Self-Disparagement | Self-Doubt | Self-Consciousness
Imposter Syndrome | Social Anxiety

self-dep

SELF-DEPRECATION is one of seven basic character flaws or “dark” personality traits. We all have the potential for some self-doubt and social anxiety, but in people with a deep sense of personal inadequacy, Self-Deprecation can become a dominant pattern.

To deprecate (or depreciate *) something is to belittle it or downgrade it. That is, to reduce its perceived status, importance, and value.

* deprecate rhymes with ‘fabricate’, while depreciate rhymes with ‘appreciate’. Take your pick.

Self-deprecation (or self-depreciation) therefore means belittling yourself, criticising yourself, or running yourself down—both internally in your own mind and externally in the eyes of others. It is defined as:

  • The disparagement of one’s own abilities; [1]
  • Communication that expresses something negative about its originator; making negative statements regarding one’s own appearance or abilities, such as saying “I’m so fat” or “I’m such an idiot”; [2]
  • Expressing disapproval of or being critical of oneself. [3]

It is an urge, often an automatic and irresistible urge, to present yourself as lower than others, or less than you should be, or even invisible—unworthy of being seen.

As with the opposite chief feature of arrogance, self-deprecation is a way of manipulating others’ perceptions of yourself in order to avoid taking a ‘hit’ to your self-esteem.

In this case, however, the basic strategy is to get in first—to launch a preemptive attack on your own failings before anyone else can do so. While the arrogant person tries to deny their imperfections by feigning perfection, the self-deprecating person believes their own imperfection is absolute: I am simply not as good as other people… And it’s perfectly obvious to everyone else, so there’s no point denying it.

Like all chief features, self-deprecation involves the following components:

  1. Early negative experiences
  2. Misconceptions about the nature of self, life or others
  3. A constant fear and sense of insecurity
  4. A maladaptive strategy to protect the self
  5. A persona to hide all of the above in adulthood

Early Negative Experiences

In the case of self-deprecation, the early negative experiences typically revolve around failing to live up to parents’ high expectations.

Perhaps the parents are perfectionists and expect the child to measure up to an impossible standard. Perhaps the parents are over-achievers and cannot accept having a child who isn’t similarly talented or driven. Either way, the child can never be up to scratch.

Misconceptions

From such experiences of being constantly below standard, the child comes to perceive himself as something fundamentally flawed, basically inadequate.

Again and again, the child in this position learns that “who I am is not good enough.” The love, care and attention that he craves is unavailable, and the reason for this is—apparently—his own deficiency as a person. His constant sense of failure, and of being a constant disappointment to others, give rise to a fundamental sense of shame.

Hence:

Who I am is not good enough. Nothing I can do will ever be good enough.

I should feel ashamed of myself just for being me.

Even before I try, I know I’m going to fail—so there’s no point in even trying.

At least I will always be right about one thing: my inadequacy.

I have nothing of value to offer anyone. I don’t belong here. I am an impostor. 

Fear

Based on the above  misconceptions and early negative experiences, the child becomes gripped by a specific kind of fear. In this case, the fear is of inadequacynever being good enough to please or satisfy others, never being good enough to deserve success or love or happiness.

The child feels like a gatecrasher in life, an uninvited guest, an interloper, and constantly fears being caught and exposed.

His attempts at living a normal life cause great internal conflict because he feels a normal life is not something he deserves, being below standard as a human being.

Strategy

The growing individual becomes hyper-sensitive to the possibility of being exposed as inadequate, and sees the threat of this exposure everywhere.

His basic strategy for coping with this threat is to manipulate others’ perceptions in advance. Typically this involves:

  • avoiding others’ attention if possible: he will try to divert attention away from himself, keep the focus on other people or things;
  • managing others’ expectations: to lower others’ expectations, he will tend to apologise in advance for every forthcoming “failure” and deliberately act as inadequately as possible so that no-one expects anything else.

Remember, the individual with self-deprecation truly believes in their own inadequcy. They see little point in denying it. Their ploy, then, is one of damage limitation:

I cannot succeed in life, I cannot feel good about myself, I cannot get on with others. The best I can hope for is to limit the damage by hiding myself from view.

If I am belittled, I probably deserve it. But at least if I belittle myself first, I leave others with nothing to belittle me about.

As they enter adulthood, they come to rely on this strategy more and more.

Persona

Emerging into adulthood, the individual probably does not want go around being overtly afraid and insecure about their fundamental inadequacy. Hence the defensive strategy of self-deprecation puts on a mask of invisibility. He will tend to make himself small, silent and invisible; he will tend to talk very quietly, cover his face, look downward. This mask or persona continually says to the world, “I am not here. Look the other way. Pay me no attention. And if you do happen to notice me, don’t expect anything special.”

