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Why I Chose This Week’s Topic
Honestly, I’ve skirted around writing on this topic because I have strong views on pity parties and felt it might be too controversial to discuss.
However, this week, I’ve been working on smartening up my YouTube channel in anticipation of launching my new podcast.
I haven’t posted on YouTube properly for a couple of years, so it was interesting to look at the back office and see which of my videos were most popular. To my surprise, a two-minute one I did on Pity Partying was up there as one of my most watched. So that was reason enough for writing for this week’s article.
(You can visit my YouTube channel here, and if you take a second to subscribe and click the notification button, you’ll be among the first to know when my podcast goes live!)
What is a Pity Party
A pity party is when someone practises extreme self-pity. To be clear, we can all feel sorry for ourselves occasionally. That’s healthy. It’s a valid human emotion. However, when it’s prolonged and pervasive, that’s what I’m referring to when I talk about Pity Parties and extreme self-pity.
We all know someone who does this, and we may even do it ourselves. It’s easy to spot someone in that ‘state’. Their shoulders are slumped, their head is hung low, or their chin is jutting out with their mouth turned down.
Think of how a child might react when you tell them they can’t have chocolate just before dinner. They may pout, sulk and generally act belligerently. That childlike behaviour is what’s replicated during an adult pity party.
Characteristics tend to include:
- Having a ‘what’s the point’ attitude.
- Acting and feeling thoroughly defeated.
- Believing no one cares (despite what others tell them).
- Everything feels hopeless.
- They struggle to see things from another, more positive perspective.
- They choose to only look at the negatives.
- It’s them ‘against the world!’
You’ll hear someone in the throes of a pity party saying things like:
- ‘Why does this always happen to me?’
- ‘Things never get better.’
- ‘When am I ever going to get a break?’
I call it ‘Poor Me’ syndrome.
Now, I want to be clear here. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be sad, upset, or annoyed when bad things happen. Of course, you should! However, I take exception when people stay in that mode for a prolonged period, using it as an excuse not to take responsibility or affirmative action to solve their problems.
Why I Hate Pity Parties
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know I had a difficult childhood. There were significant amounts of abuse and neglect which I’m now discussing more openly. I’m doing this because I know from working with thousands of people that growing up with emotionally immature parents (even if abuse wasn’t present) is more common than you might imagine.
Again, no blame here. Just facts.
If people knew better, they’d do better.
In my childhood home, pity parties were a regular occurrence. I would often see my parents in a state of self-pity, and even as a child, I would think, ‘That’s not helping. Why don’t they do something about it?’ (‘It’ being the current stressful, chaotic situation.)
I would even go as far as to present them with ways to solve their problems. However, I was always perplexed when they chose to ignore them, seemingly doubling down in their misery.
Looking back, some of my solutions may have been naïve. But at least I was trying to do something about it and couldn’t understand why my parents weren’t.
That’s why I hate pity parties; the people doing them tend to take no responsibility and assume (with no evidence) that they can’t do anything about their situation. In my experience, that’s rarely the case.
As an adult, a parent even told me, ‘Stop trying to solve people’s problems!’ (By people, they meant them.) However, luckily, I’ve ignored that bit of advice. As a result, I now help thousands weekly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(Incidentally, I’m very conscious now that it’s unhealthy for a child to be constantly on edge and hyper-aware of their parents’ problems, let alone trying to solve them!)
Why We Practise Extreme Self-Pity
There are several reasons why we ‘do’ extreme self-pity:
1. We Don’t Want to Accept Responsibility
When we are in a pity party state, we tend to blame anyone or anything else other than ourselves for our circumstances. But, of course, in most situations, we’ve usually played a significant role.
However, it’s far easier to blame someone else than take responsibility and acknowledge what we could have done differently.
It’s not a coincidence that there YOU are every time there’s a problem. YOU are the common denominator!
2. Learned Helplessness/Learned Behaviour
As I’ve written about many times, we learn our behaviours and how/what to think up to the age of seven. We do this by watching and copying our primary caregivers. So if one or both of our parents didn’t model emotional maturity, there’s a good chance we won’t either.
I’ll be honest until I started doing ‘the work,’ I would do pity parties too. Understandably, I modelled it from my parents. However, it was only when I realised that the common denominator in all my problems was me and that I was the only one who could sort them out that things finally started to change.
Often learned helplessness can be passed down unwittingly through many generations until someone actively decides to do something different. Just because your parents behave and react in a certain way does not mean that you have to.
3. We Get Attention & Validation
For many people, there is a significant secondary gain (a subconscious benefit) for not solving their problems. As long as they have issues, they get attention and validation from others. Therefore, why the heck would they want a solution?
I’m sure you know someone like this. They always have a problem or an issue, and you can give all the recommendations under the sun for how to solve them, yet they choose to do nothing. That’s secondary gain in action.
In reality, they don’t want your solutions. Instead, they want your attention and validation. So if they do happen to sort out a problem by some chance, you can guarantee there’ll be another one right behind it.
In the next article, I’ll discuss ways of escaping the learned helplessness pity party trap. I’ll also cover what to do if a family member or work colleague is a consistent negative influence (what I like to call a mood hoover or energy vampire).
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(Disclaimer – The information in this article is meant for entertainment purposes only and is in no way meant as a replacement for professional medical or psychological support. Please seek the appropriate advice from a healthcare professional should you feel it necessary.)