By Ryan Dunn
Most of us have done it: We’ve played host to our own pity parties. Instead of cake cutting, candle blowing, or present sharing, the featured activity of a pity party is comparison. At our pity parties we like to take note of what’s wrong in our own lives in comparison to what’s right in everyone else’s. We note how everyone else can afford to do more, has more opportunity, better health, better skin, and better Tweets.
The pity party is not a fun place to be, but many of us seemingly like to tarry there anyway—despite our recognition that it is not the healthiest or most rewarding place to be. Once we’ve entered the pity party, we feel trapped by it. The door into the pity party is wide and inviting. The door out can feel as elusive as pinning the tail on the proverbial donkey while blindfolded. What follows are a few tips on widening the pity party exit.
How to leave a pity party
1) Recognize my role
I’ll start with the tough-love advice. I recognize there is such a thing as bad luck. There are many instances when I have ended up in tough circumstances through little fault of my own: someone else hit my car, I got sick, my employer went bankrupt.
But I also need to recognize that I had a hand in creating many of the negative circumstances I bemoan at my pity party: I spent beyond my means, I refused a doctor’s advice because it was tough, I procrastinated on a project that now has me feeling stressed. Recognizing that I influenced some of my negative situations provides me the power in changing them. It allows me to take a step back and envision a way through my situations—and prevent them from happening again.
For example, when I recognize that I am stressed about completing a work assignment because I procrastinated, then I can also recognize that I have the agency to do something about. I can alleviate the stress by taking action today. There are steps that I can take to make the situation a little better… and there are steps I can take (on not to take) to make the situation worse. The exit to the pity party widens when I take steps to make my situation better.
2) Celebrate others’ success
I found I have a natural tendency to celebrate others failures—especially when their failures match my own. I’m very willing to invite others to join my pity parties. Acknowledging others in failure makes my failures more acceptable. But that is not healthy.
Failure can be turned to a positive, but only if we use failure as a platform for learning on our way to success. When I celebrate others’ failures, I am not allowing my own failure to be a learning experience. Instead, I am looking for it to be acceptable, even inevitable—the only outcome of my circumstances.
Celebrating others’ successes leads to a new form of sharing. Instead of inviting others to share in my failures, self-pity, and feelings of inadequacy, I am getting to participate in their more positive circumstances. Celebrating successes encourages community. Additionally, I may learn what they did differently than me that led them to that point. Celebrating success, even the success of others, redirects me from a pity party to a real party of celebration.
3) Remind myself of who I am
The circumstances that have led me into a pity party are not the circumstances that define me. I, and you, are so much more.
Numerous studies suggest that religion benefits mental health. One likely contributor towards this affect is that religion regularly reminds practitioners of their value. As a Christian, I believe I am beloved, even worthy of dying for. And so, when I want to wallow into my own pity party, I look to clear an exit with some reminders of what I truly am. These are some verses that speak an identity of value into my life:
Psalm 139: 13-14: For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
Hebrews 2: 6-7: But someone has testified somewhere, ‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them glory and honour.’
1 Samuel 16:7: But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’
1 Peter 1:18-19: You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
My fav… Luke 12:6-7: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is counted forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
The biggy… John 3:16-17: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Song into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
Ephesians 2:10: For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
1 John 4:4: Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
4) Describe it to somebody
There are instances when it is beyond our own power to leave the pity party. It is OK to ask for help in finding the exit. I do have friends to whom I can describe the situation, but there are also instances when I need to confide in someone with some clinical experetise who can provide some more practical advice for working through my feelings. Counselors and therapists can be found here.
Ryan Dunn is the author. He serves as the Minister of Online Engagement. Ryan is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and lives in Nashville, TN.
[Posted August 4, 2018]