You hoard
names of the dead
like the pain of loss is yours alone;
cataloguing, quantifying, dwelling,
possessing, obsessing,
rooting for excuses
to imprison them inside your head.

Memory upgrades acquaintances to friends,
distant kin met once in your thumb-sucking days –
when you spun away in disdain –
become uncles that you always loved.

Haven’t you lost enough?
Don’t you suffer enough?

It smacks of greed for sick fame;
a wish to obtain the world’s most comprehensive
collection of grief,
as if you have a grand ambition
to be listed in the Guinness book of records,
or to become a respected expert
in your field of graves
where flowers wither
while you sift sand
in the desert of self-pity.

Clinging to the dead brings misery;
care for the living instead.


©Jane Paterson Basil

71 thoughts on “Self-pity

    1. This poem was written in frustration. It’s about someone I’m close to. Over the years he’s seen too much death – people he loved who died prematurely. Then in January his dad died, leading to a whole chain of events. He’s become morbid, and now he obsesses over every acquaintance who dies. I sound unsympathetic, but there’s a lot more to the story.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. No, not unsymathetic. It is hard to look away if friends engage in behaviour that is hurting them. You do right in creating some distance. The only hurt you have an obligation to, is your own. That might sound harsh, but I learned that their nobody is going to thank a healer who hasn’t been called, but just appears to always be there to help. If you want to help and support, do it, but then move away if you think they’ll manage on their own. Sometimes distance and time really are the key. Good luck!


  1. Oh! I love this! I totally get what you’re talking about. I KNOW people like that. And that last line is a real gem! William Barclay said once that it’s such a shame we wait until someone is gone too give them flowers… That comment has always stuck with me. So much in the same tone as your last line. Well done, Jane!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane, pretty much the only reason I’m here writing this today is because I once ruthlessly dug out by the roots all the self-pity I could find in me and then burned the plants in a bonfire.

    That began the most difficult year of my life when I was 37. Had I pitied myself an ounce that year or for the next ten, I would most likely have kill myself before the troubles were over. How stupid that would have been! The following years have been the happiest of my life!

    I have a friend who is a friend of self-pity, and the only way she differs from the “you” in your poem is that she turns a marble of pain or trouble into a moon. But man does she horde, and man does she upgrade, and man is she jealous of anyone tries to top her: She’s going for Olympic Gold.

    Your poem is so spot on, I could have thought you were writing it about her. It made me laugh in relief.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if self-pity is another form of addiction. This poem is about an addict who was in recovery. This morning he pretty much blamed me because he intends to use today. Apparently I shouldn’t be angry with him today for the horrible thing he did to me (again) last night, since he’s having a rough time.

      Any advice on how I can cure him of his abusive, manipulative self-pity? Beat the little shit to a pulp? Or should I just die, thereby procuring his love until the end of time?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The professionals tell us we cannot change abusers. They can only change if they want to, and they seldom want to.

        I think the only real option is to distance yourself from hm, no matter what the cost. Long term, you’re better off.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The first step is admitting to the abuse, and who wans to do that? He says that I’m the abuser – a pretty standard tactic. I’ve tried several times to distance myself from my son. That’s how I found myself living in a tent 200 miles away one summer – though he was in prison by the time I moved away. I don’t even know how I’m going to get my door key back off him.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s one damn tough situation, Jane. I feel for you. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help – cops, therapists, friends…anyone likely to help.

        I worry most how he might twist your thinking. Tomoko was able to twist mine.

        Liked by 2 people

                  1. Thank you, Jane. I’m getting all sentimental about you. I’m going to tell you the same thing I told emje today: I’m fixin’ to write to the Queen demanding in non-negotiable terms that the British Government designate you a national treasure and make you wear a bronze plaque strapped to your butt for the tourists to read.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. It’s a kind thought, Paul, and I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful, but I tried that -without the backing of those Tory bastards in government – and everyone threw rotten eggs at me. I think it was because I forgot to put my clothes on and I’m not as winsome as I used to be.


      3. I don’t know your exact situation, so I hope this applies…
        You can’t change him, but you can refuse to take his shit any longer. Then he’ll have to give you less shit. Say to yourself, if he weren’t my son, if he were ME, would I be acting this way? HELL NO YOU WOULDN’T. You deserve as much respect as you give. You deserve to be treated as well as you treat him, and nothing less. It’s okay to get a little angry with him. It’s okay to stand up for yourself. He’s bullying you. And if you can teach him that sometimes those who are bullied fight back, maybe it’ll help open his eyes a bit, or at least teach him how to hold his behavior in check when he needs to.
        I’m so sorry that it’s your son being this way. It sucks it sucks it sucks. All love and best wishes to you ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for your comments. Your advice is spot on. There are so many complicated twists and turns to the story, but there are things I’m not at liberty to share. He learned the art of manipulation at his father’s knee, and that’s my fault for being too down-trodden to chuck the man out until the damage was done – more damage than I can speak of. I only discovered the worst of it after I left him.

          Rest assured that I’m doing the best I can to distance myself from my son. Vulnerable as he is in many ways, he’s also extremely abusive when he wants something xo


    1. No, no, no! You could never be guilty of believing that you are the only one who knows suffering. You’ve hurt, and you hurt still – it comes out in your poems and so it should – but you have empathy for the suffering of others.

