Enough with the Self-Deprecating Humor Because You’re Bad At It

Here is an extremely abbreviated and sanitized version of my non-clinical-diagnosis depression-mindset history: As early as grade school, I developed this bizarre all-or-nothing perfectionist mindset. Like if I wasn’t the best at something, it had to mean that I was the absolute worst and had no value as a human being. No idea where it came from because my upbringing was actually completely normal and pleasant. Morphed into deeply toxic depressive thinking that carried on for many, many, many years. It was, at times, far worse than what I’ve described here, but I promised this would be the short sanitized version, so I’m not going into detail.

One of the effects of all this is that I largely lost the ability to self-evaluate in any objective way. Yes, I get that objective self-evaluation is an oxymoron and perhaps, no one is capable of this by definition.

Pondering the concept of objective self-evaluation. Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Over time, I got to the point of looking to some external evidence rather than rely solely my own deeply flawed perfectionist-era depression mindset negative spiral thinking. For instance, now if you were to ask me if I’m a good singer, I would say “It depends on the song” – an accurate answer arguably for everyone. Or I’d write an overly long blog post about it, but if I met you in person, I’d just say “It depends on the song”. Whereas if you asked me say ten or twenty years ago, I’d have said something severely self-deprecating about my vocal skills, and played it off as humor.

Only I couldn’t seem to pull off self-deprecating humor properly. People seemed to sense there was a truly broken depressed person behind the words that might have been innocuous coming from someone else. My friend who died a year and a half ago once called me out on it in front of my family, which I did not really appreciate. (Side note: I know I’ve been posting more unflattering things about her lately, but don’t get the wrong idea. She was an amazing friend, and I did not appreciate her or our friendship enough while she was alive. I started a longer post about her and her death, but it’s been hard to write).

Anyway, I disagreed. I thought she was wrong. I was hilarious. My self-deprecating humor game was spot-on! Even now, I re-read my own selfdeprecating words and I like my writing style, even when commenters have noted that I sound unreasonably harsh on myself. This is my style! I’m authentic and funny!

And then I started reading and listening to other people who were also doing the self-deprecating humor thing. And hearing myself reflected back. Only now, it wasn’t all that funny.

Self-deprecating humor is more cringe-worthy than funny sometimes. Speaking as a expert here. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

I guess this is how all the moms feel when their pre-teen daughters start obsessing over body image and diets. Like the wrong audience got the wrong message. Or the right one, and it was never all that light-hearted or funny. It was actually cringe-worthy and painful to read.

I’m not sure this is going to change how I see myself, write about myself, or what I subject my poor readers to. But it is good for me to recognize what this actually sounds like.

25 comments

  1. Well observed and well written. You seem to have plenty of insight to me. We are all programmed to externalise our existence and worth by society in a myriad of weird and wonderful ways, but once we bravely venture within, we truly find our treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think many of us struggle with this. It’s a fine line. If we think too highly of ourselves, we’re afraid of being arrogant. So we go to the opposite and knock ourselves down, which is not humility, it’s just knocking ourselves down. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov would say one should always think of one’s good points to keep away from depression. I’m trying to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t they say that everyone should keep one piece of paper in their pocket that says “For you the world was created” and another that says that says “Man is dust” or something similar? I’m trying to recall where I heard that. But the idea being that you need to have balance. I like Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s approach that you quoted.

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  3. So much of this rings true for me with the depression and negativity. I do a lot of the self-deprecating “humor” myself and often people take my comments more seriously than I do–yet at the same time, aren’t my comments originating from some deeper dislike of myself? Perhaps they sense it? Do our own fake laughs give it away when we’re deprecating ourselves in the name of humor in order to cut ourselves to the quick and get others in on the “joke” too? Someone once said to me, you’re so quick to put yourself down before anyone else can. I guess they saw through me.

    I’m just talking out of my ass here.

    I am enjoying your blog immensely and I can relate to so much that you write.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re spot-on! I feel like I also started the self-deprecating comments before the other person had a chance to comment. But also, it feels safer to me because then I don’t have to risk hearing negative feedback from someone else on something I thought was brilliant because I already bashed myself?
      It’s funny, but there’s also that undertone that is serious, and people sometimes pick up on that.
      Thank you

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fair point. That would be like saying one person’s poetry comes across just like another person’s poetry. We both know that would be a pretty crazy thing to say! 🙂

      It was more an observation upon reading other self-deprecating posts by others that I recognized things that I have said, or would say, about myself, and realizing that humor was falling flat when hearing it from the other side.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh man, I could’ve written this post. At some point in college, I realized I could get away with being just about as negative and self-deprecating as I wanted as long as I made it funny. And over time I got waaaaay too comfortable with that being my standard mode of existing in the world. (I do find your writing hilarious, though.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very true. I drafted a post written during a much more negative moment, intending to turn it more humorous, and it just remained really dark and uncomfortable, even for my taste. I wound up not publishing the post. which was probably for best. Thank you, by the way. Always good to get a sense of how things are being received!

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  5. I struggle with this too. Not all the time. Or maybe it’s different. There have been a few times in the last ten years where I have been low for an extended period. Feeling low (or depressed but not depressed as in the mental illness) is kind of lonely because sometimes there’s no obvious cause and a lot of people don’t appreciate self pity. No. That’s not quite what I mean. In my family self pity is generally frowned upon and so I have learned to hide it like it’s shameful. But if you’re sad, you need an out, a vent. And it’s hard to vent without the self pity kicking in. And that’s where the humour feels better. But sometimes, like you, I realize it’s off key and I have made the other person uncomfortable. Does that resonate with you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does resonate. That line between necessary venting, self-pity, and self-deprecating humor that missed the comedic mark because it’s not so funny is easy to blur.
      I also feel weird using the word “depressed” because I’m not sure what I felt quite “qualifies” – it’s hard to describe. And like you said, there was no obvious external cause. Still, difficult feelings are feelings, and then what do you do with them?

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