Audio Version (09:35)
In this article, I’m discussing pity parties, what they are, and three reasons why they happen.
I know it’s a popular topic because my previous 2-minute YouTube video and blog posts on my website have had amongst the highest views of any other of my content.
So, let’s take a deep dive into the world of pity parties.
Click here to watch the extended YouTube version of this post.
What is a Pity Party?
A pity party is when someone indulges in extreme self-pity or feelings of victimisation. They feel sorry for themselves and dwell on their problems WITHOUT TAKING ACTION TO SOLVE THEM.
Now, to be clear, because I know some bright spark is going to want to misinterpret what I’m saying here. We can all feel sorry for ourselves from time to time. That’s healthy. It’s a valid and perfectly normal human emotion.
Disappointment happens, sadness happens, and we all have things that go wrong in our lives. We may even have periods where things seem to keep going wrong no matter what we do.
However, there comes a point when the prolonged and pervasive experience of feeling sorry for yourself or embracing a sense of victimisation goes beyond a mere passing emotion.
When this emotional state begins to dominate and seep into every aspect of your personality, yet you don’t take constructive steps to address your challenges, that’s what we label a “pity party.”
In essence, it’s a heightened form of extreme self-pity that goes beyond ordinary feelings of sadness or self-doubt.
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.
Characteristics tend to include:
Having a ‘what’s the point’ attitude.
They choose to only look at the negatives.
Acting and feeling thoroughly defeated.
Believing no one cares (despite others rallying around them and giving them so much attention).
Everything feels hopeless.
They struggle to see things from another, more positive perspective.
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?’
‘What’s the point?’
Now, again, 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, it can become an issue when we stay in that mode for a prolonged period without taking affirmative action to make things better. For some people, they practise self-pity so well and for so long that it becomes their personality.
Now, this might be controversial, but in my experience, and I have a lot on this subject, I’ve never encountered anyone having a prolonged pity party that wasn’t using it as an excuse NOT to take responsibility or positive action to solve their problems.
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 other than ourselves for our circumstances. Friends, family, government, our employers, the weather, bankers, etc.
But, of course, in most situations, we’ve typically played a role and usually a significant one.
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 we are every time there’s a problem. We are the common denominator!
That hit me hard when I first understood as an adult that I was at the centre of all my problems. It was really sobering and took me quite a while to come to terms with. I had what we call a ‘dark night of the soul’ when I discovered this bit of wisdom.
However, you can do a great reframe on this, and I love a good reframe. A reframe is where we purposely decide to look at a problem from a more positive perspective, as there are always at least two ways of looking at any situation.
So, as the common denominator in all my problems, it also means that I have the power to change what isn’t working. More on that in an upcoming article, so make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it.
2. Learned Helplessness/Learned Behaviour
We learn the majority of 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.e. self-development), I would sometimes throw a pity party. I modelled it from my parents, which I talk much more about in the extended video version of this article.
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 is passed down unwittingly from generation to generation 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. However, all change starts with awareness.
3. We Get Attention and 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 or solutions under the sun for how to solve them, yet they choose to do nothing. That’s secondary gain in action.
These people can leave you so frustrated because you know that they could probably quite easily solve their problems. After all, you’ve given them multiple workable solutions. But yet, here you are for the umpteenth time talking about THEM… AGAIN!
In reality, they don’t want your solutions. If they did, they’d have acted on them before now. What they do want, however, is your attention and validation.
If they do happen to sort out a problem by some chance, you can guarantee there’ll be another one right behind it.
I talked more about attention and validation in a previous article, ‘5 Powerful Strategies for Dealing with Negative People‘.
Pity party is a term used to describe people who demonstrate EXTREME and prolonged self-pity. It isn’t just a short bout of negativity following disappointment or upset, which is a totally normal reaction.
Instead, it can be pervasive and take over a person’s entire personality.
It’s often characterised by:
Unwillingness to accept responsibility – placing blame elsewhere
Learned helplessness – inability to take affirmative action on solving problems
Attention and validation seeking from others
Having to deal with people who like to display extreme self-pity can be extremely challenging. Again, I do have some strategies to help you in the previous article, ‘5 Powerful Strategies for Dealing with Negative People‘ in which I discuss:
Offering Empathy and understanding
Setting strong Boundaries
Offering Solutions and Support
Knowing when to step back
To watch the extended YouTube version of this article, click here.
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