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?”

You know.

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.

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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?


4 Comments on On Being Self-Deprecating

  1. Mary Thomas
    September 11, 2014 at 1:21 pm (3 years ago)

    I feel the same about my process with the self-deprecation thang. I remember around my thirtieth birthday I set it as a personal goal to detach my opinions and my mood from those around me, as part of our Al-Anon education. It helped me lessen the impact a bit. I think that it’s not that I stopped joking about my shortcomings as much as I started talking more about my strengths, like my positive body image, etc. but I ran into it again when I started my own business and had to clean it up a little more. It has really caused me a lot of trouble professionally in the past. And not only that, but I used to think that it was just joking but the older I get, the more I realize that I hear myself and I start to believe it, too. It subtly breaks down my self confidence. But it sure is an uncomfortable habit to change. Another one is listening. I don’t listen nearly enough. I think it makes it hard for people to come to me when they are really upset. I know how to do it I just need to practice more. But I also cuss a lot (away from my kids) and I LOVE IT. Lol

    • Stephanie
      September 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm (3 years ago)

      Haha totally not giving up cussing any time soon either! (Except when I’m around kids, obvi.) Ya, you make a really good point. It doesn’t only affect other people’s perception of you – it really does start to seep into your self-image. I’ve joked about not being able to cook for so many years that I have forgotten that it is about me not wanting to cook, and that I could totally succeed at it if I tried. Ugh. My little brain can get so complicated. Some habits seem harmless at first, and the older you get (aka the longer you have been doing it), the harder it is to change!

  2. Krissy
    September 12, 2014 at 10:32 am (3 years ago)

    I don’t so much self-deprecate, but I sometimes wonder if I am too nice about things. I mean, I have always taught to be nice to people above a lot of things, that it’s important to treat others the way you want to be treated – but I feel like people can sometimes mistake THAT for weakness. It all just seems to fall back to the two-dimensional way women can be viewed sometimes – either a doormat you can wipe your feet on or a bitch. And I think when I try to ask people to do something for me in a professional setting, I tend to be very appreciative right off the bat (because I really do appreciate it!), and I wonder if I am perceived as weak because of it. And the sorry thing – I cringe at myself when I say it casually and in rehearsal, but I try to remember only to say it when I mean it – like really mean it. Tough habits to break!

    • Stephanie
      September 12, 2014 at 10:56 am (3 years ago)

      Omigod Krissy I know, I cannot stop saying sorry, just as a knee-jerk reaction! That’s something I have been trying to at least be aware of, since it seems so hard to quit cold turkey. I totally agree with the doormat or bitch thing. You want to be that appreciative, nice person, but it’s true that some people don’t take that seriously. Which is so unfair… Can’t we be nice AND badass at the same time?? Guys can… Ugh.


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