20 Actually Helpful Ways to Stop Wallowing in Self-Pity

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What a weird word.

And the only phrase I can think of that includes the bizarre word "wallow" is wallowing in self-pity.

Feeling bad about yourself is an awful feeling.

And if you're not careful, it can turn into something worse.

By the time you've read this article, you will understand what "wallowing in self-pity means" and have several surefire ways to address it.

Wallowing in Self-Pity Meaning

Wallowing in self-pity means that you feel sorry for yourself and that you are attached to the idea that nothing will ever work out well for you. It can be a sign of depression.

I've been at this low point several times in my life, and it's always a sign that something deeper is going on.

It's always triggered a realization that something needs to change so that I can feel better again.

Below are the strategies that have worked best for me.

First, Some Examples of Self-Pity to Get You Thinking

Here are a few self-pity examples to get your mind moving in the right direction of what self-pity mode looks and feels like.

Being able to spot the signs of wallowing in self-pity will help you do something about it.

Awareness of an issue always precedes doing something about it.

  1. You are thinking and speaking in extremes: "NOTHING every goes right for me. I'm ALWAYS making mistakes." These kinds of statements suggest that you're feeling sorry for yourself and starting to wallow.
  2. You feel you have no control over your life: This is difference between having an internal locus of control and an external one. In layman's terms, an external locus of control means that you think your life can only be good if something good happens to you. It makes you a passive participant in your own life.
  3. It's all about you, you, you: I can usually tell my mental health is in the gutter when I make everything about meand how the world has wronged me. The thing is, there are billions of people out there who are also trying to make a life for themselves. At any given time, there are likely millions of people experiencing the same emotions that I am. It's when I think I'm the center of the universe that I realize I'm in self-pity mode.

Now that you have a few self-pity examples, it's time to dive into why you came here in the first place--learning some tools you can use to stop self-pity.

How to Stop Wallowing in Self-Pity / Feeling Sorry For Yourself

1. Remember what it was like to feel good in life

When I'm feeling bad, it's so easy to get mired in that state.

It's so tempting to think, "This will last forever. I'm feeling bad, and I've always felt this way."

Clearly, that's not true.

There are times I've felt good before, and deep down I know they will return again.

The same is true for you.

You have not always hated yourself.

You have been in tough situations before, and you've gotten through them.

Sometimes all it takes is spending a few minutes to clearly remember how you felt when you were at your best.

What did it look like?

How did it feel?

Where were you, and what were you doing when you felt your best?

The brain has a remarkable ability to promote states of being just from the power of thought. It's why great athletes visualize their future performance.

They know they can trick their brain into believing that they are already there accomplishing great feats.

You can do that, too.

2. Change your environment

Environment is everything.

Where you are impacts how you feel.

Have you ever noticed that there are certain people who help you feel better just by being around them?

And how about places?

Haven't you realized that certain places just have an uplifting quality to them?

For me, it's being in nature.

It's hard to feel bad about myself for long when I step out into the expansive landscapes that nature has to offer. Open spaces naturally open my mind, and looming mountains ground me.

But you don't need to go out into nature if that doesn't work for you. Maybe you could move from one room to another, perhaps one with more natural light?

Or maybe you just need to change the people you're around.

"Environment" means different things to different people, so figure out what the word means to you, and then experiment with changing up your location.

3. Read or listen to something uplifting

Your mind is fertile ground.

And what you put into it will, in large part, determine how you think and feel.

If you watch the news all day every day, you are bound to feel agitated and scared.


Because mass media makes more money if they can keep you glued to the TV.

Find books that inspire you.

Read poetry if that's your thing.

Or, if you can't stand reading, listen to music.

There's no excuse to not finding something that puts you in a good mood.

A simple Google search will find you whatever you're looking for. Just make sure what you're looking for is positive and uplifting.

4. Move your body

You're a bio-psycho-social being.

What does that mean?

When you move your body, you're changing your mental and emotional state as well.

And when you move, you increase the chance that you come in contact with other people.

It's impossible to stay stuck in one mindset if you're moving around.

Going for long walks is one of the best ways I know to stop feeling sorry for myself.

My emotions change just by moving my feet and swinging my arms.

5. Help someone else

I'm sure you've heard a variation of these expressions:

"If you want to feel better, help someone else. When you help someone, you help yourself."

