Monday, October 11, 2010
Self-Pity vs. Self-Validation
I read about another lady who had an awful experience that profoundly traumatized her. She was really wronged. Really badly. She acknowledged her anger at those who hurt her, let herself think through and ponder her pain and didn't deny that she was angry. She avoided situations that would cause her more heartache and grief over what she had lost. She was wise and thoughtful. And one day she was rewarded. She woke up one morning and her anger was gone. "It no longer served me, " she wrote. Wow! She also acknowledged the pain her body feels, the specific aches and pains and places where her body reveals denied and stuffed anger and sadness. Wow again. I was so impressed and wrote her an e-mail to let her know.
I mused over these two ladies' reactions to profound hardships and heart ache. One engaged in self-pity and one engaged in self-validation. Both ladies were ultimately set free from being a victim of their circumstances. Not all people get free. My feisty Grandma would tell her bitter tales about her sisters well into her 70's. Oh, Grandma and her bitter stories. So sad.
But anyway, what is the difference between self-validation and self-pity? I am the queen of self-pity. I am really, really good at it. If there was Self-Pity 101 offered at a nearby university, they'd ask me to teach it. If you googled "self-pity" in images, you'd see a picture with my sad-looking, down cast face. Yes, folks, self-pity is like a sport for me and I win every time.
But no. I lose. I lose opportunities to trust God and thank him for my trials. I'm getting a teensy weensy bit better at that, but still I whine and complain and moan about injustice (I'm really big on that one). So, when I heard about this woman who was set free from self-pity I became rather curious. If I don't feel sorry for myself, what do I do then with being wronged? Forgive 70 times 7. Okay. What next? That get really tiresome after awhile! I think part of my issue is that I don't want to validate the pain. I don't want to feel those feelings, although I'm quick to complain about them.
A couple of weeks ago I related a difficult situation I had encountered to a stranger. Big Mistake. She proceeded to evaluate my trial and give her spin on it - after getting the facts all mixed up. It was so disconcerting and upsetting to me. I abruptly cut off communication with this woman, offending her in the process. Several days later, I called her by phone and wanted to "clear the air" and explain my outlook; "I had come to a peace about my situation and was not asking for your feedback. Your questions and comments re-opened wounds and it was quite painful." What I did not say to her, although I hope she can learn this lesson quickly, was that I really needed her to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry for your difficult situation. It sounds like it was very painful." Or something like that - even half of that. I became aware of the need to have my pain noticed. Please just see how much this hurt me and don't analyze it for me. That's my job. I have to own my reactions to the cards Life deals me. Just see my pain and sympathize. Not pity, just "I'm sorry for your pain."
I ended the conversation as pleasantly and kindly as I could have. I really wanted to affirm and encourage this woman in the work she does. I was no longer offended by the social boundary she crossed because I set a boundary for her that was comfortable for me. But I did want to give her the opportunity to be heard. Nothing that she said to clarify what she had communicated via e-mail changed how insensitive she was. But she realized that she should have been more careful with comments and not to converse by e-mail with a stranger about serious issues. So, valuable lesson learned.
I took many lessons away from that encounter as well. One thing I am freshly aware of is to see and validate the pain, discomfort, and inconveniences others complain about. I believe that if they feel heard, they will not feel the need to engage in self-pity. Hmm....more to ponder and observe how effective this is.