Sympathy Not Pity

What does the phrase “I’m sorry” mean to you? Whenever I relate something difficult I have gone through or the way mental illness affects me to a normal, I inevitably get an “I’m sorry” at some point. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, it used to infuriate me. I would think, ‘I don’t need your fucking pity! I’m stronger because of this shit, it doesn’t make me weaker!’ It was actually a comedy article that caused me to reevaluate that view. The writer’s point was that in most cases, the sentiment wasn’t “I feel sorry for you.” It was more along the lines of “I’m sorry you went through that because there’s nothing else I can say.”

I wrongfully equated “I’m sorry” to pity. Looking back, I realize that the person was just trying to show sympathy and understanding that I had gone through some difficulties while not necessarily deserving them. What else is there for the listener to say?

I’m a little disappointed in myself that it took so many years for me to reach that understanding. I always try to put myself in the shoes of other people before making judgments or decisions. I think the subject matter was just too close to home for me to detach enough to put myself in that person’s place. It has fundamentally changed the way I handle interactions with normals.

A phrase I like to say is “I have sympathy but not pity.” Pity, to me, is something that is reserved for the truly oppressed and disadvantaged. It is for the people that are no longer capable of helping themselves. Even then, my pity disappears if they are offered assistance and refuse to work on their situation. I’ve never met a person that lived with Bipolar Disorder or Depression that I’ve pitied. I sympathize with their struggles and losses as they’ve tried to live with it. But I don’t pity them. There are hundreds of paths to wellness, you just need to keep trying until you find the right one.

I really advise you to analyze your view of the phrase “I’m sorry”. Does it make you angry? Sad? Make you want to seal off more? Are any of those reactions rationally proportionate to the person saying it to you? I know in my case, it was not. It was infuriating enough to almost be a manic trigger. That is certainly not a good way to maintain friendships and relationships with other people. It was also entirely my responsibility to change the way I viewed and reacted to that phrase as opposed to attempting to change the way everyone else viewed it. So yeah, I guess I was being kind of an asshole.

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