"Self-pity is a response to distressful events," according to Joachim Stoeber of the School of Psychology at the United Kingdom's University of Kent. Habitual self-pity can be a symptom of depression and require professional treatment. But a temporary bout of self-pity is something everyone experiences from time to time. Feeling overwhelmed by life, disappointment, hurt or loss can cause a person to think she has no control over her life and lead her to wallow in self-pity. It isn't an effective way of coping. But a little help from a friend may provide just what is needed for the individual to break out of the rut of self-pity.
Assess the situation. If you do not already know what is going on in your friend's life, find out if he has recently experienced one or more upsetting events, such as a problem at work or difficulty in a relationship. Are there additional stresses that may be compounding the problem? Or is the behavior chronic and a common occurrence?
Listen without judgment. When possible, sit with your friend in a quiet place. Face her, and make eye contact. Be relaxed and attentive, and encourage her to share her thoughts and feelings. Occasionally, repeat what she has said in your own words to let her know you are listening. Ask questions for clarification only, and resist the urge to offer solutions. A listening ear may help to relieve the stress that is causing the self-pity.
Ask your friend if he would like to brainstorm solutions with you if he has a specific problem that seems unsolvable. Sharing ideas can spark creative thoughts and widen a person's perspective, even if no immediate solution is found.
Offer reassurance. Send a few caring words in an email to your friend or write a note to remind her that you care. A little more attention for a while may help your friend climb out of the doldrums.
Avoid sympathizing too much. Most people won't enjoy hanging on to self-pity for long. But for some people, the payoff from clinging to self-pity is that it brings them attention. Feeling sorry for such a person may only serve to keep that person stuck. When possible, engage your friend in positive actions and share positive thoughts. If you have already shown plenty of compassion and understanding to no avail, then avoid the trap of expressing too much empathy.
Let yourself off the hook. Accept that you are not responsible for making your friend feel better. In fact, you can't. Only he can change his thought patterns. If your attempts to help have failed, and you are feeling burdened by your friend's state of mind, set limits on your involvement. Keep in contact in ways that are more comfortable for you.
Learn the symptoms of depression. Feelings of worthlessness and self-pity are common symptoms of depression and may require the treatment of a professional.