What Can Help You to Cope?
THE television news program began as usual. There was a report of a shoot-out at a local bar. Then, suddenly and without any forewarning, it happened.
The Florida newscaster, a twenty-nine-year-old woman, returned to the screen and announced: “In living color you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” In full view of the television audience, she took a pistol in hand, pointed it at the back of her head and pulled the trigger. Hours later she was dead.
Recent years have seen an alarming increase in the number of persons who feel unable to cope with life. Many attempt suicide. Others ‘go through the motions’ of life severely depressed and miserable.
In many cases people can point to specific reasons for their despair, such as chronic, painful illnesses, becoming maimed in accidents and the losing of loved ones suddenly. But where people feel like giving up on life, something else is usually present. How so?
Regarding the newscaster who committed suicide, a friend is quoted as saying that “she became a sniveling, self-pitying creature.” A big factor that led to her suicide was self-pity.
Of course, persons who have experienced tragedies in their lives have reason for a measure of sorrow over their personal circumstances. But isn’t it true that self-pity often gets out of hand? Learning to cope with day-to-day life calls for getting this inclination under control. How can one do that?
One factor is to realize that excessive self-pity only makes matters worse. Though not always leading to suicide, it brings on loneliness and, in some cases, even physical disorders. Author Dale Carnegie furnishes an example in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living:
“I know a woman in New York who is always complaining because she is lonely. Not one of her relatives wants to go near her—and no wonder. If you visit her, she will tell you for hours what she did for her nieces when they were children . . .
“Do the nieces come to see her? Oh, yes, now and then, out of a spirit of duty. But they dread these visits. They know they will have to sit and listen for hours to half-veiled reproaches. They will be treated to an endless litany of bitter complaints and self-pitying sighs. And when this woman can no longer bludgeon, browbeat, or bully her nieces into coming to see her, she has one of her ‘spells.’ She develops a heart attack.
“Is the heart attack real? Oh, yes. The doctors say she has ‘a nervous heart,’ suffers from palpitations. But the doctors also say they can do nothing for her—her trouble is emotional.”
How can one avoid going to extremes in feeling sorry for oneself? Since the reasons for it differ from person to person, there is no simple cure-all. But consider the experiences of three individuals who unexpectedly conquered self-pity. The first two come from Dale Carnegie’s book, mentioned above. See if you can pick out a common element in them all.
A woman relates feeling sorry for herself because “after several years of happy married life, I had lost my husband.” One day this woman, in the depths of despair, boarded a bus and rode it to the end of the line. After wandering about for a while in a strange area, she entered a church and fell asleep. Upon awakening she saw two timid, poorly dressed children staring at her from a distance. Learning that they were orphans, she took them to a drugstore for some refreshments, chatted with them and bought them some presents. Did this help the woman to cope with the grief of losing her husband? She continues:
“Those two little orphans did far more for me than I did for them. That experience showed me again the necessity of making other people happy in order to be happy ourselves. I found that happiness is contagious. By giving, we receive. By helping someone and giving out of love, I had conquered worry and sorrow and self-pity, and felt like a new person. And I was a new person—not only then, but in the years that followed.”
Persons who think that they can no longer cope may feel in need of help, rather than feeling that they are in position to give it. Nevertheless, doing a kindness for someone else will always lift one’s spirits, making it easier to cope with life. Jesus Christ said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) But what if you have no money or other material things to give away? Consider another experience that unexpectedly lifted someone out of despondency.
“The tragedy of my girlhood and young womanhood was our poverty. We could never entertain the way the other girls in my social set entertained. My clothes were never of the best quality. I outgrew them and they didn’t fit and they were often out of style. I was so humiliated, so ashamed, that I often cried myself to sleep.
“Finally, in sheer desperation, I hit upon the idea of always asking my partner at dinner parties to tell me about his experience, his ideas, and his plans for the future. I didn’t ask these questions because I was especially interested in the answers. I did it solely to keep my partner from looking at my poor clothes.
“But a strange thing happened: as I listened to these young men talk and learned more about them, I really became interested in listening to what they had to say. I became so interested that I myself sometimes forgot about my clothes. But the astounding thing for me was this: since I was a good listener and encouraged the boys to talk about themselves, I gave them happiness and I gradually became the most popular girl in our social group and three of these men proposed marriage to me.”
A third experience deals with the value of giving spiritually. It too was unexpected and helped a person better to cope with the unpleasantness of a chronic illness. One of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Illinois relates:
“I had just recently spent another 10 or 12 days in the hospital with a very aggravating chronic disease. Now that I was back home, I planned once again to go out from house to house to share Bible truths with my neighbors. When the day for this arrived, however, I felt exceptionally, depressed. Though I decided to go anyway, I said to the person who was to accompany me: ‘Just let me listen this morning. I can hardly talk to a friend, much less a stranger.’
“My partner agreed to this. She knocked at a door and began talking with a woman, who eventually invited us in. Immediately I joined in on the discussion, sharing Scriptural thoughts with the householder. Noting her appreciation for what she was hearing, my depression gave way to sheer joy. By the time we left that call, I couldn’t have even described what depression meant. The joy in sharing Bible truth is indescribable.”
Do you become despondent at times? If so, fight hard against excessive self-pity by seeking out ways to help others. Though this may not remove the cause of your sorrow, it will surely help you to cope with the problem.—Luke 6:38; Phil. 4:8, 9.