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Self-pity is the psychological state of mind of an individual in perceived adverse situations who has not accepted the situation and does not have the confidence nor competence to cope with it. It is characterized by a person's belief that he or she is the victim of unfortunate circumstances or events and is therefore deserving of condolence.


  • Self-pity is not as sterile as we suppose. Once we feel its mere onset, we assume a thinker's attitude, and come to think of it, we come to think!
    • Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born [French: De l'inconvénient d'être né] (1973)
  • Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.
    • Helen Keller, as quoted in How to Help Someone Who is Depressed, or Suicidal : Practical Suggestions from a Survivor (1993) by John Cook
  • Self-pity? I see no moral objections to it, the smell drives people away, but that's a practical objection, and occasionally an advantage.
  • Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world — making the most of one's best.
    • Harry Emerson Fosdick, Statement of 1937 or earlier, as quoted in The New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom (1958) edited by Herbert Victor Prochnow
  • Self-pity is an ignoble emotion, but we all feel it, and the orthodox critical line that it represents some kind of artistic flaw is dubious, a form of emotional correctness.
  • You cannot depend upon anybody. There is no guide, no teacher, no authority. There is only you — your relationship with others and with the world — there is nothing else. When you realize this, it either brings great despair, from which comes cynicism and bitterness, or, in facing the fact that you and nobody else is responsible for the world and for yourself, for what you think, what you feel, how you act, all self-pity goes. Normally we thrive on blaming others, which is a form of self-pity.
  • I never saw a wild thing
    Sorry for itself.
    A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
    without ever having felt sorry for itself.
  • One recalls how much the creative impulse of the best-sellers depends upon self-pity. It is an emotion of great dramatic potential.
  • Moreover, given the unpleasant option of having to associate with either the self-satisfied beautiful or the self-pitying plain, he'd choose the former every time because beauty could sometimes transcend smugness whereas self-pity just made ugliness all the more unattractive.
  • I never complained of the vicissitudes of fortune, nor suffered my face to be overcast at the revolution of the heavens, except once, when my feet were bare, and I had not the means of obtaining shoes. I came to the chief of Kfah in a state of much dejection, and saw there a man who had no feet. I returned thanks to God and acknowledged his mercies, and endured my want of shoes with patience, and exclaimed,
    "Roast fowl to him that's sated will seem less
    Upon the board than leaves of garden cress.
    While, in the sight of helpless poverty,
    Boiled turnip will a roasted pullet be."
    • Sadi, The Gulistn, or Rose Garden, trans. Edward B. Eastwick, chapter 3, story 19, p. 129 (1880).
    • A modern version, often cited as an old Arabian proverb, is: "I thought I was abused because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."—J. M. Braude, Speaker's Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations and Anecdotes, p. 338, no. 2320 (1955).
  • I'd always, you see, even in my early teens, had these problems — problems of suddenly waking up in the middle of the night and having this horrifying vision that life is completely meaningless. You know — just thinking about something like the depths of space, and realizing it's got to come to an end somewhere, but apparently it doesn't, and then suddenly getting this terrible feeling that maybe life is a total delusion. G. K. Chesterton once said that in his teens he saw hell, and I really think I did too. I went through extreme depressions, glooms. There was one occasion on which I decided actually to commit suicide. I'd got into this state — I was working as a lab assistant at the school, and what would happen was that I'd make tremendous efforts to push myself up to a level of optimism. I'd do it in the evenings by reading poetry, thinking, writing in my journals, then I'd go back to the school the next day and blaaahhh, right down to the bottom again. This was the feeling of The Mind Parasites — there's something that waits until you've got lots of energy and just sucks you dry like a vampire. This sudden feeling that God was making fun of me made me feel one day, "For God's sake, let's not have any more of this nonsense. I'm damned if I'll be played about with like this. Let me kill myself." And immediately I felt this, I felt a curious sense of inner strength. So I went off to night school quite determined that what I was going to do was to take down the bottle of potassium cyanide from the reagent shelves and drink it. I knew that cyanide burns a hole in the bottom of the stomach and kills you within seconds. Well, I went into the classroom quite determined. There was a group gathered around the professor at the desk. I went over to the reagent shelves, I took down the bottle of potassium cyanide, I uncorked it, and as I started raising this to my lips I suddenly had an extremely clear vision of myself in a few seconds' time with an agonizing pain in the pit of my stomach, and at the same time I suddenly turned into two people. I don't mean that literally, but I mean that there was I, and there beside me was this silly, bloody little idiot called Colin Wilson who was in a state of self-pity and about to kill himself, and I didn't give a damn whether the fool killed himself or not. The trouble was, if he killed himself he'd kill me too. And quite suddenly a terrific sense of overwhelming happiness came over me. I corked up the bottle, put it on the shelf, and for the next few days was in total control of my emotions and everything else. I realized suddenly that you can achieve these states of control, provided that you put yourself in a crisis situation. And that's why throughout The Outsider I keep saying the outsider's salvation lies in extremes.

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