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  • samreastwood

The Power of Self-Pity

I know, it's an odd title, but hear me out and I promise it will make sense in the end. When I was growing up it was all about the PMA - 'positive mental attitude'. It's a great tool and can see us through tough times, seeing the silver lining and having a bit of perspective when life is feeling hard is really important. Being able to think through what's occurring and come up with solutions, focussing on good outcomes is really necessary to good mental health and resilience.

But I want to talk about the positive side of feeling sorry for yourself. The trouble when we force ourselves to think positively all the time is that this mindset ignores a whole host of equally valid feelings. Have you ever had a conversation with someone about something that's troubling you and they've come back with 'well it could be a lot worse, at least you're not....' (fill in the blank)? How did that make you feel? Did you instantly feel better because however bad is, it could be worse? Or did you feel invalidated - like you're moaning for no good reason and you should just get on with it and keep quiet? Both reactions are ok, but if it's the latter then it might be time for a little pity party, or what I like to call a wallow.

Feelings are there to give us a message. Pushing the 'negative' ones away for the sake of the PMA doesn't always work, and that message will keep on coming back until we make time to listen. Making time to feel sorry for yourself and acknowledge that things are feeling really crap right now can give you that time. The first step in a good wallow is acceptance. So you're not feeling good, and that's ok. Whatever the 'negative' emotion, it's ok. It's your internal messaging system telling you that something needs to change, so hear it out and allow yourself to feel it. It's uncomfortable, I know, but discomfort is there to help us recognise something isn't ok. Much like if you've got a stone in your shoe, the quicker you feel it and take that shoe off to shake it out, the less chance of it causing you much damage. Try to name the feelings. Sadness, frustration, anger, hurt, loneliness, rejected... these are all valid feelings and you are allowed to feel them.

The next thing you'll need is compassion - be kind to yourself. The thing with positivity and seeing the silver lining is that we can end up feeling guilty for feeling bad. 'I shouldn't feel sad when I've got...' (fill in the blank again), and end up invalidating our own feelings. Ending up in a spiral of feeling bad for feeling bad isn't going to help. Try instead 'I know I'm feeling ... right now but that's ok. My feelings are valid and they will pass'. You got it, fill in the blank. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Use the same voice you would give to someone you love.

Give yourself time. Feeling the feelings is a process, you might need a day, a week or a month to figure out what the message is and that is ok. Having a good wallow, allowing yourself to feel miserable and padding that time out with as much self-care as you can muster is necessary. The only way out is through. Sometimes that will mean sitting under a blanket with a big bar of chocolate and watching a sad film or a serial killer documentary (just me? Ok then...) or having a good snot faced sob in the bath. Sometimes it will mean spending time with someone non-judgemental that you can open up to. Sometimes it will be a a solitary walk in nature and time to reflect. Use that time to notice. I mean really pay attention to the feelings. Notice the times you feel lowest. What is the feeling? What triggered it? What's it trying to tell me? Also pay attention to the times you feel better, and try to factor more of what feels good into your day. You can try journalling to keep track of the feelings and see if any patterns emerge.

Finally, try not to stay there for too long. Remember, a wallow is a passing place not a final destination. Use the knowledge you've built from paying attention to your feelings to make changes. They can be big or small. If one thing stays with you try to remember the compassionate self-talk. It's tough to feel down, but it's even tougher to mask, numb and ignore your feelings. Frankly, it's exhausting. Allowing yourself that time to properly feel and figure out the message can bring a new energy and purpose. Just as your body needs rest to repair and rebuild, so does your mind. If you find yourself stuck, reach out for support. Whether that's through a supportive friend or family member, counselling or a call to your GP then don't think you have to deal with it alone.

Happy wallowing! I hope you find it productive!

Sam x

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