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Self-Pity Isn’t Depression Nor Self-Compassion

Nobody likes a whiner — someone who wallows in self-pity and is very vocal about telling you how hard their life has been.

But what’s the difference between self-pity and depression?

If you’re filled to the brim with self-pity, you believe the world is against you. You’re a victim. You can’t get a break. Promotions don’t come your way. Your kids never call enough or come by.  Your ex has ruined your entire life.

Self-pity is paralyzing.

Depression isn’t self-pity…

Depression involves an unwanted and unchosen barrage of negative, destructive thoughts and emotions. When you’re drowning in those thoughts and emotions, it’s very hard to be engaged with others or interested in anything outside of your own head. Depression is an implosion of your energy. You can be unfairly criticized. “You’re feeling sorry for yourself. Snap out of it, and start thinking about someone other than yourself.”

That’s like telling someone who’s deaf to listen — or blind to see. Until the depression subsides, the mind struggles to be rational.

This Ted Talk video with Andrew Solomon eloquently describes the struggle.

We can hear Andrew’s words. We can recognize that depression is real.

Yet our culture still stigmatizes seeking help and treatment.

Stigma, shame and the fear of self-pity…

I created a questionnaire a couple of years ago which garnered 3000 responses.  I asked both genders questions about their reasons for seeking treatment or for not seeking treatment.

The overriding issue for women? A fear of what others would think. For men it was due to their staunch belief, “I can fix it myself.” Both of those reasons involve fear of stigma or judgment from others — being seen as weak and a whiner.

IF we know rationally that depression is real, how are these fears being fueled? What’s causing the resistance or shame in admitting a struggle?

It’s being learned and taught at home.

There are parents who teach and model for their children that there is shame in feeling sad, or lost, or confused. Nothing that involves pain is allowed to be discussed. Maybe a child is trying to talk about being bullied at school.  “If you’re going to feel sorry for yourself, you can go to your room.” Maybe an alcoholic mom screams at her child, “Wipe that sniveling look off your face. Don’t I do enough for you?” Maybe a father abandons the kids after a divorce, and he’s never spoken of again. “Your dad left us. I don’t want his name mentioned around here.”

What kind of children come out of these families? What kind of adults do they turn into?

Self-compassion is far from self-pity…

There are many possibilities. One of them — you can become expert at hiding whatever pain you feel. You create a life that looks awesome. There’s no task that’s too difficult for you to take on. You’re a mover and shaker. You count your blessings, every day. You go ninety miles an hour every hour of every day, every week.

There doesn’t seem to be a self-pitying bone in your body.

No one sees what’s on the inside. No one knows the amount of insecurity, self-loathing or shame that exists in reality. Because it’s perfectly hidden.

The fear of exposure can become intense. It can feel as if your whole world will cave in if anyone finds out that you struggle — or that you have secrets you’ve never shared.

The fact is — that it won’t.  The far greater risk is never working through the experiences that caused the need to hide. Treatment can help you with that. But you have to confront your own fear, your own shame so that you can reveal.

Healing isn’t about blame. Maybe there was abuse. Maybe there was trauma. And you were a true victim. Staying in blaming mode will only cause bitterness, anger and self-pity.

Healing is about self-compassion and self-acceptance. You acknowledge the depth of your pain, which can free you. It’s freeing to make the connection between painful experiences and who you are today.

Too many people are alone in their struggle with depression. And too many people are hiding.

Have compassion for others. If they’re experiencing depression, listen. Support. Encourage appropriate treatment. Help us all confront stigma.

Share that compassion for yourself.


If you wonder if you have Perfectly Hidden Depression, you can take this quiz  If you have either depression or PHD, please seek help from your doctor or a therapist.

If someone has been hanging in there with you for years, and loving you well, click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” the new gift book by Dr. Margaret!

You can hear more about depression and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly posts as well as her podcasts, plus Dr. Margaret’s eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”



Self-Pity Isn’t Depression Nor Self-Compassion

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist who's practiced in Fayetteville, Arkansas for twenty-five years. Her passion for researching Perfectly Hidden Depression began in 2014 and she's currently writing a book to be published next year by New Harbinger. Her work has been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, The Mighty and The Good Men Project, among others. She's the author of "Marriage Is Not For Chickens", a blogger (Https:// and podcaster (SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford). She welcomes your questions and comments --

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APA Reference
Rutherford, D. (2018). Self-Pity Isn’t Depression Nor Self-Compassion. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 May 2018
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