Self-Pity: Is Wallowing In It Really So Bad For You?

Self-Pity: “a feeling of pity for yourself because you believe you have suffered more than is fair or reasonable.” Merriam-Webster

Wallow: “to spend time experiencing or enjoying something without making any effort to change your situation, feelings, etc.” Merriam-Webster

My experience is that most people who think they’re wallowing in self-pity actually aren’t. On the other hand, those who don’t believe they’re wallowing might be. These are the ones sociologist/life coach Martha Beck writes about in her article “Yes, It Was Awful–Now Please Shut Up.”

…Today many people (even many therapists) assume that going over the reasons we’re unhappy is, in itself, sufficient to create happiness. If this were true, cogitating on our most painful stories would be a cure-all. Unfortunately, there comes a point when talking about our mental block stops being a solution and becomes the problem. That point is marked by a large red flag, on which is written simply: SELF-PITY.

Google self-pity and you’ll find plenty additional negativity about this particular state of mind. But somewhere between these admonitions against self-pity and total permission to wallow, not so easily found, is the wisdom of therapist Tina Gilbertson, whose 2014 book is actually titled Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them. “Feelings that haven’t been fully, consciously, willingly and compassionately experienced can’t resolve,” she states in Psychology Today.

Questions she wants you to ask yourself:

  • Do you combat feelings with food, either by starving yourself, overeating, or both?
  • Do you drown out your inner voice with casual sex, too much shopping or Internet surfing, drugs or something else?
  • Do you worry about things that, deep down, you know don’t really matter, just to stay distracted from your authentic self?

“If so, you haven’t been wallowing in self-pity,” concludes Gilbertson. “But maybe you should.”

Dindy Yokel, ForeWord Reviews, remarks about her approach: “Laughter is the best medicine, as many have said, and psychotherapist Tina Gilbertson’s new book, Constructive Wallowing…is laugh-out-loud funny. The author conveys her insightful thesis in smart, welcoming language that entertains and enlightens along the way.”

Some of the main themes of her book: You don’t have to make yourself think positively, it’s important to develop self-compassion and understanding, and work on being honest with yourself.

Selected Reviews

Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking: “If you’ve already discovered that ‘trying to think positive’ only makes you feel worse, it’s time to embrace Constructive Wallowing instead. This wise and witty book shows why pushing bad feelings away never works, and offers a practical approach to the more liberating alternative of allowing yourself to feel them. Ignore those grinning gurus: Tina Gilbertson explains how anxiety, anger, sadness and fear can be a doorway to a far more profound kind of happiness.”

Publishers Weekly: “If you’ve ever ignored difficult feelings or if your inner critic has been riding you to be constructive every minute of the day, psychotherapist Gilbertson has written a counterintuitive self-help book that offers constructive advice for boosting self-compassion by wallowing in negative feelings.”

Elio Frattaroli, psychiatrist“Where cognitive therapy teaches you what’s wrong with your thinking, Tina Gilbertson’s Constructive Wallowing teaches you what’s right with your feeling. Her style is light and breezy but her message is profound. Both wise and engaging—like a great therapist—this book can start you on the path of self-awareness and self-acceptance that is the essence of healing.”

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