But why is this true?

Because when you put in the time to help someone else, you realize that you're not the only person in the world.

Depression and self-limiting beliefs can't stay the way they are when they come into contact with someone else.

You step outside of a victim mentality and improve your outlook when you're actively making someone else's life better.

By helping someone else, you get undeniable evidence that there are other people in this world who are also struggling. And you realize that you have both skills and time that you can provide to someone else.

Even if you're getting together to commiserate with someone, pity parties can help in a counterintuitive way.

6. Act "as if"

Suspend your doubt for just a moment.

What if you weren't pitying yourself?

What if you were a person who already felt better?

What would you be doing?

How would you be acting?

This is similar to strategy number one above.

If you can take your mind into the past to re-experience how you were when you felt better, you can also project your mind into the future to a "you" that already knows how to feel better.

It's a deceptively powerful way to workout your mind muscle and build mental strength

7. Figure out the root causes

If you've tried all the previous strategies, and you're still not feeling better, there's likely something deeper going on in your psyche.

The "Five Why's" strategy can be a great one to get to the heart of what's bothering you and causing uncomfortable emotions.

As the name suggests, the idea is that you ask yourself a question, and then follow up that question with four more questions.

Here's what it looked like for me recently.

Why do I feel this way?

Because I'm not doing what I want to be doing.

Well, what do I want to be doing?

I want to be doing something meaningful.

What would be meaningful to me?

Something involving empowering others to live their best lives.

How could I do that? 

Well, I enjoy writing and could show others how I've improved my life over the years through writing.

Alright, what's the first step?

This is something I actually journaled about recently, and you can see that I was able to take myself from a depressive state to taking action in a matter of five questions.

Your circumstances aren't set in stone.

Questions help you look at your life in new ways.

8. Connect with something greater than yourself

Self-pity is a small feeling. It makes you believe that there is no one else in the world feeling like you are.

But connecting with something greater than yourself opens you up.

So, what does connecting with something greater look like?

It could be meditation. Or stream-of-consciousness writing. Or prayer. Or joining a community of people with similar interests.

The moment you stop to connect with something else other than yourself, you realize how much space and possibility there is in this world.

It's not always easy to do, but taking the chance to allow yourself to connect with something else reminds you that we're all in this together.

9. Take care of something or someone

You can't be in self-pity when you are using your time or skills to take care of something or someone.

Notice I added "something" in there. A pet could be some thing, although that might not be the nicest way to refer to precious Fluffy. So could a plant. Or your front yard.

These are all things that need you to flourish.

Getting back to a human level, there always going to be people who need what you already know.

Who is a few steps behind you in life? Who could benefit from what you've already learned?

You don't need to change the world with massive amounts of wisdom.

Simply teaching a child a simple skill can remind you of all the people who helped you when you were young during times when you were feeling down or not sure what to do next in life.

10. Be the hero of your own "pitiful life" story

There is great power in narrative. And one of the tenets of narrative therapy is "externalizing your story" so that you can learn from it and ultimately change it.

When you write out your story, you get the details out in front of you, problems, good parts and all.

And when your story is something that is external to you, you realize that you are not your problems. Instead, problems are separate from you and are simply pesky things that can be analyzed from afar.

So write out your story.

Write out what is troubling you.

And then write out what it looks like to be a person with problems, not a problematic person.

What would someone else do in your situation? How would a hero in a movie or comic book handle what you're dealing with?

Externalize your story. Identify the problems. And then choose a different set of actions.

11. Set tiny habits

Habits are hard to set--we all know that.

That's why tiny habits are so important.

Tiny habits are habits that don't take much time at all to do.

They are habits that are almost impossible to skip.

Can't do 10 push-ups today? Do one.

Can't write 200 words? Write 50.

Make your habits so small that they are impossible to avoid.

What you'll realize is that small habits build a chain of momentum, and soon you'll want to keep doing them because you realize what's possible in any given day.

12. Avoid long periods of unstructured time

I'm at my worst when I have long periods of unstructured time. Anxiety tends to creep in at night when I'm by myself and have nothing going on.

With so much possibility, my brain can't decide what to do with it all.

That's why I try to follow a schedule and build good routines.

Even if it means blocking off 8-9 pm in my calendar every day for reading, just knowing that I've chosen something allows my mind to settle down and dive into what I've committed to.

