We tend to learn self-pity when we’re young. Maybe it was a sunny Sunday afternoon; you were nine years old. Your parents wouldn’t let you have any ice cream if you didn’t do your maths homework. It was achingly unfair. Every other child in the world was playing football or watching TV. No one else has such a mean mother. It was just awful. We’re all – in theory – dead against self-pity. It seems deeply unattractive because it reveals egoism in its most basic form, a failure to put our own suffering into proper perspective against the larger backdrop of human history. We lament our tiny disasters and look coldly on the grand tragedies of the world. A problem with one’s fringe, or a wrongly cooked steak. Dominates the mind while we ignore the working conditions in China and the gini coefficient of Brazil. No one likes to own up to self-pity. And yet, if we are honest it’s something we feel quite often. And in fact it’s often rather a sweet and indeed important emotion. The fact is we do deserve a great deal more pity than other people are ever very likely to bestow upon us. Life is in truth horrendously hard in many ways. Even if one does have a top notch data plan and an elegantly designed fridge. Our talents are never fairly recognised. Our best years will necessarily drift away. We won’t find all the hope. We won’t find all the love we need. We deserve pity and there isn’t anyone else around to give it to us. So we have to supply a fair dose of it to ourselves. The operative cause might, from a lofty perspective, seem ridiculous. Poor me, I’ll never drive a Ferrari. It’s so sad. I thought we were going to a Japanese restaurant and they have booked a pub. But these are just the convenient opportunities for immersing ourselves in a much bigger issue. The fundamental sorrows of existence for which we do genuinely deserve the most tender compassion. Imagine what things would be like if we couldn’t pity ourselves. We would be that far worse category of mental discomfort – depressed. The depressed person is someone who has lost the art of self pitty. Who has become too rigorous with themselves If you think of a parent comforting a child, they often spend hours on very minor things. A lost toy, Nunu’s broken eye, the children’s party to which one wasn’t invited. They are not being ridiculous. They are in effect teaching the child how to look after themselves. And giving space to the important idea that small upsets can have very large internal consequences. Gradually we learn to mimik this parental attitude and come to be able to feel sorry for ourselves when no one else will. It’s not necessarily entirely rational, but it’s a coping mechanism. A first protective shell which we develop in order to be able to manage some of the immense disappointments and frustrations that life throws at us. The defensive posture of self-pity is far from contemptible. It is touching and important. Many religions have given expression to this attitude by inventing deities who look with inexpressible pity upon human beings. In Catholicism for instance, the Virgin Mary is often presented as weeping out of tenderness for the miseries of the normal human life. Such kindly divine beings are really just projections of our own need to be pitied. Self-pity is compassion that we extend to ourselves. A more mature aspect of the self, turns to the weak and lost parts of a psyche and comforts them, strokes them, tells them it understands and that they are indeed lovely but misunderstood. It allows them to be, for a while, a bit babyish. Since that is, actually, what we all are in large part. It provides the undemanding, confirming love that every baby, but far more importantly every adult needs to get through the anguish of existence.