Exaggerating your misfortune and amplifying your problems keeps you stuck in a dark place. And even when you can't fix a problem--like a major health issue or the state of the economy--you can always take steps to manage your emotions in a healthy manner.
Not everyone is interested in addressing issues head-on, however. Instead, they prefer to adopt a 'poor me' attitude.
And since misery loves company, negative people often convince others to attend their pity parties. But showing up to a pity party isn't a good idea.
Showing Compassion Versus Endorsing Self-Pity
Lending a compassionate ear to someone who is struggling with hardship can be one of the kindest things you can do. Sometimes, people just need to feel heard and validated.
But, attending someone's pity party isn't compassionate. It's about enabling that person to stay stuck in his own misery. It can be harmful to everyone involved.
Even if you don't say anything, showing up sends the wrong message. Providing a captive audience may reinforce someone's unhealthy beliefs about her bad luck or her inability to create change. And you might unwittingly become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
Signs Someone Wants You to Attend Their Pity Party
Sometimes, an invitation to a pity party is obvious. There may be that distant relative no one likes to visit because all she does is complain. Or maybe there's that person in the office who spends his time grumbling about being overworked--rather than actually doing the work.
But, at other times, an invitation to a pity party can be less obvious. Here are a few examples:
- A friend calls regularly to say he needs help. But whenever you offer assistance, you're met with resistance. He insists his problems are always the exception to the rule and there's nothing that will make his life better. Yet, he continues insist you should help him.
- A colleague frequently comes to you to express her disapproval with the company. She refuses to convey her concerns to a supervisor or anyone who can take action. She insists you are a victim as well by saying things like, "Do you notice how they're giving us more vacation days as a way to bribe us to keep working in this awful place?"
- Your cousin always has a new crisis of the week. Yet, he creates most of his own problems by quitting his job before he finds another one or spending all of his money on concert tickets before he's paid his rent. He says he can't understand why bad things always happen to him and nothing is ever his fault.
How to Set Healthy Limits
People who have a victim mentality usually don't want to hear things like, "Oh things aren't that bad," or "Things will get better." In fact, offering a glimmer of hope may cause them to feel as though you're patronizing them.
Advice is likely to be met with resistance as well. People who are invested in gaining sympathy don't want to hear how they could improve their situations. Instead, they're looking for you to reinforce that they're helpless and their situation is hopeless.
So rather than passively commiserate with those who feel they're unfortunate, take action. Set healthy emotional and physical boundaries. It could be the kindest, most compassionate thing you could do.
Here are a few examples of what you might say:
- "I don't think I'm being a very good friend to you by listening to all the reasons why you'll never get a job. I think you could get a job if you put more effort into it and I'm afraid talking to me about it helps you create more excuses about why you can't find work."
- "It's really hard for me to hear all the bad things about our job every day. I am trying hard to stay positive, even when things are tough. So I'm going to have to step away from the conversation from now on when things start to turn negative."
- "It seems like every day you ask for my help. But when I offer you advice, you insist my strategies won't work. I don't think it's a productive use of our time to keep talking about these things."
It takes courage to set those limits sometimes. But it could be the best thing you could do for yourself and those around you.