13. Try expressive writing

James Pennebaker is a professor and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. He's spent his professional life looking into the benefits of expressive writing.

What he's found is that expressive writing, or writing to freely explore, thoughts, feelings, and emotions, is extremely beneficial for your mental health.

Expressive writing involves physically writing out your deepest thoughts and emotions in a free-flowing, non-judgmental way. By putting pen to paper for minutes straight, you're able to tap into parts of your brain that stay hidden when you're going out about your regular, day-to-day life.

Writing without worrying about what comes out is not natural for most people. Humans have egos that protect us. We want to look a certain way to others, and we try our hardest to not reveal too much, for fear of what others might think of us.

Expressive writing cuts to the core of what's going on, and it allows us to identify truths about ourselves we may never have uncovered before.

14. Make sure you're getting the fundamentals right

Of course, no conversation about dealing with difficult emotions is complete without mentioning the importance of getting the fundamentals right.

If you're not sleeping, you can't have good mental health.

If you're not drinking enough water, you're going to feel tired and cranky, and your skin will dry up.

Sitting in one position all day will constrict your mind into a similar, limited state.

Identity the ways in which you are limiting yourself. 

Think about what you're doing when you're at your best, and try to do more of that.

15. Try a simple meditation

A simple meditation is nothing more than focusing on your breath.

It's bringing your awareness to the simple nature of the in and out of your automatic breathing.

With the harried lives we lead, focusing on the breath feels like a waste of time.

But it's only by learning to come back to your breath can you realize who you are beneath the stories you tell yourself.

16. Remember "this too shall pass"

I was feeling down one day when I came across this short video featuring Tom Hanks.

He shared how he came to understand the phrase, "This too shall pass." It was a good reminder that even people who seemingly have it all can still struggle.

Something bad happening? It will pass.

Something good happening? That too will pass.

Everything is transient. Everything is changing all the time, and that includes even the most difficult emotions.

17. Spend time outside

Being outside is so good for you that doctors are starting to prescribe it and a whole branch of therapy called ecotherapy has emerged from the simple idea that nature is good for you.

When you're walking through a forest or climbing a mountain, you need to be focused on what you're doing.

Your eyes are drawn to the path in front of you, and this simple walking meditation pulls in the sights and sounds around you as well.

Being present is a powerful antidote for overthinking and rumination run rampant.

18. Write about your inner child

Have you ever written about--or to--your inner child?

Do you know what that looks like?

If you haven't, I want you to try this.

Take 5 minutes and grab a sheet of paper and a pen.

Write back to you when you were younger.

Really, truly spend some time thinking about how you were at the age that you've chosen in your mind.

And then write.

Say hello. Talk about what you're doing at this point in your life and how far you've come. Or write a letter of apology for all the things your younger self had to overcome, things that were not your fault but still you pushed past.

Write about what you've learned.

And thank your inner child for getting you to where you are right now.

19. Ask someone who knows you well to share their favorite memories

Sometimes, when I'm really stuck, I ask people who know me well--usually my parents--what I was like as a kid.

What did I enjoy?

What did I do all the time?

What were the things I said?

Stories are how we make sense of the world, and the stories others tell us have a powerful impact on us.

We have but one tiny perspective on this thing called life. Others can fill in the details. 

And what you'll likely find is that you're missing part of the puzzle that makes you who you are.

At the very least, you'll be reminded of moments that you shared with others who have been important to you.

20. Use the paradoxical power of inversion

This is a weird one, but it might be one of my favorites. I saved it for last because I didn't want you to latch onto this and feel it was a negative way of being.

Ask yourself these counterintuitive questions: How can I mess this up? How can do I the worst job possible?

Whatever you're worrying about, whatever has got you down in life, asking these questions of inversion will reveal something profound.

No matter what's going on, you know more than you realize.

Whether it's been applying to jobs or trying something new for the first time, I've realized that I already know a ton about what it takes to put together a good application and how to make a good first impression when trying something new.

And that's enough. 

Whatever you pick and however you're feeling, you know more than you realize.

And when you take the next action, you'll soon know even more.

Pity wants to keep you in place.

It's by movement and by trying something new that you get out of it.

These ideas are meant to be a guide.

You'll know which ones might work best for you.

And when you try one of them, you'll be stepping from the shadows of your self-pity and moving into the light of a new day.

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