OPINION: Find the line between humorous self-deprecation and self-hatred

Drawing of a person staring at a version of themselves in the mirror that has a jester's har
(Laura Jaramillo • The Student Life)

The night before a difficult exam, I found myself jokingly telling my friends, “I am way too dumb for this.” However, I am not alone. I have heard numerous people say something negative about their intellectual capabilities in a humorous manner. While we are making these comments light-heartedly, we don’t realize that self-deprecation can affect our self-esteem and academic performance. 

While I agree that not taking yourself too seriously is important for your well-being, constant negativity in the name of self-deprecating humor can become damaging. It is essential to limit how you use self-deprecating humor so that you don’t fall into a cycle of pure self-hatred. 

It is known that self-deprecating humor shows that you have self-awareness. For example, if you have a bad hairstyle one day and tell your friends “My hair is so ugly,” you are engaging in normal self-deprecation. You are telling others and yourself that you don’t take yourself or your appearance too seriously. 

However, self-deprecation can be much deeper than what most people think. We use it to deny ourselves credit for our great achievements and to continuously make ourselves smaller in order to seem extremely humble. Self deprecation is essentially a normalized form of extreme negativity when we don’t know how to manage it. Yes, we can make it humorous, but the roots of self-deprecation are very negative. 

While studies are still coming out, some research has shown that the words we say to ourselves can affect the things we see and feel. In simpler terms, our words can have a profound impact on how we view ourselves, even if we claim we are joking. 

Other evidence has shown that sometimes we sacrifice our self-worth in order to get a laugh from those around us. Constantly self-deprecating is not worth making people giggle. The key is to use self-deprecation in moderation, and to not make your struggles your only punchline. 

I understand that self-deprecation is funny and that it can bring people who are all dealing with similar struggles together. However, there is a limit where it stops being funny. If self-deprecating humor is actually affecting your self-esteem, it may be smart to cut down on some of your jokes. Trust me, you can be funny without constantly degrading yourself.  

If you can’t tell if you’re taking self-deprecating jokes too far, look around at your audience. If your jokes seem to be falling flat, it’s probably because they are making everyone uncomfortable. Blatant and constant negativity can make people uneasy

I am not suggesting that you constantly shower yourself in compliments and forgo all forms of sarcastic self-deprecation. That is simply unrealistic and unnecessary. All I am saying is to critically examine if self-deprecating humor is significantly affecting your confidence and abilities. If the answer is yes, it may be time to make a change. 

Before you take tests, try telling yourself that you have prepared the best you can instead of telling your peers, “I’m going to do so badly.” That small shift in thinking can help you feel more confident before and during the test. 

Even if your self-deprecating humor gets people’s attention because of the shock value, you should question if that attention is helpful for you long-term. If people find you funny, that’s great! But how people perceive you may not be worth feeling miserable about yourself behind closed doors. 

Treat yourself like you would treat a trusted friend, and say kind words to yourself when you can. Having a good self-esteem can be difficult, but choosing your words carefully can have a profound impact. 

Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She tries self-affirmation exercises on bad days.

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