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


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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-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.





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

194 thoughts on “Self-Deprecation

  1. This is the best site I’ve found thus far on truly trying to understand self-deprecation. If all your articles are this good, it’s a very worthwhile website. Not a lot of blather, nice and simple and to the point, but with great depth. thank you

  2. I really enjoyed this information…it was good and bad for me, but it definitely helps me understand more why I’m in the situation I am right now. This is a big part of my answer I’ve been looking for lately. Trying to figure out why I do some of the things I do….just when I have a perfect opportunity to have a “normal” life with a wonderful man, after being divorced twice from the same man, and then remarried to someone that was abusive on and off and then was killed on his motorcycle. In the midst of my grief…I find out that my son has Bipolar disease (which has been extremely hard to understand and be his main supporter). But I’m his mom, so I will do all I can. But why would I make such a terrible mistake that could take me away from my fiance’, my two children and family??????? I don’t understand why I keep myself in constant turmoil. Im soooo tired of it, I can’t go on. I want go on…much longer. Anyway, thanks again for the information. Good luck to you. Tammy from Orange, TX

  3. I learned the mental exercises many years ago and I am very good at not showing the self-deprecation, but it is still an act. My life is good enough, but not really not good enough. I learned how to “fake it until you make it”.

    This information is too shallow for a veteran like me.

  4. This has shed some much needed light, on to a situation with a very close person in my life. I actually just got off the phone with them, after asking, “What is with the self-deprecating attitude all the time?”- knowing what it means, and reading the actual impact & entrapment, that it can be on a persons life, is two very different things. This definitely hit home, and I’m glad that I was curious to know whether or not there was a disorder to follow the word. I’m beside myself, trying to figure out how to approach said person about it. Are there any tips that you may suggest, maybe something I can do, to shed light to them as well? Every suggestion helps, this person means the world to me- I just can’t bare to let it go on like this. (the name used, is a nick name in case I try to get this person to read the article)

    • Hi

      Well, I have self-deprecation myself (along with a bit of impatience), so hopefully I can offer you both something from my personal experience.

      I spent most of my childhood and early adult life locked inside the world of self-deprecation. You used the word “entrapment”, which puts it perfectly. For me it manifested as a debilitating avoidance of any situation in which I might be seen and judged by others, so I never gave myself the chance to shine – or even to discover what good qualities lay inside me.

      It then became a kind of vicious circle, or self-fulfilling prophecy: I grew up without ever knowing and showing what I’m capable of. In turn, this lack of positive experience compounded the belief that I’m capable of nothing.

      And then, my resentment at my lack of outstanding qualities (relative to my peers at school) led me to start having some pretty dark thoughts – which again my self-deprecation turned into the belief that I (and only I) am horribly dark and evil on the inside.

      If anyone tried to “cheer me up” by saying nice things about me, my self-deprecation immediately distrusted them. Either they were foolishly not seeing me right or else they were lying for some reason. Not a good basis for happy, harmonious relationships.

      So, what to do about it?

      As I’ve suggested, and as I have found in myself, self-deprecation consists of a number of elements in the mind working together as a closed-loop system, a vicious circle. There are some things that can be done with these separate elements.

      1. There is the deeply ingrained sense of one’s own inadequacy, a feeling of being fundamentally less than what is required of a normal person. This feeling is literally beyond reason, so there is no point trying to reason or argue with it. You can’t dissolve the feeling all at once, but you can stop it from being triggered.

      2. There is the self-deprecating belief system, i.e. a negative self-image made up of all the self-critical thoughts and beliefs about oneself. Each new self-criticism adds to the total self-image. Like all belief systems, it is presumed to be all “true” – until, that is, there is evidence to the contrary. So any chance you get to shine and demonstrate your capability can work against this belief system. Even then, though, the negative self-image will attempt to assimilate contrary positive evidence by explaining it in negative self-critical terms. (“So I won the race. Probably because I cheated in some way.”) But an accumulation of evidence for one’s better qualities does slowly chip away at its supremacy.

      3. There is an absolute dread of putting oneself in any situation in which one’s supposed inadequacy will be exposed to others – hence social inhibition. I personally found this very tough in my youth because it contradicted the emerging adult in me that wanted to be popular and successful and active in the world. My main strategy here has been to “feel the fear and do it anyway” – to put myself into dread-full situations and deal with it. (That’s my harsh impatient side at work.) Another strategy is to “fake it ’til you make it” – to pretend I’m a bit more at ease than I appear. But the one that has really worked for me in this regard is to “go public” with my dread – own up to it from the start to the very people I am encountering. This isn’t appropriate in every situation, like a job interview!, but when you have a receptive audience they are usually very understanding and admire your honesty. It creates a short-cut through the wall of fear.

      4. Then there are all the “unconscious” self-defeating strategies one develops for handling oneself in the adult world, such as always judging oneself negatively in front of others to prevent them from doing it. A pre-emptive strike. These don’t really work because people (well, adults) can easily see through them for what they are. And then they judge you – which is precisely what you’re trying to avoid! And so the circle is closed.

      So there are these various elements at work in the mind, and when they work together you have a vicious circle. It’s like they gang up on you all at once, a coordinated effort. Separately, each one is a problem. But acting together they create a closed loop in which you can no longer see the real world outside – you can only see your negative self-image, while the world out there consists of nothing but social situations to be avoided.

      Here is an illustration of the closed loop:

      Self-dep circle

      I certainly still have all these elements of self-deprecation in me. What I have learned to do, though, is to stop them from ganging up on me. In other words, I try to break the vicious circle before it gets going. It’s not so much about focusing on this or that element and trying to break it down. Rather, I try to stop the flow of energy between them.

      When I am in a situation in which I can feel them ganging up, I remind myself what is happening. I create a distance between myself – the conscious me – and the unconscious circuit of beliefs and feelings that are being triggered. I remind myself that I don’t HAVE to believe any of it, no matter how convincing it feels. I KNOW that my negative self-image is not the ultimate truth.

      Any point within the circle where I can consciously intervene creates a short circuit. This stops the vicious circle from forming and locking me inside.

      Being able to step back and see the circuit like this has really helped me – just putting a distance between me and the rest of it gives me some choice and power over it.

      The other thing that has really helped me has been a spiritual experience of realising my true self – knowing finally that the real me is not who my self-deprecation says I am.

      I really hope some of this helps.

      – barry

    • I started reading some of these comments and your answers, Barry, and this one seems to resonate with me. I think that I have the same self-deprecating feature you talk about here. I very often put the wrong image in front of others so that they cannot conclude the same about me and thus hurt me. However, when they actually do believe that wrong image and treat me accordingly, it angers me very much (I have been working on this self-deprecating behavior as well as controlling my anger and resentment), but in general, that is what has usually happened. I have been through a phase when I hated almost everyone around me. for not recognizing me and believing that false image. Maybe I have another negative feature “arrogance” as well?… Anyways, after being through it all, finally, I started on this “self-quest”, its been more than a few months now, and I am beginning to sense a change in myself already.
      This is where I would like to comment on your response above – you talk about “consciousness” and taking control of one’s conscious, in order to overcome the chief negative trait. And as you say, it is hard to master the conscious. I have recently come across the concept of the power of “sub-conscious” as well. I read (and hear) that the sub-conscious is far more powerful than the conscious, being in action 95% of the time. I also came across the concept of “hypnosis” so one can reach one’s sub-conscious… I also read Dr. Brian Weiss’s writings and somehow have felt a positive change in me. The more I read about these things (develop an “awareness”, spirituality), the more inner peace and calm I experience. I am beginning to believe that spiritual awareness itself is a part of the healing, a part of overcoming one’s negative traits, or anything other issue in life…
      Do you have any views on this, Barry? On, sub-conscious, and the role of awareness in healing? I would really like to hear if you do.
      Thank you again for having this wonderful website. I am having a hard time stopping browsing 🙂 Look forward to read more.

    • Hi Preeti

      Thanks for sharing how it is for you. I am guessing that you might have, in addition to Self-Deprecation, the goal of Acceptance. See if this makes sense or resonates for you…

      A person’s basic goal in life is their innate driving force, the thing that motivates them to live and to make particular life choices. There are several possible goals, such as Dominance (taking charge of one’s life) and Growth (gaining wisdom from one’s life experience).

      With a goal of Acceptance, your fundamental driving force is to have others fully accept the real you — to understand and appreciate you, bond with you, welcome you into their world with open arms, and so on. The ultimate aim, if you like, is to experience the knowingness that who you really are is embraced by the universe.

      But for every one of us, there comes a point in life where the goal we are born with bumps into our most basic fear in life, which is what underlies our chief negative feature in adulthood. With a hideous fear of inadequacy, for example, you fear that who you “really” are is unworthy of being seen, understood and accepted, i.e. you are a lesser being who does not belong, an impostor. You might then adopt a strategy of self-deprecating behaviour to preempt or at least soften any sudden exposure of your inadequacy. You try not to draw attention to yourself, even though in your heart you really want people to see and accept you. You might even pretend to be someone whom you privately believe you are not – a normal, regular, likeable human being.

      The problem is, hiding your “real self” (your supposedly inadequate self) behind some facade like this is HARD WORK. You have to manage each new social interaction by monitoring how much you are exposing about the “real you” and manipulating others’ perceptions by putting out a false persona. And of course, it conflicts with the desire to be seen and accepted for who you really are, not for your superficial act. So when it works – when you ARE apparently accepted and liked – you believe it is just because they have bought into your lie – so their acceptance is worthless, even though you are working hard to get it from them. That may well be why you feel so angry when it happens.

      By the way, my wife has a similar conflict going on. She has the goal of Acceptance plus the negative feature of Arrogance. In her case, she wants to be seen, liked and understood by others, but when an opportunity arises to meet new people her fear of vulnerability arises. Having Arrogance, this means that she habitually puts out an “I’m better than you” vibe and fears that showing any kind of ordinary human flaw or imperfection will lead to her being criticised and rejected rather than seen and understood. As a result, she also tends to feel an irrational anger when meeting people. It’s the frustration of wanting to be accepted for who she really is whilst putting out a “superior” vibe and inwardly dreading exposing her ordinary flawed self. Something like: “Why won’t you bastards just accept me instead of forcing me to act this way?”

      As for the sub-conscious:
      I would not say that it is far more powerful than the conscious. It is simply that there may be aspects of one’s conscious life that are driven by things outside of one’s conscious awareness.

      The subconscious is simply the collection of all thoughts, feelings, actions and so on that we have created within ourselves but that have, over time, left the reach of our conscious attention. Most of it is harmless. But there can be stuff in there that creates trouble for the conscious self. Usually it’s a reaction or attitude that was formed in childhood (for example, a fear and hatred of authority figures), and over time it has just sat there unquestioned. Now you reach adulthood and have to work with authority figures and can’t understand why you continually have this negative reaction to them, and it keeps getting you into trouble.

      In cases like this, hypnosis is definitely one good way to resolve the problem. With a suitably relaxed mind, it is possible to revisit the original source of the attitude (a subconscious memory, or a decision once made and then forgotten) – and then look at it with adult eyes. Knowing, for example, that a fear of authority figures stems from certain incidents or situations in childhood (or a past life) brings the whole thing back into the light of consciousness where you can literally change your mind and choose a new attitude.

      Not all people are able to relax with hypnosis, so it isn’t for everyone. But there are other ways of approaching the same subconscious issues in order to heal them. For example, instead of the mind you can use the body. Without knowing how or why that issue is there, you can be guided to focus on your body’s reactions and then maybe let them be fully expressed. The same is also true of working with just the feelings. You don’t have to bring the specific memory into consciousness, just the feelings associated with it.

      Consciousness is the light of awareness plus the power to decide one’s own future.

    • I am so grateful I found this article and your assessment by accident! I have been struggling with this same situation all my life. As I got older, I realize there is something wrong with me, but could not call it by name until I read your article.

      I lost someone very special to me because of my lack of self-confidence. I wish my mother realized the emotional life-long damage she was doing to me. I feel so lost, I don’t even know where to start or how to repair what is affecting me personal and professionally.

