Have you ever said to yourself internally “stop feeling sorry for yourself” or had someone else tell you to do that? Or perhaps you’ve thought something along the lines of “I’m just feeling sorry for myself” when considering a challenging time.
I don’t know if this is an expression that’s as common in other parts of the world, but in the UK, where I’m from, it’s ubiquitous. It’s part of a culture that prides itself on stoicism and a ‘stiff upper lip’, the ‘Blitz spirit’ and all that. The trouble is, all it serves to do is put you here:
It seems, that for a long time I’ve carried this statement around in my inner dialogue like it’s a must-own, an internal, immoveable rule to live by as a “must not do” (even though I would never hold someone else to it). You might be thinking,
“but Lottie, you’re a life coach”. It’s true, I am, and I’m very good at supporting people to reframe things. I do it day in and day out, but, no matter how trained or experienced one is in anything, we humans have feelings and triggers and life problems. It’s just that coaches, therapists and other helping professions are (hopefully!) committed to self-awareness and self-care so we can show up to other people without our own emotional life front and centre. And to do that I see a psychotherapist who’s been supporting me through PTSD and nightmare disorder. I may well expand on all of that one day, but not today, today I want to share a reframe my therapist gave me that has made a huge difference, and might help you too.
I was sharing an emotional experience and I finished with the statement “Oh, I’m just feeling sorry for myself.” She looked at me with a slightly quizzical look, which normally means I’ve said something she doesn’t quite understand (British English doesn’t always translate well to American English), but her next words brought my brain to a standstill:
“I don’t think you’re feeling sorry for yourself, I hear you feeling empathy for yourself.”It had never occurred to me that this internal rollicking I give myself is dismissing the empathy I feel for myself. It was a reframe I needed to hear inside the context of my own thinking, and since hearing it I’ve experienced a massive lifting of weight, which has left me wondering how many others might be carrying the burden of this toxic statement.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.I can now see it in the fullness of its toxicity but what helped me to really see, and really want to write about it, is the deeper word analysis I’ve done since. I like words, they help me understand the world, and likely you feel the same or you wouldn’t have got so far into reading this, so let me use them to dive into this statement likely inducing this kind of reaction in you:
I’m going to give you definitions with the help of dictionary.com. I know you know the meanings of each word but there’s something about re-reading definitions that brings true clarity…or is that just me being a dictionary nerd? I guess we’re about to find out!
[ stop ] verb (used with object), stopped or (Archaic) stopt; stop·ping.
to cease from, leave off, or discontinue:
to stop running.
to cause to cease; put an end to:
to stop noise in the street.
verb (used without object), stopped or (Archaic) stopt; stop·ping.
to come to a stand, as in a course or journey; halt.
to cease moving, proceeding, speaking, acting, operating, etc.; to pause; desist.
the act of stopping.
a cessation or arrest of movement, action, operation, etc.; end:
Stop – I bet you can feel the demand in this word just by reading it ️. You maybe read it and took an involuntary, harried breath. It’s an emergency word, a “must be done right away” word. How can one not instantly be put on edge, prodded towards fight, flight or freeze when hearing that word?
[ fee-ling ]
the function or the power of perceiving by touch.
physical sensation not connected with sight, hearing, taste, or smell.
a particular sensation of this kind:
a feeling of warmth; a feeling of pain.
the general state of consciousness considered independently of particular sensations, thoughts, etc.
readily affected by emotion; sympathetic:
a feeling heart.
Let’s put those two words together – Stop feeling. I’ll repeat. Stop feeling. Really, those two words sum up the entire toxicity of this phrase, don’t they? We might do well to consider how we’ve come to develop a common phrase that asks people to stop feeling. I could write an essay on the subject seeped in history, collective and inherited trauma (war) and much more, but I’ll save you that. It’s enough to say I think that in this time of greater emotional enlightenment we need to retire this statement/phrase. No good can come from telling ourselves or others to “stop feeling”.
[ sor-ee, sawr-ee ]
adjective, sor·ri·er, sor·ri·est.
feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.:
to be sorry to leave one’s friends; to be sorry for a remark; to be sorry for someone in trouble.
regrettable or deplorable; unfortunate; tragic:
a sorry situation; to come to a sorry end.
sorrowful, grieved, or sad:
Was she sorry when her brother died?
associated with sorrow; suggestive of grief or suffering; melancholy; dismal.
wretched, poor, useless, or pitiful:
a sorry horse.
Why would we ask anyone to stop feeling sorry, which amounts to the definitions above, for themselves? Might it be because we can’t face what it would mean to sit with someone experiencing those feelings? To be around someone experiencing those feelings. To hold space for and care for someone experiencing those feelings.
What if you’re actually having a difficult/devastating/life-
I’m sending you love,
This Month’s Recommendations
All of my recommendations are based on personal experience only and are unpaid, however, I will receive a commission for any books purchased through the bookshop.org links I provide for your convenience. All commissions received will be collated and donated to my chosen charities and funds every year.
TO READ – FICTION
Kristin Hannah’s, The Four Winds – this book made me cry and cry in a cathartic way that I can’t remember experiencing with a book for years. This story is a moving experience of a mother’s drive to save her children during the Great Depression, covering themes relevant today such as immigration, difference, and how we look at those in struggle.
The Underground Railroad – this is not easy to watch on many levels, but it is worth it. It’s magnificently acted and directed and a compelling tribute to the resilience and bravery of black slaves in America during the horrors of slavery.
The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life by Edith Eva Eger – this book really is a gift. So much so I gift it to most of my clients, as it offers so many gems of wisdom from a psychologist who survived the Holocaust. If you read it, also check out Dr Eger on YouTube, there’s a great interview between her and Marie Forleo and you see this 92-year-old woman’s spirit shine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?