Pitied or envied?

One of my favourite US (wellness) bloggers, Karen CL Anderson wrote recently about the concepts of pity and envy. She asked her readers:

Would you rather be pitied or envied?

As Karen suggests… this should be a no-brainer. Surely we all want to be fabulous while those we grace with our presence bask in our gloriousness. Naturally we’d work hard not to be smug while others envy what we have—whether that be our clothes, body, partner, children, house, blog stats, career, or life in general.

And yet… (like Karen) instead I find myself prone to playing the victim and actually wanting to be pitied.

I’ve talked before about my victim-like mentality and it’s something which has become particularly concerning at the moment. I’m starting my freelance writing business and currently just include business-related info on my blog, rather than on a separate website. Which means that I’m giving out a business card which sends people here.

Which (for long term readers) explains my lack of navel-gazing and brutally honest blogging. I’ve written the occasional sarcastic self-deprecating post, but nothing which would reflect TOO badly upon me.

My need to share stuff reached boiling point in the last two weeks during which I’ve posted about how I’m really feeling. However… like I said, I’m conscious that local business people could be visiting and wondering why on earth they’d trust me with their website content or online writing.


I struggle with the same thing on Facebook. On one hand I want people to know what a struggle it is to find work. I want to tell them how incredibly poor I am and that I’m depressed I may never have a holiday ever again. But mostly I want them to pity me and feel bad that I went from a pre-seachange relatively senior job in government with a decent six figure salary to being unable to find even a low-level position post-seachange. I mean… people SHOULD feel bad for me (despite the fact this is all self-inflicted) shouldn’t they? (And yes I know all of that is irrational.)

Of course… what I’d expect from them after my Facebook oversharing isn’t something my warped mind has considered. My mother tells me when I was young I’d go to her with tales of my older brother’s misbehaviour. She’d respond with, “Oh he’s a naughty boy, isn’t he?” And I’d happily skip off back into the fray. I just needed acknowledgement it seems.


And yet… I don’t post depressing shit on Facebook (or here at the moment) because I don’t want to be seen as weak or pathetic. Or imperfect in any way. Because in the blue corner we’ve got our (seemingly) innate need to impress people and garner praise. We want to be envied.

I would LOVE people to be impressed by stuff I do—my writing or my work in my old life. I’d love them to envy my wardrobe or sense of style or level of fitness. I’d love them to think ‘well’ of me. And although I hate being that person, I occasionally find myself dropping past (perceived by me as more worthy?!) lives into the conversation. “Oh, well… when I was a diplomat….” #wanker #vomit

I know separating the business stuff from the blog stuff is an obvious practical solution to what I share here but I still wonder if pity is ever a feeling we should invoke in others. And if it is, can it co-exist with envy?

Can we be both pitied and envied?

Have you ever desired pity?
Is it sane to want to be both pitied and envied? Is it possible?

I’m linking up with Essentially Jess and her IBOT team today.


  1. Awesome post Deb. For me it comes down to impressing MYSELF and not worrying about whether others pity me or envy me. That’s what I came up with after my own navel-gazing session(s).

    You know I am a big fan of both/and and so yes, I think we can be both pitied and envied. Some people might pity one aspect of us and envy another, or perhaps one person envies everything about us, while another pities everything.

    What really fascinates me is your wondering whether sharing how you really feel would impact a potential clients’s trust in you. Here’s what I know for sure: in general, 1/3 of people just aren’t going to like us, no matter what we do; the next 1/3 could take us or leave us; and the last 1/3 love us…they are the people we were meant to serve (or vice versa). BUT, most of us spend all our time contorting ourselves and changing ourselves in order to win over the first 2/3 of people sometimes so much so that the people who love us don’t actually recognize us.

    When you spend your time trying to get people who will never like you, to like you, you repel the people who are ready to like you.

    Be who you are.

    • I actually really liked the second quote I found for this post Karen. The ‘I care not’ quote which I think is exactly what you’re saying. And on the pity front I often try to remind myself of that… wondering why I need others to validate whatever damned thing I’m wallowing about.

      I re-read your post later and liked your point about envy vs admiration. I think of envy as transient I guess—something that comes and goes (as opposed to jealousy). But the admiration thing works better.

