4 Tips to Conquer Self Pity

“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:4 NIV

Self pity is a dangerous state of mind.  The quote above is from the great prophet Elijah who at this point in his life was a poster child for self pity.  We see here its pernicious end, driving a person to the point of not only giving up, but wishing for death. 

The story is told of the man inquiring of his friend, “How are you doing?”  “Not so good under the circumstances,” was the reply.  And he retorted “Well then, what are you doing under there?“  

Self pity is characterized, as illustrated here with Elijah, by a negative reaction to adverse circumstances that leads to feelings of helplessness, self absorption, comparisons, a distorted view of reality and ultimately a victim mentality.  Remarkably it is self sustaining, like a vortex it can suck a person wallowing in a “poor me” or “why me” attitude deeper and deeper into the pit despair.  

If you are battling self pity you can take encouragement from the story of Elijah. 

1)  First it assures us that if it could happen to someone as close to God and as successful as him, it can happen to anyone.  You are not alone in your self-pity.  In fact everyone at one time or other feels sorry for themselves.  It can be triggered by any number of things: a disappointment or difficult circumstance, a threat of loss or actually suffering loss, being misunderstood or unappreciated, and on and on.  “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”  (I Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

2)  And that leads us to the second thing we can learn from Elijah’s bout with self pity.  At its root self pity is a temptation to doubt God and His plans for your life.  Viewing self pity as a temptation to unbelief can help us begin to confront the web of distortions and misbeliefs spun by it.  God in His mercy offers us an escape by providing the truth in the face of a lie.  Twice Elijah complains to God “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10, 14)  In reality, he was not the only one left.  God set him straight on that score when He told him that there were 7,000! in Israel who like Elijah refused to worship Baal.  And the only one who vowed to kill Elijah was Jezebel.  Besides that Elijah had just come from Mount Carmel where with God’s help he overcame 850:1 odds and single handedly killed all of Jezebel’s prophets of Baal and Asherah.

If you are feeling sorry for yourself, most likely you are not seeing things clearly.  Like Elijah you are exaggerating the negatives in your life.  No matter what your perception of the odds against your survival, with God on your side, you have them outnumbered. 

3)  That brings us to the third lesson we learn from Elijah.  We need to do what Elijah did, go to God with our troubles – be honest with God and tell Him  how you are feeling.  Seek to inquire of God for the truth and direction for your life.  Elijah, we are told, made his destination “Horeb, the mountain of God.” (1 Kings 19:8)  Ultimately it is much more important who we are running to than what or whom we are running from.  God has broad enough shoulders to absorb all our tears.  And He did not disappoint Elijah.  However He did not speak to him in the way Elijah expected or would have preferred, with some big, dramatic miracle or turn around.  Rather, He spoke to him in a whisper.  And that is often how the power of self pity is broken, with a seemingly small interjection of truth by a caring God.

4)  And what God told Elijah is our fourth and final insight into overcoming self pity.  God told Elijah to “Go back the way you came.” (1 Kings 19:15)  When we go to God with our troubles, invariably His plan to remedy them is to tell us to go back and face them.  But the wonder is that with God’s whisper to “go back” is the strength, the wisdom and the will to do it.  Elijah found that true and so will we. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Philippians 2:13 NLT)

Do you have any tips for conquering self pity?

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8 thoughts on “4 Tips to Conquer Self Pity”

  1. When I fall under this curse I say to myself HITCH UP YOUR SKIRT NANCY AND GET MOVING.

  2. Thanks, nothing beats the good ole self challenge! Interesting, I’ve never heard that particular idiom before. Sounds like it’s working for you. It might be troublesome for someone married to a “Nancy.” But as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  3. When I was first out of college, a friend and I at that time both really loved Turtle Sundaes at Bridgemans. As we were entering the restaurant, we together would sing to the the tune of “Love Lifted Me” (I was sinking into sin) “We are sliding into sin, weeeeeeee!!!!!”…..So often self pity is a choice we make-just like our choice to indulge in a Turtle Sundae. It is so important to remember as that hymn states that “love lifted me…..when nothing else would help…love lifted me”.. In times of introspect and hardship and hurt-the love of Jesus will lift you up and above the circumstances which lead to self pity if you let him.

  4. Thanks for the reminder of the truth conveyed in that great old hymn. So true, “when nothing else would help . . . love lifted me.” That says it all.

  5. John A. Donaldson, II

    Hi Mr. Stuart,
    Thanks for the great biblically based advice. I’m 53 & over the last several years I’ve slid steadily, desperately into self pity.
    I’m going to use my Interpreter’s Bible to read on 1Kings 19 re: Elijah.
    Do you have any other resources/books/advice/websites/etc. to recommend how to overcome self pity?
    Christ loves you,

  6. Hi JD – Thank you for taking the time to reply to this blog post on self pity. I’ve found that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to battle this. Another post you might want to read which I recently wrote is on the topic of looking for the goodness of God in our lives and then purposing to give Him thanks. https://tomstuart.org/2015/03/10/meditating-upon-the-goodness-of-god/
    Praying that as you battle through this you find yourself on an upward trajectory once again in your walk with the Lord and attitude toward your life. As regards to resources, I would recommend just searching the web for Christian articles and books on the topic. Blessings, Tom

  7. John A. Donaldson, II

    Thank you PASTOR Stuart, I’ll check it out.
    I’m in a holding pattern just now. I’ve been unemployed for 3.5 years despite that fact that I’m a highly skilled software developer in Oakland,CA. But I’m hoping to meet the challenge by pivoting into Android mobile phone app development.

    The Bible has been my source of strength, why I’m still carrying on. Over the last 9 months, I’ve learned that it contains infinite truth/wisdom. I no longer see it as just “bible words”!

    James 1:12


  8. John A. Donaldson, II

    one more thing. I use “The Bible App” on Android every single morning. It’s free and a truly amazing resource. Esp. its “Plans”.


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