Outwardly, he also pretends to be the most inadequate person in the world—so that anything he then manages to do just adequately or even better comes as a nice surprise to everyone and might even elicit praise.

He might even become so adept at deliberate self-deprecation that it develops into a personal style of humour, much enjoyed by other people. His obvious lack of arrogance will also be attractive to some. If he completely identifies with the sense of inadequacy, however, this could have a debilitating effect. Whenever he receives praise or appreciation, he will simply not believe it.

All people are capable of this kind of behaviour. When it dominates the personality, however, one is said to have a chief feature of self-deprecation.

A d v e r t i s e m e n t


Positive and Negative Poles

In the case of self-deprecation, the positive pole is termed HUMILITY and the negative pole is termed SELF-ABASEMENT.

+ humility +

|

SELF-DEPRECATION

|

– self-abasement –

Humility, or modesty, is a state of having little ego or pride, and therefore not trying to elevate yourself in the eyes of others. Ideally, this is a state in which you can appropriately recognise and accept your “ordinariness”. You feel free from ego concerns. We could all do with some humility.

Self-abasement, on the other hand, is a state of excessive, unwarranted humility. In other words, a state of self-inflicted humiliation and degredation. It is a state in which you are trapped in a vicious circle of self-criticism. Even if you come to understand that you have adopted self-deprecation as a false defensive measure, this is just further “proof” of your ultimate inadequacy.

Handling Self-Deprecation

People with self-deprecation may feel constantly ashamed of themselves for no good reason and are often apologising for themselves. Depression is a possible outcome.

As with every chief feature, the key is becoming conscious of how self-deprecation operates in yourself. If you have self-deprecation, you can begin by observing your outward social behaviour and persona in action:

  • Do I criticise or belittle myself to others?
  • Do I try to manipulate how others judge me by lowering their expectations? (e.g., “Knowing me, I’ll probably get it all wrong.”)
  • Do I sometimes exaggerate how incompetent I am in the hope that others will be pleasantly surprised by my results?

Try to catch yourself in the act of putting on your “I’m useless” mask.

Then dig deeper:

  • Why do I try to manipulate others’ perceptions and expectations?
  • Why do their judgements matter to me? What am I afraid of?
  • What do I fear would happen if others saw the reality of me?

Approaching the deepest level you may need outside help in the form of a counsellor, therapist or at least a close friend:

  • Where does this fear of being inadequate come from?
  • How was I hurt?
  • Can I let it go?

Insight in itself will not remove the self-deprecation. By the time you reached adulthood, the neural pathways underlying this defensive pattern were pretty well established in the brain. Nevertheless, the brain is plastic, malleable, reconfigurable. Just as you can become more aware of self-deprecation through self-observation and self-enquiry, so too you can gain more control over it through using that awareness and by exercising choice in the moment.

  • Whenever I am tempted to run myself down before I’ve even done anything, I will now be more willing to let my results speak for themselves.
  • Realistically, I now know that even if I am judged as less than adequate, that will not kill me. It need not even hurt me. I shall pay far less attention to others’ expectations and judgements.

Another way to handle a chief feature is to “slide” to the positive pole of its opposite. In the case of self-deprecation, if you are getting caught in the negative pole of self-abasement (self-inflicted humiliation and degradation), you can re-balance yourself using the positive pole of arrogance, namely pride. In other words,  pay attention to things that make you feel truly proud of yourself. Better still, do things that make you feel truly proud.

Notes

[1] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/self-deprecation

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-deprecation

[3] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/self-deprecating

Further Reading

Transforming Your Dragons

For an excellent book about the various negative patterns and how to handle them, see Transforming Your Dragons by José Stevens.

The 7 archetypes of fear - cover

Another great book about the seven character flaws, recently translated from the original German: The Seven Archetypes of Fear, by Varda Hasselmann and Frank Schmolke.

The Seven Chief Features

Self-Deprecation | Self-Destruction | Martyrdom

| Stubbornness |

Greed | Arrogance | Impatience

PersonalitySpirituality.net

162 Responses to “Self-Deprecation”


  1. 1 zemazem 14 Nov 2013 at 11:55 pm

    childhood abandonment emotionally and physically, created this feeling of inadequacy. To deal with this i designed a style of humour as a teenager and i hid from people as best i could. As i matured in my early twenties, i began to utilize this self deprecation as a thirst to improve in my art and to gain self mastery. For a while I thought I was arrogant because because I gain so much pride in what I had learned and mastered, but it hit me arrogance cannot conceive of its own arroganceness(haha not a word I know, the self deprecate in me had to make these brackets). As a king soul self deprecation has been such a blessing and im thankful for this energy in my life. All the best to all who read this and to you and your site mr barry.

