Opinion: Self-deprecating humor is often more harmful than funny

Thinking man. Photo courtesy of Wesley Nitsckie.

Self-deprecating humor has become an increasingly prevalent form of humor – it is easy, amusing and a seemingly harmless, right?

Maybe not. It can be funny and an easy way to make people laugh, but it really isn’t as harmless as people seem to think.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, you are likely familiar with the concept. By definition, self-deprecation is “[b]elittling or undervaluing oneself; excessively modest.”

Even if you consider self-deprecation a simple joke, it can affect the way you think about yourself. By focusing primarily on things you dislike about yourself you are accepting this negative perception of who you are and giving license for people to view you in this way.

Self-deprecating humor isn’t unusual – frankly, I feel like almost every conversation I am a part of will have someone undermining their own qualities at some point. Self-deprecation as a form of humor has become somewhat of a trend, and it has become easier and easier to make fun of oneself – and harder to realize its negative repercussions.

There are a lot of different reasons that could be attributed to self-deprecation, but the most prevalent one is that self-deprecation is often a self-defense mechanism. An insecurity or concern about oneself is more readily admitted if disguised as a joke.

Personally, I’ve noticed that I use self-deprecating humor in a way as to set a low standard for myself because I am afraid to fail and to let other people see me fail.

Before I even start a task, I’ll say “I’m terrible at this.” I make excuses for myself because I am afraid that if people have high expectations, I may not meet them.

I realize this is not how and why everyone uses self-deprecation, but regardless, if we continually berate ourselves and speak about ourselves in a demeaning way, we will come to see ourselves that way. Because, words have power even when intended as jokes.

In the same way that negative language has an impact, positive dialogue and self-perception can intercept and shape our perceptions. A study done in 2013 confirms that our language can reshape our knowledge and perceptions of how we view the world and ourselves within it. Every part of our brain collaborates to interpret stimuli from our surroundings to create what we call reality – and if you continually use negative dialogue about yourself as a joke, you may come to view yourself negatively.

Self-deprecating humor can have some positive elements. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself, and it is important not to take yourself too seriously – comedians often use self-deprecating jokes to access empathy within their audience and find common ground. Self-deprecation can also make people recognize absurd social constructs. It can be a positive form of humor if it comes from a place of strength – if used thoughtfully and consciously.

Though it can be positive sometimes, I feel that often people don’t use self-deprecation in that positive way. Frankly, demeaning yourself is easy. It’s much easier to recognize your flaws than your positive traits. It’s also easy to turn your insecurities and fears into jokes rather than addressing them.

Self-deprecating humor is something that I use often, but I have realized that I rarely use it in a positive way. While it’s not something that will come easily, I am trying to recognize when the topic shouldn’t be a joke – and is instead something that I need address.

If you are going to make fun of yourself, don’t do it to demean yourself and gloss over aspects that you genuinely struggle with. Do it because you have recognized your less-than-admirable traits and despite them, you are happy with the way you are.


Hannah Koehler

Hannah Koehler is the page editor for Arts & Culture on The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in English and psychological science.

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