share of pity parties. Life has not always been easy, and people have not always been kind. I could say that nearly everyone in my life has let me down at one time or the other. Clearly, I have had plenty of good reasons to feel sorry for myself, and on many occasions I have done just that. In fact, I spent several years doing it so much that I slipped in and out of depression on a regular basis. I even became suicidal a few times, but thankfully God intervened in my life, and I found a way to escape the negative thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Jesus said the truth will set you free, and that is what happened. I realized that my feelings were contrary to truths in his Word, and I had to choose to allow those truths to transform my mind. It was a choice plain and simple.

As a counselor, I run across people who refuse to ever make the choice to believe God over their feelings. Among my own personal acquaintances there are those who seem to believe that their situations are not included in God’s promises, because they continue to wallow in misery. By nature, I am an encourager, but I’ve learned that people like this cannot be encouraged. It makes no sense, but it seems as though they enjoy being miserable. And if that were not enough, they also seem to love dragging everyone else into their wretched state. They like to blame others for their misery, and try to make them responsible for improving their lot in life. In fact, over my years of working with victims of domestic violence, I’ve found that most abusers are consumed with self-pity. They manage to use it to control their victims. The problem is you can never please someone like this. Nothing you do is ever enough.

In scripture we see an example of this harmful attitude in John 5:1-15. When Jesus asked the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to be well, he simply blamed others that he wasn’t. After Jesus healed him, he reported him the religious officials rather than thanking him. In the end, Jesus warned him to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” When I read this story, I am amazed that this man received such a great miracle, and yet did not show an ounce of gratitude.

At the heart of those ruled by destructive self-pity, you will usually find ingratitude. Their eyes are so focused on self that they become blind to the blessings they do have, and their lack of gratitude is like poison. It spews to everyone around them as they use their misery to try to control those who love them. They want people to feel sorry for them and bend over backwards to make them happy, but it’s nearly impossible to help someone who has decided that their pain is greater than God’s provision. They would much rather drag you into their misery than to allow you to help them out of it.

Recently, God sent two new friends into my life. If anyone has a right to self-pity these ladies do, but both have refused it, and I admire them so much. In 2013, my friend Terri passed out while standing in her kitchen, and woke up paralyzed from the neck down. As anyone would in this situation, she has struggled with depression, but she has chosen not to give in to feelings of despair. Recently, she wrote on her blog that a friend challenged her to find something to be grateful for each day, and she did. Although Terri might have good reason to feel sorry for herself, she refuses to give in to self-pity. As a result, she has become an inspiration to many people. I so admire that.

God sent another amazing woman into my life back in April. Two years ago, her estranged husband stormed into her parents’ house, shot and killed them both in front of her children, then beat and shot her—leaving her for dead. She was in a coma for a week, but after that God miraculously touched her body and raised her up. Although Latonya grieves the loss of her parents, she is the picture of gratitude. She shares God’s love and blessings with others powerfully, and the hashtag she uses on most of her social media posts is #gratefulheart. How amazing is that?

Both Latonya and Terri are victors, because they have made a choice to be grateful rather than self-centered. Their lives are making a positive impact on the world, because of that choice. The people I know who choose self-pity on a regular basis do the exact opposite. They are takers rather than givers. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and to be blessed in biblical terms means to be happy. These ladies bring joy to my heart. They encourage me, and enrich my life.

There is only one difference between my new friends and my friends who wallow in self-pity. It’s simply a matter of the choices they have made. We can choose to allow misery to rule us, or we can choose to be grateful for the blessings we have. Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and Romans 8:37 says that as his children we are more than conquerors. Scripture is filled with God’s good intentions towards his children. We just need to choose to believe what he says about us. It’s not always easy to do that, but with determination anyone can move from defeated to victorious, and become a blessing rather than toxic.

10 thoughts on “When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic”

  1. Reblogged this on JoyfulSurrender.com and commented:

    I see this so often. People who are consumed with self-pity hurt others and destroy relationships. In this life it’s almost impossible to avoid suffering, but the way we respond is everything, I’ll end this with a quote from my recent workbook. “There’s no subtle way to say it. If you don’t find healing after your abusive relationship, there’s a good chance you could end up with some negative repercussions. You may find yourself moving on to another abusive relationship. You could end up suffering from severe depression or anxiety, or worst of all, you might find yourself chronically angry—perhaps even abusive yourself. ”

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  2. Joy – thank you so much for sharing my story! I am honored that God can use my life to encourage others. What a privilege to be a child of God, and that his spirit allows us to be filled with gratitude rather than self-pity.

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  3. As someone who has had to battle this evil in my own life, I do get the message. Often the ones who have allowed this toxin in their heart are totally blind to the many (great and small) ways they could help and bless others. Instead of praying for opportunities to be a blessing, they just dwell in the ‘poor me, I cannot do anything’ mentality.
    Last year, the Lord acrually warned me in a dream to distance myself from a very old friendship, because her attitude was trying to pull me down. It’s sad, but I can not help or encourage someone who is not willing to receive God’s help for her own situation, or rejoice in the blessings she has (new marriage etc…).. It is sad, only the Lord can open the eyes.

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  4. Have you seen this? I f not can we generate this and get as many to sign . I think there is only 300 more signatures needed.

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  5. Joy thank you so much for this. At times I feel surrounded by those that say they love me constantly lie and take from me they never want to see what I give them and when I try to let them know they get mad at me and tell me that I’m a different person. Recently I have noticed a change in my own attitude and spirit. One that scares me. I’m a very loving person but I’m so tired of these people not understanding it has brought me down I don’t want to hate or be better I just want to love and give that is the gift that God has gave me and I feel like it’s being taken from me. I know this came to me today to help me again I just want to thank you. I hope to talk to you soon may God continue to bless you and have a wonderful 4th. The women you mentioned what a true blessing, WOW

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    1. Praying for you Tammy. I was just thinking of you this morning. Praying that God will use all you are going through in mighty ways. Would love to get together again.

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    2. I so understand what you are talking about. I recently had a similar experience once again. Only looking to Jesus and His sacrifice for us pulls me out of it. Thank you Joy for this timely reminder. It is so easy to fall back into self pity especially when sitting home alone in this crazy weather.

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      1. Yeah. I know what you mean. Being stuck inside wouldn’t be so bad if I could tackle some of the many projects that need to get done around the house, but I cracked a rib and too much activity aggravates it. So, I just have to see it as a chance from God to catch up on reading and writing. Hope you guys are staying warm.

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