  2. 2 Wish 27 Dec 2013 at 12:11 am

    Why have I always been ignored?
    The other day I was laying in bed remembering a lot of times in my life when I spoke to people and nobody’s listening to me at all. I know they weren’t doing it intentionally, and as I’ve got older I’ve found out the reason why: people assume I will either say something daft, or not speak at all, and so their social minds are just tuned in to people who are more worth being with than me and so they just stay focused on them all the time. It’s an automatic thing a lot of people seem to have, they can’t help it, and they don’t mean to be like it – even really nice people still can be like this. The only time people mostly have their undivided attention to me is when I’m the only one with them who they can talk to. I can then get into a good conversation then. But when there’s a group of people, I tend to get ignored no matter how hard I try to join in. OK, people sometimes go out of their way to speak to me but that’s about it. I can’t speak first without being ignored, and I’ve got sick of it. It isn’t fair, will this be happening to me for the rest of my life? I suppose it will.

  3. 3 kristi 04 Jan 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Interesting. I have heard teachings that say this form of behavior is actually an upside down ‘pride.’ It still displays an obsession with ‘self’ rather than freedom from ‘self.’

    • 4 barry 23 Jan 2014 at 8:36 pm

      Well, you could say that self-deprecation/disparagement is an obsession with what’s deplorable and inferior about oneself relative to others, while arrogance is an obsession with what’s superior or special about oneself relative to others.
      Barry

  4. 5 Troy 23 Jan 2014 at 1:55 am

    This thread seems to focus on all the psychological “negatives” of self-deprecating. I choose to use self-deprecation in my leadership style. I self-deprecate to prevent the perception of arrogance. I have accomplished everything I have ever set out to do and have an amazing life. My family and kids are incredible and I have more than I deserve. (there is some of it) I am internally arrogant but never want to tell anyone of my successes. I find it hard to fail and tend to have a superiority complex which I am not proud of. I do not post pictures of my amazing life on facebook, etc. because I have the sense that it is bragging. I call it humble and I am not in a position to tell anyone how to live their life. I believe that self-deprecation is a leadership quality that can be used effectively in gaining trust. Maybe this is a little different perspective??? Maybe it is a defense mechanism….. Doctors would have a field day with me!!!! :)

    • 6 barry 23 Jan 2014 at 7:07 pm

      Hi Troy

      Basically, yes, the focus here is on the negatives – this page is about when self-deprecation (self-disparagement etc) is a powerful, negative force in the personality. Some people cope with that by being “invisible”, some by managing others’ expectations, and some by feigning arrogance as a way to avoid the feelings of smallness and shame.

      Some people are aware of their negative or ‘dark’ traits and try to manage them, while some people aren’t aware of theirs at all and just act out.

      In your case, you are clearly aware that you have a negative tendency to arrogance, but you don’t want to exhibit it because you perceive it as unacceptable, so you strategically act (as you say) in a self-deprecating manner.

      I hope that clarifies the difference!

      Cheers

      Barry

  5. 7 Rhonda Dangerfield 26 Jan 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Avoidant Personality Disorder. But, they do not take any criticism well. They are seriously passive aggressive underachievers, opportunists who look for underhanded passive aggressive ways to undermine others who are working very hard to accomplish something or create solutions. Ultra hypersensitive to criticism from others. How dare anyone expect anything from them!!!

    ^ [Those are rather judgemental generalisations. – Barry]

    • 8 Rachael 19 Sep 2014 at 5:54 pm

      You’re an ass.

      [Request: Avoid going on the offensive if you can, please. – Barry]

      People that struggle with this have deeper issues they need to work out.

      You have no empathy whatsoever and are therefore, a terrible human being.

      [As above.]

    • 9 Emma 28 Sep 2014 at 10:38 pm

      That’s not true for everyone… If you’re suffering from this…(as said above) you seriously believe everyone is better than you and you try and fade yourself out…I can see what you mean and it’s something sort of similar but you can agree with the person and believe you add nothing to people’s lives so it wouldn’t really matter if you did anything like that it would have no affect because of your feeling of insignificance … Depends how you react as a person and how bad your self deprication is i gyess

