Loading

On the Way to the Kingdom: Pitithetic I

Marjorie Campbell

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world. – Helen Keller

This is the first in a three-part series on self-pity.  If you never indulge in self-pity, skip this series.  It’s too likely to provoke a certain repulsion that obliterates any empathy us oft self-pitied persons could reasonably expect from you. You can move on and pray for us, the “pity pathetic” people seeking relief.

If however, you are of Irish, Polish, Slavic, Latino, or African descent, or if you are female, even of a lunar ethnic group, or if you experience a high or low or bored plateau of hormonal shifts beyond your control or recognition, which result in brief periods (several minutes up to several months) of self-pitying, read on.  I intend to commiserate with you and share my own experience struggling to divert pitithetic energy back to the common good.  This is no easy spiritual exercise, but it’s worthy (as all self-pitying people come to realize) because self-pitying is emotional alcohol.  It becomes addictive, easily added to any experience for the familiar affect of the “poor me” buzz.  

“Pitithetic I” focuses on the dimensions of the problem, with anecdotes that will seem familiar or cause you to send me an e-mail to “Get over it, dear.”  “Pitithetic II” will focus on forgiveness and boundaries.  “Pitithetic III” will move on to humor and hope.  A “Pitithetic IV” would, of course, extol love and charity above all – but that’s advanced spirituality and I am still in progress. 

I suffer self-pity.  It came upon me in my 20s.  Before then, I had no cause upon which to pin the emotion, though, like a bitter seed, the tendency was firmly planted.  I was introduced to self-pity in the female Irish Catholic perspective my own mother conveyed.  I’ll offer one example.  My mother disliked my father’s cousin Jeannette.  “She,” my mother mourned freely among us kids, “is unbearable.” Though I did not know Jeannette, my mother received my full child confidence and loyalty. So I was certain of Jeannette’s flaws, and consoled my mother’s withering gloom each time she suffered mention of or a visit with Jeannette.  I did not know, but, in those moments, I was learning and absorbing the expectations and exercise of self-pity.

Over time, I became aware of facts underlying my mother’s consistent distress with Jeannette.  Jeannette had known my father his entire life, being only a few months apart and raised side by side.  My mother, compared to my father’s cousin, was the newcomer in his life, all of his life.  Too, Jeannette was firmly Protestant and, very possibly, expressed the anti-Catholic attitudes of her small town where Catholics lived somewhat segregated from the rest of the community.  As fact and reality remolded child perceptions, I realized that Jeannette rattled my mother’s feelings, probably unintentionally, as early as Mother’s courtship days with my father.  My mother’s own tendencies cemented the situation for the duration.  It was not vitriol that fueled my mother’s life long suffering of Jeannette, but the initial emotional pain that festered and never went away. 

I call this “relational” self-pity:  When I have been offended by another person and will not reforge the wrong to be forgotten, forgiven or replaced by, say, better behavior.  Let me share two of my own relational self-pity points. 

When my husband courted me, he sent me beautiful bouquets of flowers.  When I said “yes” and married him, he said, “I will always send you flowers.”  That, I noted within months of marriage, did not happen.

My husband’s father, may he rest in peace, told me shortly after my marriage to his son, “I don’t know why he loves you, but it seems he does. I am stuck with that.”

These two relational incidents provoked in me neither sympathy nor love – certainly not patience – but, rather, torrents of self-pity.  “Poor me,” I’ve thought in extremis, a husband who will not give me flowers as promised and a father-in-law whose early words to me expressed an abiding disdain for my person.  Are these small human infractions?  Undoubtedly.  Yet, they are but two examples of slights done to me that settled, rooted and became an emotional experience over which, I was certain, I enjoyed neither control and nor responsibility.  I could not reverse the wrong, but I certainly could store it, even nurture it, because, after all, I was deserving of sympathy and comfort.  Notably, earnest, heartfelt apologies or, better, public acknowledgment by the wrong-doer of the grave injustice done to me sometimes squelches my self-pity.  But I’ve found such groveling by the miscreant hard to come by.  So, I am forced to assume the task of expressing sorrow to myself for the unmitigated wrongs done to me by others.  

This is how relational self-pity operates.  Like certain tax benefits, I can roll it over year to year. I can recite and rehearse the foundational facts, add current slights that stoke the initial debt, and, without much effort, keep the emotion alive and kicking over decades.  It’s tempting to make a laminated list, not to seek revenge or payback, but to be reminded that, based upon my Self Pity List, I’ve had to bear much injustice and suffering and I am entitled to wallow as needed. 

Related are the unjust incidents dealt by nature such as unwanted (in)fertility, physical disability, gender (this irritates some people a lot), bad hair, premature glaucoma and a double chin, to name a few examples.  These incidents are relational to Mother Nature, but rarely cause me to sulk whenever interacting with her.  Rather, I descend into an autonomous self pity, brought on usually by advertising or an ill-placed joke by my husband. One friend summed up this form of self-pity when she said, “It’s not fair.  The thing I love to do most in life is eat.  I love it.  And look, it makes me fat.  That’s just not fair.”  I call this form of self-pity “natural self-pity.”