      I had a conversation with a friend about the client thing a while ago (as I was pondering the two websites vs one thing). I told her I wasn’t concerned about online magazines or editors etc to whom I was pitching freelance articles. My blog is very much my voice. Obviously I adapt it if I’m writing for someone else, but even if I’m being me (just a little) who I am comes through. I was really only concerned about local companies (or maybe even people I might possibly meet) not seeing me as someone to be admired / worthy of their work.

      Does that make sense?

  2. I’d love to say that I’m evolved enough to say the only acknowledgement I need is my own, but I’d be lying. I’m selfish enough enough to say that I’d like to be envied, yet I find envy to be claustrophobic. While I pity others, I dislike having it directed at me. Why? Because I want people to think well of me…which brings us full circle.

    • As I was writing this post Jo I almost went off on a complete tangent on the issue of envy – though I recall writing about it (a lot) in my Diet Schmiet days. I actually struggle a bit with envy or ‘good fortune’ which is why I can often be so self-deprecating. Despite my current poverty, my old life funded my fabulous apartment by the beach and a nice car and I often feel the need to apologise for those… though given my many many years of work, I’m not sure why!

  3. I also want to think about this a little more. I think I’m in the I’d rather be liked/enjoy myself camp. I think I want understanding sometimes, and that may fall into the pity camp. Will think on this. Very interesting post.

    • Lydia

      I took out an entire paragraph I’d written about being single. Sometimes (often?) I want others to feel sorry for me that I’ve not got / had a partner, kids and family, while they’re happily (or not) partnered up etc. And yet one day a few years ago my bestie told me she felt really sad that I didn’t have anyone, hadn’t experienced romantic love and was alone. She said she hoped I’d find someone one day. I was shocked. I mean, obviously they’ve noticed I’ve been single these last 40 years (!!!!) but her actually saying it made no difference other than me realising that people often acknowledge stuff without saying it.


  4. This is a really great post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I don’t like to be pitied. I like to show strength. But then I realise I’m not being authentic. I am a positive person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle and don’t have challenges. I cry a lot! Believe me. But I don’t like the world to know that. So I find it hard to admit to that online. LIke you, I have a business to run (life coaching) so I need to be someone who looks like they’ve got their shit together, Or do I?
    Today I posted about my most recent challenge.
    I guess I waited to post it though until I was stronger … so I could show strength rather than weakness.
    I’m still working on it.

    • I published a post two weeks ago (which I published in secret originally but then opened) for the same reasons Leanne. I was wallowing a little but hadn’t explained why. Instead I was writing about all sorts of crap. But I felt like I was lying by omission. I wasn’t being authentic.

      I’m looking forward to reading your post today! x

  5. Pity and envy are in a similar basket I feel. Envy can be self depreciating as things are never as they seem to an outsider, therefore envy may deflate you. Pity can also be self depreciating as when you are pitied and given attention this may deflate any progress you have made within yourself. Acknowledgment with a bit of empathy thrown in if needed sounds a better option to me.

  6. Such a great post here Deb. I can have a bit of a victim mentality too! This post has really got me thinking – do I want to be pitied or envied? My initial thought is – ENVIED – of course! I want people to think I’m clever and smart and likeable. However, when I think about it – there is a part of me that likes the occasional ‘oh you poor thing’. What is that? It doesn’t feel like a very attractive quality. Hmmm…now you’ve got me pondering! 😉

    • Oh I think the victim thing is a very unattractive quality Min which is why I HATE that I do it. I like to think I do it in my head more than I do it in public. I try to refrain from those ‘I’m so sad’ FB status updates or tweets. Perhaps the need to be admired / envied is a good thing as it stops me posting those kinds of things!!!

  7. Deb – this is a great post, and I know it’s probably not something you want clients to read, but if they get good writing then it won’t do any harm. I had a pretty big pit party going on during my infertility days which seem justified but it excused a whole lot of unattractive wallowing really. I’m certain women are much more prone to victim identities than men (I don’t know of any man who really wants to be pitied), but I also believe we (or our egos at least) can want pity and envy at the same time (perhaps there is a sense of balance in thinking some people want something that you have, even while others feel sorry for you not having what you want). Don’t be afraid to celebrate your past achievements – I’d like to hear more about your days as a diplomat – and don’t be afraid to own your vulnerability now either. I wrote this post a while ago and it was both cathartic for me and resonated with readers. XX http://yinyangmother.com/thing-i-almost-forgot/

    • Off to check out your post Kathy, but yes I’ve had my fair share of wallowing over the not-getting-pregnant bit. I remember coming home from shopping one day and ranting to my friends (via email) at all of the bloody mothers and children and it wasn’t bloody fair etc etc. And one of my friends responded saying she was ‘disturbed’ by my recent attitude. I was really taken aback cos I thought they should feel sorry for me not think I was whinging inappropriately.

      Love your post (now read it) and can very much relate to your thoughts on our ‘identity’.

  8. I think we like to be acknowledged – sometimes any way we can! Sometimes that might be pity, othertimes envy. But I also think that it takes searching within to find contentment with our own selves is important first. Having said that, we all go through shit times, some longer than others, some worse than others. And it is okay to feel shit. We can’t be happy-go-lucky all the time. Positive thinking and gratitude won’t get us through every day. Just be realistic, allow yourself to feel human emotions over the whole spectrum. Just don’t get stuck. x

    • Ah yes, the getting stuck bit is something I do too often. Thankfully I usually can pull myself out by reminding myself of everything I have to be grateful for. You’re very right about a lot of issues around envy and pity being more about us than others. (That whole external validation thing!)

  9. I started applying for jobs this year in social media/comms etc based on my experience blogging; I have a separate resume for it and all. But my problem was on how to manage my personal blog – because it is personal and I am far too lazy to censor anything on there just incase someone who wants to hire me reads it. I actually leave the name of my blog off of my resume and just call it “personal/lifestyle blog”. Of course they can google me and find it, I’m sure. A few people have asked to read it and then I will provide it but include somewhat of a disclaimer that it is a PERSONAL site and not representative of how or what I would write for business, but it is where I gained my skill set.

    • I used to keep all of the personal navel gazing stuff in Diet Schmiet and kept it ‘secret’. My name wasn’t linked to it in any way and I didn’t promote it personally. But then my worlds collided and I worried less about that. But… I did have that delineation between the two blogs. I’d keep DS a secret / hidden professionally and with people I vaguely knew etc. Combining them ended all of that.

      No one I worked with in Govt cared about my blogging. I made sure I never talked about what I did, where I worked and never commented on anything political or policy-oriented while I was a public servant. Now (of course) all bets are off. Well, mostly. I still hold back on certain things because I don’t know what I might later regret. The line I draw in the sand is ‘IF I was to ever run for politics, what would I NOT want people to be able to find out?’ 🙂

      • I love that comment because earlier this week I was thinking about what will happen when bloggers run for political office – how will opponents play dirty with ‘secrets’ when bloggers put it all out there. I really want know how that will play out 🙂

      • Oh yes… politics has always interested me so it’s something I’m conscious of. Not that I’m going to run for office, of course! When I was with the Commonwealth Govt I needed confidential (and later top secret) clearance (from an agency which shall remain acronym-less) so it made me VERY conscious about what I said and did in public. Of course that was the late 1990s so my drunken exploits of the early 90s are fair game! 😉

        It was also before the internet grew massively and I had an online footprint.

        Before finishing up in State Govt I worked for an integrity agency and they did workshops for govt employees about social media use. I hadn’t known (for example) that there were more and more companies popping up which businesses contract to trawl over people’s online life as part of security checks etc.

  10. Interesting question Deb, for the first part, do I have a preference, to be pitied or envied? If pity is the response to misery, suffering and misfortune, then naturally no, I don’t want to be pitied! I think pity should be reserved for the helpless and hopeless, however, a bit of sympathy now and again is acceptable. I admit though that I find it hard to deal with those who adopt the victim role all the time.
    Envy: I guess secretly I’d like to be envied for well, anything really! However, all my years of nursing taught me never to envy anyone, I’ve seen so many who appear to have it all, yet are privately coping with chronic/acute illnesses.
    As for your concerns regarding any future business opportunities being jeopardised by the subject matter of some of your posts; maybe if I were researching you prior to offering work, landing on one of those posts might well make me think twice about it.
    On the other hand, they do prove that you acknowledge and deal with your personal problems, so, in effect, you are a “fixer” And everyone needs a fixer, that and your talent, along with a bit of time, persistence and patience should help you achieve your goals. I’m certain that your hard work and talent will get you the success you deserve.

    • Oh, I thought I’d responded here. WordPress must have eaten my comment! I think you and others have hit the nail on the head re the fact that the connotations we attach to ‘pity’ and ‘envy’ are negative. I think ‘sympathy’ or ‘acknowledgement with empathy’; and ‘admiration’ are far more palatable.

      PS. I’m with you re those constantly playing the victim. I’ve unfollowed a number of people on social media who constantly moan or post those “What’s the point of living?” posts. I suspect it’s the people who don’t share that stuff we need to worry about!

  11. Deb I didn’t know you had launched your writing business!! Where the heck have I been? How incredibly exciting and scary. I hope businesses see how fabulous your writing is because writing in a way that asks hard questions or gets us thinking differently is brilliant writing. As for the question I will admit i just want to be acknowledged or recognised. Recognised if I’ve done well and pitied or at least cared for if life goes pear shaped. X

    • Bec, I’m using the term loosely. I actually started the company in December 2012, but never really did much other than get an ABN etc and use it for invoicing etc. When I finished my part-time job in Feb this year I realised I wasn’t going to find a part-time job here (which remains the case!) and I needed to bite the bullet and pursue my own business interests.

      I’m sticking with my decision NOT to do paid writing on my own blog – I prefer to keep Debbish for me.

      So I’m pursuing three types of opportunities: 1. pitching to local businesses to write website copy, ghost blog posts, online newsletters; 2. Applying for freelance writing gigs with agencies / organisations; and 3. Pitching freelance articles to online media and magazines etc. I’m really only worried about the people in (1) visiting this. I think potential clients / companies from 2 & 3 are more interested in my writing than my sanity! 😉

      I’d most love to earn a living (of sorts) via 2 & 3.

    • No worries. I’d waited a few days before responding to Karen’s post I think and she’d been talking ‘around’ the issue for a while.

  12. A lot to think about here Deb, and I love that!

    I guess we can’t really feel either way completely, unless we have all the facts about someone. At the same time, how much of ourselves do we really share?
    My post today has a bit of a victim feel about it, and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to publish it. But it’s all about the authenticity and sharing, I guess x

    • One of the reasons I got rid of my Diet Schmiet blog Lisa is that I felt I wasn’t being honest or authentic. I was raving about the same stuff again and again. I was talking about what I SHOULD do (diet-wise or not-diet-wise) but my heart was no longer in it and I was going through the motions. Even though it was so much bigger (and better branded) than Debbish, THIS felt like the real me so this was the voice I kept.

  13. Deb, my thoughts are that self compassion is what you need rather than pity from others or envy from them either. I have been reading an interesting book called “Self Compassion” by Kristin Neff. She’s made what I would consider to be appalling life stuff ups (which in turn led me to feeling a bit judgmental when I shouldn’t be) . But the point made was you can beat yourself up over and over for things or treat yourself compassionately – and the second option is a much better one.

    • I like that and it relates to my self-forgiveness post a little doesn’t it Liz – being able to move on and not dwell on our failures and wallow in self-pity?!

  14. I can honestly say I don’t want to be pitied or envied but I think unless you have a business blog, it’s important for readers to occasionally see some of the real vulnerable you. In the end no matter who you are or what you write people will make assumptions at take what they want to see from your online persona.

    • True – I guess some of those people we ‘envy’ aren’t really living the lives we see on Instagram or similar are they? People only see what we show them!

  15. What an excellent thought provoking post. I’m always playing the martyr in life. What I’d really like is neither pity nor envy, but respect. It can be the hardest thing to get!

    • Yes, but I guess that’s cos we have to earn respect. I think that if people do the right thing by others (etc) they deserve respect and guess I hope that fate (or something) plays a role there.

    • Yes, good point. I (and others too I’m sure) need to get better at crawling out of that hole (pulling up my big-girl panties or whatevs!) and moving on. I do eventually do it but could probably rebound more quickly if I focussed more on the ‘good’.

  16. I am one of those people who will go to great lengths to avoid people’s pity and/or concern. I hate being seen as vulnerable and I’m an arch-pragmatist, so my whole thing is about soldiering on and getting shit done. I would much rather be envied than pitied. That’s an easy one for me. I really enjoyed this post though, and it definitely made me think.

    • Hmmm, it’s funny as I hate the idea of appearing vulnerable (or weak)… so strange that I’m happy to be pitied but not to be seen as vulnerable. Perhaps that’s at the crux of my problem. Hmmmm….

  17. Gosh, I think I’m a little similar to you and don’t mind a little pity party. Oh poor Renee you work so hard and you’re so tired, here let me help you. I don’t know what it is really. I’m interested to learn more about your seachange. I’m a government employee right now and feeling like it’s time to make an escape route, but it’s hard to leave that good pay and security isn’t it?! Hmm. Great post, Deb. #teamIBOT

    • I really don’t regret my seachange Renee but it’s been a lot harder than I expected to find a job. I’ve told myself I’d be happy to do anything so I can focus on my writing but ‘anything’ has been harder to find than initially thought. I took a redundancy in late 2012, or I wouldn’t have made the change and couldn’t afford to have made it. I’m lucky I’m debt-free in this life but getting used to not having a nice income is weird. I’ve slowly adapted but it can get depressing when I realise that flights, holidays and some of life’s treats are out of reach if I’m focused on just paying my bills.

  18. Oh this is a hard one. I don’t think I want pity; although if I have a cold, I tend to want lots of it.
    I also don’t want to be envied.
    More than anything I think I’d like to be approachable. Is there a third option?

    • Ha Jess yes, there seems to be some consensus that it’s not that cut and dried! Commenters seem to view pity and envy differently and I think we’ve agreed that there are (perhaps) better ways to describe what it is we yearn for.

    • I hear ya Karin. And yes, there’s a lot of negativity around the word pity… (even when I think of those who really deserve it – overcoming terrible odds or struggling to survive!).

  19. Oh gosh you have definitely got me thinking . I absolutely love to have someone listen to my wallowing and validate it. Love it. Which lamely puts me in the pity category. How awful to admit! Intellectually I really want to be in the envy category but don’t thinkI am worthy.

    • Oh no, don’t say that. The comments today have helped me realise that pity and envy are such loaded words… We all want some sympathy and acknowledgement or admiration from time to time. I feel far better about that! 🙂

  20. Great thought provoking post Deb. I think when we are feeling down like you said all we need is a validation and acknowledgement that life is tough for us because as we know is sure can be. It makes all the difference when someone can walk in your shoes. However I think this is different to pity. Pity is not helpful to us it puts us down and makes us feel weak and I believe can be condescending. As for envy I guess it can bring about a bit of healthy competition but being envied by someone or envying someone means we are not content with yourself which is where we should be.

  21. I don’t want to be pitied but occasionally acknowledged. In my personal life, I know people who are crying “poor me” “I am doing it tough”, when their situation seems like a walk in the park compared to others, yet they get all the sympathy! I know that seems vague but I can’t go into details on a public comment system hehe. Pity seems like we are playing a little helplessness game. I grew up believing that a good job will speak for itself and I get so frustrated with the fact, that is not enough anymore. I am on a similar freelance biz journey but finding it up & down at times which makes me question myself. Hang in there Deb xx

  22. At times I’d like sympathy if I’m going through something tough but I wouldn’t like to think that’s pity. Equally I don’t really want envy. If I inspire someone , all well and good but I’d rather not be the subject of comparison.

    • Ah yes good point Char. Envy does very much speak to comparison and perhaps that’s why a few people have said they preferred admiration (or inspiration) as you’ve said.

  23. LMFAO (#oops) oh Deb you have such talent, I don’t know a writer (one who’s not famous anyway) who can make me think and laugh my head off at the same time. I loathe the term ‘pity’ … unless it’s used tongue-in-cheek for the old “pity party” and we’re all allowed one of those every now and again. Pity to me has that slightly condescending side note, but maybe that’s just me??
    When things are tough I’d sure like a little empathy or compassion. It’s human nature to want to tell our story, to feel validated and acknowledged. And sometimes putting yourself out there, being honest, helps that one person to not feel so alone.

    • Oh thanks Teddyree, for your kind words and I love the phrase you use about ‘telling our story’. I think that’s really at the crux of the issue. x

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