  6. 10 ube55 09 Mar 2014 at 2:13 am

    Hi Barry. I was lead to your site coz i asked google…. I have been a dutiful daughter, a self-giving sister, a law-abiding citizen, a loving and dedicated mother, an ever ready helping hand to anyone – known or unknown, yet, it seems life is not that ‘real good’ to me! I was only 10 yrs old then when my father started professing that I won’t be able to finish my studies because i will marry at an early age. He had uttered those lines when he is drunk and it had become a yearly ritual for him to censure me. Being a dutiful daughter and with Filipino customs not to answer back elders, i have just cried myself to sleep and in my young mind, i have comforted myself that when i grow up, I will prove him wrong. That I will finish my studies and find work and I will repay everything, as in everything, down to the last penny – all that they have spent on me to grow up. And those words, kept me from getting friendly with the opposite sex. And I grew up with such bitterness, and believing that my father does not approve of me. And never have i heard from him an affirmation. And in college, I kept company with gays, i felt happy and secure with them. Never had i experience a romantic relationship to the opposite sex with fear that what my father thought of me will be true. And, I finished college, graduated in time… then I worked….. a year after working in this big company, my father had the opportunity for the ‘homily moment’ with me. And, since i have graduated, this was what he had to say… since that i had started work, i have become arrogant already and that when he and my mother will be old and gray, i will just push them on one corner, letting them eat in a coconut shell and to completely disrespect them and disregard them… And, at that moment, I was 23 yrs old and heard him accusing me of such rubbish…and defenseless still, just cried myself and i thought, I can never, never please my father. He and my mother, brought me up in a manner that I will always have to give way to my younger sisters, 3 of them. As i was the eldest among the daughers and 1 big brother, they would repeatedly demarcate – i need not argue with my elder brother coz he is an elder. I should give due respect. and with my sisters, I must always set a very good example and give way since I am the eldest among the girls. That left me a big question – So, where do I belong? and my sisters, grew up in that mentality, that i must always give in and make way. And even in our adult life, I have never got back at them even if they have hurled hurting words at me. And that, I have gotten so used, that I try to understand them…. Self-deprecating? I want to break lose from these…. I am now in this moment of my life, in hiatus,,,, specially with financial aspect of my life. And I wonder, is this a kind of punishment? I thank God, for this cyberage, I have looked into all these self-help sites trying to find a better understanding of why these things is happening now that I am 54 yrs old, trying to find an answer, and hopefully, help me define, why i have to go through what i am going through. Your article Barry is of great help…. i am in progress…. I just want to share, I am in good health and my three kids, 18, 17 & 11 are most understanding with our situation……

  7. 11 Wolfgang 31 Mar 2014 at 5:15 am

    Low self esteem can leave us afraid to try new things because we fear that we will fail. However, the challenge of self esteem building is to embrace new things and to give yourself the opportunity to enjoy them, just because you deserve it. Taking up a new hobby can be a fantastic step towards overcoming low self esteem. Spending time with like minded people and enjoying an activity purely for fun, with no pressure, is a good way to feel better about yourself; you may even discover a hidden talent into the bargain!

  8. 12 anand 21 May 2014 at 7:47 am

    came across this site trying to solve my problems related to blockages in my mind that is preventing me from feeling worthy of any success or happiness.whatever i do ,i expect the worst outcome as i feel i dont deserve nice things. i hve developed social anxiety lately(past 2 years) as i see myself as a failure and lower othrs expectations of me, try to be invisible nd dont trust any compliments frm anyone.
    I hve developed health problems due to not taking care of myself. there r very few things that i really like to do but hve started doubting myself with those things too.( my parents had lot of expectations frm me as l had top grades till highschool, but they consider me as a failure now cos i didnt get in a good college( even i feel like a failure). they always used sarcasm towards me frm my childhood , my father treated our family like crap, now he’s changed but i cannot forgive him.
    i know that changing my attitude can really bring positive outcomes in my life. but i am unable to change… Still with this site i have identified myself. Hope that will help me somehow. thanks.

  9. 13 Eva 17 Aug 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Could it be that I have this feature because of my sense of unfairness? Because my childhood was basically built around school and I always had very high grades, I felt this wasn’t fair so I didn’t show myself, but now it helps to praise others. Or do I describe a different phenomenon?

    • 14 barry 18 Aug 2014 at 9:35 am

      Hi Eva.

      It sounds like you have humility, but I’m not clear if it’s excessive and damaging, either now or in the past.
      So I just want to check a couple of points if that’s OK:

      1. Your sense of unfairness.
      — Do you think this is something you were naturally born with, and are comfortable with?
      — Or was it something drilled into you by parents/siblings/other kids etc that left you in fear of being seen as smarter than average (“Who do you think you are, smarty-pants?” That kind of thing.)
      — Do you still feel it is “unfair” if ANY child gets higher grades than another? Or has that feeling only ever applied to you?

      2. You didn’t “show yourself”.
      — Does that mean you deliberately stopped performing well at school so as to avoid the discomfort of being seen to get top grades?
      — In later life, have you continued to hide yourself – or at least hide away any attention-catching aspects of yourself (e.g., underlying talents, personal feelings, eccentricities)?

      cheers

      Barry

      • 15 Eva 20 Aug 2014 at 4:20 pm

        I think it was drilled in me, but it feels more like a lesson I need to learn and I remain getting high grades and now I am getting more comfortable with it. I can now use my intelligence to help my classmates. I think it was a lesson in not worrying about what other people think about me, because I usually act different, for example being alone rather than being with others and loving learning for the sake of learning.

