Every human being is prone to self-pity. We are born self-centered, with a powerful drive to protect our egos and our “rights.” When we decide that life has not treated us as we have the right to be treated, self-pity is the result. Self-pity causes us to sulk and obsess over our hurts, real or perceived. At the heart of self-pity is a disagreement with God over how life—and He—has treated us.
The biggest clue that self-pity is not of God is the word self. Any time we are focused on ourselves, other than for self-examination leading to repentance (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5), we are in the territory of the flesh. Our sinful flesh is the enemy of the Spirit (Romans 8:7). When we surrender our lives to Christ, our old nature is crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6). The self-ish, sinful part of our lives no longer needs to dominate. When Self is dominant, God is not. We, in effect, have become our own god. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race.”
The self-sins do not die easily. They are more difficult to detect than obvious sins, such as immorality and drunkenness (Galatians 5:19–20), because we often consider them friends. Self-confidence, self-seeking, self-admiration, self-indulgence, self-absorption, and self-love are all symptoms of a fleshly nature that has not yet been fully surrendered to Jesus. It was a self-sin that brought Samson down (Judges 16:20) and a self-sin that caused the rich young ruler to turn away from Jesus (Matthew 19:21–22). The self-sins, including self-pity, attest to the truth that, regardless of what we say with our lips, our highest worship is often reserved for ourselves (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8).
A prime example of self-pity is found in an episode of King Ahab’s wicked life. Ahab coveted a vineyard belonging to Naboth and wanted to buy it; when Naboth refused to sell, “Ahab went home, sullen and angry. . . . He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat” (1 Kings 21:4). Imagine, a king pouting in his palace! So full of himself was the king that he was only made happy again when his wife, the evil Jezebel, set in motion a plan to have Naboth murdered (1 Kings 21:15–16). Self-pity is never good.
When we indulge in self-pity, we have elevated our importance in our own eyes. Romans 12:3 says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” We are thinking too highly of ourselves when we allow life’s hurts and injustices to dictate our emotional state. Bitterness can quickly override the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) that should be dominating the life of every believer. First Thessalonians 5:18–19 tells us that we are not to “quench the Holy Spirit.” Instead, we are to give thanks in everything. It is impossible to give thanks while clinging to self-pity, because, by definition, a self-indulgent attitude is not focused on gratitude to others. Self-pity cannot be thankful at all for what God has allowed.
Rejecting the impulse to feel sorry for ourselves is not easy. Life provides many opportunities to experience rejection, injustice, and the cruelty of man. Our natural response is self-protection, which often results in self-pity. However, we can choose to “walk by the Spirit, and . . . not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). We can refuse to indulge our sin natures and choose instead a grateful heart, trusting that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). We can look at every opportunity to indulge in self-pity as chance to defeat that old nature. We can choose instead to trust that God “will work everything for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).