Before You Throw the Pity-Party…

By Brenda Clark Hamilton, MA Ed.
Several weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, I was feeling overwhelmed with the many tasks on my to-do list.  We were leaving the next afternoon for a weekend out of town, so I was busy finishing up laundry and starting to put the boys’ and my clothes in suitcases.  On top of that, it had been a very active week work-wise so I was low on sleep and facing a few more hours of work yet that evening on a speech I was giving during our out of town stay.

By the time my husband, Chris, arrived home from work, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, so asked Chris if I could talk to him in private.  I was ready to call a pity-party and was hoping he’d join in sympathizing with my sorry situation. 

Chris and I went to his office downstairs, and I had a good cry about how overwhelmed I felt, how tired I was, and how much work I had yet to prepare for the weekend.  Chris and I have been together for 22 years, and he knows that from time to time I need to just vent, so he patiently listened.  While I was having my little meltdown, the phone rang and I insisted that the machine pick up the call, as I had just about all of the stress I could take for one day, doggone it, and I deserved a break.  

After I had completed my rant, I went back upstairs to resume my work, and I stopped to see whose voice was on the answering machine.  It was our neighbor and dear friend, explaining that she had to take her husband of 60 years to the emergency room, as he was having significant pain; she just wanted to let us know.

The friend who called is a neighbor who lives very close to us.  She and her husband are the most caring people you could imagine, truly like another set of grandparents to us and to our kids.  I immediately yelled downstairs to Chris what was happening and that I was jumping right in the van to drive over to the hospital to track our friend down.  Thankfully, once I arrived, the hospital staff was able to direct me to where I could find her and sit with her in the waiting room while she awaited news on her husband’s condition.  Shortly after I arrived, the ER nurse came out and explained the condition, which to our relief was nothing serious, and I was able to sit with our friend until they released her husband after an hour or so.

As I drove back home, I felt foolish and embarrassed about my rants earlier that evening.  What had I to complain about, when others were facing genuine crises that were truly worth getting upset about?  I updated Chris about our neighbors’ situation then went back upstairs to resume my work for the evening, and I worked energetically and contentedly into the early morning hours.  The next day I awoke ready to enthusiastically face the weekend.

As I reflect on that Thursday evening’s events, I think I needed a good slap in the face to snap me out of my sorry-self pity-party, and the emergency situation with our neighbor was just the smack I needed.  Ironically, while I had thought that wallowing around in my own “misery” was what would make me feel better, what I really needed was to step outside myself, reach out, and feel compassion for someone else’s genuine pain and angst. 

Dr. Megan Reik speaks of the seductive and destructive power of self-pity in our lives:  “There are few human emotions as warm, comforting, and enveloping as self-pity.  And nothing is more corrosive and destructive.  There is only one answer:  turn away from it and move on.”  Spiritual teacher Joyce Meyer states it more succinctly:  “You can be pitiful or you can be powerful—but you can’t be both.” 
I think the lesson for myself and for all of us next time we’re tempted to spiral down into the land of self-pity, is to instead count our many blessings, look outside of ourselves, and ask if there would be someone in the world who just might be more than happy to trade burdens with us so as to lighten their load for awhile.  I have a feeling that most of us would find people lined up around the block…more than willing to make that trade. 

–Brenda Clark Hamilton, MA Ed.,

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