Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Power of….Wallowing in Self-Pity

It seems like the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” has been around my whole life…and I guess it pretty much has, since positivity (I think I made that word up—yay me!) guru Norman Vincent Peale first inflicted it on the world in 1980. I was 11 then, a wee wisp o’ a lass, but I remember the book’s place of honor on my parents’ bookshelf.

The book’s admonishments to “Believe in Yourself,” its reminders that “A Peaceful Mind Generates Power,” and of course, the wisdom of “How to Get People to Like You” have grasped the imaginations of millions of people around the world. The book has been printed in 30 languages. I didn’t even know there were 30 different languages on the planet! (okay, well I did—heard that somewhere.) Apparently, whether you reside in Billerica, Massachusetts, Anaheim Hills, California, Londonderry, England or Tianjin, China, the desire to be happy, wealthy and well-liked are pretty much universal desires.

So in an effort to buck myself up during some less than stellar months, I decided to pull that book off the shelf, blow the dust of it, and take a cruise through it. Yes, I do own a copy—a high school graduation gift from “Auntie Ellen,” my mom’s best friend at the time (apparently they didn’t apply enough “positive thinking” to their relationship because they parted ways not long after I entered college).

I settled into the crook of the love seat, glass of pinot in hand, and began to leaf through it. As I did, I’d hit a particular subject (“How to Have Constant Energy”) and think, yeah, sure, makes sense. Turn another page (“I Don’t Believe in Defeat”)—oookkkaaaayyyyy, you may not BELIEVE in defeat, but it’s bound to happen at some point. One more page (“Relax for Easy Power”)—tried that, it didn’t work.

As I leafed through it, I found myself in the unusual position of being annoyed by its positive outlook. Which is quite hilarious, since “positive” is in the title of the darn thing! I mean, duh!! Wasn’t “positive power” what I was looking for? At one point, my feelings about the book changed from polite interest to outright annoyance. I actually questioned whether Dr. Peale wasn’t just having a huge one over on all of us. I know, of course, that was just my bad mood talking. But I after reading the chapter entitled “Prescription for Heartache” I couldn’t help but help wonder if the author has ever felt that singularly unpleasant feeling that if even one more thing goes wrong, you’re just going to jump off the nearest tall building and be done with it?

So this train of negative thought lead me down a path I usually try to avoid, lest the little beasties who hide along that dark road reach out and grab me and keep me there permanently. But for once, I allowed myself to actually consider this thought: “Why not be bitter?”

Gasp! Me, thinking in such terms. Me, who has made such an art of looking at the bright side. Who sees a silver-lining in a pitch-black cloud-drenched sky? I admit it; I succumbed. At least for a little while. I wallowed in self-pity. Not only did I wallow, I completely immersed myself in the muck of “my life completely sucks.” I rolled around in it. I submerged myself. Covered myself in it from the little grey hairs that sprout out of the top of my head when it’s time for to see my stylist to the end of my overly-large and somewhat Fred Flintstone-like big toes. And it felt good.

Because, I must admit, there is a dark attraction to wallowing in self-pity. Self-pity is the one emotion you that conversely makes you feel worse, while making you feel better at the exact same time. No one understands me. No one has ever felt as bad as I do at this very moment. It’s different for me because I’m more sensitive than most people. Things are easier for everyone else than for me. Self-pity is, perhaps, the epitome of self-indulgence. And as anyone knows who has ever eaten an entire stick of pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough (as I have been known to do after spectacularly bad break ups), can attest self-indulgence feels good.

At least for a while. But truth be told, my brief sojourn down the dark path of complete self-indulgence bored me after a little while—and left me feeling guilty and slightly sick. Just like I feel after eating that cookie dough!

So after about 10 minutes in the “my-life-completely-sucks” mud puddle, I emerged….dirty, tired, sick at heart, but ready to clean myself up. Because (and here’s my positive nature coming out) despite what is undeniably a difficult time in my life, there are sooooooo many things I have in my life that makes every minute—even the bad ones—worth it.

The chief among these are my friends. Over and over again, I think how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to have people in my life I can call, if needed, at 2:00am. And they WILL be there.

So I guess I learned a lesson about the power of wallowing in self-pity. Oh, she goes! A “life lesson!” I imagine you rolling your eyes right now. But wait! It’s a good one—or a fairly decent one, anyway. Self-pity IS a powerful emotion, to be sure. But it’s the wrong kind of power. Rather than give you what you need to move forward, self-pity is so strong it holds you back. Believe me, getting out of the self-pity wallow was easier said than done…because once you’ve jumped in it, little bits of that nasty muck cling to you. It takes a while to scrub them away.

So I retrieved Dr. Peal’s well-intentioned book from the floor where I’d tossed it. I didn’t open it up (I still find its perkiness a bit annoying) but I did brush the dog hair off it (my dog Daisy sheds copiously—at any given time, big puffs of her fur are floating around the house and cling to whatever happens to be around, i.e.: socks, table legs, and the occasional thrown book) and put it back on the shelf. Perhaps sometime I’ll open it up again and try to find answers. Or maybe I’ll find a different book.

Or maybe, I’ll write a book: The Power of ….who knows. I guess a title will come to me when I finally figure it out myself. 

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