  10. 16 Chrissie 20 Aug 2014 at 8:01 pm

    After a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression, one might think this concept would have been brought up in therapy sometime during the past 44 years but somehow I’ve managed to avoid the obvious all this time. This IS truly the basis of my issues and has led to all kinds of other stuff that has resulted in many traumatic events in my life and the constant/overwhelming threat of suicide to make the pain stop.

    I’m going to pursue this further, and will start by reading this book. It sounds like it’s the right path to follow right now.

    I’m outwardly outgoing, I often take the lead in social and work situations and I’m highly intelligent but Im plagued with self depreciation and self doubt to the nth degree. I have been in positions of leadership but don’t expect respect and therefore never get it. I’m always on the outside because I’m afraid of getting hurt. I hold myself down because I don’t want others to hold be down. I feel like I’m a big fake and everyone is going to figure me out eventually. I apologize for having thoughts, opinions and plans, even when they benefit the other party. I dread asking for people’s time or efforts and once again, I rarely get these from others. I do not accept compliments as real and often dismiss praise immediately yet I dwell on any small criticisms for extended periods of time. (Although rarely receive negative feedback because I’m convinced that I have to provide a superhuman effort in order to meet others expectations) I never went to college and despite a high level of knowledge in my field and a somewhat revolutionary way of approaching things, I have achieved mediocre success in my career and I have very few friends. I’ve got lots of ideas but I rarely follow through on them because well, I don’t think I deserve to achieve my goals. I’m plagued with anxiety that my colleagues will figure out that I’m nuts and I’m afraid to stand up to my superiors with confidence, especially when I know my idea is not something they are ready to hear. I avoid friendships because I’m afraid people will find out that I’m not “normal” and I’m plagued with worry that my husband of twelve years will get sick of dealing with me and leave me.

    My kids are amazing but I fear they will be like me so I’m constantly torn between wanting them near me and putting up a barrier between us for their own good.

    I hate myself for being me, for being here, for taking up space, for not being able to get it together and just be “like everyone else.” Sometimes I pray that my heart will just stop beating because I don’t deserve to bother the world with my presence. But then I think of my kids and I just pray that I won’t hurt my kids with my issues. Sometimes I pray that God would take me out of this world and make it like I was never here in the first place. (Irrational, I know) In my mind, I am the exception to the rule that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Happiness is not something I deserve. I am an outsider, I don’t belong.

    This is so ingrained in me yet on paper, I “shouldn’t” feel this way. I’m an ethical, somewhat attractive, intelligent person and a hard worker so why DON’T I DESERVE a good life?

    When I think about it that way, I just find another reason to attack myself. “What’s WRONG with you?? You’ve got NO RIGHT to feel this way, you’ve had plenty of opportunities to get your life straight. Quit making it all about you. You are so selfish, no wonder nobody likes you.” After a while, you just stop talking out loud about this stuff and you accept that you are just one of the many cursed people out there who maybe, at some point, a long time ago, were foolish enough to believe that you were somehow special or worthy. You will then say in your head, “you’re not like everyone else. That’s just not you. Don’t expect anything. Who did you think you were? Stupid.” Over and over again, hoping to finally stop fighting it and accept your fate on every level. But if I truly accepted it, it wouldn’t hurt as much as it does.

    I think the human spirit must be more resilient than I give it credit for. It keeps fighting to break free of this bondage. Sounds crazy to those who haven’t experienced the debilitating and devastating effects of this disorder but it’s all too real, unfortunately. It sounds like complete self absorption – believe me, as a Christian woman I’m plagued with guilt and shame about that too. My faith wavers because I don’t know how to pull myself out of this pit and the disorder tells me that I don’t even deserve a good relationship with God, so how can I possibly expect Him to help me? So I even hide from God, because He must be so ashamed of me. But if (In my eyes) I don’t deserve God’s help, if therapists shouldn’t really care about me and if I don’t have what it takes to help myself, how do I break this cycle?

    As I see it, there are only two ways out and one of them is not an option for me. I guess I might start by giving this curse a name and figuring out where it started in the first place. As much as I would often like to “give up,” I guess I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel just yet, despite the voices in my head that are saying, even now, “you aren’t that interesting, don’t bother with this little self study.” Otherwise I wouldn’t have done the search for “social anxiety” which eventually brought me to this link.

    Maybe after reading this book, I’ll be able to change a FEW patterns and I’ll get a small reprieve from all the negative self talk. It’s worth a shot.

    Thank you for writing it.

    • 17 barry 22 Aug 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Well Chrissie, thank YOU for that vivid first-hand description of extremely negative self-deprecation and the vicious circle of self-criticism and self-inhibition that it creates. Clearly, the bits of your mind that are involved in perpetuating this have got you “stitched up like a kipper” (as we say in these parts).

