No one likes a big ego, and the ability to laugh at yourself is an important skill. On the flip side, humility has its limits, too. If you’re someone who really can’t accept a compliment, or you’re constantly downplaying everything about yourself, then your self-deprecation is likely doing more harm than good.
While self-deprecation is often associated with humility (good thing), research shows it could promote self-sabotage (well, bad thing). Beyond yourself, too much self-deprecation affects everyone around you. A bunch of seemingly offhand self-pitying comments will be uncomfortable for whatever room you’re in.
Luckily, like breaking any bad habit, there are steps you can take to change your behaviours. Sure, truly improving your self-esteem on a deeper level will be a long journey. In the meantime, here are some practical tips to curb your self-deprecating comments.
Identify the behaviour
The first step to breaking any bad habit is identifying what it is that you’re trying to change. Think: Do you use self-deprecation as your main style of humour? Are you unable to compliment someone else without tearing yourself down? Do you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to everyone around you?
Sit down and think about what exactly self-deprecation looks like for you. If you notice it in real time, take a beat to jot it down in your notes app (this will also help with recognising your triggers — more on that soon).
Recognise your triggers
As you identify the ways that you tear yourself down, take note of the situations that trigger those thoughts and feelings. Maybe you struggle to take praise from your boss, or you get awkward in bigger groups, or perhaps you’re always trying to preserve someone else’s feelings. Whatever your triggers are, recognising them will help you anticipate when you’ll need to practice a more confident attitude.
Find filler phrases
The instinct to make a self-deprecating comment is not going to disappear right away. Try to prepare certain phrases you can say to fill that void, even if it’s something super transparent, like, “You know, I’d usually be self-deprecating here, but I’m trying to be more positive.”
This Reddit thread offers another example situation: Instead of saying, “Why are you friends with me, I’m pathetic,” you can reframe that sentiment into, “How did I manage to befriend you, you’re awesome.” Confidence is key, even if it’s boosting someone else’s.
Tell others about your intentions
Just like a vow to start going to the gym more, or trying to quit smoking, one of the best tools in your arsenal is to establish accountability.
Plus, anyone who cares about you will probably be enthusiastic about your goal to stop ragging on yourself. If everyone around you was silently begging for you to stop being so self-deprecating, you’ll give them a chance to share those thoughts out loud. People like hanging out with other confident people!
Try the swear jar method
Once you’ve begun recognising when and how you beat yourself up, try creating a system to motivate yourself to beat the habit. Money is a great motivator, so you can use the “swear jar” method or pay your friends a dollar each time they catch you doing that thing you want to stop doing. It works the other way too: Reward yourself for being kind to yourself.
And when you slip up, don’t start beating yourself up — otherwise, you’ll have to put another dollar in the jar.
Finally: Go easy on yourself
Any behaviour change is a challenge. Chances are that your self-deprecation is rooted in something deeper — something you might want to talk about with a professional.
Changing bad habits doesn’t happen overnight, so try not to get upset or frustrated with yourself when the process takes time. Practice some kindness with yourself. After all, isn’t a little self-love exactly what you’re trying to do here?