    • Thank you for taking time to post this detailed reply, Barry. I must say you are doing a very very kind service to so many people. My best wishes with you.
      Yes, when you talk about the goal of “Acceptance”, it does resonate with me. I wonder why it did not strike me before? I have spent so long trying to be liked by people, and thought that this was a problem unique to me. During my early 20s, I left home for the first time to go to college and be among people (we were not allowed to go out or make friends or play with other kids since I was 7 years old, so this was my first experience with people, other than going to school where I’d sit at first bench and was the chronic topper). Needless to say, I had an awful time there, not getting along with anyone and always full of rebel and anger at others. During this time, I developed a “phobia” as well – a fear of being alone, it might sound weird, but there it has always been, I have never been able to sleep when I am alone (even today). At work as well, I have had hard times. In general, I find it hard to connect with people. Its not so bad when I think less about it, I can be very chiruppy at times, and at others almost burying myself in ground with shame. My behavior especially fluctuates with different kinds of people. With some people, I can be my happier normal self and with others, I can barely talk. Public speaking has been an issue as well. Though here too, I am at the extremes – one day I can give a presentation to 20 people with perfect clarity and on another I find myself at other extreme. Its like I cannot predict which one I will be… Maybe its all in the mind, and as people say, it can all be controlled by stronger will.
      Ever since I started turning to spirituality, I have felt more peace, more in control and more predictable. I started with Dr. Weiss’s book (Many Lives, Many Masters) – though strangely, it put in an extreme as well – I had severe nightmares (even “day” mares! – when I would run out shouting from a public restroom as I was alone and felt I heard a scary sound). But these calmed down within a week or so. I see this behavior each time I see/read anything about spirits (maybe I think of them as “ghosts” in my mind). But usually it calms down in a few weeks at best.
      I react to things very emotionally – when I was a kid, during happier times, school friends would call me a laughing gas (I would get into uncontrollable fits of laughter) and as I grew up, I have been an unstoppable tear-engine as well.
      But again, been better in recent months.
      I am confused about my role as well – a sage, server, scholar or artisan? (Will drop a query to Michael I guess 🙂 )
      But, in all, I am very glad to have found Dr Weiss, Michael’s teachings and this website 🙂
      Lastly, thank you for expressing your views about sub-conscious. I agree with what you say about “hypnosis”. I tried it a few times, but haven’t been able to relax enough… Still, this is just the beginning of my journey, I have many miles to go, and very excited about what lies ahead. Its as if I have found a purpose in life, which I was always looking for…
      Regards to you and all searching souls out there 🙂

  5. Wow. I’m speechless. Mainly because I was trying to tell this person how amazing they are, but as you have explained (or at least, how I’ve interpreted it)- They don’t believe a positive word I say about them. But honestly, it is how I see them, inside and out. I realize that this is probably the wrong approach, I just wanted to somehow show, or prove to them that they are everything I say and more. He (might as well quit ignoring the fact that it is a male) is so incredibly smart, and full of potential that it makes me sad to see him so full of self doubt. I think I might suggest this website, because you have helped so much, and I am very grateful- I just don’t want to offend him. Would it be a good idea to do so, or would it just be adding to it?

    • Not knowing the individual in question, it’s hard for me to say. Certainly there are times in my life when I am receptive to positive input, and times when I am not.

      I would say that when I am feeling low, the self -dep is kind of “trigger happy” – being told by other peope that I have so much potential and could be so much happier would simply be interpreted as yet more evidence that I’m not doing it (life) right. But when I am in a good mood, I am more receptive to any possibility of improvement.

      So my guess is, when this guy is in a good mood, test the water – see if he is open to positive input in a very small, indirect way. If you get positive indicators as a result, work your way towards maybe opening up a discussion about this web page as something he may find “insightful” (rather than “helpful”, which is likely to trigger the sense of being inadequate in some way).

      Try the best you can to avoid accidentally triggering the self-dep by avoiding any suggestion that he needs help or ought to be better. Instead, try to catch his interest in some way. For me, self-understanding and psychological insight are interesting and motivating. He may be the same, or he might have a completely different orientation. You’ll have to figure that one out or yourself.

      Finally, be wary of being too helpful – another way to trigger the self-dep would be if you slip into the role of “helper” and he assumes he’s a needy, helpless case.

      (Oh, and let me know if you want me to delete this comment before he looks at this page).

    • Hello Barry. I was reading this for a bit, and as soon as I got to your last paragraph, I was like… sh*t. I’m afraid my friend has something akin to this, but he doesn’t believe he does. He says he has a very high view of himself, but I can plainly see that when it comes to others, he questions his worth a lot. And he denies this a lot. He thinks he is selfish and evil and arrogant, for some reason, and he tells me this in a sad tone, in a tone that wants comfort and I know that he is absolutely NOT evil. There are selfish acts, but that doesn’t make one selfish as a person. He’ll get this way when he remembers a time where he had to kill some mice to stop an infestation in his house, for example. He thinks caring for himself is selfish. He tries so desperately hard to be “good”.

      His life has been crap recently, and I’m afraid I’ve turned into this “helper” for him. And I know it’s not his fault. For example, sometimes he’ll log into a game just to get his thoughts in order and I’ll be online when he doesn’t expect it. And instead of going with his original intentions to relax on his own, he’ll take his feelings out on me instead. I don’t know if it’s because I’m there or I’m subconsciously inviting him to do so – usually I don’t mind listening and try my best to help, but recently, his ranting has become more personal to me. His constant doubting of everything I say hurts, and I try not to let it. Recently, he’ll even get angry if I try convincing him that he’s not such a terrible person. But the one time I tried remaining more positive and less emotionally invested, he accusingly questioned me of being the “most happiest person alive”. I feel that no answer is good for him, and I’M not good for him. I’m suggested journals and he even has a therapist, but he still lays these things on me.

      I’m not sure what to do. I care about him – he’s my friend. But is there a limit? Is there anything I can do to salvage this relationship and leave us both happy? I don’t know if you have the answers to this, but I just feel like any support would be helpful at the moment.

    • Hi Jane

      Sounds difficult for both of you. So your friend is trying to create an image of himself as being sorted and normal and on top of it all, to hopefully disguise his inner sense of personal inadequacy and darkness. I would imagine he wants to be seen and treated as a normal adult human being — and to see himself that way — using this image as a role that he can step into and hopefully sweep his “real” selfish and evil self under the carpet, at least in public. Suppression and denial. He may be hoping that if others believe his new image, then perhaps he will eventually become convinced of it too. He might also need some space to get his head around who he is. He seems to have a foot in both worlds – a dark past and a brighter future. But when life turns crap, he suspects that’s because of his own dark inadequacies and up it all pops again.

      There is something specific going on in his relationship with you. My guess is at some level you represent an unfortunate threat to his current strategy of “feigning okay-ness” precisely because you keep trying to help him, and because he has previously confided in you his secret self, as it were. If you weren’t there being true to yourself, he could get away with splitting himself.

      I suspect your relationship hinges on whether or not he is willing to own up to any of this with you. But at the moment it sounds like he’s too committed to resisting your attempts at truthful contact. Maybe write him a letter describing the situation as you see it, and why it’s a difficult experience for you to continue, and give him the option of meeting you at a more truthful level – or letting it go.

      Either way, I hope it works out for both of you.


    • After reading your message again, there is something I want to add…

      One of the best things you can do for someone, especially a friend, is to just listen to and accept how they perceive themselves. Perhaps your friend really needs to be heard and accepted “warts and all”. His block could be something like “no one would ever accept/like me if they knew the *real* me.”

      You could invite him to tell you all the absolutely worst things he *truly* thinks/feels/knows about himself. But your part in this is that you will make no comment – maybe ask him a few times to say more or encourage him to go further or get him to explain exactly what he means, but definitely make no judgement, not even a reaction. Just listen to what he believes to be the “truth” of him. And in return just give him your loving attention.

      The idea is for him to get that, no matter how repulsive he believes himself to be, he is still completely received and accepted by at least one other human being. That is a huge service.

      It is also the case that when an unspoken truth is finally spoken *and successfully received*, a negative part of the mind loses its power. Much of our negativity springs from having feelings or ideas which we believe must never be shared. This locks us into separation and the illusions of ego. But sharing one’s truth and then seeing that the sharing has not caused the end orthe world, nor even a predictable reaction, is liberating. When we communicate a powerful “truth”, it automatically puts that truth into a new context. Ego gives way to heart.

      If you have any questions about all this, feel free.

    • I agree with you Barry on what you are saying here. The truth when allowed to be revealed in a safe loving environment always brings freedom to the mind and soul. It releases us from the prison of having to create a certain environment through controlling techniques (manipulation, lying etc.). that is why God has told us the truth will set you free! DJoy

    • I would like to say I understand the thoughts you have for that person, and that whoever he may be that he is lucky to have someone that thinks of him in that regard- even when he can’t see that in himself. I would also like to thank you Grover. Because although, I doubt I am the male you are talking about it is very helpful and touching to hear that someone can have those thoughts. It likewise instills a sense of hope that there are others out there who can think the same way about me. I wish you luck with your endavor and hope that all goes well.

  6. I wonder…
    I very much identify with this feature, especially with making myself invisible, but I’ve learned to walk through the world like I own it so as to discourage others from getting close. Is it possible to have both self-deprecation AND arrogance as features?

    • Yes, it certainly is. Though what may be happening is that you are feigning arrogance to mask your self-deprecation. Or, alternatively, you do indeed have arrogance as a secondary and you are swinging between the two – typically, one will face more inwardly, one will face outwardly.

      In my case, I use my outward-facing feature of impatience to mask my inward-facing self-deprecation. To avoid feeling inadequate in social situations, I pretend that I’m deeply involved in highly important activities, so I must not be disturbed by anything so silly as a judgement about my inadequacy! I actually remember “inventing” this particular strategy at about the age of 10.

  7. As we begin a new year, self – examination is at the top of my personal resolutions for 2012. The reason behind my want/need to understand myself better stems from my children and wanting them to become caring and whole adults as they mature.
    As I read through the entire site the information stings a bit because I know that I have self – depreciation. My self – depreciation stems from a different source. I was abandoned by my mother when I was 15 years old. She was never good enough in her own eyes and to this day she believes it of herself. I also have the internal voice telling me I am not good enough. I think that having a father that abandoned our family when I was 5 and a mother that was never truly available for me has become a cut that will not heal. When your own mother leaves you and chooses another life, one of rotating men and drug addiction, how do you feel whole again when neglect is your reality. Even as a grown adult of 44 years old, I want a relationship with my mother. Although, I know in my heart that she is not capable of such a thing. I want to know if this feeling of never feeling good enough will resolve?
    Today, I received a student progress report for my 8 year old son. He is currently in 3rd grade and progressing with satisfactory work habits, math skills, language, Spanish, PE, history, and art skills, (per his report). He attends a Montessori Charter School that allows him to be self-directed while learning in a less competitive environment.
    The issue that does come up in the progress report is about self-deprecating behavior, especially when he makes a mistake. He tends to rush though work to get it done quickly and makes mistakes due to the lack of effort. When he does slow down his work reflects his efforts.
    When he does make a mistake, he becomes very sullen and beats himself up.
    My personal issue has fallen upon my child. This is extremely hard for me and I see the need to help my son become a person that can make mistakes and in turn forgive himself.
    My question is; how do I start this process? What can I do now to help my son believe that he is good enough. Because he is! I do not want this pattern to continue. Please advise me on some specific action that can be taken to overcome self-depreciation at such an early age.

    • Hi Paula, and thanks for getting in touch. 

      I do not have your dreadful experience of early abandonment, but I can nevertheless empathise with your predicament to a good extent – both the self-deprecation in yourself and the fears of it emerging in your son. 

      Although your own son is exhibiting self-deprecating behaviours already, I would not be too alarmed just yet. Children tend to “taste” all of the core fears and flirt with their associated behaviour patterns, before they settle on the one or two that will accompany them through adulthood. He may or may not persist with the self-deprecating pattern. But he will settle on one of them by the time he’s old enough to leave home – of that there is no doubt. It’s all part of growing up.

      Although my primary pattern is impatience, this only flares up in the heat of the moment. My self-deprecation is there all the time, and as far as I can remember it always was. Neither of my parents seemed to have it, so I guess I brought it with me. I remember trying out arrogance when I was about 7, but didn’t like it and quickly dropped it. I also remember the first time I tried impatience at about 10. I then adopted it because it gave me a way to cover my self-deprecation (“Look everyone – see how busy and frustrated I am … not how inadequate I am”). 

      And now I see my son (age 10) hovering around his own version of self-deprecation, though I suspect he’s going to settle for stubbornness. 

      I was a bit freaked by my son when he was 2 or 3. I decided to show him how to draw a circle. When he tried to do it himself – his first attempt at drawing anything – it just came out as a squiggly line. Appalled, he threw the pencil and paper to the floor in fury and vowed “I’m never going to draw anything ever again!” For a few days I avoided trying to engage him in any new activity, and seriously wondered if this was a sign of things to come, but soon enough he forgot the incident and now he draws fine. 

      It sounds like your son may have a similar tendency to over-react to (perceived) personal failure. At the back a self-deprecating child’s mind is the idea that “if I show inadequacy in some way, I will lose forever the love/security/freedom that should be mine.” It is POSSIBLE that he has inadvertently picked up this message from your behaviour in some way, but it’s also equally possible that it comes from, say, his birth trauma or a myriad other things out of your control. 

      Maybe have a quiet conversation with him (in a relaxed, loving moment) in which you ask him to describe what it is (in his own words) that he FEARS as a consequence of his “failures”. He may not know – it could be quite unconscious – though your asking could help to surface it. Either way, you can also demonstrate to him, and maybe even explain to him verbally, that the loss he fears is never the case – to err is human, and no “weakness” on his part could ever diminish your love for him. 

      (Our own boy used to fear my impatience because he saw that as the end of my love for him. He would say, “When you look at me like that it means you don’t love me any more.” We had to carefully explain to him that a flash of impatience is a fleeting reaction, but our love for him is absolutely permanent and always there.)

      One of the most practical “tips” my wife and I learned is to do with giving praise, or rather not giving inappropriate praise. When parents have a child with fragile self-esteem, or unnecessary self-criticism, there is a temptation to compensate by praising the child all the time. Although this is well intended, the effect of indiscriminate praise can be confusing and counterproductive. 

