I have a confession. I’m given to self pity. I hate it and I don’t want it in my life anymore. It’s costing me.
In the past month or so I’ve been studying Richard Nixon. We just passed the 40th anniversary of his impeachment and resignation, so interviews and articles have been floating around the internet.
Nixon lived in a bit of an ethical fog.
But in my opinion his ethics problems weren’t his primary flaw. His primary flaw was he felt sorry for himself.
Whether it was constantly comparing himself to the Kennedys or wishing the press would cut him a break, Nixon’s default mode was to shirk responsibility for his actions by blaming his problems on other people.
Remarkably, self pity is often the default mode of the bully. Why? Because it’s just another way of playing the bully. Every victim needs an oppressor, and people don’t like oppressors so the bully often flops to play the victim as a way of making their enemies look bad. It’s just more manipulation.
To be sure, there are real victims in the world.
Henry Cloud says a victim is somebody who is truly hopeless. But Nixon was never hopeless.
In leadership, playing the victim backfires. When Nixon lost his bid for governor of California he gave a press conference in which he scolded the media for their constant criticism, saying this would be his last press conference and that they wouldn’t have “Nixon to kick around anymore.” The press conference made him a laughing stock and it was the primary obstacle he had to overcome as he continued his political career. Even today it’s considered his second biggest mistake, after Watergate, of course.
Pat Buchanan says self pity is the nail in the coffin of any political career, but I suggest it’s much more than a political career that gets hurt by self pity. I think as wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, teachers, pastors and just about any other leadership role we play, self pity is intuitively seen by others as a weakness and it makes people not want to follow us.
If we need to ask for help, that’s great.
We can confide in friends, see a counselor or even publicly ask for help, but playing the victim isn’t that. Playing the victim is accusing other people of oppressing us in a dramaticized fashion. Self pity is emotional exaggeration as a way of blaming our problems on others.
Preaching to myself, I know. But hopefully I’ll be taking some folks with me. No more self pity. Let’s move up and on.
The world needs us to lead, not to lick our wounds.