My definition of living with integrity is “having all of the parts of yourself in alignment, integrated with each other, and there being harmony in that wholeness”. Living with integrity leads to living a more peaceful and serene life, which is a goal that I have chosen for myself over the past couple of years. However, the way that we live with integrity is by living true to our values, and people in full food addiction (or any addiction) tend to find this difficult.
Today, I want to talk about how self-pity makes us live beyond our values, which makes it difficult for us to live with integrity, and therefore impossible to gain peace and serenity.
What does this feel like?
Let me start by talking about something that happened to me this week that drove to me experience self-pity.
I was expected to be at a particular meeting one evening this week, and I completely forgot about it. Somehow I even missed it when someone reminded me about it. I didn’t realize that I had missed it until the following day when someone called to ask me about it. I was MORTIFIED and hopped on a direct flight to Self-Pity Ville. I was so upset with myself, so ashamed, and so bothered about how it must have looked when I didn’t show up that I got myself into a right tizzy.
With a few days’ perspective, I can now see that I overreacted. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have felt bad for missing a meeting, but I didn’t quite need to arrange a whole pity party for myself and invite all of my character defects to show up as honoured guests. Regardless, that is what I did.
The way I sum up how self-pity feels to me is by the expression “hard done by”. The thoughts in my head sound like:
“I am so busy, and I have so many commitments in my calendar, and it’s not fair, and I’m only one person, and, and, and…”
In other words, “Poor me. I’m so hard done by.”
Then, I will start to feel like I shouldn’t have to do things because I am so upset:
I shouldn’t have to exercise.
I shouldn’t have to prepare my lunch.
I shouldn’t have to go to work.
This can also be expressed as “It’s not fair that I have to…”
And finally, I want to find a way to treat myself to make me feel better:
I need food. What can I eat that will make this feeling go away?
My way of operating for the first fifty years of my life was to go from self-pity to self-soothing (usually with food) with nary a moment of lucid thought or intentional action in between. This meant that even if I had promised myself to “eat better” or “exercise more”, I would always end up wriggling out of that commitment because “it’s not fair” or “I deserve to be rewarded”. In other words, even if I had a self-declared value of “taking care of myself”, self-pity would effortlessly push past that value in a fraction of a second. This made it very difficult to live with integrity, and to experience the peace that living with integrity brings to the soul.
What should we do when we find ourselves in a state of self-pity so that it doesn’t steer us away from our values?
My suggestion is that naming our feelings is the first step. We need to develop an awareness of what we are feeling in real-time in order to be able to make decisions based on our values rather than on our momentary emotions. Once we have identified the “self-pity state” that we have put ourselves in, we need to pause and have a conversation with ourselves about how we are feeling and why we are feeling that way. What is at the root of the feeling? And since, in my opinion, fear is one of the strongest drivers of negative emotions, I usually ask myself what fear is driving this feeling.
In the case of missing the meeting, I was feeling ashamed for having made a mistake, and I was worried about what the people who attended the meeting were thinking about me. And having those feelings made me drag up examples of other times in my life when I have made mistakes and other times when I have left people with a bad impression of me. This is where the “hard done by” chorus kicks in.
Rather than giving in to feeling hard done by, the step after coming to a state of awareness of the feelings is to try to rein in the need to self-soothe or reward ourselves with a treat. Ideally you will be able to get yourself to the point of not needing a reward at all, but if you find that you are not quite there yet, my suggestion is to at least choose a reward that is not destructive. Find a way to be gentle with yourself, but not treat yourself.
For example, when I found myself in self-pity last week, I stopped and had a think about all of these things, and I then decided that I would wear a sweater that I quite liked as a way to be gentle with myself for that day. It was just a basic sweater, so it probably sounds crazy, but it made me happy to wear it because it fits me properly and I think it looks nice on me, so I thought it would set me in a better mood for the day.
When “I can’t” moves on to “I shouldn’t have to…” or “I deserve to…” through the power of self-pity, we can start to believe that we have no choice but to give in to whatever feelings we are having. In other words, self-pity not only entices us to turn away temporarily from our values, but it can actually make us more resistant to living according to our values overall, which pushes us further away from peace and serenity. So, my suggestion for this week is to try to PRESS PAUSE if you find yourself in the throes of self-pity so that you will have a better chance of living with integrity, and therefore experiencing more peace and serenity.