      We used to praise our boy all the time, even for no reason, until one day he told us straight: “Stop saying that!” 

      But why, we asked? 

      “Because if you just always say it, I won’t believe it.” 

      Bang! He was dead right. Indiscriminate praise is empty, and a child can sense that. And if I had told my son that his squiggle was “a wonderful circle”, when we both knew full well that it looked nothing a circle, that would not have helped at all.

      What we got from the child psychology books is that what you should specifically praise is EFFORT. Celebrate good results, yes, but explicitly recognise and praise a good effort.  And DESCRIBE the effort you have seen him making, so that he knows what exactly he is being praised for. And if the end result of his effort is good then also make the LINK between effort and outcome explicit (e.g., “I saw that you spent ten whole minutes doing that. You really put the effort in to finish it well, didn’t you?”). His effort is under his control, but his current ability isn’t. 

      I would trust that your 8-year old is still in a pretty fluid state. He is finding his own ways to make sense of life and cope with it, and I doubt that his reactions are set in stone just yet. At the same time, I hope you can prevent your own self-deprecating tendency from claiming any of this as another sign of your own inadequacy. And I know from personal experience that even my just saying this could be triggering your self-criticalness! 

      But understanding and trusting that your own voice of self-deprecation is an outright lie, just an old “tape” that gets played in your mind whenever certain fears are triggered, will help you to become less and less identified with it. And developing your power to not believe it will enable you to serve as a model to your son, who is still looking to you for clues and signs for how to grow and how to be. 

      Perhaps the best thing you can do for your son is find ways to show him that you believe YOU are fundamentally OK and deserve to be here in your own right. I say that with compassion, fully knowing that self-love can be an uphill struggle.

  8. What if my self deprecation stems from children making fun of the way I looked when I was younger. My problems seem very pretty much the same as those individuals who grew up in a house where the parents were perfectionists. Do you have advice that would be different for me.

    • Hi Ramon

      I don’t know if there is any specific thing you can do in relation to that, apart from talking through it with a counsellor. The fact that you are aware of having self-deprecation, though, is a good sign. Jose Stevens, in his book Transforming Your Dragons (highly recommended), suggests several ways of treating self-deprecation. One is to acknowledge that you are afraid of being inadequate – particularly, I would add, of your supposed inadequacy being exposed to others in a humiliating way. I think you are already fully aware that this is the case, i.e. that this is a pervasive fear for you.

      Other steps you can take are –

      – Recognise that you are NOT the inadequate person you feel yourself to be.

      I know there is little I or anyone else can say to alter that feeling when it is so fundamental to your sense of self. Those of us who feel inadequate kind of cling to it as a life raft – forgetting it for one moment would risk the exposure and humiliation we fear. But at the end of the day, it is a false feeling. A total myth. You and I are the same as all the other people here – perfectly entitled to be here in our own right, perfectly free to pursue our own lives, no matter how it seemed when we were little. See if you can agree with that, at least intellectually at first, and then more emotionally.

      – Be willing to be successful.

      Many who fear inadequacy and humiliation think it is best to hold themselves back from trying anything that could lead to success. First, there is the fear of publicly failing in the attempt. Second, if the attempt actually works and we succeed at something, there is the fear that it is just a fluke and sooner or later we will then be falling flat on our faces from an even greater height, with more people watching. Also, by succeeding we raise expectations in ourselves and others – but we have learned to cope with a sense of inadequacy by keeping everyone’s expectations low, including our own. So… to get out of the trap we have to be willing to succeed and face the fear it entails.

      – Stop apologising.

      If you are in the habit of apologising for everything you do, or even for your very existence, see if you can drop it. Set an intention to drop it once and for all.

      – Do a daily breathing exercise – breathe deeply and fully.

      Those who fear inadequacy and humiliation often breathe shallow breaths as part of their self-hiding routine. As a result, they don’t get to experience themselves in a fully alive and expansive way. Personally, I do a kind of surrender meditation (just physically let go and see what happens) which usually turns into an extended yawning exercise – my body really wants to breathe deeply and get oxygen into my cells, which my shallow breathing habit prevents.

      – Counter the self-critical voice in your head with self-validating thoughts.

      Self-deprecation manifests as a voice that constantly scrutinises and comments on us. We actually internalise those who criticised us when we were younger. This allows to predict what our critics would say at all times. The trouble is, of course, it never stops, so we carry our critics around with us for life – until, that is, we start to insert a new voice. There are affirmations you could do, such as “I am a loveable person”, “I deserve success as much as anyone else.” The one that has worked for me is “I am perfectly entitled to be here.” Is there one thought or idea that would directly counter the main negative one you are carrying? At the same time, as you pay attention to yourself throughout the day, see if you can make a positive observation before the negative ones get a chance to kick in. For example, you make yourself some lunch. Notice what you did well, or what you liked about doing it, and think about how you’re actually not bad at many things in life, and so on… See if you can develop a positive thought flow to circumvent the fearful, self-critical one. Imagine – what kind of things would a wise and loving mentor be saying to you throughout the day?

      Being relaxed certainly helps too – the self-deprecation is driven by fear and anxiety, so the more stressed we are, the more it has to feed on. Relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation are beneficial on many levels.

      I hope this helps.


  9. I stumbled across this page while researching a sonnet by Shakespeare. After reading this information, I feel like crying! I may have this defect the worst of all. I have been known, to only myself, to look into the mirror and tear myself down. I cannot seem to do the same while feeling happy. I can be in a good mood and look in the mirror and just kill the good I felt. I do not know how to stop my cycle. I am very aware of the damage it causes. My internal dialogue is louder than anyone else knows. I am horrible to myself and won’t allow myself to feel good. On the outside, it looks like I have it all together. I am going to college full time (4 classes) and working part time while maintaining a relationship with my best friend and a household. I am a good friend and always willing to listen. I am going to school for counseling. But, for some darn reason, I just can’t turn my internal dialogue off. This semester I am taking a speech class to help me overcome the social anxiety. I am good at putting on the front,yet still cry myself to sleep some nights while telling myself I am not doing enough. I also get very defensive. I am also working on that as well. Thank you for letting me share. I needed to read this. I was lead here for some reason. Believe!

    • Hi Carlyn
      I can totally relate. When I am low and on my own, the scared, self-critical voice seems to assume control, but on the whole these days I manage not to let it get its own way too much. In my case it has become easier to deal with over time, or at least since passing 40, but I know it may not be the same for everyone.

      Being in a loving relationship certainly helps. As do my spiritual experiences and insights.

      But one thing that has really helped with the internal dialogue is meditation. By simply witnessing the mind doing its thing, you get to step back away from the whole cycle and see it for what it is. It may not stop the dialogue, but in time you are no longer identified with it – you know it’s just the same old tapes playing inside your head.

      The self-image of terrible inadequcy feels overwhelmingly real yet it is a lie. You are not who your thoughts and feelings say you are.

      Just by becoming aware of that inner dialogue going on, and being able to describe it, you are already making progress in disentangling yourself from it. With meditation you can get further clarity and insight into what triggers the self-dep cycle and even how it thinks it is serving you.

      Like all these patterns, self-deprecation assumes that we are better off with it because without it we would become exposed to some kind of unbearable pain (e.g., social humiliation). Whatever such pain we once experienced may have real enough, but the older we get the less likely it is that we will ever repeat it.

      That image of you has no power other than your belief in it. See if you can learn to disbelieve it, perhaps by witnessing it and gradually understanding where it is coming from.

      Good luck – my heart goes out to you.


  10. Hello Barry. I would like to first thank you for the article and the comments that you have so dilligently checked and written replys to. I am sure that it has done a lot not only for those you have answered but newcomers like me who happen upon this site and are given a chance to read them. I was told that I was Self-Depricating and didn’t really understand what that intailed, but that it was somthing like beating ones self up. I am surprised to find that I fit a lot if not all of the symptoms that you have listed above.
    There are other aspects that I am now noticing I have done that I am wondering if they are part of Self-Deprication or not. A few examples of the behavior I am talking about are: being angry for no apparent reason and feeling like something is wrong or off but not knowing what, also along those lines hearing a voice of someone close or having them touch me in a loving and friendly manner and have that likewise cause a spit of anger and uneasyness, or just feeling like something needs to be said and let out but that it can’t. I have also noticed when someone asks what is the matter I will have the urge to say that is nothing is wrong and then trying to hide that. All the while, the moment before I was emiting a “vibe” reaching out in a sense to have it noticed without actually verbally having problems brought up. I also would like to ask your opinion on if it is possible while having this illness (which I am fairly certian I have) a person will take issues or verbalized misgivings with an action or a comment that was made by them and then strech it further and actually use it to harm themselves more. Until the point of them believing the issues or misgivings to be true and then focusing further on that than other comments that I are made.
    Likewise I am curios if this is also the cause of many of my inactions. I have multiple times thought of a certian person (who for the sake of the conversation I will nickname W). This person I am deeply in love with and have been with for a short while now. I often find myself thinking of a great thing to do with her or something as simple and yet nerve racking as giving a kiss and wanting to do it but stopping myself before I can follow through with the action. I don’t know if there is a question in there but if you have a comment for it please feel free to say it.

  11. I apologze for taking so long to write everything out but I accidently uploaded the first comment before I was finnished writing. The last thing I would like to ask and I am sorry if you already answered this or any of my other comment in replys before, but I would like to know if it is normal to have the symptoms of Self-Depravation but at the same time feel like one is being arrogant and if a sense of feeling accomplished with things and recognizing what was accomplished in a sense, yet feeling as if it wasn’t good enough or that more could and should have been expected from what was done and wanting to push that sense of achievement aside and not focus on it. I am truly greatfull for the time you have given with this matter and that there was a place for me to let this out and that I will be awaiting your reply.

    • Hi, and thank you for the nice comments.

      Well, I would say that with self-deprecation there is always something “wrong” or “off” in the back of one’s mind, namely: “It is so unfair that I have to continually justify my existence to others.” Or alternatively, “It is so unfair that I was born a lesser being than others, and that there’s nothing I can do about it,” – depending on how the mind spins it. There is rarely any actual pressure from others to justify oneself – it’s a projection. For whatever reason, those with self-deprecation as their chief feature believe that others automatically see them as a lower form of life. If their response to this is to work hard at proving otherwise, then that is going to feel draining and frustrating. Or if the response is to constantly hide one’s talents and abilities for fear of being “discovered a fraud”, that too can lead to burning resentment in the long run. Does the anger boil up when you are with others? Does it feel like you are fed up with “having” to prove yourself, or hide yourself, perhaps?

      When someone moves in close, even though at a conscious level this seems nice and welcome, at an unconscious level there can be alarm bells going off. Again, there is the fear of being “found out” if someone gets close enough to see the supposed “real you”, the inadequate, lesser being. It’s not that you afraid of what the other person might do to you – it’s the fear of what you might reveal about yourself, all the terrible failings, dark shadows and pathetic inadequacies that “prove” you really are faking the appearance of normality.

      Also, part of you may well believe that you don’t deserve such warmth and positive contact, so if someone is reaching out to you in that way … or waiting for a kiss… then either they just don’t know you at all or else they are just pretending, perhaps trying to make a fool of you. Something in you might feel it’s better not to find out than to take the risk of making a move.

      (This of course is all unconscious – until you can locate it going on.)

      I have a conflict between wanting contact and fearing it. In time I learned that certain people would make the first approach if they saw me looking shy or vulnerable, which relieved me of the stress of making the first approach. Of course it backfired if they came over and simply asked me what was wrong with me, as though my quietness were ruining the party. That would really irritate me. I’ve realised that it’s partly because I’m an introvert while a large element of our culture sees introversion as a terrible defect. I actually suspect the clash between my natural introversion and a culture of pro-extraversion is partly behind my sense of inadequacy as a child. A lot of loud people seem to regard introversion as an abnormality. If any of this resonates for you, I would recommend taking pride in your introversion as a natural way of being – a way of life that builds more on internal meanings than on external exchanges.

      I didn’t quite understand your bit about misgivings being stretched, except to say that the personal fear underlying a chief feature like self-deprecation is utterly seductive and hypnotic. As soon as something happens that fear can get a hold of, it will tend to magnify the risks so that you feel even more afraid. Fear’s ultimate victory is when it sets up a vicious circle in your mind — you become convinced that you are right to be afraid of “X” because whenever you go near “X” you feel afraid… In the case of self-deprecation, X would be something like being exposed to others.

      Self-deprecation and arrogance are complimentary opposites, and both revolve around the tension between one’s self-image and one’s public image. Arrogance wears a public image of invulnerability in order to mask a self-image of vulnerability, which is deemed unacceptable. Self-deprecation tries to get by unnoticed because it fears the true self would be unacceptable to others. But the pendulum can easily swing both ways — people with arrogance sometimes feel inadequate because of their falseness, and therefore try to hide, just as people with self-deprecation can sometimes feel vulnerable to criticism for their lack of confidence and self-esteem, and so try to fake a stronger public image.

