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Self-Deprecation: A Form of Self-Harm

Oftentimes, we purposely make ourselves the brunt of jokes and put ourselves down for fun, but self-deprecation can take this to a different level. Self-deprecation is properly defined as “modesty about or cynicism of oneself.”

This method is commonly used by individuals who seek attention or a boost of confidence.

Self-deprecation occurs when a person speaks negatively about themselves to others. This typically manifests itself in obvious ways, like a person not being able to take a compliment or constantly complaining about themselves and pointing out their flaws. Self-deprecation can range from mild phrases like “I’m so ugly” to more extreme language like “I don’t deserve to live.”

Self-deprecation is a form of verbal self-harm. A person experiences self-deprecation in various phases, starting with a thought. They use a part of the brain to conjure these negative thoughts and then move on to vocalizing the thought, utilizing another region of the brain. When a person thinks these pessimistic thoughts and then speaks them, they’re getting this negativity in multiple routes.

These cynical thoughts often stem from a need to feel better about oneself. When a person self-deprecates, they are verbalizing these negative thoughts, wanting someone to negate them. It feels good to hear someone say the opposite of what a person negatively says about themselves and turn it into compliments and positive words.

Constantly seeking validation from others and engaging in self-deprecation can lead to alienation. When a person self-deprecates, they don’t take the time to consider how it makes others feel. These individuals tend to know their audience and choose to utilize this behavior with those they know will chime in and boost their self-confidence. Although, this quickly dissipates, leaving a person alienated. People never want to feel as though they are frequently being forced to have to say nice things or respond to things in a certain kind of way.

When working with a live audience fails, individuals who self-deprecate commonly turn to social media. When there is no one around to negate these negative thoughts, posting on social media may get a person the reaction they seek. While this may work in some instances, it’s temporary and can only go so far as to help the behavior.

It can be challenging dealing with someone constantly utilizing self-deprecation as a form of attention-seeking. Whether it be a child, family member, or friend, there are various ways to help others to stop verbalizing their negative thoughts.

First and foremost, learn to recognize a person’s self-deprecating tactic. When an individual begins engaging in self-deprecation, pull back and refrain from being warm. Do not give them attention or feed into what they’re saying, as attention is what the person seeks. When a person who is self-deprecating gets the positive response they’re looking for, it reinforces this negative behavior.

Disclosing how you feel in the moment also allows the person who is self-deprecating to know how their actions are negatively affecting those around them. That may give them a different perspective and motivate them to stop using self-deprecation as a way to fix their low self-esteem. Giving others an incentive to combat self-deprecation on their own is the absolute best way.

When engaging in self-deprecating behaviors, it’s necessary to recognize that this starts with you and needs to end with you, too. Self-awareness is key when trying to get yourself to stop self-deprecating. Ask yourself -- “Why am I doing this?”, “What is it that I’m trying to bring about when I say this out loud?”, “How are other people going to feel?”, “Are they going to feel obligated?”. When you become more aware of yourself and your intentions it can lead to healthier ways of coping with negative thoughts or low self-esteem.

Learn to ask directly for what you want. Self-deprecation is not necessary to get the feedback you seek from others. Instead, come out and ask questions or turn negative talk into dialogue with others.

Interested in exploring therapy? Reach out to PSYCHē for more information, learn more about our expert therapists, or book a consultation online today.

We also offer multiple DBT Skills Groups as well as an RO-DBT Skills Group. Groups are like a class, not therapy. Click the link to enroll in a group today.


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