Self-deprecation is the ability to find humor in your own shortcomings. An example of self-deprecation would be an overweight person joking they exercise, by claiming they “walk four miles every day: one mile to McDonalds, another mile to Friendly’s and two miles home.” Another example would be someone joking about what they consider is their long nose: “You asked me if I knew a good cosmetic surgeon? Would I have a nose like this if I did?”
We all say self-deprecating things about ourselves at some point for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s meant to defuse or “lighten up” a potentially uncomfortable situation. Other times, a self-deprecating comment is simply intended to stand on its own merit as a humorous statement.
Being able to laugh at your own unique foibles or quirky behavior is fine as long as it’s not for unhealthy reasons. Having a sense of humor when it comes to tripping over your own feet or discovering a big piece of kale stuck between your front teeth on a first date can indicate self-esteem and sense of self-worth. However, constantly making self-deprecating statements about yourself can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and overall mental health.
Is Excessive Self-Deprecation a Personality Disorder or Mental Illness?
We have all met people who constantly put themselves down by making fun of their own appearance, behavior, or character traits. Low self-esteem, fear of not meeting expectations, and feeling helpless about the ability to control their life path are some of the primary reasons why people chronically self-deprecate.
What Causes Low-Self Esteem?
Low self-esteem is clinically associated with multiple psychological and personal problems such as major depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, and substance addiction. Damage to self-esteem (if it occurs) begins in childhood and almost always involves parental rejection, dysfunctional parenting styles (authoritarian, verbally/physically abusive), and/or lack of positive reinforcement by parents or parental figures. Other biopsychosocial factors are usually in play throughout a person’s life that further contribute to low self-esteem, including genetic predispositions to depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and behavioral disorders.
People with low self-esteem often engage in self-deprecation for the following reasons:
- Fear of rejection/abandonment/ridicule
- Fear of change/fear of the unknown
- They desperately seek approval and acceptance by making fun of themselves (which they wrongly assume will seem like “praise” to another person)
- They think they can hide either real or imagined faults by immediately pointing them out using humor
- They think they can prevent people attacking them first for their faults
Low self-esteem is commonly found in people with anxiety, depression, panic disorder, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. In fact, one of the driving forces behind development of these types of mental illnesses can be low self-esteem.
When people feel good about themselves, they aren’t chronically worried and depressed about if they are good enough to be someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend, take a new job, live up to expectations as a parent, or earn a college degree. For teenagers with eating disorders, damage to their self-esteem can usually be traced back to overly critical parents who placed much of their self-worth on outward appearances and being held in high regard by others.
Unless a drug addiction is fueled by dependence on pain pills due to surgery or illness, many people with addiction learn as teens or young adults that alcohol, heroin, meth, cocaine, and marijuana suppresses overwhelming feelings of anxiety, sadness, fears of abandonment, and inferiority.
Interestingly, people with schizophrenia tend not to suffer from low self-esteem. Researchers think this is due to psychotic disorders being highly genetic and susceptible to “stress triggers” affecting individuals with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.
Tips for Improving Self-Esteem
When people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or substance addictions receive counseling, much of their treatment program is devoted to helping them resolve feelings of low self-worth and fear of failure. Self-deprecation only serves to reinforce a person’s low self-esteem. Mental health counselors rely on cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and other psychotherapeutic techniques to improve a client’s self-esteem and stop self-deprecating behaviors.
It is difficult to raise self-esteem. Adults with normal self-esteem rarely have problems with low self-esteem, since this trait, like many other traits, develops and solidifies in childhood. When low self-esteem is accompanied by chronic depression, severe anxiety, or a substance use disorder, professional counseling may be necessary to address self-esteem issues as well as serious mental health problems.
Sustaining a good sense of self-worth involves the following:
- Stop trying to please everyone. Your life is not wholly about meeting or exceeding the expectations of others.
- Understand that strong emotions distort the true nature of reality. In stressful situations, remain as objective and calm as possible. Anger, guilt and fear are always caused by another person’s actions, not yours.
- Keep a running list of everything you have accomplished in life. Start the list as far back as you like. If you won a “student of the day” award in 2nd grade, write that down—that is an accomplishment! Graduating from high school is an accomplishment. Growing a small garden is an accomplishment. Moving into your own apartment is an accomplishment. Getting a B in a college algebra class is an accomplishment.
- Volunteer to work for a non-profit organization. The sense of meaning and satisfaction experienced when helping others less fortunate is a great way to improve self-esteem
- Start taking small “risks.” Do something you don’t think you would be successful at doing and just do it. Small risks include smiling at a stranger in the grocery store or even saying hello to an elderly person shopping alone. Take tap dancing lessons. Paint a sunset using watercolors. Work up to bigger risks that you never thought you could do, like completing an online business course or asking your boss for a promotion.
- Identify people in your life who criticize you or take advantage of you and start removing them from your life. No one deserves to be someone else’s punching bag. You might even try having a heart-to-heart talk with that person about how you feel. Sometimes, this direct approach works but be aware that sometimes, it doesn’t.
Having a healthy self-esteem is essential for defeating substance addictions, overcoming depression, and controlling anxiety. FHE Health provides comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment programs for people who need help achieving healthy self-esteem and regaining control of their lives. Call us today for immediate assistance.