      I don’t know if you’ve trawled through all the older comments here (they are big and plentiful!), but I’ve given various suggestions over time, which I can quickly summarise here. …Come to think of it, I really should compile them into a FAQ or Q&A to add to the bottom of the article itself.

      Anyway, before I do that, I have a number of thoughts plus some short videos to recommend.

      First: Your self-perception is very, very stuck in the negative. (I doubt that’s news to you.) Now, any thing, person or situation can be viewed in two ways, (1) by focusing on its positive aspects or (2) by focusing on its negative aspects. It’s quite easy for us to do this. We can look at a glass of water and see the upside (“glass half full”), and then looking at it again we can see the downside (“glass half empty”). Notice that both views SEE the same thing objectively – a glass, and the amount of water in it. It’s merely a JUDGEMENT, following the perception, that frames it as either positive or negative. The positive/negative judgement isn’t “the truth” or “an objective fact.” It’s just something our minds project – usually out of blind habit. We forget that we can switch from one way of viewing (negative focus) to another (positive focus).

      What psychologists have recently found is that the order in which we do this matters.

      If we start by taking a positive view of things, it’s very easy for us to then ditch that and slide down to the negative view. But if we start with the negative view, our minds really struggle to then rise up to the positive view. It’s like trying to climb a greasy pole.

      Our minds really do get “stuck” in the downside, in negative ways of perceiving and thinking. It’s like negativity has a gravitational pull which we can barely resist. In fact, the only way to resist the lure of negativity is by making a real, conscious effort to see things in a positive light – much like a rocket has to use a big amount of energy to escape Earth’s gravity.

      It strikes me that you have been anticipating others’ possible negative judgements of you to such an extent that their imagined voice has replaced your own inner voice. What you think to yourself while your mind is ticking over is whatever negativity you can think of that others might say to you, or even just think about you.

      We are biologically programmed to fight or flee or freeze in the face of threats. Mentally, you are continually presenting yourself with threats, and that is debilitating because the fight/flight/freeze response overrides your ability to act any other way. It’s as if you have locked yourself in the prison of your own thoughts.

      The thing is, the key is still in your hands.

      On that note…

      Essential Viewing

      Do you know about TED talks? (Everybody should!) It’s an event where the world’s greatest thinkers, leaders and doers give the speech of their lives to try to change the world. I have selected some that I think will (hopefully) speak to you, one way or another.

      Here’s a great start. This guy talking – unexpectedly – on “The Prison of Your Mind” is inspiring, challenging, and very, very funny. I have written down half of his talk to quote it at other people!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaRO5-V1uK0

      In “Meet Yourself: A User’s Guide to Building Self-Esteem”, Niko Everett explains that we can build self-esteem and self-confidence by controlling negative thoughts and amplifying positive ones. She shares some simple, practical techniques.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOrzmFUJtrs

      This 10 minute talk, “Getting Stuck In The Negatives” by social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood, gives a great overview of how our minds get stuck in negative thoughts.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XFLTDQ4JMk

      Two of the very best and most watched TED talks are by Brené Brown, a wonderful psychologist who studies our inner demons such as vulnerability and shame. In the first, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

      In the second, she delves into shame – again, with great insight, compassion and inspiration.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0ifUM1DYKg

      And finally, just for sheer glorious life-affirming inspiration:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX32U_hfri4

      • 18 Patricia 28 Sep 2014 at 1:21 am

        I’m Grateful for these suggestions, and appreciate your generosity in sharing your work Barry. Wishing you every blessing :) P

    • 19 Patricia 28 Sep 2014 at 1:00 am

      Hey Chrissie ,,you’re not alone…did the book help? I’d like to know since you have described a lot of what I do. In case this is of help, I am currently in a support group which is called STEPPS…strategic therapy for emotional predictability and problem solving…it has increased my awareness about how I think negatively, and how I am triggered, due to distorted cognitive filters, which were learned. We learn methods to manage our emotional intensity, and that isn’t just anger by the way, it’s any emotion that goes too intense like sadness…Another angle I’m pursuing, which might be helpful to you too, is Addiction to Perfection, by Marion Woodman. It dispels some of the myths we have about what God intended for humans. I wish you well. P

    • 20 Tracey 02 Apr 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Praying you are well.
      Relating deeply as sever agoraphobia and other serious effects have taken their toll in and over my life because of this. Makes me want to reach out to others but then, well, you know…
      My children are 23, 19 & 16…
      I understand COMPLETELY what you were saying. God Blessed Them to have mothers who will be there and help them SEE themselves should this take root in their lives. God Bless You and Make His Face SHINE upon you.

