Exploring Self-Deprecation and Its Effect on Your Mental Health
How do compliments or praises make you feel? Do you accept them and say “thank you” or stumble over a response, reject them, or deflect the compliment?
How about when talking about your work or the things you do? Do you downplay your job title or efforts, saying “it’s not a big deal” or “I don’t know what I am doing half the time” despite being the go-to resource for questions and handling the most important projects at work?
The situations described above are some examples of self-deprecation. This refers to the act of downplaying your attributes or making fun of yourself or your shortcomings.
Self-deprecating humor can make people laugh and help you connect with others, but it can also be counterproductive when the joke or remark goes too far. Learn more about it and how therapy can help you.
What is self-deprecating?
Self-deprecating is the act of undervaluing yourself, mostly in an attempt to be humorous or appear humble. It is a handy tool when socializing, especially when trying to reduce tension in difficult or awkward situations.
Self-deprecation may involve laughing at your mistakes, downplaying your attributes, or using statements like, “anyone could’ve done it” or “I just got lucky”.
According to studies, we use self-deprecation to appear modest and agreeable. In fact, some influential people like politicians use it to win support or increase their favorability ratings.
It is suggested that self-deprecation makes us more relatable, friendly, and down-to-earth. It can also foster connection and promote a positive environment.
The upsides of self-deprecating
Self-awareness, which is the ability to know one’s feelings, values, strengths, and weaknesses, is associated with high emotional intelligence (EQ). People who have a self-deprecating sense of humor are said to be self-aware, which means they are likely to have a high EQ.
Leaders who display self-awareness are also considered more approachable, candid, and trustworthy, as they can admit their vulnerabilities.
Studies suggest that this type of humor makes a person attractive, especially for males. Being able to laugh at your mistakes can also make you appear real, apologetic, and empathetic.
A study from the Harvard Business Review, furthermore, suggests that people appear more competent and warmer when they use humor to reveal negative information about themselves.
The downsides and effects on your well-being
Self-deprecation may have benefits backed by science, but it can also backfire when you do it frequently. If you always put yourself down or belittle yourself, others may see you as insecure or pessimistic.
Frequent self-deprecating remarks can also affect you subconsciously or cause you to form untrue or negative opinions about yourself.
Here are the ways self-deprecating can affect your well-being:
Lower your self-esteem
When all you do is poke fun of yourself, it can damage your self-esteem and lead to feelings of self-doubt. It can then prevent you from taking risks and making positive changes. Low self-esteem can also contribute to the development of certain mental health issues.
Negatively affect your mental health
Self-deprecating humor, according to research, is related to anxiety, depression, neuroticism, and anxious attachment. Mental health issues and self-esteem problems go hand in hand, as people with low self-esteem may also suffer from anxiety and depression.
You may feel more pessimistic
If you always make yourself the butt of jokes, you may start believing your own punchlines. This can lead you to dwell on negative thoughts, causing you to feel more pessimistic, stressed, and anxious. There is also the risk of validating your insecurities, which can then hurt both your confidence and competency.
Signs of unhealthy or problematic self-deprecation
Occasional self-deprecation isn’t bad, but constantly doing it is unhealthy.
Here are a few signs that your self-deprecating habits might be problematic:
You can’t take a compliment
Although compliments are supposed to make people good, they can also provoke strong feelings such as fear, panic, and uneasiness. Not being able to accept a compliment may stem from having low self-esteem or a negative self-concept.
Self-deprecation may also cause you to rebut or invalidate the compliment to avoid appearing conceited.
Struggling with compliments may also demonstrate insecurity or lack of self-confidence. It can send yourself a devaluing message that may weaken your self-image or cause you to believe that there’s a hidden agenda behind the compliment.
Your self-deprecation has become second nature
Self-deprecating can veer into unhealthy territory if you unconsciously sell yourself short or downplay your efforts. The sad part about this is that it can lower your self-esteem or lead to persistent feelings of anxiety, anger, and sadness.
If your knee-jerk reaction to any praise, comment, or compliment is self-deprecating humor, you may want to rethink your habit.
Your self-deprecating humor makes people uneasy or silent
If your self-deprecating humor makes others uncomfortable, it has likely gone too far. The same is also true if your jokes create a negative environment for everyone. Silence instead of laughter, however, isn’t the only sign that you need to change your habits.
You also need to if someone has explicitly pointed it out to you that your jokes are too much or have become problematic.
You downplay yourself even when you’re alone
Many of us use self-deprecation to add humor or defuse tension in social situations. It is okay to do it occasionally, but constantly putting yourself down can be damaging. This is especially true if you self-deprecate even when you’re alone.
Doing so can lower your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. You may also start to believe these negative comments as a part of your identity (which they are probably not).
Maintaining a healthy balance
Too much self-deprecating can get out of hand and do yourself a disservice.
Here’s how you can maintain a healthy balance or stop downplaying yourself any more than necessary.
Recognize when you’re doing it
Notice when you’re making fun of yourself or think about how you talk to yourself today. If you self-deprecate, ask why you did it and what it is that you’re trying to achieve when putting yourself down.
It is also helpful to enlist the help of your friends to call you out when you’re being mean to yourself. You can then try engaging in the opposite behavior, which is being nice or saying nice things to yourself.
Accept praise or compliments
Instead of responding with self-deprecation comments, simply say “thank you” when you receive compliments. It can be challenging at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it and slowly break the habit of poking fun at yourself.
Allowing yourself to feel proud of what you’ve done or accomplished can also improve your mood or self-esteem.
Journaling can help you be more aware of your habits. You can also use this tool to identify situations or interactions that caused you to make self-deprecation remarks.
There is also the benefit of being able to re-read what you wrote and reassess your thoughts. This can help you reframe or overcome negative thought patterns.
Try to think more positively
Instead of being self-critical, try positive thinking for a change. You don’t necessarily have to stop using self-deprecating humor altogether, but it can be helpful to speak kindly about yourself. Doing so can help you experience more confidence and happiness.
You are also likely to attract more positive situations with optimistic thinking.
Here are a few things that can help:
- Give yourself credit when good things happen.
- Focus on what’s good about a situation and what you can do to make things better.
- Don’t blame yourself when things didn’t go as planned.
- Remind yourself that setbacks are temporary.
- Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a close friend.
See a therapist
If you’re finding it hard to break your habit, talk to a therapist. They can help you figure out why you’re constantly putting yourself down, as well as develop strategies to stop being overly self-critical.
Therapists can also help you deal with self-esteem and mental health issues, like anxiety or depression.
The good thing about online therapy platforms, such as Calmerry, is that you can get professional support at home. This is particularly beneficial if you don’t like traveling or commuting.
Online therapy provides you a safe space to express or talk about your emotions, while also helping you build positive thought patterns.
You can also choose the mode of communication (text, phone, email, or video) you feel most comfortable with.
Don’t let self-deprecating thoughts damage your sense of self-worth. Try to maintain a healthy balance between being humble and confident.
Don’t hesitate to get professional help, especially if you’re struggling with self-esteem issues and cannot seem to break your self-deprecation habit.