      Also bear in mind that both have their positive poles. Getting in touch with a sense of pride in one’s achievements (the positive pole of arrogance) is the true antidote to the sense of shame, humiliation and degradation (the negative pole of self-deprecation).


  12. Barry,
    I stumbled upon your website last week and haven’t been able to stop reading! Lots of very useful information here.
    I’ve been able to figure out most of my overleaves myself but I’m having a particularly difficult time with determining my chief feature(as I should be!)
    I’m about 90% certain it’s self depreciation. My parents always held high standards for my sibling and I growing up. Going through college I started to realize how unhappy I truly was with my life. It felt like shortcoming after shortcoming and the judgement I perceived was almost unbearable. I was in therapy and was hospitalized in a mental ward after a suicide attempt. All for fear of inadequacy in the eyes of others.
    I can’t say exactly when it happened(probably gradual) but today I really don’t care about what people think about me or my mistakes. Its been very liberating to say the least. I know my parents judge me for life choices I’ve made and it really doesn’t bother me. I know they would have liked me to live up to my career potential and to have a job that makes a bunch of money, but that’s not what I wanted to do with my life.
    Growing up, it was always ‘mom & dad are always right’; I felt as though they were infallible. Then as I got older and ventured out into the world I began to realize there’s not just 1 right way.
    When I began to do the things I wanted to my way my parents took a critical position and swayed me back to their way of thinking. It ultimately resulted in me joining the military to pay for school so I could get that high paying job I was pushed towards. When my depression/suicide attempt occured I was discharged from the military and then had to come up with a way to pay for school myself. My parents wouldn’t help even though they more than had the means to. That lead to me dropping out of college and hanging around for a couple years before returning to my home state.
    I’ve grew a lot during that time span and I have a totally different set of values than my parents and I feel like it bothers them. I no longer feel the need to live up to their standards or to pursue material success. I feel like my relationship and feelings towards them have improved dramatically because of that change. I still get the feeling that I’m being judged as a ‘failure going nowhere in life’ whenever I go to their house but it doesn’t get to me like it used to.
    I’ve toyed with the idea of sitting both of them down and having a heart to heart about my life and what I’d like to do with it.
    Sorry if it appears I went off topic regarding self depreciation, but to me anyways this is all relevant growth I’ve experienced.

    • Great to hear from you Andrew and thanks for sharing. Am I right in guessing you identify with the goal of Growth? There are aspects of your story that are quite similar to mine.
      – barry

    • Either growth or flow. I’d like to get a reading from a Michael channel in the near-ish future. I’m finding objective self analysis to be very difficult but rewarding at the same time.
      I’m still young physically (23) but I feel like(and have been called this on numerous occasions) an old man.
      I feel like I’ve been learning tons about myself the last few months. It’s been really astonishing to see everything I’ve realized on my own to be in the Michael teachings(especially the ‘you do your thing, I’ll do mine’ motto. I’ve lived by that for years)
      It’s strange, during my teens I felt like I was working towards a better future for myself through achievement and that those years would be difficult, but it was ok because I would soon be financially well off. Somewhere along the line I realized I was enjoying the process and stopped caring about the outcome and merely enjoying the experience.
      I feel like I’ve still got a lot of growing to do but for the time being I’m very content with the world as a whole.
      Sorry about the ramble!

  13. Hi

    I’m 59 a female and you won’t believe how my self deprecation has left me with no friends, no family, no boyfriend and I have been obssessed with fixing myself that I now can’t even cook and take care of myself, so believed I was so faulty have just spent years spending a fortune on trying to fix me, that there is no one left at home in my brain, can’t even hoover, its like I’m living from inside a balck bin bag, go around in a panic constantly, can’t cool or sew or read anymore, its like I’ve been living in a prison cell with myself, I can’t even chat to people in a normal way. Suicide seems the only way, the more I have tried to get better the worse I have got, can’t believe there is anyone else out there who just talks negatively about themselves to everyone and they are all living and chatting and doing families and getting on with life, seeking help on the interney has become my obsession and the only way of relating. Dig that! Anyone know how to get out of that one? Its like I’ve never known how I want to live life or that I have anything to offer. Weird.

    • I’m really sorry to hear all that Jude. Clearly you are immersed in a self-critical thought process. The trick is to slip out of it – to be out of your mind, as it were, but in a good way.

      I would strongly recommend a couple of things. (1) meditation, to help rein in that critical self-talking mind and divorce yourself from it. (2) psychotherapy or counselling, to talk through what it’s really like to be you and explore your options. Possibly a self-help group would also do the trick. But the worst thing is to carry on being alone with it. It is easier for others to see your qualities than it is for you, because your inner judge is always launching preemptive strikes – telling you how crap you are before anyone else can.

      There are many like you, although of course they don’t shout about it in public, but connecting up with sympathetic folk is one of the best ways to undermine the harsh inner voice. A potential problem with internet groups/forums is that the discussion is often just an exercise in immature negative reinforcement (“let’s all agree that life is crap”) rather than a way to explore making progress with it. Perhaps you could start one for mature people with chronic self-deprecation?

  14. i looked this up because of a very dear friend of mine but after reading through your material i realized this me as well. he told me once it is not sane to hate everything about yourself, as this is how we feel. i relate to him as i too “hate” everything about myself, and feel i have to justify my existance. i see everything in him that is good, kind, awesome, wonderful, and beautiful, yet i feel as though it makes him feel worse because it comes from me, and if it came from someone else he might believe it. how’s that for similarity? i tell him he needs to change the voices inside his head, to bad i cant follow my same advise. im so used to people telling me im worthless, a faliure, and will never accomplish anything that ive just come to accept that that’s the way i am. i dont try anything new, keep people at a distance especially family because they are my biggest critics, work is my only external existance. ive been homeless for almost 2 years now and still fighting to have someplace i can call home, but i really doubt that will happene anytime soon. i have phases where ill diligently look for apts. and homes to rent but i get frustrated and give up for a bit, only to try again with even more disappointment. my car the only possession i was able to keep hold of broke down, and i cant afford to fix it, it sat for so long they’ve towed it. life just seems full of road blocks, but the minute i try to pick myself back up my internal dialog kicks in and tells me theres no point, ill just fail again. i really never have accomplished anything in my life with out screwing it up. no amount of meds or therapy has helped me yet, and im 36 yrs old. suicide seems llike the only solution but yet im still here and i dont know why?

    • Hi evee

      I once contemplated suicide in my youth, when I felt utterly without hope. The thing that changed my mind was that I could not prove to myself (or anyone else) that my existence really was forever hopeless. It FELT hopeless at that point in time, but I could not say that such a feeling was the absolute final truth. Perhaps things could change for the better.

      Now i am living a happy, comfortable, rewarding existence, I can see that my sense of hopelessness at the time came from my very limited perspective. I needed time to experience my existence more broadly. I was fearfully comparing myself to others and judging myself to be a failure in every way. It was a very unforgiving perspective. But when I realised that I could not completely justify my hopelessness, I gave myself the time and space to start seeing life and myself differently. And perhaps my openness to the possibility that things could change was all it took for things to start changing.

  15. Pingback: Hello, Self!
  16. This post stunned me–I fit so well into this category. My problem is that I believe my self-deprecating nature is limiting my career. As a lawyer, self deprecation often holds me back. Most lawyers fall into the arrogant category–they hide weakness at all costs. I know this is a front, so I am anti-arrogant–I disclose my vulnerabilities (not to opposing counsel, obviously, but to coworkers). I also have a good sense of humor, but it often comes at my own expense. This has endeared me to my friends at work, but I think it backfires. Although I know I am as good if not better than other attorneys at our firm, I rarely get recognized as such. I am not the “go to” person for important projects, and I get left out of meetings with clients. That is not to say I am not relied upon–I am definitely the workhorse. I just never get recognized as a leader/expert. Also, I more and more frequently find myself the butt of others’ jokes. I’m the “fool” or whatever, and they treat me as such.

    I think my insecurity stems from two things. First, I am very obese. I weigh about 350 lbs. I have gained about 70 lbs ever since I became an attorney. A lot I blame on lifestyle (high stress and lack of time leads to fast food and inactivity), but I think its mostly psychological. I am a binge eater. The second thing is that I went to a low ranked law school. When I was in college, I did very well in school, but I did not do well on the entrance test. I did well enough to get into middling schools, but not well enough to get into a top school. However, I did do well enough to get a full scholarship to a low ranked school. Being from a lower middle class background, I felt obligated to take the scholarship. This was one of the major disappointments in my life (I know, not a true tragedy like losing a loved one or being abandoned, but it was a huge deal for me). I did well and got a job at a great firm. But the law is a prestige-driven industry. Starting out, you feel obligated to prove you belong. And then you always feel you are battling the stigma all the time.

    I think I want to feel important and accomplished, but I never feel this way. I always feel what I’ve done is not good enough, or average when compared to my peers. Before reading this site, I thought these feelings were a symptom of my other problems. But now it seems that my self-deprecating nature is a cause.

    I am thankful I came across your website. Do you have any tips as to how I should start my journey to manage my self-deprecating nature?

    • Hi JMJ

      Yes, I can see that self-dep would get in the way of you being the archetypal ultra-self-confident lawyer. But that’s not to say you cannot then be a good lawyer! Personally, I would prefer a lawyer who is aware of his limitations to a lawyer who excelled in BS.

      But becoming the “joker in the pack”, the member of the team who cannot be taken seriously, sounds like it’s definitely not where you want to be heading. The obesity probably wouln’t get in the way if you had arrogance, but with self-dep I can imagine that people leap to negative judgements about you.

      You say you never get recognized as a leader/expert, but that prompts me to ask: do you see yourself as a leader/expert? (And note that the two are very different things.) I base this on personal experience. In my own line of work (applied research), my self-dep often got the better of me but it also conflicted with this expectation I had on myself to be a great success. Certainly, I desired and still desire great success; but in the beginning I had defined “success” in a way that conformed to the collective idea of success. I thought I would have to establish myself as a leader in order to become a highly paid manager. The problem is … I don’t have a leadership bone in my body. I am not cut out to be a leader (at least in the managerial sense), and I have no desire to even go there. So my desire for success seemed to conflict with my own capabilities and limitations.

      Fast-forward twenty years. Today, I am really glad that I never went down the leadership/management route. I would have been a failure. I am, however, recognised as an expert. I know my stuff and I am respected for it. I may not be paid as much as my boss, but I am not unhappy with how much I am paid. I feel successful on my own terms.

      Now in your case you are in a profession that has certain fixed ideas about success – as you say, a prestige-driven industry – you have to go to the best school, you have to win every case, you have to be a top earner. As an outsider, it’s easy for me to see that it’s all nonsense. But your self-dep will be constantly comparing yourself against this “standard”, and finding how you fall short – how you fail.

      I think the trick here is for you to stop regarding the dominant model of lawyer success as a valid benchmark for your personal sense of competence. Your self-dep would have you believe that you are always falling short of what is required of a normal human being. In fact, you are merely falling short of a crazily competitive and materialistic definition of success in the field of law.

      You want to feel important and accomplished – and that it absolutely natural. It’s how you define the situations that evoke those feelings that matters. If you are saying to yourself, “I can only feel important and accomplished if/when I am recognised as one of the country’s leading lawyers,” then that’s obviously a Big Ask. But it is also typical of how self-deprecation works: “The only way I can prove that I’m competent is by achieving the impossible.”

      From this perspective, it is worth considering why you chose law as your profession. I don’t mean to suggest that you made a wrong choice, but that it would be good to have clarity on your own motivations. Are you focused on trying to prove yourself out of a fear of being inadequate? Or … is there some unique contribution you feel you can make to the profession? In other words, what is your heart’s desire with regards to being a lawyer?

      Everyone has an Achille’s heel, and yours is self-deprecation. You will always have a tendency to compare yourself unfavourably to the rest. But now that you know that, you are in a great position to start afresh. Self-dep gets its power from societal ideas about success. It will always seek to undermine you by pointing out that others are doing better than you. By questioning societal ideas, rather than internalising them, you have the intellectual power to counter your self-judgement and self-criticism.

  17. I actually found this article because I didn’t know how to spell “deprecation” so I used my trusty dictionary substitute (Google) and here I am. Self-deprecation is a huge part of my personality. I love to make people laugh. In my childhood, I was hyper-sensitive to criticism but in adulthood, I have adopted the attitude of “I don’t care if you’re laughing with me or laughing at me, as long as you’re laughing.” I’ve found that the easiest way to get roaring laughter, for me, is to point how fat/old/stupid/ugly/pathetic I am. In fact, I’ve pointed out to my wife that when I make a positive post on FB, I get almost zero response from friends. However, when I post some stupid thing I did or some mistake I made, the “likes” and comments come rolling in. The confusing part is that even though I believe 100% of the negative things I say/post about myself, I also get a sense of positive acceptance from all the laughter (in person) and “lol” posts (on FB). I even feel rejected and go into a “funk” if they don’t laugh at me. So, am I a special kind of messed up or is it normal to use self-deprecation as a tool to feel acceptance?

    • Hi Bobby

      I would be fairly confident that in addition to the ‘chief feature’ or ‘character flaw’ of Self-Deprecation, which you wear lightly, you also have the goal of Acceptance. (

      We all have a primary goal, a mode, an attitude, and a negative feature (with the framework presented here). In my case, for example, I have a goal of Growth (fundamentally, I seek stimulating and enlightening experiences), a mode of Perseverance (I stick to it doggedly), an attitude of Idealism (I focus on positive possibilities beyond my immediate situation), and a chief feature of Impatience (I fear missing out on life so I race from one thing to the next, not living in the moment).

      So no, not messed up, just showing your own particular mix of attributes!


  18. Interesting. It seems to be partly cultural too. Some countries (such as Britain) have an idea of self-deprecation as positive. Putting yourself down in a jokey way and understating your abilities as common and socially considered good, whereas boasting or “bigging yourself up” is looked down upon. It seems to be different in other countries such as the USA.

    It seems to me that this is not particularly healthy. I think a confidence and an honest reporting of your abilities is better than deliberate self-deprecation.

  19. Thank you so much for this ariticle! It has helped me. I have always felt that if people knew me, the real me, they would leave because they would see I have nothing of value. My husband wonders why I am so self-critical. I have sent him this article so he can understand. Maybe with his support, I can start to overcome this part of me or at the very least learn how to tell “it” to shut-up:) Thank you!

    • Thanks again Crystal.
      In my case, i have found that reading a lot of spiritual material has helped me “get” that my self-critical voice simply cannot be telling the truth – it’s just like an old tape running in the background. The real self – the real you – is a perfect being of loving goodness with not just every right to be here, but also absolute permission to know and be who you really are.

  20. i always thought that the fact to be myself, to let all out would make others looked at me differently,so i just hide who i really am, never letting nobody in because it hurts to much to know that you are not worth it enough for someone to fight to get in and see all that i have to offer. Always questionning, am i really worth the fight? I am not craving the spotlight, just a little bit of attention,

  21. What a great article and perfect expression of self-deprecating. Now if only I can take control of my inner personal thoughts and outward expression myself and pay close attention to my parenting so my children grow up as confident, positive adults.

  22. Wow. Finding this article on the internet has truly enlightened me. I have just ended a 3 1/2 year relationship with a 52 year old man I loved because of his self deprecation (which causes a lot of problems in a relationship). Reading this article was like reading about him, in every way. I have been so confused about him until now. He told me his dad never loved him. Parents can sure screw you up. The damage is done. He’s been in therapy for years. Obviously, it’s not working. His wife left him after 25 years. She found out he was a sex addict. Like I said, the self deprecation, and the foundation for it, wreaks havoc. It’s so sad because I loved him, he’s a great guy….but he never believed it. I couldn’t go on. It was exhausting.

  23. Well, lots of good stuff in this article. As someone who has inherited self-depreciating behaviors from both of my parents, I would like to suggest that the author consider fleshing out the definition of ‘early negative experiences’ in relation to community and societal dimensions. My individual experience with self-depreciating behavior is intergenerational, and the root of the fear of self-failure is not a personal defect. That should not be reinforced here or anywhere else. To all who read this, consider that thought patterns and behaviors, masks and roles we become are not due to some personal deficit, they are due to the environmental influences around us, our cultures–community influences–misinterpreted religious indoctrination, and commercial media/pop-culture. Not as a means of blaming, but as a means of perspective in recognizing patterns of internalized oppression and ignorance that can compromise human spirit. These things are not necessarily bad, but as we age, our work is to be aware of what influences have taken us over, what creates our apathy towards thriving. Ask yourself what experiences, people, rituals, and mindsets you have taken on…and choose to replace what you truly do not believe, with life-affirming aspirations over time. As the author says, the mind and spirit are malleable. Embrace these aspects of your self that you discover, have compassion for your humanity, and begin the process of transformation. I have recently found general ‘loving-kindness’ meditations are helpful for me to have compassion for myself. Do it for yourself, or for those you interact with, especially if you have kids, or work with them. Intergenerational trauma can be healed by you, and you will be doing the next generation a favor:) Thanks again for the helpful article, I hope in some way this perspective is fruitful for readers as well.

    • Many thanks Hannah. FWIW, I have described self-deprecation (as well as arrogance, greed etc) as a “personality defect” or “character flaw” in the sense that it gets in the way of the adult personality’s freedom to act out of choice. It imposes an unnecessary constraint based on fear, and I have described the psychological mechanisms underlying that. It is not meant to imply that the person is at fault.

  24. This is certainly a veiwpoint not covered a lot. this makes sense as to what i do to myself as well. I have found it very hard working in an evironment were self-depreciaition is not condusive to the place and the needed team work. I have also found that i have created so much distance between friends and family that i fear talking about problems and severly struggle to stop repressing both my emotions and any inhibitions(even spontenaety). this gives me a new place to work from and keep improving.
    my thoughts for others is making sure you keep the drive and confidence to do something about this.
    the only problem is the way we see ourselves. now to try and work with that angle!
    Please let me know of any support sites that are around for discussions, tools and groups.

  25. Haven’t read all the comments – great article – studied psychology (and logic) myself at University. Was very skinny as a child but ended up surprisingly successful as an adult. For me, self-deprecation = modesty and trying to stay grounded and humble.

    • Hmm, I keep wondering if ‘self-deprecation’ is too soft to be the name if a negative trait. I mean, no one would want to own up to being arrogant or stubborn, say, and this trait should sound equally undesirable, but a lot of people see it as a positive. Perhaps self-deprecation should be the name of the positive pole, and a better name for the overall trait would be … What? … Self-Disparagement perhaps.

  26. This is me! I heard this word on the radio and decided to look up the definition and viola this came up. Will look into this book, thanks

  27. there are definitely lots of interesting backgounds being descrived here

    many thanks to all of you for sharing.

    I was constantly teased by my brothers and sister.

    I have to admit that I remember a voice being in my brain since i was very young telling me that i was not good. i developed a survivial mechanism that allow me to stay out of trouble by being good and as invisible as possible.

    my mother would praised me in front of all my brothers and sisters-that made me very uncomfortable as this would cause some upset retaliation from my brothers and sisters.
    When my mom was not around they would mock me and tease me.

    i was sent away to work as a live in nanny. this help me out a lot as i was able to experience some freedom.

    however the inadequacy bug was already in me. i am not very social in fact i can’t remember the last time a friend called me. not because they don’t love me, but mostly because i have pushed them away.

    in my present life. i am constantly praised for being a good person, a good mother, an exemplary employee, but it is very hard for me to believe it.

    if i make a mistakes i can find myself going over it for months. i find it hard to forgive myself, but i am very accommodating and understanding of others shortcomings. i have taken the fall many times for others.

    i am writing this now as a way to express to someone the turmoil that exist in my brain. My voice says to me “they really don’t know how bad you are”

    thank you for sharing…

  28. While I don’t think I can fix myself alone, this gave me a better understanding of who I am internally externally if that makes sense.

  29. Hi there,

    I recently went on a date with a self deprecating person and my experience taught me the following:

    Self deprecation can be an act of manipulation. By putting oneself down, the instigator puts the listener in an awkward position. To reassure the instigator is to reward his inappropriate behavior…but to say nothing at all may cause the feeling of guilt.

    In my case, I at first reassured him, but quickly stopped when I realized it just fueled his desire for more negative attention. When I stopped, and told him I would no longer respond to his negative self talk (I mean, first date, I don’t even KNOW the guy…so how can I possibly reassure him that he isn’t a terrible person?) and there would be no second date if it continued…he shut down, paid the bill and never contacted me again.

    Some people are damaged in a way that makes them strive for inappropriate relationships, and will manipulate a situation to get the attention they desire, either consciously, or subconsciously.

  30. Hi Bary thank you so mutch for this website! its amazing and just what i needed and worked on for a fuw weeks nou,
    jusualy i start or end a letter apology for my typing, i cant type well and that is 1 of my selfdeprecations 🙂 i must not do that right?

    well here is my question, im overal pritty handy and always get a lot of compliments from classmates and teatchers, other parends, but my mom was verry jealus of my and everytime i get compliments se would get so mad…i donte se her annymore so she cant hit me energeticaly annymore after some great achivement.

    but i finded out that i do apologise for my achivements! way more than my failures, and she liked that but other normal 🙂 people not of corse, i found out later and stop doing that. but stil my system looks out for the energetical smack that must come after a succes or achivement, and i have manny so im diving trou life so to speak. consius nothising that, i thougt nou that is so weard to do, why would i do that?

    i know my mind know its totaly bull, its her projection of lack of selfesteem and jealusy that want me not te be succesfull ik! so i go look what i could do and find out i had to talk to my innerchild, i try to talk to it nou and this acticle helped me a lot to make more clear what i have to tel it. did i understand well i kinda can reprogram that “hurted” inner child? wold tel him the misperseptions and so and tell what is realy supose to be , be ennof?

    just consius knowing this alreddy is so cool! even im pritty succesfull and not afrait to make achivements, i know nou i can make even bettter bigger amazing achivements! if i like to, donte let youself be foolled by this, i just to hid behind the well at least i have made some good achivements so maby i donte need to get more 🙂

    oh and i loved ur story about ur son, somtimes i baby or home sit? bigger kids, if somthing like that happen and they say i cant never do it so well like u, than i say but i practis 3x your age!, would i not be abel to do it well? if u practis good to you wil get more handy in it, you remember when u have to ty our shoe?
    you could not do it, you thougt you would never leurn, and see nou u can perfectly thy your shoe.

    even thou they be mad-disapointed, they know u talk the truth and i ask if we can try it againe togheter, if they donte want its ok, i hope they remember the shoe struggle and try againe a other time.

    i had a littel voice tell me that often when i thougt i could never mange to do somting, remember u struggel with x or z befor and tought you could never do it? well u master it perfectly nou, you can with this to, just try againe 🙂

    it helped me a lot and somtimes the littel kids so i share here.

    mutch greatings!

    • Hi Lian

      So it sounds like you have “internalized” your mother’s reactions – the way she used to react to your successes is now how your mind reacts, even just to the thought of being successful or receiving praise.

      I like to think of the growing mind as the rings of a tree: the innermost rings are the earliest, and the outer rings grow around them. This is how all the character weaknesses come about – something negative and fearful is laid down very early, in the inner rings of the mind, and everything we learn as we grow up has that same fear and negative expectation at its heart. By the time we reach adulthood, with so much of our attention facing outwards, we lose the ability to reach back inside ourselves to those earliest levels and “fix” them.

      Being criticised and scolded for doing well at things or for receiving praise and compliments is pretty unusual, but I imagine you are right about your mother’s jealousy – she couldn’t bear to see you do things that she didn’t or couldn’t. I hope that being more aware of where that voice comes from, and that it was never “true”, helps you to leave it in the past and to grow a new ring, as it were – your own positive way of seeing yourself and your potential, and how much you deserve to succeed, and how OK it is to be praised.

      It also occurs to me that it might be worth you while thinking about what terrible fear lay at the heart of your mother’s mind and caused her to react that way to you. Maybe a compassionate understanding what was driving her could diminish the power of those energy hits she was throwing at you. But if you don’t want to go there, I completely understand.

  31. Um. I know that I’m self depricating. And have fallen in to a sort of rut over the past few months, slowly realizing that there is a pattern of behavior that is sort of getting in the way of everything. I woke up with irrational thoughts of being a loser, and inadequate, and also meditated on all the hurt I’ve been “hiding” from when I was a kid, and how much my struggles seem to equally twist and point to that as much as they point to my negative thinking. . . So I decided to just put my irrational thoughts verbatim in to google – “I’m ashamed of myself, and I feel like a loser, It’s only a matter of time before my girlfriend leaves me” – yup. That’s what I typed in to the search bar. And this came up. And I feel like I’ve just stared in to a mirror. Holy shit.

  32. Wow wow wow is all I can say….I have often wondered why I don’t like to socialize with other people afraid of not being good enough to engage in conversation with them. Thinking I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough or dressed as good as they did. I never knew it was a real problem….I know that it absolutely drives me crazy. I soooo wish I could overcome it and believe who God says I am….

  33. Great article!! Exceptionally easy to understand.

    Are the ones who suffer from self appreciation intelligent, great at being either enablers, care takers!? Searching for recognition through assisting others through their own issues with insight or perspective. Especially if they have been through years of counseling?

    What if they suffer from this to the degree of having probable social phobia. Then they are subjected workplace harrassment, hostile work environment, discrimination, humility, and many other forms of damaging types of “communication.” What normally happens to them? What change will you see in them?

    • You certainly don’t have to be particularly intelligent to have self-deprecation / self-disparagement as a defensive pattern. And having it wouldn’t necessarily make you good at care-work if you didn’t already have an aptitude for it. But, yes, there are some professional roles where self-deprecation “fits” better than others. For example, if you wanted to be a care worker or a nurse or a nun or work in some other “giving” role, then it would fit quite well. You would come across as suitably humble, and your ego wouldn’t get in the way. In contrast, it’s difficult to succeed at, say, performing on stage with self-deprecation, because your terror gets in the way. It definitely benefits a self-deprecating person to receive a steady stream of positive feedback for their good work, as this serves as evidence of their value as a human being. The negative self-image can be chipped away.