    • 21 J 22 Jul 2015 at 10:41 am

      I could’ve written your response precisely as you did, but it would be me describing me. I’m a listener and have heard others say similar things about themselves. Seems many are stuck in this struggle of esteeming ourselves less and others more than ourselves.

  11. 22 Jordan 25 Aug 2014 at 7:32 pm

    Wow, this was actually pretty scary to read. So much of this rang true for myself. I’m so glad I found this site. For one, I think I need therapy. 2, I don’t know how to go about that.

    • 23 barry 25 Aug 2014 at 10:36 pm

      Hi – they (therapists) usually advertise themselves in local magazines. And there’s always Google. Unless of course you were joking, in which case forget what I just said :)
      B

  12. 24 Sham 27 Mar 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Is Jesus your messiah?

  13. 25 Laura 21 Apr 2015 at 3:22 am

    Can all of this be situational? Can our dark tendencies be made worst by difficult circumstances? I wish there was a “one size fits all” attitude of self confidence, regardless of whether you are in a happy or difficult period in life. I try to support myself by thinking I am only this low because of all of the problems I’m having right now (job relocation, have to sell a house and move, elderly parent with Alzheimers, empty nest) and that when things improve I will be a happier person. My husband counters this by saying everyone has problems all the time, but come on, I really do have a lot on my plate right now.

    • 26 barry 22 Apr 2015 at 9:43 am

      Yes, situations exacerbate our negative states and traits. But there’s a complex interaction between states/traits and the situations we experience.

      On a purely psychological level, our dark tendencies affect our behaviour and our behaviour affects what sort of situations we then experience. For example, a person who is in a depressed state or who has a depressive personality trait will be relatively inactive, pessimistic and solitary. As a result, they won’t be imagining, pursuing and creating opportunities for happiness as often as someone who is in a more positive state, or has a more positive outlook.

      But getting out of a negative place and into a positive place is not easy — it’s much easier to go from a positive place to a negative place. It requires a deliberate choice and commitment. For more on this, see the “Getting stuck in the negatives” TED video (in a comment above – or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XFLTDQ4JMk).

      Your husband sounds like he may have a Stoical attitude, or alternatively perhaps he is just staying out of touch with his own negative feelings and therefore resists you expressing yours.

  14. 27 peonybloomer 23 Apr 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for this informative article. Well written and speaks a lot of truth.

    It’s a horrible feeling that is only gets worse. I had a good upbringing.
    Even so, I self-deprecate myself. Since I am a perfectionist, I often criticize small things, mainly social situations (pretty much the only thing I am very bad at are social situations, for different reasons), that I do. I don’t criticize other people, however. To make up for what I call “failures”, I turn my productive levels on maximum. I work harder than before, trying to forget the criticism, the embarrassments. I withdraw, don’t like being around other people.

    Of course this has lead me to become quite skilled in what I do, but at the same time it gnaws at my soul. Every single day my mind reminds me of the mistakes I’ve done, and from the perspective of others, these would be very trivial mistakes. I try to quell them, but it is very difficult thing to do. The only relief is when I am buried deep in hours of work/art, or playing games or going outside. Going outside does make it better, but as soon as I am home, the feeling of being eaten is back again until I do more work and let my mind put a hold on it.

    Well, I hope for the best for all who are in a similar situation and someday eventually gain the power to release themselves from the cage. Good to have pages like this to help us identify and work towards bettering ourselves. It doesn’t have to be like this.

  15. 28 tim 25 Apr 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Been self-depricating for as long as I have know what the word meant and probably even longer but always thought it was a good thing almost as good as humility and I have a loathing for prideful and arrogant people, but thanks be to God for me having the ability to afford a phone that allows me to Google, as do not have the funds or knowledge to afford and operate a computer, now realize this is more of a character FLAW than a humble trait. Now 50, my cousin ,whom l adore, has asked me what happened to that adorable fun loving child who now, (in my mind is just a humble human being)is a bitter, unhappy, borderline angry at the world, old fart. So thanks for your article/definition it makes me realize I need help. THANK YOU! :-)

    • 29 barry 26 Apr 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Not sure if I should say “you’re very welcome” or “I’m sorry about that” :-)
      Thanks Tim
      B

  16. 30 Jessica 22 Jun 2015 at 7:12 am

    I have been through 2 failed marriages both very different an both exes had there own ways of making me feel inadequate both were abusive in some way now that I am married for the third time and to a very wonderful man who I never feel I deserve I always feel like he can do so much better than me, I always tells me and everyone else what a wonderful wife I am and that he is very lucky to have me but I just tell him he can do better. I have always said I was just humble but now I think it is more than that

  17. 31 pervypirate 22 Jun 2015 at 9:05 am

    I read somewhere that Old Souls often choose this Chief Feature, anyone have an idea as to why?