You can see where I am going with this.  For some of us, self-pity so naturally flows from incidents, events and matters coming upon us like a tsunami that self-pity seems righteous and normal, like a scab that forms to protect torn skin during healing. 

That’s the problem, though. It’s not healing. Self-pity is self-perpetuating, debilitating and addictive.  Self-pity is more like the emotional shock you suffer thrown upon the beach – assuming you survived the big wave – and on which you demand to remain.  There, you might get an endless supply of warm blankets, professional attendants and even hot, sugary tea.  It’s the excuse to excuse getting up and moving on and putting the nasty tsunami behind you.  Self-pity is wonderful!  If you get this, then read the rest of the series.

Know, the work of replacing the habit of self-pity, redirecting the emotional energy toward the good, takes blatant determination.  It has been the single most difficult spiritual work I’ve attempted, but I have faith that it is attainable because God –  it turns out – gave me the ability to choose.  As Father Daniel O’Leary encourages:

“There is something pitifully seductive about the way our wayward minds keep returning to pick over the poisoned meat.  To be magnanimous is a difficult habit of the heart to form.  To keep substituting the blaming, resentful thought for the liberating one is truly the work of the saint.  It is a spiritual skill to pause – for the brevity of a breath or the long season of deeper sorrow – to find that space of choice, so as to discern and purify the motivation behind our response.”

Next:  Pitithetic II, Using forgiveness and boundaries to overcome pathetic self pity

Topics: Personal Growth

Marjorie Murphy Campbell, J.D. LL.M.  An inaugural speaker for California Catholic Women’s Forum on True Feminism for Real Women, Marjorie has 15 years experience as a radical feminist followed by a reversion into the Roman Catholic Church.   She practiced criminal and bankruptcy litigation;  published as a law professor and, now, Catholic writer; raised a family and appears as a speaker on social issues from the perspective of New Feminism.  She has blogged with Deal Hudson and has written for www.InsideCatholic.com, now Crisis online, which compiled her humor columns in a volume On The Way to the Kingdom, with an Introduction by Teresa Tomeo.  She currently writes for Catholic Womanhood at Catholic News Agency and is completing her Canon Law degree at Catholic University of America. 

View all articles by Marjorie Campbell

Ads by Google
(What's this?)

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)

OUR TOPICS

Abortion (48)  Advent & Christmas (19)  Beauty (3)  Bioethics (4)  Books (55)  Church history (16)  Church teaching (31)  Contraception (26)  Culture (123)  Current Events (93)  Dating (15)  Death (4)  Depression (14)  Divorce (7)  Education (14)  Eucharist (4)  Exercise (3)  Faith (220)  Family (89)  Fashion (5)  Feminism (14)  Fertility (2)  Fitness (1)  Food (2)  Forgiveness (18)  Friendship (18)  Generosity (2)  Girl Scouts (2)  Grieving (1)  Health (23)  Home Management (17)  Humor (14)  Leadership (4)  Lent & Easter (13)  Liturgical Year (11)  Marian devotion (8)  Marriage (35)  Mature Years (5)  Meditations (17)  Mental illness (1)  Mercy (2)  Military Families (2)  Ministry (5)  Miscarriage (1)  Motherhood (58)  Movies (2)  Music (5)  Natural Family Planning (2)  Nutrition (4)  Parenting (44)  Personal Growth (105)  Politics (4)  Pope Francis (1)  Pornography (3)  Prayer (33)  Pro-Life (27)  Psychology (1)  Reflections (6)  Relationships (44)  Religious freedom (11)  Saints (11)  Scripture (7)  Service (8)  Sexuality (19)  Single years (4)  Social justice (1)  Social Networking (5)  Special Needs (3)  Spirituality (2)  Suffering (14)  Suicide (1)  Travel (11)  United Nations (1)  Welcome (1)  Women in the Church (4)  Women's Health (20)  Workplace (12)  Writings of the Saints (10)  Young Women (40) 

Jul
31

Liturgical Calendar

July 31, 2014

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Featured Videos

3D Church mapping
3D Church mapping
#PAUSEforPeace Initiative
Dedicating art to San Juan de la Cruz
A state without territory elects new government
The renewal of the Legionaries of Christ
Presentation of the book "The Pastor"
Synod on the Family October 2014
Preferential option for the poor
God is alive, even in sport
'A forbidden God' named Best Film at the International Catholic Film Festival
Vatican backs a 'Pause for Peace' during World Cup final
The effects of religious violence in Sarajevo 
The origin of Corpus Christi 
Corpus Christi at the Vatican 
Homage to an Indian Cardinal
Train of the Child's Light
New book explaining gestures of the Mass
Encounter between Pope Francis and the Charismatic Renewal in the Spirit Movement.
Religious tensions subside amid Balkan floods
John Paul II Center for Studies on Marriage and Family

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 13:47-53

Gospel
Date
07/31/14
07/30/14
07/29/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Jer 18: 1-6
Gospel:: Mt 13: 47-53

Saint of the Day

St. Ignatius of Loyola »

Saint
Date
07/28/14

Homily of the Day

Mt 13:47-53

Homily
Date
07/31/14
07/30/14
07/29/14

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
     HTML
Text only
Headlines
  

Follow us: