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 self-doubt or social anxiety, but in people with a strong fear of exposing inadequacy, Self-Deprecation can become a dominant pattern.

Self-deprecation means belittling yourself, or running yourself down, both internally and in the eyes of others. It is a drive to make yourself small or even invisible.

Self-deprecation 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 or being critical of oneself. [3]

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

TYD For an excellent book about the chief features and how to handle them, see Transforming Your Dragons by José Stevens.

PersonalitySpirituality.net

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142 Responses to “Self-Deprecation”


  1. 1 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]

    • 2 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.]

    • 3 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

  2. 4 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!

  3. 5 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.

  4. 6 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?

    • 7 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

      • 8 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.

  5. 9 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.

    • 10 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

      • 11 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

    • 12 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

  6. 13 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.

    • 14 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


  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

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