    • 32 barry 27 Jul 2015 at 10:26 am

      I guess because it’s more to do with “why am I here?” and also the least likely to cause any harm (karma) to others.

  18. 33 Jin 04 Jul 2015 at 3:53 pm

    This post actually made me cry. I feel so hopelessly trapped in this cycle. Its overwhelming

    • 34 barry 04 Jul 2015 at 6:15 pm

      Cry. Crying can be healing.

  19. 35 Robi 05 Jul 2015 at 12:54 pm

    The internal mantra “I am safe” helps defuse this energy.
    As does remembering that each life cycle comes with its own lessons.
    An education brings much insight and encouragement; Ageless Wisdom is given in limitless forms. See: The Michael Teachings, Alice A Bailey, etc.
    A psychologist takes one to a certain point, then one must dig deeper on their own. Each will find what is right for him/her. And, yes, parts of the Path are with great struggle as well as great reward.
    Self-dep remains part of my make up, yet it rarely rarely over powers me at this stage due to the inner work done as a result of pursuing an Ageless Wisdom education.
    In companionship ….

  20. 36 Liz 10 Jul 2015 at 5:36 pm

    This makes so much sense to me…..for my whole life I’ve been wondering what’s wrong with me, why I can never manage to do any of the things in life that I know I want. I’ve always had issues holding on to relationships….I’ve had so many guys tell me how annoying i am because I subtly put myself down constantly. I always just called myself a worrier, but I knew that that description was never adequate, nobody would understand how I actually feel about myself, and that my whole perception of the world had to be different from that of the average joe. I am 18 years old and I feel about forty. I grew up in a house of hoarders who never wanted to take responsibility for their own messes, and younger siblings who I took care of and cleaned up after the best I could. My parents were too lazy to get real jobs so they scrapped metal for pot money and lived off the state for the rest, and I had to help with that too. If I messed up, I got called a lazy brat and a retard. Every day at a young age I tried my hardest to make them happy and achieve clean house, which both proved impossible. As an adult, I know that the messed up way I grew up is the root of my issues, which are socially crippling to me, but I can never manage to relax or just believe for once that I’m worth more than an afterthought. I try to tell myself that my fears and doubts are irrational and to just get over it, stop thinking all the time and just chill and be happy for once! But I found that I don’t know how to do that. All I want is to feel like I’m not an outcast. To live my life and not care so much. I just want to know what it’s like to be truly internally happy with myself but I feel like I’m the biggest screwup that was ever born, and nobody should waste their time caring about me because there’s nothing there anyway. Should I seek help or is there an easier way to overcome these things?

  21. 37 abhijeet 16 Jul 2015 at 3:06 am

    I feel I am not good enough & whatever I Will

    Do will be wrong & can’t understand on first time

  22. 38 Ally 27 Jul 2015 at 3:00 am

    Hello hello!
    My biggest fear is inadequacy, and I think my chief trait is self depreciation (not sure! Like you said, it’s hard to tell). But instead of belittling myself and my work to others, I only ever belittle myself to myself, if that makes sense… So I’m always telling myself that people will scrutinize my work or how I look or my personality, but instead of giving up or not trying, I’m kind of a perfectionist, because I want my peers to see me as creative, smart, and bubbly. I also don’t really ever say the phrases in the misconceptions section… My thoughts are more like “if I weren’t so shy, then people would see the real me” or “I need this essay to be fantastic or people won’t think I’m smart enough” or “I have to look my best or nobody will like me or take me seriously”… Like if I’m good at something and care about it, I need to be really good at it before I show it to anyone, but I really like showing off work I’m proud of and I really like teaching things I’m interested in to other people. I like giving my opinion when I think it’s a good one, but if I don’t think I could add anything to a conversation, I don’t, because I can’t really handle people seeing any of my flaws. I really really care what people think of me, but instead of hiding myself away, I hide behind a face… I have a really hard time in social situations because I don’t want people to see through it…

    I read the section on arrogance and parts of it reign true for me, while the rest feel like the opposite of me… I wont let people see my innermost vulnerablities, (which is why I have my voice of self-depreciation and my perfectionist qualities) but I love poking fun at things I’m bad at: like singing or push-ups. I would never belittle anyone. Ever. But the childhood of arrogance hits home.

    Is it possible to have self depreciation as my primary and arrogance as my secondary (or vice versa) even if they’re opposites? Or do I have my traits wrong? Please help!


  1. 1 6 Ways to Build Self-Esteem | Mindfulness Muse Trackback on 05 Jul 2012 at 8:57 pm
  2. 2 Hello, Self! Trackback on 25 Jul 2012 at 3:26 am
  3. 3 Self-Deprecation « Mahavalous Trackback on 21 Feb 2013 at 5:54 am
  4. 4 Let’s Get Mental | Project 33 Trackback on 21 May 2015 at 9:06 pm

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