Self deprecating humor is a double edged sword. On one side, being able to laugh at yourself is somewhat healthy. We are comical animals who make all sorts of weird sounds and have crazy individual tendencies, if you think you don’t, you are either lying to yourself or crazy (see Merlin Mann’s tweet on priorities)
On the other hand, we sometimes use this humor to cover up areas of insecurity. Using self deprecating humor this way can re-enforce the belief that we are broken or defective. This isn’t healthy.
I’m really fond of saying “I’m deceptively fast for how fat I am” in acro. While this isn’t a lie, it’s not a nice thing to say about myself. Firstly, I’m not overly fit, but I definitely feel fatter than other people perceive me. Secondly, people don’t need to know that I’m deceptively anything, they just need to know I have them while spotting. By continually saying I’m fat in this context I feel fatter. Not healthy!
I have a long history with self depreciating humor. My family is a teasing family, we tease each other. It’s a form of showing love, but it isn’t healthy for me. I got into the habit of hearing areas of my life where I was weird or not as good as the rest of the family. This lead me to believe that some of the teasing a jesting that I experienced was true.
I also had a rough bus in middle school where I was constantly made fun of (even to the point where I started riding my bike to school in fifth grade by myself). I got into the habit of starting conversations with the kids on the bus by insulting myself to get it out of the way. I had heard the teasing from my family and I felt like the kids on the bus lacked creativity. I used my intellectual strength to come up with witty insults for myself that the other kids hadn’t thought of.
This behavior has evolved over the years into the self deprecating humor I use continually in my life. Several of my friends have brought this up this week as I talked them about my life or about this article I was writing. All of them wanted me to stop being so self deprecating, some of them didn’t even want me to waste any time writing this post and thinking about this negative subject.
If you google the topic, you will find a mixed bag of results. A lot of the results are based off this one study that finds that have a sense of self deprecating humor is helpful for online dating, and being happy. After a bunch of reflection, I feel there is healthy self deprecation and unhealthy. Healthy: making fun of yourself in a way that pokes fun at the human experience in a healthy headspace where you aren’t looking for any reaction other than humor. Then there is unhealthy self deprecation: using yourself as an object of humor to reinforce your insecurities and hopefully have those around you be more aware of them.
I definitely do most of my self deprecation in the latter form. I’m looking for sympathy or emotional companionship and instead of asking for it. I make a joke hoping for someone to step in and defend the part of me that is wounded underneath.
In response to writing this I’m going to try do three things differently. One, I’m going to try to find humor outside of myself or other people. I don’t want to insult others, because I don’t like it when others insult me. I won’t be perfect but I will try. Two, when I do use this type of humor (which will hopefully be rare), I’m really going to do it from a genuine, detached space, and focus on the humor not the response I get from other people. Three, I’m going to continue to focus on the positive pathways in my brain (this one’s for you, GGU).