How to Deal with People Feeling Sorry for Themselves

When you encounter people who are good at playing the role of professional victim, you will often notice that you routinely get seduced by them because they whine and they want an audience. When people swim around in the pity pot they often want you to feel sorry for them so they can describe the breadth of their terrible situation without any interest in solving it or doing anything about it. They simply want you to pay attention to them while they enjoy the “poor me” and describe the “delicious agony of life.” There seems to be something curiously attractive about being a victim and a martyr… apparently sacrificing yourself does get attention.  They will often say things to you like, “You couldn’t possibly understand what I have been through.”  Then you can expect them to waste your time while they describe the “poor me” in great detail and they can enjoy their victimhood and contest of who is the most oppressed person.  You will want to appear interested and likely conclude that you have enabled them to play victim while you are trying to be nice, empathetic, and appreciative of their plight.

Let’s suppose you want to stop them in their tracks so that you are free of having your time wasted with their whining. Here’s a comeback that might be quite effective after they say to you, “You couldn’t possibly understand what I’ve been through.” Say, “Well, if I’m unable to understand it then I guess we can quit talking about it!”  In response, you are likely to receive a whole new behavior pattern from them. They will be unhappy, disapproving, and criticizing, then accuse you of being thoughtless, insensitive, and uncaring. They now want you to feel GUILTY so that you will comply with their wishes. The reason they will start criticizing you is that they want to wallow in self-pity and you refused to be their audience.

When you are dealing with someone who likes to feel sorry for themselves, you often get victimized yourself because you get sucked in to listening to them. Your time gets wasted while they manipulated you to appreciate the situation they likely engineered for themselves.  Instead, if you are unwilling to be manipulated and ready to tolerate some disapproval then it is often helpful to look at them and say, “Hey that’s really impressive self-pity.  I’ll bet nobody knows the pain you have suffered.  Nice job on the “poor me.”

Sometimes you may notice you actually get pulled into the contest of “who is the most oppressed person.”  Then you will watch yourself passionately participate in a round robin complaint fest!  Now you are helping everyone involved waste time by whining and complaining.  Other times a victim will begin whining to you about how difficult it has been. You might preempt that person with an attempt to be understanding and say, “I can only imagine what it has been like.”  You will then hear the very familiar retort, “Oh no, you have no idea!”  They will now launch into wanting you to enjoy their unhappiness.

So what do you do about this chronic whining and self-pity party?  Consider this screenplay, and go back to it when the victim says passionately, “Oh no, you have no idea!”  Immediately respond by saying, “Well because I apparently have no idea, and at best I can only imagine, please know that my appetite to gain any more of an idea is quite low.  So what else is going on?”  At this point, they will either be upset or bewildered about what just happened and are going to want to whine to someone else right away!  Decide to let people feel sorry for themselves by themselves, otherwise they will suck energy and time from you while you are trying to be nice.  Besides, if you refuse to be their audience, they are very likely to find another audience with all deliberate speed.

By the way, if this routine is familiar to you, then professional victims will keep sucking energy and time from you as long as you allow it.  It is very difficult to manipulate you and make you feel guilty without your consent.

What are your thoughts?

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