From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Self-pity is the psychological state of mind of an individual in perceived adverse situations who has not accepted the situation and does not have the confidence nor ability to cope with it. It is characterized by a person's belief that he or she is the victim of events and is therefore deserving of condolence. Self-pity is generally regarded as a negative emotion in that it does not generally help deal with adverse situations. However, in a social context, it may result in either the offering of sympathy or advice. Self-pity may be considered normal, and in certain circumstances healthy, so long as it is transitory and leads to either acceptance or a determination to change the situation.
Self-pity can be remarkably self-sustaining particularly in conjunction with depression or other conditions. For example: children feel at school badly because they perceive others as more social or outgoing. If these children do not take action by attempting to get to know others despite potential negative consequences (such as rejection), then they may continue to feel alone, and their feelings of self-pity will be sustained. However self-pity is a way of paying attention to oneself, albeit negatively; it is a means of self-soothing or self-nurturing ("I hurt so much").
Social-Learning theorists purport that self-pity is a method for gaining attention, probably as a child, where an individual received attention, support, and nurturing while being sick or hurt. The child then grows up having learned to give attention to oneself (or ask for attention from others) while in real or dramatized distress to receive the same payoff. Thus, another form of self-sustainment can be sympathy offered by others (for example, someone might use the phrase "oh, you poor thing" to comfort the person in self-pity). This is particularly true of individuals who exhibit sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies and rely on the sympathy offered by others as a means to manipulate.