      Social phobia can be a very difficult side-effect of self-deprecation, or more specifically of the terror that lies behind it, the terror of being found out as fundamentally inadequate. Particularly in a culture where super-confidence, arrogance and extraversion are highly valued as normal or even “necessary”. This is likely to cause a vicious circle of one’s shyness leading to others’ harsh criticisms or name-calling, leading to more fear of being seen and a more negative self-image, leading to even more shyness. Depression is one possible outcome.

      In such cases, there are a couple of things that might help. One would be to learn how to act more like them, even though your fear is screaming at you on the inside. There is something in the expression “fake it til you make it.” You can act in a more extraverted way, and in doing so others will act to you differently, and that in turn can give you more confidence about being an adequate person. Alternatively, one can just move to an environment (geographically or just professionally) where quietness and humility are more normal and acceptable.

  34. Barry – great & for me very helpful comments, but… (there’s usually a but) “it’s difficult to succeed at, say, performing on stage with self-deprecation, because your terror gets in the way” Woody Allen? Jewish comics in general? Maybe self-deprecation is in the Jewish psyche because of success and persecution perhaps?

    • Good point. I think each society, or each sub-culture within a society, has distinctive “personality traits” that map onto the ones described here. In the UK middle class, for example, self-deprecation is the norm. But at this cultural level it’s more of a group convention than a personal existential issue. A pair of Brits having a normal conversation will both tend to act self-deprecating (and expect each other to do so), but at a psychological level one might be plagued with, say, impatience and the other with stubbornness. To act “normal” they will communicate in a self-deprecating way, but when it comes to discussing issues or choices, one will secretly fear missing out and the other will secretly resist change.

      As for Woody Allen, I suspect his self-deprecation was the real thing, but his background and motivation gave him a way to “channel” it in a way that was, for him, therapeutic.

  35. p.s.meant to add that I really liked your comment that “Perhaps self-deprecation should be the name of the positive pole, and a better name for the overall trait would be … What? … Self-Disparagement perhaps.”
    Truly a lovely idea!! But…(again!) how could we go about getting this into the public domain and public consciousness?

    • Ha, the campaign starts right here! I’m going to re-write this page when I find a spare moment and see if the idea ripples out.

  36. Hi! Thank you for this article. I am experiencing all of your listed misconceptions, I even don’t want to take a picture with my friend due to I think I am so ugly that I don’t what other people to know about it, and if I do take pictures with them, I always make funny expressions. I also hate expectations and I don’t want anybody to be disappointed on me…. What I don’t know about my self deprecation thing is that, I don’t know when it started. My parents are not perfectionist or having any high expectations on me, but what I remember is I am always being teased by my childhood friends when we were young, like “You’re so fat!” “ugly” and such. Will that affect my view of myself? btw. I was only 5-7 years old at that time. Thank you so much 🙂

    • Hi Karren

      So what’s happened is you have internalised those teasing voices – you automatically mimic them inside your head as a way to anticipate the worst of what people might say about you in any situation. “You’re so fat and ugly — yet you’re trying to pretend you’re normal like the rest of us. Just who the hell do you think you are? We are not fooled for one second!” (Am I in the right ballpark?)

      And as way to deflect such attacks, you have a habit of pulling faces in photos and so on, which I imagine is a way of saying “I’m clearly not trying to be pretty, so you can’t criticise me for looking less than pretty.”

      One of the things that’s developed in you — and this is probably true of all people with either Arrogance or Self-deprecation — is that you have “learned” to take others’ opinions of you very, very seriously.

      I remember how much this used to hold me up in social situations. It made me so reticent to speak out of a fear of being “found out” or “exposed” that I was sometimes virtually mute, because I was constantly mentally rehearsing everything I could say, and then mentally mimicking every terrible thing that others could say in response, and then thinking about what I could do instead to deflect such responses, such as being wittily self-critical.

      I hear your concerns about how you will view yourself later in life. The fear you have may be deeply rooted, but the misconceptions and strategies are not set in stone. You may always have that fear of humiliation buried in the back of your mind somewhere, but as you mature you can choose to listen to it less and less, and even override it.

      One of the things you could do is set yourself a specific intention for life: to gradually but continually take others’ perceptions of you less seriously. Set yourself the personal goal of changing this mindset. As a child you learned to take others’ opinions of you seriously because, being a mere child, you feared their name-calling could destroy you, or make your life not worth living. As an adult, this is something you can reframe and un-learn, little by little. And also, the older you get the more you are surrounded by mature adults who don’t indulge in that kid of verbal abuse, so the underlying fear has less of a basis in reality.

      Imagine being you in a wiser, calmer, more balanced state – perhaps 10 years from now – in which it no longer matters to you what other people think or say about you… It no longer matters because you have the absolute confidence of knowing who you really are, and that who you really are — warts and all! — has every perfect right to be here in whatever shape or form, and all is perfection in the eyes of the universe.

  37. I’m not sure where to start… I think I may have an issue with being self-deprecating. I suspect it stems from being told at age 12 by my mother that she didn’t really love me–she loved me because she ‘had to’ and would ‘go to hell’ if she didn’t–that she didn’t like me and thought I was annoying and that she wished I were more like my sister who she actually likes to be around. On top of this, my parents had high expectations for me, growing up–which didn’t seem to be the case for my sister–and I feel like I can’t possibly impress them or make them proud of me.

    I went to a less prestigious university than I wanted to, and even doing that I didn’t get as good of grades as I wanted–nor what my parents wanted (when I got my first C I bawled over how stupid I am–and if my dad knew just how many C’s have littered my transcript, he may have disowned me). Now that I’ve graduated I am finding that I don’t want the things my parents want for me. I would rather kill myself than slave away at a day job–ANY day job–just to be able to merely sustain myself for the days to come. This view is *highly* criticized by my parents, who believe that anyone without a stable day-job is lazy and worthless. (You know, that 47%…) “Just grin and bear it, that’s what everyone else does, and has to do. That’s what life’s about.” Had I bought into that notion, I would’ve offed myself already.

    I’ve discovered I’m not proud of my academic success (or lack thereof) nor am I proud of my current position at work. The things I am actually proud of doing in my life are things I haven’t done in years. I’m not sure at this point how to move towards doing the things of which I could be proud; especially considering that what I want to do requires substantial funds. I am extremely impatient and think I may suffer from social-anxiety. I am pretty sensitive to what others’ opinions of me are. I’m always worried about looking foolish. I constantly compare myself to others, and feel that doing so isn’t necessarily wrong simply because I live in a country where if you aren’t better than almost everyone at *something* then you are useless and won’t ever have great fortune or success.

    One of the biggest problems in all of this is the fact that I don’t feel important to anyone–including myself. No one talks to me unsolicited. Nobody genuinely asks me about my life or my thoughts. I have a hard time taking care of myself physically because I just don’t care. I will take care of the bare minimum that makes it possible for me to function on a daily basis. I find it annoying that I have to eat and drink all day. I’ve kind of started to be a little bit better recently, however, because I thought that improved nutrition and activity level would maybe help me not be depressed.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m just a narcissistic asshole, trying to see myself as something special; that I’m alone in my suffering and that every bad thing that happens to me, or every bad attitude I run into is my fault–I’m the center of it all. If that makes sense…

    I haven’t committed suicide yet for the same reason you didn’t. Whenever I consider therapy or anything like that I decide not to because I don’t want someone writing down my life and keeping a file on me. You might say I’m kind of a paranoid person. I also don’t want to attach the stigma that comes with mental-health disorders to myself, as I’ve heard numerous horror stories of how that follows people through life.

    I’m kind of at a cross-roads here, and maybe even in the midst of a mid-twenties crisis. I’m sorry to bog you down with all this shit, but if you have any advice (other than counseling, don’t even bother mentioning it) that could steer me towards positive progress I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Hi there, and thanks for sharing. Sorry it’s taken me a few days to get back.

      Basically, the things you describe do sound very typical of the self-deprecating / self-disparaging mind-trap, plus of course depression. Your history also makes sense.

      Clearly the message you got at an early age was that you weren’t intrinsically loveable, like any normal child would be. In fact, you were a blot on the landscape (in your mother’s eyes), unlike your sister who fit the family picture perfectly. And then you got the message that you were supposed to justify your existence, or at least your mother’s tolerance of your existence, by doing outstandingly well … Because that, in the end, might at least compensate for your unwelcome presence. Your sister, in contrast, has had nothing to prove; her presence is already welcome and appreciated.

      Given that as a starting point, it was almost inevitable that you would internalise all possible judgements and criticisms that might come your way for any so-called shortcomings, such as performing only averagely well at university. So it’s no longer just your parents comparing, judging, evaluating and criticising you, it’s your own mind.

      I would also suspect you have a deep-seated niggling dread of finding that your apparent shortcomings might actually be true, or at least cannot be proven untrue, or even hidden, which thereby limits the life opportunities available to you.

      And yet on top of all that, you are now doing something that anyone of your age rightly does – establishing what you really want and don’t want for yourself, as opposed to what others expect of you… Thereby inviting yet more criticism and rejection, of course, but it is an important process in personal development.

      Something in what you said that jumped out at me is: “I’m not sure at this point how to move towards doing the things of which I could be proud; especially considering that what I want to do requires substantial funds.” One of the weird tricks we play on ourselves to keep us permanently locked into the cycle of self-deprecation (or arrogance, impatience, or whatever) is convincing ourselves that there is only one path to happiness available to us, and it just happens to be an impossible path. One example given is that of a young woman with chronic back problems who convinces herself that she has to become a ballet dancer if she is ever to fulfil her potential.

      Our defence mechanisms are designed to serve fear, and they often do their job by keeping us in the dark, setting us on paths that are doomed to fail, or never even get started, just so that we never actually face whatever it is we fear. So, it’s possible that there is actually a variety of good options available to you, but you are inadvertently focusing on the least manageable.

      Another mind-trick associated specifically with self-deprecation is the notion that any focus on ourselves means that we are “narcissistic assholes”. The fact is, you ARE the experiencer of your life, and your life experience is precisely why you are here, like everyone else – to experience how life is now, and to choose how to experience it in the future.

      Narcissism is an extreme form of arrogance, which is the over-valuing of oneself relative to others. Self-deprecation is the opposite of Arrogance, but both are to do with self-esteem. In the general population, our self-esteem fluctuates around some mid-point on a daily basis. A person with Arrogance, however, will not allow their self-esteem to drop below some high point (say 90%), whereas a person with Self-deprecation will not allow their self-esteem to rise above a low point (say 10%). In fact, a person with Self-deprecation typically *wants* higher self-esteem, at least somewhere up in the normal range (around, say, 50%), but often fears that it would be seen as arrogance. It’s a distortion of perception that is typical of our deep-seated insecurities and fears.

      The best way out of Arrogance is to find humility, which is the positive pole of Self-deprecation. That means, forgetting about how one compares to others and allowing one’s self-esteem to drop into the normal range. In effect, becoming one of the herd. On the other hand, the best way out of Self-deprecation is to find pride, which is the positive pole of Arrogance. This also means forgetting about how one compares to others, but this time allowing self-esteem to rise up into the normal range by focusing on (not exaggerating, just recognising) one’s good qualities. And being willing to stand out from the herd.

      So I would drop the whole issue of how to make your parents proud of you and just focus on how you can be proud of you.

      As you may know, the true source of pride isn’t in seeing how much better we are doing than the average Joe; it’s just recognising that we have our own knowledge, abilities and skills, and knowing that we have used them well, or if we haven’t so far then deciding that we can and will use them well in future.

      Whatever we have, it can be of benefit to others if we so choose, and that makes us of value to the world. Whenever we do that which we are particularly good at and particularly drawn to, not only do we feel a great sense of fulfilment, but others also find it of value as well; fulfilling our own passion is the same as serving others.

      I remember someone asking me once, “What do you really want to do with your life?” I thought about it long and hard, as is my way, trying to get to the very kernel of truth before answering. And what finally crystallised in my mind was: “To give the very best of myself.” This surprised me, as my operating assumption had been that I was setting out to be comfortable and successful, but I could feel that this drive to have others benefit from my existence by expressing the best in me was true, loud and clear. You might want to contemplate if this has any resonance for you, or simply contemplate the same question for yourself. Discovering a sense of purpose, however vaguely, always unleashes positive motivation and energy

      A few years later, by the way, I contemplated the question, “If I had just 6 months to live, what could I do in that time that would leave me with a sense that my life had been fulfilling and worthwhile?” This took about 90 minutes of silent contemplation with a notebook to hand. What I eventually arrived at was: “To find something actually worth saying, and then say it in a way that helps as many as possible.” That’s how I started this website.

      So what I’m getting at here is that it is safe to assume that your life has some purpose which, once you start actively pursuing it, is both rewarding for you and of value to others. You may not know what it is until you are about 40, but hang in there. One day it will all make sense.

      I would also suggest you tap into some source of inspiration. I don’t know if you are a spiritual person at all (I certainly wasn’t until my late 20s), but there is plenty of material referenced on this website. (I have a feeling that the Pathwork Lectures might appeal to you – You might also want to start playing with the Law of Attraction (see, which if nothing else is a good way to discover how we block ourselves from attaining what we desire.

