As a child, my mother just refused to let my brother, sister, and me wallow in self-righteous pity. At least it felt like righteous pity.
She would hear that tone-you know, that whiny, “poor is me” tone that we put on stories. We’d do our best to paint ourselves the victim of someone else’s unfair treatment or unkind remark, and Mom would see through the recitation immediately.
“Johnny was mean to me,” we’d whine. “I didn’t do anything, and he was just mean.”
“Hold on,” she’d say. “Are you sure you didn’t play any part in this? Could you have said or done something that brought some of that on?”
Then it’d get worse.
“Do you suppose you could focus on you, and just do what you should do? Can you leave Johnny to Johnny and just deal with you? ”
Uh-oh. The natural kid response is to say, in the sweetest and most innocent way, “Nooooo. I didn’t do anything. He was just mean and I hate him.”
Mom would say, “Well, why don’t you go and think about it. When you’re done having a pity party, come back and we can talk about it.”
I love that she gave us tacit permission to feel however we wanted to feel about the situation. What she didn’t do was give it her blessing. She gave us the opportunity to think about it. The whole thing. The big picture. We’d think about what happened, what part we might have played in it, how we were dealing with it, and how we’d deal with it moving forward.
She gave us room to see that it was up to us to decide how much space in our brain we gave it, how much of our life we wanted to devote to it.
She also made us acknowledge that we were viewing the situation through a lens of self-pity, a lens that distorted the facts and infused the situation with a completely artificial sense of importance.
After the pity party?
She was pretty much always right.
My mom is smart.