The Differences Between Self-Compassion and Self-Pity

Is being self-compassionate the same as victimizing yourself? While one attitude involves action and listening, the other involves manipulation and blocking. Let's take a look.
The Differences Between Self-Compassion and Self-Pity

Last update: 17 July, 2022

What are the differences between self-compassion and self-pity? Both behaviors are directed toward ourselves, and the central content is suffering. Consequently, they may appear to be similar. However, this isn’t the case.

In fact, there are great differences between the two, starting with their purposes. While self-compassion is focused on change and feeling better (it’s a form of self-care ), self-pity can be really harmful.

What else is known about these two concepts? How can we differentiate between them? Here are some tips.

Self-compassion and self-pity

Self-compassion is defined as ‘the feeling of compassion for one’s own way of being or acting ‘. It means that when you go through a bad time and are hurt or wounded, you try to accept and understand that pain. On the other hand, self-pity is ‘excessive self-absorbed unhappiness over one’s own troubles”.

Self-compassion involves an act of self- love that implies you’re able to recognize yourself when you’re feeling vulnerable and you’re able to sustain yourself. You listen to yourself and allow yourself to cry and feel your own pain.

On the other hand, self-pity is rather harmful. It means you constantly complain about the bad luck you’ve had or how badly you’ve done something. In extreme cases, it’s a way of criticizing yourself through your negative internal dialogue.

Woman looking at reflection in mirror

The differences between self-compassion and self-pity

Now that we’ve defined both concepts, let’s talk about the differences between self-compassion and self-pity. We’ve listed eleven of them here, but there could well be more.

1. Where are they leading you?

In general, self-compassion leads you to carry out positive actions toward yourself. For instance, listening to yourself, allowing yourself to cry and experience your hurt, recognizing your vulnerability, and permitting yourself to make mistakes. When self-compassion is healthy, you’re able to take care of yourself in moments of weakness.

On the contrary, self-pity leads you to rather harmful attitudes and behaviors, through an internal discourse of negativity.

Therefore, self-pity makes you regret your mistakes. It’s a rather passive attitude, which means you feel no desire for action or motivation for change. This brings us to the next difference between self-compassion and self-pity.

2. Passive versus active attitude

Another difference between self-compassion and self-pity is that the former implies an active attitude, while self-pity is passive. This is because when you’re self-compassionate, you take actions that lead you to feel better. For example, allowing yourself to cry, distracting yourself, expressing your emotions, writing them down, etc.

These behaviors frame an active attitude that leads you toward change and improvement. On the other hand, with self-pity, you remain anchored in negative emotions. In fact, you don’t do anything; just complain, feel sad, or moan about your situation. In short: you feel sorry for yourself.

3. Their purpose

Self-compassion is a way of being aware of what you need at a given moment. In a way, it’s the art of taking care of yourself.

Through self-compassion, you seek to discover your needs and satisfy them. Self-pity is often focused on manipulating others or continuing to suffer (albeit unintentionally or unconsciously).

4. Internal dialogue

As we mentioned earlier, self-pity involves a negative internal dialogue. You feel sorry for yourself for what’s happened to you or what you or someone else has done to you.

When you’re self-compassionate, your internal dialogue is empathetic toward yourself. This attitude implies treating yourself well, speaking nicely to yourself, and, above all, listening to what you need. You accept your pain and give it space.

Heart shaped leaf, representing the differences between self-compassion and self-pity

5. Adaptability

It could be said that self-compassion allows you to adapt to situations and the emotions derived from them. On the other hand, self-pity, especially if it lasts over time, distances you from that adaptation, because it can bring you even more pain.

As we mentioned earlier, self-compassion implies action, movement, and a search for meaning. On the contrary, self-pity is a passive attitude through which you do nothing to change yourself, but you try and manipulate others.

6. The possibilities offered by each attitude

Self-compassion allows you to view each situation from the perspective of introspection. Therefore, you can properly analyze and manage your feelings, thoughts, and actions. This provides you with valuable learning.

With self-pity, you don’t face the negative situation, but you use it to build a wall that allows you to take no action yet you don’t feel remorseful. You place the focus of responsibility elsewhere and don’t process your feelings.

7. Adaptation

In light of the above, it follows that it’s possible to adapt to situations and escape from problems if you maintain a self-compassionate attitude. However, with self-pity, you have a negative view of the problem. This sabotages your intentions of adapting to changing circumstances.

8. Degree of psychological suffering

As you can imagine, self-pity generates far more suffering than self-compassion. The latter, being based on action, self-care, and optimism, isn’t exempt from suffering, but it’s possible to alleviate it. Self-pity, though, means you get stuck in a loop of negative feelings and it’s difficult to escape from them.

9. Results

Of course, the results obtained with these two attitudes are different. With self-compassion, you reach a more solid state of well-being and feel a sense of self-fulfillment. On the other side of the coin, with self-pity, it’s possible that you’ll overcome the obstacle, but it leaves you with a feeling of having had an unpleasant experience, over which you had no control.

10. The impression you make on others

Although it may be the least important aspect, the external image that you reflect with each of these attitudes is also clearly different. If you’re self-compassionate, you’ll reflect autonomy and resilience, while being self-pitying will give the impression that you’re manipulative and selfish.

The importance of emotional responsibility

As you can see, self-compassion isn’t the same as self-pity. It could be said that self-compassion, in its most extreme version, could end up being self-pity. That’s why it’s important that, when it comes to accepting your pain, you’re able to take responsibility for it, without seeking external responsibility or ‘culprits’ (as would happen in self-pity).

Affective responsibility implies taking charge of your own emotions. If you take them to the extreme or tend to blame others for what happens to you, you can fall into the trap of self-pity. This won’t give you any solutions. In fact, it’ll only make you wallow in your pain, turning it into a chronic condition.

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Being compassionate with yourself brings you many benefits. However, you may not recognize them due to your erroneous ideas or beliefs.



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  • Simón, V. & Germer, C.K. (2011). Aprender a practicar mindfulness. Sello Editorial: Barcelona.