  38. I’ve just had a flashback this morning and realised that I was emotionally abused as a child. Just about everyone talks about having a face only a mother can love – I don’t know where I stand as I felt like my mother never loved me. I was always criticised for the tiniest mistake, pinched where it would hurt most and a lot of times “shoved under the rug” when people come to visit.

    I desperately wanted her to love me so I tried to excel in school. She wasn’t interested. The only time she seemed happy was when I helped put food on the table after learning how to do some odd jobs that earned a bit of money.

    There was a time when after a massive tongue and whip-lashing, I just had enough of it and took something that I thought would help end it all for me. I woke up in the middle of the night throwing up violently and that’s when she realised what I had done. She was very angry. I was just lucky to have had a father who loved me unconditionally, took me to the hospital and stayed till I was discharged. As he kissed me on the forehead, he whispered, “Please don’t do this again.” My mother was nowhere to be seen and when I got out of hospital, she gave me the sharpest look that could cut any soul especially at a tender age of 14. No hugs. No cuddles. I was just despised.

    I finished high school with academic awards and passed the admission test in one of the prestigious schools in our country. She changed her tune a bit as neighbours and her workmates started praising her for having a daughter like me.

    I eventually finished uni, landed a job, contributed to the family’s finances and that’s the only time I felt some form of acceptance from my mother. But it’s too late, I realise that I’ve been cut too deep and stil suffer the after effects. I still keep putting myself down a lot of times thinking that I’m not worthy of anything.

    Thanks for the tips Barry. I’ll try to be mindful of this self abasement from now own.

    • Thanks Julia. It’s amazing how much we are affected by heartless parenting – and how heartless some patents can be. Best of luck.

  39. Wow Barry, you have such a wonderful gift for understanding the human person as well as being able to express these ideas in writing. This article brought up a lot of stuff I needed to hear.

    I love comedy and recently have been reading up on some my favorite comedians. One thing I noticed is that many of the comedians I listen to are/ have been linked with depression, on anxiety medication, and some have even attempted suicide at one point in their life. Not to make a generalization that all comedians are linked with depression, but a good amount of the ones that I came across did. It is probably not surprising that self -deprecation was most of these comedians comedic style. Years of constantly poking fun at yourself can take a heavy toll on your mind I suppose.

    I myself am a very self-deprecating person. I love to laugh and I’m considered the comedian in my friend group. I have never minded being the butt of jokes, in fact, is it weird that I almost prefer it? I try not to take myself too seriously and I love the feeling I get when I make someone laugh. Lately though I’ve been noticing a reoccurring pattern in my thought process. Thoughts come up like I just can’t do it, I’m not smart enough to take this on, I’m not pretty enough for him to like me, might as well quit while I’m ahead kind of thoughts. I generally like who I am and know I have a lot of potential but I am embarrassed to admit I let these negative thoughts dominate my life. I live life afraid of being noticed while at the same time longing for attention. I am worried I have allowed myself to become the victim of my own mind.

    It’s funny how the things that cause you the most joy in life can also bring you the most pain.

  40. Hey, Barry, thank you for this very insightful post.

    I myself have suffered (don’t know if it’s the right term) from arrogance and even vanity as a teen. Some tough life experiences have knocked me down quite a few pegs, and now I find that my former inflated self-esteem has been eroded considerably (yeah, the sandcastle has crumbled), being replaced more and more with episodes of self-doubt, pessimism and self-deprecation. Now I find myself pendulating between feelings of hoplesness and not being good enough, and fear of showing my emotional vulnerability and weaknesses/flaws. What I experience is that when arrogance meets self-doubt, the composite force is that now I’m more willing to admit that I’m not always right (although it still irks me when people contradict me, and when I’m proven wrong I feel ashamed), that I’m not perfect, and I’m also able to assess my personal traits or qualities in a more objective way. True, the first impulse is too feel shame when I get it wrong, or to get angry and competitive, and try to prove to people how wrong they are, but at least I’m more aware of my arrogant tendencies and try and correct my conduct. Also, when I’m in my hopeless, self-doubt mode (“I’m not good enough” “I’m not smart enough” “I have no talent and no abilities” “Others are better than me” etc), I don’t belittle myself too much, at least not as much as a full-on self-deprecating person would (which seems to border self-hatred). So no, I’ve never gotten to hate myself, or to believe that I deserve what’s coming, or to think/speak of myself in a harsh way. I guess the outcome of eroded vanity is a healthy self-love?

    So far, it seems that the cohabitation of arrogance as first impulse with self-doubt, inadequacy and feeling like a loser seems to cancel some of the very unhealthy, dangerous responses of each of these negative self-esteem facets (they cancel each other out). But I hope I’ll reach a more balanced frame of mind, because this pendulation between two extremes can be paralyzing. As you said, I’m adopting more and more the idea of being the best you can be. Also, it helps when you’re driven only by passion for something that you do and by the idea of being useful to people and trying to give them something of value. Because when you try to be one of the best, it means you’re comparing yourself to others, and then you end up either competing and being arrogant and aggressive, or hating yourself, and feeling depressed, depending on which opposite feature you may gravitate to. So yeah, you have to focus more on just being and doing.

    Oh, and I have a question. Is it possible for a self-deprecating person to use false-modesty as one of the tactics in their attempt to protect themselves, even if they don’t do it consciously? For example, to say that they are worse than they actually think they are, maybe because they are so used to play down their qualities?

    Again, thank you very much for your work. It is really helpful.

    • Hi Ruth. As teenagers we tend to try out different defences before settling on one or two for life. It sounds like you have settled on an unusual combination of self-deprecation and arrogance — unusual in that they are complementary opposites in the same domain, both revolving around self-esteem based on feedback from others.

      So it’s interesting for me to hear from you how they can interact. Most people (myself included) have a non-complementing mix that don’t cancel each out. In my case it’s impatience and self-deprecation: I get impatient with minor frustrations (because I find them deeply threatening) and then I berate myself with self-deprecation for all my inadequacies, especially my impatience.

      But arrogance and self-deprecation make for an intriguing combination. Arrogance tries to keep self-esteem high by suppressing vulnerabilities and feigning invulnerability, while self-deprecation uses self-doubt and self-criticism to keep self-esteem down low, as a way to avoid the risk of taking a knock. I can imagine that that could keep you in a constant state of tension with hyper self-consciousness and sensitivity to feedback. But it also sounds like you have bumped into the trick of using the “positive pole” of one to neutralise the “negative pole” of the other. For example, the key to finding relief from the most negative depths of self-deprecation (self-loathing, self-abasement) is to take a realistic look at one’s true qualities and move, however slightly, into a state of pride (the positive pole of arrogance). True pride neutralises false modesty (shame, humiliation), just as true modesty neutralises false pride (vanity, conceit, hubris).

      So, I would say you are in a good position to get a grip on both of these tendencies by using the positive of one to neutralise the negative of the other. And, yes, the outcome of eroded vanity would be healthy and *conscious* self-love as opposed to the unconscious habit of hiding vulnerabilities and seeking external affirmations.

      Thanks for sharing!


  41. The best article I have ever read. I did not know there are other people than me with this personality. I end up crying when I m alone at the end of work or study pressure just because I feel I m a looser and unsuccessful person. I m still very sensitive to others criticism about me but I Lough in front of them and pretending I m accepting their criticism and cool about it but I m down for a long time when no one is around. No one even know how shy I am and why I don’t want to hang out with anyone, they just I m just so busy and don’t have time for them. I wish there was a treatment for this however if you are a real looser (like me) I m not sure any treatment would work any way.
    But thanks again for the very good article

  42. Hello,

    It’s comforting to know there are others that are experiencing what I am.

    I am almost 27 now and I have experienced self-deprecating for many years.

    I find as I have got older I have a tendency not to take pride in myself/things around me as some sort of defence, do you know if this is a symptom of self – deprecating? I have gone through a very embarrassing time recently after exposing this side of myself to a new person.

    Thanks, Daniella

    • Hi Daniella

      This “tendency not to take pride in myself/things around me” – can you give an example? For instance, do you mean something like letting your home get into a terrible mess? Or do you mean running yourself down in some way?


  43. Hi Barry,

    Yes both. I think I tend to not really take pride in my appearance, home, work with the idea that there is no point, I become very embarrassed when I think someone may have noticed/judge. I am always trying to get past these things so I just wondered if its something that is quite common as I’m not sure why I do it.


    • Hi Daniella

      What you are describing is a common feature of depression, so I have to ask, is it possible that you are depressed? Depression isn’t necessarily a state of sadness. Rather, it’s a state of all-engulfing lifelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. I certainly don’t want to make you think you’re depressed if you’re not, however, so if you’re not sure – or if only to rule it out – then it might be worth looking at a checklist of symptoms, such as:

      Otherwise, I am curious as to how and when this loss of pride came about. Was it sudden, or gradual, or always there? Are you socially isolated? Is there any underlying attitude that you can sense might be connected to it, such as (off the top of my head) a rebellion against being “a good girl”?


  44. Hi Barry

    I was quite intrigued by the mere concept of “self-deprecation” after watching some interviews from various Bollywood actors. They all took a modest/self-deprecating approach when discussing their accomplishments. I understood why they would approach these discussions in this sort of manner but it was at the same time quite groundbreaking seeing how all the success that these actors attain has yet to go to their heads. Personally, I have been living a sort of “flashy” lifestyle. About a year ago, I ultimately changed my lifestyle after viewing many interviews of celebrities, such as athletes and actors. Many of them were poor during their youth. Now they are huge successful people in our world. From a social/political view, I have had a penchant for the little man making his way to the top. As a result of watching these interviews, I have tried to lead a more humble and self-deprecating way of life. Now, I look to see what other people benefit from my actions instead of what I gain from them. I have seen that I have been depressed this passed year with this lifestyle. However, this summer I have grown to become hungry for success in giving pleasure to people with all the actions I will do in the future. I have a sort of simple question for you but if you could elaborate on it, that would be great. My question is: “Does leading a more humble/self-deprecating lifestyle necessarily have to be associated with a more negative viewpoint?” I kind of caught this more negative viewpoint with the idea of being self-deprecating in your article. I do not know whether this was intended, as I think you wrote this article with a purpose in mind that lead to this more negative viewpoint. I just want to know your opinions at looking at the positives and negatives of being self-deprecating and also know whether you think it is generally more positive or generally more negative for peoples’ lives.


    • Hi Shadman

      To answer your specific question first, no – there isn’t necessarily a connection between humility and negativity. In many cultures, humility is promoted as a virtue while pride is frowned upon. (It seems the opposite is true among rap musicians…). One can certainly choose to be modest and humble without it being a symptom of terrible anxiety.

      I have actually been thinking of changing the name ‘self-deprecation’ to either ‘self-doubt’ or ‘self-disparagement’. The meaning of language tends to drift over time, and I have a sense that self-deprecation has become a more positive term than it used to be. (As another example, the term ‘retardation’ has acquired very negative connotations. Psychiatrists are continually changing the term for developmental slowness because the public adopt each new term as term of abuse.)

      It’s possible that the Bollywood actors you describe are genuinely modest and humble by virtue of their poor backgrounds, i.e. they have no reason to consider themselves superior; and anyway they would probably not get away with it among family and friends who know their background.

      It’s also possible that what you are describing could be a cultural trait. Many cultures can be characterised by the same “overleaves” (personality traits) as individuals. In some cultures, for example, it is traditional for men to be in charge and for women to be deferential. This does not mean that all men in those countries have the goal of Dominance and all women have the goal of Submission; it is just that they are expected and conditioned to act as if they do. Perhaps the Bollywood actors are merely acting in the proper manner, showing humility.

      So this might make you wonder, how do you tell the difference between a personality trait and a cultural one? With the negative chief features, this is actually fairly easy. If a person has, say, Self-Deprecation (Self-Doubt / Self-Disparagement) as a chief feature, their self-deprecating behaviour is a compulsion driven by a deeply felt fear. There is a negative emotional charge which does not exist with cultural traits, which are merely habits. It will show in their facial expression and overall discomfort. A person who is comfortably self-deprecating (or humble, modest) is probably just doing what seems right in the social situation, or what feels appropriate to them, while a person who has a self-deprecating chief feature will be terrified of the interview situation as it might expose their inadequacies.

      Does that make sense?


    • Yes, that does make sense. I guess a follow-up question I have is “Is self-deprecation a good approach in further developing one’s craft/interest/job skill in life or would this lead to a more extreme state of insanity over the fact that one must continually better oneself at his or her craft/interest/job skill?” I find this concept quite interesting but find that this may be a difficult question to respond to with a universal response. Your thoughts?

  45. Hi Barry,

    Thanks for your comments, it is really something that has always been there, on and off since I was a child. I wouldn’t describe it as rebellion against being a good girl but more along the lines of thinking that it is impossible for me to be a”good girl”/perfect so therefore what is the point in trying. I am not socially isolated but i am not as involved with likes and friends as i could be or would like to be , I suppose there has always been a fear of trying and getting it wrong and embarrassing myself.