      I recommend you change your plea to not guilty 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think sometimes the way it comes out in my self-obsessing can seem very navel-gazing it’s ‘all about me’ and I hate that but it’s hard not to have that tone when talking about oneself (think Sexton think Plath) though I would wish to avoid the ‘whine’ of both. You are right though about empathy, sometimes I hurt more for others than myself as I know you do. I like the balance you strike in your work (one of about 100 things I like about your work I may add) you know how to be real without it being memememe and you often open up subjects outside of yourself that you have knowledge of that help others understand the subject/feeling so well. Ah I adore thee poetess xo The Half-Guilty Handmaiden xo

        Liked by 2 people

        1. You write with honesty, and your words make those who have found themselves in similar places feel less alone.

          When I visit your site, I make sure to read all the comments and your responses. We love you, and we know from the way you speak that you love us. More than anything, the love shines through xx

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, so now I suppose your going to say you’re a lawyer, when we all know you are living off the immoral earnings of those poor farmyard animals. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for money, Paul?

        (Thinks: uh-oh, I asked for this – I’ve just fed him the perfect line).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ouch I thought you’d met my mother!
    Comments indicates your son has merely swapped one addiction for another … sounds like he still has a very long way to go to heal.
    Distancing yourself is wise advice from Paul, heed it!

    Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you Kate, I considered it, but I’ve stepped away from him and my heart hurts. I need to avoid thinking about the danger he is in without me to run to. This danger is not imagined. For all the times when tough love helps, and the times when it changes nothing, there are also times when loved ones are left staring at a coffin. I have been the thread that kept him alive more than once, and now he doesn’t even have his father to turn to since he died in January.

              Liked by 1 person

            1. You chose not to have kids because you thought you might turn out like your own mother? Kate, you have so much love in you. This may not be the right thing to say, but I believe you would have made a wonderful mother.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. May have been a fraction of the reason … no I worked in child protection for years Jane doing the worst incest and pedophile cases … I would have been a helicopter parent coz I know the real danger comes from family and friends, seldom from strangers!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I wish I had wised up before making the biggest mistake of my life; it never occurred to me that paedophiles and abusers didn’t come with badges declaring their intentions, but with big, friendly smiles and gifts.

                  Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, great work. I probably connect to it so well because I know people like this — people who try to one up everyone in everything (suffering, misery included) in order to just get more attention.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. What, me, crazy? Nobody’s called me that before – not since that misunderstanding in Regent Street. My clothes just fell off me and it wasn’t my aardvark it had fallen off the roof of Harrods and landed in my lap and the police were called because someone heard the voices inside my head saying bad things and that wasn’t my fault either and I’d been told that it was perfectly legal to piss in a policeman’s helmet if you were pregnant and at the time I was expecting a bus to come along any minute which is pretty much like being pregnant and I started the fire because I was cold the police uniform was the only thing I could see which was flammable I didn’t notice the policeman inside it and when they put me in the cells they took away my lucky pig’s heart so I was bound to be upset but there was no need for the straightjacket as I swear I’d left my arms in the armoury that day and then they did a check on my name and found all the stuff in the past which was a conspiracy against me.

          You can see I’m not crazy, right?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Umm……not in the least crazy, Jane. Perfectly sane, you ask me. Perfectly sane. I have to go lock the doors now. Yes, lock them and pile furniture against them. Nothing out of the ordinary, though. Do it every night this time of night.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. There is truth and beauty in this poem.. “Let the dead bury their dead.” The love that we carry for those who have died, however, is real, and if most people were asked if they would have traded in that love for the opportunity to not feel pain, I hope they would have chosen to have lived in love. Grief then is the flip-side of love. Loss at some point is inevitable, and if there is no grief, then it might have been hard to call it love. You are absolutely right that we should not let our remembrance and our missing of our loved ones cripple us or stifle our own vitality, I would hope it can be a spring-board to living, to remember the times we lived, even if it merely was as a two year old turning away from some uncle in disdain, those uncles are part of our connection and our heritage. Also Self-pity, can have a positive aspect if we don’t take it too far, just as we love others, we should be able to love ourselves, after all each one of is an amazing unique complex amalgam of neurons and hormones and memories – which all seems to strive together to assign some sort of meaning to our experiences here, a grouping of elements and molecules – a little corner of the universe – that has acquired either through slow accretion or divine design (or both?) some modicum of self awareness. This is pretty amazing! What is not to love? A valid recognition that our pain is actually painful can be helpful in allowing us to forgive ourselves for hurting – the three pound universe between our ears at least deserves that quantum of grace from itself. But if we allow it to get caught in endlessly recursive OBSESSIVE self-pity, then we are missing much of our opportunity for vitality and joy. Therapy may help – but as you say may not always be available, medications can actually be a helpful tool for some – but not for everyone and they don’t change ingrained personality patterns – I think the critical antidote that everyone of us should use to counter this tendency is to become a careful student of Victor Frankl – (or Jane). Lovely poem, thank you. Lona.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the trouble to write this intelligent, thought provoking response, Lona. You make many salient points. I was in trauma when I wrote this poem; concentrating on one aspect of the person who caused that trauma was my was of blotting out the worst of it. He’s an addict in recovery from heroin, but he self medicates with other street drugs in addition to replacement therapy. I think the self-pity and the persecution complex were acts put on for the purpose of manipulation. Maybe the wind changed and his negativity stuck, or maybe he’s still acting a part; I don’t know, but right now I’m having a rest from him; I can’t take any more of his terrible abuse.

      Liked by 1 person

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