15 June, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Pity

Over eleven years ago, three months after I’d learned we’d never have children, my husband and I were asked that question, and when I gave the inevitable answer, were told simply “I’m sorry.”

I remember bristling at this pity, because this person didn't know if we’d wanted children or not (unless my face or voice showed the sadness that was still so close to the surface), and I resented the assumption that not having children should make me the object of pity. I’ve always felt confused by my reaction to what essentially was a kind reaction, and by my distaste for any suggestion of pity from anyone, whilst at the same time fervently wishing people could be more sensitive, and try to understand what it is like for us in this child-focused world.

Recently, on a comment on another post, IrisD articulated why I felt this way, saying

“ … it is as though they are telling me I can’t be happy.” 

She hit the nail on the head – thanks Iris! I want to be happy, and unhappy, to feel the way I feel, to be heard, and acknowledged. That’s empathy. Empathy listens; pity does not. It assumes, and in doing so, isolates, condescends, and shames.


  1. Absolutely! And now it's time our society emphasizes this instead of defending those who fall back to pity. No one likes being the object of pity. It's steals hope and minimizes.

  2. LOVE this! This is what I told my mom in my long letter for her (among other things). I explained to her that I didn't want/need pity as I didn't find ourselves lacking in that area anymore (unlike when we were still hoping).

  3. Well put! Pity is so easy to dole out - people say "I'm sorry" when they can't think of anything else to say. It's more difficult to be empathetic and acknowledge a situation.

  4. Oh wow! What a great insight! I think it's also important to try to understand others instead of just assuming they feel a certain way.

  5. And I wonder if that person's reaction (pity) says more about HER values and fears about children and happiness than about yours (obviously yes, because she didn't take the time to get to know your values). That SHE would not be able to find happiness (or fears she wouldn't) if she were faced with IF.

    Love that saying about empathy. So helpful.

  6. What do we do with the people who like an "I'm sorry?" Like me. I mean, I don't like hearing it because it usually means that something terrible is happening, but I take it to mean that the person recognizes that I am in a difficult situation. "I'm sorry" isn't appropriate if the person hasn't expressed feeling sad -- then the "I'm sorry" is an assumption. But if I've expressed feeling sad, or it's clear from my expression, I want an "I'm sorry." It makes me feel as if the person has paused and heard me.

    1. You're right. My point was that I hadn't expressed feeling sad. If I had, then the "I'm sorry" would have been perfectly appropriate. As it was, I still recognised that it was kind - and a much nicer response than "why not?"

  7. There are wonderful people who live fulfilling lives. Who are the rest of the people, to pass remarks on different life styles? Stay strong and committed to your path. :)

  8. Excellent distinction between empathy & pity. I always said that I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I just wanted some acknowledgement & maybe a little respect for what I've been through. Although I realize it's difficult for people to do that if they haven't been through it themselves.

  9. It's hard to walk that line between pity and understanding. I have had times when I fully realize that there's no good thing for someone to say to me about our experiences or bad news at one time or another that wouldn't make me bristle. It's hard when you reach a point where you are happy with your life as is, but people still feel it must be a tragedy. I can see why this would be upsetting.