Can we talk about self-deprecating statements for a minute?
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot the last few years. Self-deprecating statements are negative thoughts and verbal expressions about ourselves. They range from “I’m not good at math”, “I can’t dance” to negative statements about physical appearance or health. Where does the need to minimize ourselves, our abilities and our contributions come from?
Comparison is something that trips a lot of people up. Any time you’re comparing yourself to someone else it’s likely not positive. No two people have the same experiences or opportunities and therefore aren’t going to look alike, act alike or live alike. Recognizing and honouring differences helps everyone being their best. Imagine, rather than saying “I’m not good with technology” you said, “I don’t know how to do this, could you show me?” Would you feel differently about yourself? How would that change impact the person you’re speaking with?
In considering self-deprecating statements in my own life I like to break down the thoughts. For instance, if I were to tell you “I can’t pull our camping trailer” that would be true, but that’s only part of the truth. In reality I’ve never learned to pull the trailer because I really don’t want to. I’m afraid of the responsibility of hauling and parking something that big. Could I do it? I'm certain I could if I decided I wanted to. Would it cause me huge anxiety? Absolutely, and to me that’s not worth it. It is a job I’ve chosen to leave to my partner who is good at it. Therefore I choose not to pull the trailer, and that’s okay, it has no bearing on my worth. I can also look at the things difficult things I’ve been afraid to do and done anyways, like learning how to drive a manual transmission.
I talk to my children about self-deprecating statements often. I hear them say things like “I can’t…” or “I’ll never be able to…”. We talk about how their job is to learn how to do a lot of things and the only way to get good at them is to practice. We look for evidence of things that used to be hard, but are now easy because they worked at them. Reading and riding a bike are great examples of skills we have to learn and practice in order to be good at.
Many self-deprecating statements originate in societal expectations. For instance, apologizing for the cleanliness of your house might be something you’ve learned from family or friends. However, most people aren’t coming over for a home inspection, they’re looking for connection with you. The people who truly love you either ignore the dirty dishes and grab a cup of coffee or wash them while you chat.
Have you noticed yourself thinking or saying something negative about yourself, apologizing for who you are, what you’re wearing, how you look or think? These thoughts and statements have a significant impact on our physical and mental health. There are a plethora of online experiments by adults and children alike who gave plants negative and positive messages, with significant impacts on growth. Are the negative messages you’re giving yourself having a negative impact on your physical and emotional well-being? Your body is your body, and will never look or function like anyone else’s. Like a plant, your mind and body respond to positive or negative thoughts and statements.
When people say negative things about themselves I often wonder what response they’re looking for. If you find yourself thinking you need to apologize, minimize or explain yourself take a moment to consider the following:
Would you want others to apologize to you for this?
What is the purpose of the statement?
Are you feeling anxious or unsure how to start a conversation?
Is this something you want to change about yourself?
Are you worried about being judged?
What are you hoping for in response?
Your job in life is to be you. The most important thing you do is that you create a life that is yours. This might mean you have messy children and a messy house, an immaculate garden, climb mountains, paint pictures, read books, cultivate relationships, create a career you love, bake for the neighbours, explore with your loved-ones, travel, the list goes on. The only thing that matters is that the things you choose to are right for you.
Finally, my challenge for you is to notice just one of these self-deprecating thoughts this week. The hard part will be to notice it, but not judge yourself for it. Notice it, reflect on why it’s there and if it’s helping you or your relationship with the person who is hearing this comment. Can you stop it now? Could you work to stop it in the future? Do you need help to stop it?
Wishing you gentleness with yourself,