Mark Fox, 38

I was terribly self-pitying when I was younger. I'm far less so now. No one has so fantastic a capacity for martyrdom as 17- and 18-year-olds. At that age you believe you're right and everyone else has done you down. If I could be 18 again, I certainly wouldn't waste time feeling sorry for myself.

Ann Thomas, 52

The last time I felt real self-pity was about 10 years ago when I had scarlet fever. My partner was up in Manchester and I was all alone, running a temperature of 105. No one was allowed to come and see me - I wasn't to go near anyone who was pregnant. I just couldn't believe it. How could I have come down with a Victorian childhood disease? I had to phone the girl upstairs and get her to go to the surgery for a prescription, to pick up the medicine and then to leave it outside my door. She wasn't to have any contact with me because her sister was expecting a baby. I really felt like a leper.

Paul Webb, 38

I feel sorry for myself all the time. My motto is: Pity Me! I always say that an optimist is someone who doesn't have all the facts.

Clare Jenkins, 42

My mother was the most self-pitying person I ever knew. She would glean every last shred of meat from the bitter bones of her life. She was always sorry for herself. When my father left her she said "This terrible thing has happened to me." Yet she never cared for him. Self-pity is a way of denying responsibility for anything, it means blaming everyone and everything but yourself for your miserable life. It's most unattractive.

Freddie, 3

I feel sad when my mum gets cross and shouts at me. And when the fish died. And when my friends fight me on my head.

Mark, 41

I think everyone's entitled to feel sorry for themselves when life deals them a blow. You sometimes need to over-dramatise things, too, to make people listen to you, and also to understand what you're going through yourself. But there does come a point when you just have to get on with it, or you start to look like a victim. Then there's your friends to think about: they'll sympathise for so long, but they can't be expected to prop you up for ever. Wallow too long, and you just isolate yourself.

Linda, 47

I don't very often feel sorry for myself, and I hate to think that anyone ever feels sorry for me. But that's not to say that I never feel sorry for anyone I know who has problems. Actually, I will always try and do something practical for them if I can. What you've got to think is that there's always somebody worse off than you - somebody who would no doubt be very glad of the advantages in life that you have.

Robert, 22

I ended a relationship earlier this year, which was very painful for me, and I felt that I'd been very badly treated. In an instance like that I suppose you can't help but feel sorry for yourself for a while - it's human nature. But you have to get over these things, and self-pity is actually a barrier to that. You just end up prolonging your own suffering, and making everyone else miserable as well. What you have to do is go out, see people, have fun and throw yourself into your work - bury the pain with other things, and let time do the rest. Of course, there are some things in life that you never get over properly, but you've just got to put them out of your mind if you're to carry on.

Ken, 23

Self-pity always seems irrelevant to me; I'm always too busy doing other things to feel that way. But I don't blame other people for feeling sorry for themselves, as long as it doesn't interrupt my life. Anyway, I'm sure when most people show self-pity they're just acting - it's a way of getting attention. I know if I'm being self-pitying, I'm only acting.

Karen, 26

I'm actually very suspicious of people who never feel self-pity. I think everyone must at some time, though I'd concede it's a negative thing. It's part of being a self-aware human being: I think anyone who genuinely never feels sorry for themselves must be a very cold, unfeeling person, and I'd wonder about their capacity to feel sympathy for anyone else. In the end, it's all a matter of striking the right balance between knowing one's own feelings and learning not to be ground down by them.

Susie Cornell, 45

I was in my twenties when I was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. I felt quite alone and very frightened. I was told there was really nothing they could do for me. I think you always ask "Why me?" I still ask it. But then you have to say "OK, I've got this problem. That's my life mapped out for me. I shall carry on and make the most of what I've got, and not worry about what I haven't got." I do understand self-pity, because I've been there. But it doesn't do you any good. What's the saying? Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone. I've cried alone, but it wasn't a help. Then, because of my illness I've done things I wouldn't have done otherwise. I've set up a fitness club, Under Pressure; I've produced a video; I've just written a book. I have found that a smile is the most infectious thing.

Michael, 34

I feel self-pity when I look in the mirror. I think I ought to be much better-looking. I felt very sorry for myself when I split up with my girlfriend, although I'd willed it, in a way. I felt bad for weeks. I rather enjoyed that.