Photo Credit: Matheus Ferrero,
Photo Credit: Matheus Ferrero,


Self-deprecation’s certainly in style. It seems that there’s even a certain amount of pride in it, a one-upmanship to whoever has the best down.

#fails and other self put-downs run rampant in both interpersonal and online interactions. No matter the cause, self-deprecation seems to be in fashion more than ever. While it may seem harmless, self-deprecation plays with the reward center of our brains and helps cement negative beliefs about oneself.

I find that people usually self-deprecate for one of two reasons:

Making People Laugh

Making other people laugh makes us feel good. However, using self-deprecation as the tool’s a cheap thrill that has consequences below the surface. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to consider one’s flaws from an objective standpoint and– without the emotional burden our ego attaches to them– make light of them. However, it’s a different thing entirely to trade them for the rush of dopamine you get from other people’s response.

Revisiting these jokes in order to gain the brief rush you get will only encourage your mind to double down on its ownership of those thoughts. On a conscious level, you may find yourself choosing to divert conversation that way to get your rush. In addition, subconsciously you may be reluctant to challenge and replace those thoughts because of the feeling they bring you.

If “I can’t get a girlfriend, guess I’m too ugly to date” gets a laugh, then you may say it more often. Both solidifying that thought in your mind and keeping you from challenging it. Connecting negative self-talk to positive response creates a Pavlovian scenario that drives you to hold onto damaging beliefs.

Hoping Someone Will Refute What You’re Saying

Everyone likes validation from other people. It’s completely normal. We say we’re ugly or fat with the hope that someone says, “No! you’re so pretty and thin!” They’re saying the right– and honestly desired– response to our negative self-talk. We say it in the hopes that their positivity directed towards us will balance our negative inner judgment. Why does that never work?

We’ve all been on the other side of this. Someone says they’re ugly, you say they’re pretty, and they double down and say, “no, I really am ugly.” It can be incredibly frustrating. We consider: “I’m saying the exactly converse thing. Why won’t this sink in?” It’s because we’ll never be able to convince them that we’re right about them; it’ll only be able to click when they realize they were wrong about themselves.

The Driver’s Seat of Change

The genesis of change is located on the inside.

Saying something negative about yourself in the hopes someone will correct you places the power of your thought, and the agency of change, in someone else’s hands. There’s nothing wrong with seeking support. However the warmth of that support won’t warm you out of your negative thinking. That support’s meant to help you kindle your own fire.

Pivoting away from self-deprecation will shift your mind away from the negative inner dialogue. This shift will increase positive self-talk and, in turn, will encourage like behaviors as a positive feedback loop to begin to take root.

It’s cool to be kind to yourself. If you find yourself leaning towards self-deprecation, take a moment to observe if it’s serving you. If not, break the cycle.