It’s funny how empathy works. It’s easy to feel for someone who’s completely unselfsish and sweeps their own pain under a rug; but the second they demand our sorrow, our will to empathize with them vanishes.


This phoenomenon seems to work against logic. We empathize with (and help) those who need it least (or at least appear to need it least), while we ignore those who appear to need it the most.

This paradox may root deeply in a subconscious Darwinian instinct to protect the strong and ignore the weak; or it might just be that people don’t like to be told what to do.

Regardless of where it comes from, there’s a lesson to be learned here: Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Dust yourself off and get to work.

Everyone’s Got Pain

We all have it rough. People have the tendency to think that they’re the only ones in the world with pain. In actuality, everyone feels pain. Some just show it more than others.

Even if your life is worse than everyone else’s, it doesn’t do you any good to feel sorry for yourself. The net result is alienation from others and a deeping of your problems.

Circle of Control

Circle of Influence

If I hear someone feeling sorry for himself, it tells me that he is not taking enough personal responsibility for hiis life. He thinks that he can’t do anything about what is happening to him.

The diagram to the left was borrowed from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The two concentric circles represent a person’s cirlce of concern (all the things they worry or care about) and circle of influence (all the things that they assume responsibility for).

A person who feels sorry for himself focuses his attention on the outer ring: inside his circle of concern, but outside his circle of influence. As a result, his circle of influence shrinks. Because he paid so much attention to the things he couldn’t control, and no attention to the things that he could; he slowly and unconsciously hands over his life to others, piece by piece.

Expand Your Circle of Influence

The idea is to assume responsibility for all aspects of your life, even the areas that seem to be out of your control. It may seem silly or counterproductive to assume responsibility for your boss firing you, your company going out of business, or the economy going south; but the act of doing so sets some very important processes in motion.

Assuming responsibility for everything in your life starts to increase your circle of influence. As the outer edge expands, you begin to gain more and more power over your life. This principle works subltly, which explains why so few people use it.

If you begin to operate in this fashion, your boss might begin to ask you for advice, expanding your circle of influence. You might get promoted to a point where you have more control over the destiny of the company. You might even make enough money to weather the economy.

Bottom Line

Don’t get caught up in how universal principles work. Maybe it’s psychological, maybe it’s sociological, maybe it’s spiritual. Maybe it has to do with the phenomenon of empathy; meaning that you’ll get more help from others if you don’t feel sorry for yourself. What matters is that it works.

The bottom line is this: Life is too short to waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Dust yourself off and start expanding your circle of influence.