Is self-deprecation a bad thing?

A blunt, straightforward question today, and one that might relate to me just a little.

A while back on Twitter, some kind of therapist or life coach or something was being piled on by a bunch of other users because of his continued insistence that self-deprecation is always, in any context, harmful and therefore shouldn’t be used. I’d link to the thread, but I didn’t save any of it and don’t remember where it is. That doesn’t matter much to me anyway, since it’s not this Twitter dogpile (those happen every day after all) but rather the argument itself that’s interesting. Was his argument against self-deprecation in every context right? Or if it was wrong, just how wrong was it?

It won’t surprise anyone when I say that I basically disagreed with this guy. His argument was so broad and sweeping, ignoring all the nuance of what’s definitely a nuanced subject, that it all came off as simplistic and even infantile. I think that had to be part of the reason for the pile-on: the insistence that no person should ever speak poorly of themselves, even in a joking way, because it harms the self-esteem just seems ridiculous. While I understand the basic idea of trying to be kind to yourself, this other sort of attitude is just too much for me and for a lot of other people apparently to take seriously.

But after thinking about it, there’s at least something to that argument. Not in the form this guy presented it in, but again in a more nuanced form. I think self-deprecation can be useful and even healthy in some cases. It makes for great humor when used the right way, and it can demonstrate humility, an important point since it’s possible to have too high self-esteem as well as too low (a problem that isn’t talked about often enough at least here in America, where confidence seems so often to be valued over knowledge and skill — I believe part of why our political culture is in the fucking toilet, but that’s a different issue.)

That said, I’ll acknowledge there’s a line where healthy self-deprecation can become unhealthy, and it’s one I might have crossed here on the site more than once. When I make jokes putting myself down here, I’m usually only half-joking, because there’s some actual feeling behind those comments. The trouble for me is that every time I hear about self-love, and even about “self-care”, I feel a little sick over it. Maybe I should love myself, but I think I know myself too well to do that.

SZS still has the best screenshots, and in my case some of the most fitting.

I think I’ve gotten better over the years about that kind of behavior and even about how I feel about myself. I really used to hate myself — probably part of what drove my physically and emotionally unhealthy habits like excessive drinking. I don’t think I hate myself anymore, but I certainly can’t say I love myself either. Maybe I can just barely tolerate myself at this point. At least that’s better than where I was before, but I guess it’s still not that great.

The trouble is that I don’t think I can get much further past this point, and I believe a lot of this is related to my situation. I saw a quote from a famous author, I forget which one, but it went something like: “if you don’t like your situation, change it; if you can’t do that, change your mindset.” Fine, then what if you can’t change your mindset either? If I were a different person, I could be happy with myself, but I can’t be anyone else. And that’s not even self-deprecation: it’s just the truth. I’ve been pounding my square peg into that round hole for years now because I simply have no other choice; telling me on top of that that I should try to be happy about it is unreasonable.

In any case, I don’t think not using self-deprecating humor (if you can really call it humor) is going to actually help with this, since I don’t believe too much in the power of either positive or negative reinforcement, or at least not to the extent some people do.

Then again, I also think the much-beloved self-help parable Who Moved My Cheese? is bullshit, so maybe my opinion doesn’t count for much.* I’d really be a great anti-motivational speaker, I think. How about it? Hire me for a thousand dollars an hour at your corporate retreat and I’ll have all your drones completely demotivated and depressed by the end of it.

 

* The short version: the advice in the book is decent and practical taken in a vacuum, but the book itself was used too often to wave away corporate callousness that affected us regular employees. Because downsizing might sometimes be necessary, but it can also be a fun opportunity for change! For example, you can take that opportunity to leave the corporate world and stop being miserable… except you can’t because you have a mortgage and auto and student loan and credit card payments to make. Forget about who moved your cheese — who wrecked your entire life?

Damn but I’m not having a good day today. I’ll see you tomorrow with something happier.

10 thoughts on “Is self-deprecation a bad thing?

  1. “I’d really be a great anti-motivational speaker, I think. How about it? Hire me for a thousand dollars an hour at your corporate retreat and I’ll have all your drones completely demotivated and depressed by the end of it.” – AK 2022

    Sounds like a good goal. 😀

    I really related and appreciated this post. I’ve been catching quite a bit of your posts during your post-a-thon for the month. I don’t know how you find the time. I can’t think, nor write that fast. I barely put out a blog every week, if not every once and a while during a month. So, kudos on that.

    I just wrote a really long paragraph that might be too political and so I deleted. But in an extremist world, moderation and thoughtfulness seems a villain.

    • Thanks! My services are available to any CEOs crazy enough to try them out.

      I don’t how I’ve been doing it this month either. Just writing shorter posts helped, since I usually write much longer ones. I also have a few sleepless nights when I just sit up and write or do other things because the alternative is just lying around. I’m all right with that — otherwise all I’d ever do is work these days. I guess I still get close to enough sleep on balance, though my doctor says otherwise. Oh well, could be worse.

      Completely agreed on this extremist world as well. I have respect for those who hold their ground against the mobs. I could go on too, especially considering the current situation, but I won’t either. I don’t mind getting political here sometimes, though, so if you feel like it, it’s fine with me too.

      • I just saw this comment.

        Yeah, I think we share a lot of similarities in world views from what I’ve read in your blogs. Moderation and standing back to look at the big picture is so important these days with how polarized so many have become… in US? I’m breaching politics and I do hate to talk politics. I have an interesting story that happened at work. I’ll probably write about it later. It was just very disappointing in regard to journalism.

        Anyways, have a good night! 🙂

  2. There’s things I do take very seriously, but in regards to myself…I DO NOT. I usually make that same comment too – “I don’t HATE myself. I just dislike myself slightly less” 😅

    • Very true. There’s a thin line between self-esteem and self-importance, and that’s another line we should absolutely never cross. Otherwise we really will get made fun of on Twitter and rightly so.

  3. The whole purpose of my blog is self-deprecation lolz. I think it’s a wonderful thing for people to have. Humility and the capacity to laugh at yourself keeps you grounded, innit.

    However, some people can take it overboard into self-loathing. So a little bit of self-appreciation is also important.

  4. I’ve pretty much always liked who I am, so self-deprecation is a fun game for me, not any kind of indication I actually believe negative things about myself. It’s like irony or sarcasm – context is all. Low self-esteem is a serious issue for far too many people but I agree that unrealistically high self-esteem shouldn’t be forgotten, either. A little bit of self-deprecation in that context at least indicates a degree of self-awareness.

    • That’d a good approach to take. I generally believe in balance like that (even if I don’t always practice that in my personal life perfectly.)

  5. i think that there’s a balance that needs to be kept with self-deprecation. i think it also depends on the people, not just the person making the jokes but who they say them to. bc we can be comfortable jokingly putting ourselves down (assuming we don’t actually believe this ourselves, sometimes we don’t realize what we’re internalizing) but it can also affect what others around us think about the thing you’re putting down and then how they interact w you. hm, idk if i’m making sense lol i guess if you call yourself stupid enough times some people might start to view you as stupid and those who are less sure of themselves can start to think ‘if he’s stupid what does that make me’. but yeah, i mean, i still do it esp in certain company

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