I had lunch with a coworker the other day. We had hung out outside of work a couple of times, and I felt like we were casual friends more than coworkers, since we don’t work in the same department.
They asked about what I did and the department I work for, and as I explained I threw in a bunch of jokes, downplaying both my knowledge of how things work (I just started in June) and my position. I was doing this for a reason, even though it was sort of unconsciously – they were unhappy with their position, so I was trying to commiserate with them and make them feel like my job isn’t the best thing ever (which it kind of is).
Anyway, their response was to sort of jump on board with the whole Steph-doesn’t-really-know-anything bit. They kind of just looked at me and said “Ooookkkaaaayyy…….” a lot, and for some reason that kind of threw me off. I left feeling like they thought I was ditsy or something. I felt socially awkward the rest of the day. One of those days where you’re like: “I walk so weird. Why did I say hello like that? Have I ever been normal for one second of my life? Why do my friends like me?”
This brought up something I have been dealing a lot with in my 20s… Being self-deprecating is this thing I can’t turn off sometimes, and it can bite me in the ass.
When I approached this lunch with my coworker, I felt like it was super casual and this person was my peer. Obviously I would put forward a much better impression to a superior or someone I wanted to build a professional relationship with. But there was no reason for me to be so self-deprecating about everything. It was counter-productive and just unnecessary. Even at a bar with friends, why play myself down?
I definitely get this self-deprecating humor from my mom, and my sister has the same habit, too. In my mind, it’s part of what makes us endearing. We can be funny, relatable, and empathetic when we do the self-deprecating thing. But it obviously has it’s drawbacks.
Some people hear me put myself down in a joking way, then think that it’s okay to put me down in the same way from that point forward. Can you blame them? I gave them permission. How can I say something about myself so openly and then get mad at someone else for saying the exact same thing about me? For all they know it’s completely true, not an exaggeration or a joke. How could they know the difference?
Anthony, when we first started dating, totally called me out on it at dinner once. It was so terrifying. He saw straight through my bullshit and just kept being like, “Why did you say that? That’s not true. You don’t have to say that type of thing.” And I couldn’t stop. It was so crazy. And he was so calm about it – just like, “You just don’t have to do that around me.”
Me: “Umm, more wine please. And by the way you’re totally the one because omigod you read me like a book.” So weird when someone does that. Shudder.
We have to be our own best advocate. But it’s so hard to stop. I hear myself downplay my abilities or knowledge all the time and it’s always so unnecessary. Most of the information the world gets about me is from me. What I put out there about myself is going to affect what I get back. Why is this a thing?
I think some of it has to do with gender. Women have a tendency to downplay their intelligence or capabilities in order to “not intimidate” men. The gender norms I was socialized with growing up in this country definitely had their influence. I see it sometimes in my friends, too, but I think I caught a particularly bad case of it. It’s my random habit that I can’t seem to kick.
It’s so funny – because I have never had issues with self-esteem or feeling like I was incapable (except the universal junior high/high school experience). But I use the self-deprecating language to deflect from talking about how I really feel, or to avoid disagreeing with someone, or just as a kind of emotional shield I think. But I also use it just to connect with people quickly.
It’s one of those things where I know it’s not a good thing – but I kind of haven’t come to believe that enough yet to really try and stop. Do you feel that way about a flaw of yours? I feel like it makes me more approachable to people, and I love making fun of myself. I want to be humble and funny and someone who isn’t trying to show a perfect, pretty face to the world all the time. But it doesn’t come off like that. I talk and joke about my shortcomings so much that people sometimes don’t ever hear about some of my talents or successes. Everyone knows I can’t cook and I’m not an athletic person. Probably within the first time meeting me. But a lot of people who I am friends with miss the fact that I have a masters, can drive stick, play guitar, sketch, and can hold my own in a political discussion.
What kind of person do I want to show people I am in the beginning? I want to be myself, but I think I need to be more of an advocate for myself as well, even in the most casual setting. There’s nothing wrong with being a confident, assertive person. And in fact I think it would be better to have more women who carry themselves that way instead of laughing everything off and apologizing all the time.
Maybe I can try to be one of those women.
Are you a self-deprecator, too? Did you kick the habit? How? Is there a habit you have that you (sort of?) want to change?