    • Ok, I wondering if I can see a vicious circle in action. See if this makes sense:
      1. I feel that I am inherently imperfect / inadequate.
      2. If others see my imperfection, they will judge me for it and I will be humiliated and ashamed.
      3. I mustn’t go around pretending to be somebody I’m not (I.e. normal), as being “caught out” would be even more humiliating.
      4. There is no point in taking care of small things like a normal person would, because that’s like pretending to be somebody I’m not.
      5. But the poor state of my house etc confirms that I am inherently imperfect / inadequate. (Return to step 1)

    • Hi Barry,

      It is a long time since I’ve looked at this but yes, you’re right this certainly seems like a pattern I go through day to day. I wish I go find a way to break it.

      Thanks, Daniella

  46. I have been struggling very badly with this my whole life. I was a very quiet and painfully thin kid, and was teased and bullied mercilessly throughout my younger years, in addition to having an overly critical father who abandoned my family when I was 13.

    Now, it is 30 years later and I have spent the majority of that time mired in depression, shame and worthlessness. My outward behavior has run the gamut from everything from full on uncensored self-deprecation, to outrageous arrogance.

    The last few years I have managed to find kind of a middle ground of the persona I present. I *usually* am able to accept praise and compliments without making a self deprecaitng remark. I keep the anger I feel over “ending up” this way in check most of the time. Basically, I have more or less simply settled for presenting a persona to the world that helps me just “get by” without seeming too weird or “off” to the casual observer or outlying acquaintences.

    But, as I’m sure you know, this does not work at all in any kind of relationship beyond semi-casual. I’ve had so many close-interpersonal relationships fall apart, that for most of my adult life I stopped trying and instead chose to live a mostly solitary lifestyle.

    In the last 5 years or so I started trying again to form bonds with people, and the results have been less than spectacular. I am terrified to let anyone know how I feel about myself deep-down. I always assume judgment, and then abandonment will follow the exact point that the persona slips, and any little hint of what’s really underneath is shown.

    It’s happening again right now. I’ve been dating a wonderful girl for the last 4 months. She seems very taken with the person she thinks I am, that being: a kind, easy going, funny and intelligent guy. SHe also tells me constantly how handsome she thinks I am. It is very hard to accept these praises, but for the most part I either just say “thank you” in response, or make the very slightest humorfull, self deprecating comment. Just enough so it looks like I am not all full of myself.

    Well, this arrangement was going ok for a while. But now we are at the point where she is telling me she loves me. I feel the same way back, but am wracked with terror that she fell in love with a lie.

    A couple of nights ago, we were lying in bed and I had been having a particularly hard day, struggling with my depression and anxiety and my constant inner voice that tells me I am a fraud who doesn’t deserve any happiness whatsoever, and certainly not anything as wonderful as feeling loved by anyone else. I’d also been drinking that night and had insomnia the night before.

    She picked the exact wrong moment to tell me again how much she loves me, and with all the factors of the previous paragraph in alignment, I was unable to fight it off anymore.

    I went and asked her “why?… I don’t understand why you love me” and then I started to cry a little. It was all a little hazy after that, but I believe I told her about past struggles with anxiety and depression (that run in my family), and how sometimes it is hard for me to accept love and kindness, and on RARE occasion I might get like how I was acting, etc etc.

    I managed to reel it back in to the point where *maybe* she still thinks what she knows from the last 4 months is the “real” me, and that I just had a moment of weakness while a little drunk and depressed. Basically all I managed was some damage control. I kept the persona from slipping completely and will now have to work overtime to keep it going a little longer, pretending more than ever to be totally happy, confident and without flaws.

    We fell asleep and the next day I acted as if everything was perfectly fine and told her she doesn’t need to worry about me, I was just drunk and tired and won’t be getting all emotional like that on a regular basis. She claims that she doesn’t think any different of me, and it hasn’t changed her feelings for me at all. But of course I find that impossible to believe and figure now she is just biding her time before she can abandon me on some other pretext, rather than tell me the truth. That now she has seen she was tricked into loving someone who doesn’t exist.

    All I can think is I made a bad mistake in trying to let anyone in closer than arm’s length, and I should just go back to meaningless flings that end as quickly as they begin.

    I’m just SO SO tired of feeling this way. It’s always been bad, but in the last few years it has become close to maddening.

    • Hi Stuart,

      First, my heartfelt sympathies for your difficult childhood experiences – parental abandonment on top of bullying and “unacceptable” introversion sounds just awful. Second, my thanks for your lucid description of how it has been for you. I am sure we can all learn from it.

      It is not uncommon for the persona to swing from one style to the opposite in a desperate attempt to see what works. Not only do we hide the part of us that we fear exposing, but we also try to hide the fact that we are hiding. People who are self-deprecating (self-doubting, self- disparaging) might try out being superior and above-it-all, for example, just as those who are arrogant (self-important, disdainful) might try to being openly self-deprecating, modest and humble. Then again, people who are self-deprecating might put on a self- deprecating act, while those who are arrogant might put on an arrogant act. It’s like a double-bluff – “As you can see, I am openly trying to come across as superior (or inferior), which therefore obviously means I don’t secretly need to feel superior (or don’t actually feel inferior).”

      I think as we get older and – hopefully – more mature, there is a natural tendency for the negative attitude to lose ground. It has less fear to work with. Some people might just become resigned to it, but with a bit of self-observation and insight there is also the possibility of “taming” it. Like an unruly pet, we learn what provokes it and what keeps it at bay, so it is easier to dance around it.

      But as you point out, this is easier in superficial relationships than in intimate relationships, where the sense of personal exposure is ramped up to the max. Indeed, it has to be if one is to have a successful mature relationship. It is heart-breaking to read that you are terrified of that deeper exposure. But I see a number of ironies:

      1. The chances are, you are a sensitive guy – the sort of guy that many women the world over are crying out for.
      2. The perfect “cure” for such fear of exposure is deliberate exposure, carefully managed, such that it results in acceptance and intimacy.
      3. The reason why you experience “abandonment” — an interesting re-enactment of your childhood, by the way — whenever you drop the persona, is not because the “real” you is unbearable but because the other person realises you have been hiding from them behind a persona. It would be unusually enlightened of them not to take that personally. Also, it is stressful and hard work for a person to commit to being with someone who is terrified of being real. Just as it is stressful and hard work for you to keep up a false act.

      So there is a built-in vicious circle. If you hide away your inadequate self, and work hard at presenting some other persona to the world, then that will get you by to some extent – i.e. to the extent that people don’t know you and don’t want to know you better. But it will block you from the real acceptance and intimacy and the sort of loving relationship you desire. So long as you are aware of yourself secretly hiding from the world behind a false front, you will have that “constant inner voice that tells me I am a fraud.” If you drop the persona, you are no longer a fraud – you are a human being, vulnerable … but honest and loveable.

      I note that you describe your persona in the eyes of your current girlfriend as kind, easygoing, funny and intelligent. Oh yes, and handsome. The word “persona” however implies that these qualities are fake, though I have a feeling she might be smart enough to see beyond any surface pretence. I suspect that those are qualities of the real you, leaking out, but you are attributing them to the persona you are so busily presenting.

      I understand how hard it must be for you to accept any normal, positive and desirable qualities that people see in you as true, partly because of your sense of being a fraud, and partly lest it come across as arrogance (“full of myself”). I think this is common with self-deprecation. On the one hand, there is a neurotic fear of exposure, with an expectation of public judgement, shaming and humiliation because everything about oneself is either false or inadequate. On the other hand, there is a deep dislike of arrogance, which is fair enough. But the fear of exposure is so ultra-sensitive that even having or owning a single good quality is seen as arrogance. “If I were to admit that I am highly intelligent, then I would be putting myself above the majority, but that sounds disgustingly arrogant, especially when the truth is I am nothing.”

      I can offer a couple of suggestions to help you break out of the vicious circle, both of which will be challenging, but hopefully you will find that they are right and appropriate:

      1. Be willing to have, recognise, own and express positive qualities in yourself, such as looks, intelligence … whatever, especially (but not just) those which others feed back to you. It is illogical that you do not (or cannot, or should not) have good, admirable qualities. Everyone does. Realistic pride in one’s better qualities is not the same as arrogance. You are perfectly entitled to have great qualities, and to acknowledge, embrace, and feel good about whatever is good and admirable in you.

      2. Be willing to talk honestly about your inner sense of inadequacy (or whatever word/phrase best fits for you) to those who want to know you better, especially your girlfriend. Tell them this is strictly private and confidential, if you need to be sure you can trust them. But you do have to be honest with them about it, just as you have been here, otherwise sooner or later they are going to sense that you are being phoney in some way.

      Fact: They almost certainly won’t judge you for having always felt deeply “inadequate” or whatever.

      Fact: They almost certainly WILL reject you for continually hiding your real self behind a false front.

      In a way, your hiding is not very respectful to them. You are giving them a message that goes something like, “You are not be trusted with the real me, so you will just have to make do with my superficial act. And I hope you aren’t smart enough to see through it.” Who wants to put up with that as the core of a relationship?

      Exposing your inner self as you have here is – as far as your underlying fear is concerned – the ultimate risk that you are supposed to avoid. But in reality it is THE direct path out of that very fear. Just make it as safe for yourself as you can – do it in a quiet place where you are alone together, so that if either of you breaks down in tears that’s absolutely fine.

      I don’t underestimate the scale of fear and risk you might feel about all this. I’ve been there. But by taking the risk, you undermine that defensive misconception that you should never be real.

      And the right girl will absolutely love you and admire you all the more for taking that risk. Real intimacy is like a beautiful treasure you can share with another – and the only price you have to pay is complete honesty.

      Good luck,


    • Stuart you are loved eternally by our great God and Father of our Lord Jesus. Look for him in your life and not the imaginary person you depend on, understandably so. Our earthly parents, and all who follow love imperfectly but God loves perfectly. As a child I had a cloak of invisibility. I’m still surprised when others notice me but I know now that Christ is the One who gives meaning to our lives. “The life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son if God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.

  47. Some really interesting stuff, here – lots of it is actually contained in the comments! It’s especially interesting to see and read the personal opinions of individuals who have actually EXPERIENCED self-deprecating behaviours; as opposed to just the opinions of so-called “experts” who merely postulate about it.

    There is much that I agree with, in that what is written makes perfect sense. This I can say with absolute certainty, given that I live constantly with the problem of self-deprecation, so I understand it in a personal sense. However, I am also qualified as a Social Worker, and am currently undertaking Postgraduate study in Psychology – so I additionally have a “professional” perspective on the matter.

    Alas, in my experience, the personal and the professional do not always agree, and see eye-to-eye. What I understand of self-deprecation certainly agrees to a large extent with what is suggested here. I do believe that it is the direct consequence of our early childhood, and teenage, experiences. In my case, I came from a complicated and dysfunctional home life. My mother has mental health issues (Bi Polar Disorder), which resulted in a lot of problematic early experiences for me. These, in turn, I believe, lead to my self-deprecating behaviour.

    My mother’s first “breakdown” came shortly after she gave birth to me. This resulted in my being fostered with an uncle and aunt. Psychologically speaking, there is a term called “ATTACHMENT”; this is the close bond formed between an infant and its primary caregiver (i.e. the person who is to nurture and rear the child). Much work in the field of “Attachment Theory” has been undertaken by John Bowlby (1950’s – 1970’s), and, earlier, Mary Ainsworth (the originator of the “Strange Situation Test”). Both Bowlby and Ainsworth agreed that a secure and stable attachment between parental figure and child was required in order for the child to grow up to be healthy, happy, and to “function normally”. Any disruption of an attachment, therefore, is likely to cause problems.

    Given that my fostering took place when I was such a small baby, I believe that it prevented me from forming a stable bond with both my mother, and my father. My mother describes me as having been a “cranky, restless child” and as “always crying… not sleeping well through the night”. She also tells me that she could not cope with my crying, because I cried when she left me, but also if she tried to pick me up (a sure sign of a problematic attachment).

    Sadly, I was fostered on further occasions as a child – again because of my mother’s illness and relapses – I went to live with my grandparents for short periods, always returning home afterwards. I was also sent at a very early age (@ 2 years) to Nursery School, and commenced full time at Primary School a year early, aged only 3, because my mother says she could not handle having a child at home with her.

    I firmly believe that this set the stage for my later feelings of rejection, and for my feeling “unwanted” and “unloved” by my parents. Due to circumstances beyond our control, my parents and I were separated for several periods of time. I suspect that these periods of disruption made it harder for me to bond with my parents. Perhaps I felt afraid to bond, in case I was taken from them again? Perhaps I secretly wondered if they wished for me to live with them permanently, or if they wanted to “give me away”? I know that, growing up, I have asked these questions rhetorically on a number of occasions.

    I can definitely identify with what is said about early childhood trauma, or traumatic experiences, and their relationship to self-deprecating behaviour in later life. Needless to say, with a Bi Polar parent, childhood is not always easy. I was confused as to why my mother seemed “different” from other mothers. I didn’t understand why, on some days, she was “high”, and at other times depressed, and constantly tired. When she was unwell, she could not spend quality time with me, doing things that other mothers might do with a child.

    Both parents, to be truthful, were a source of distress. They were controlling and demanding. I was expected to get top grades at school, to dress as they chose, not to “get in their way” if they were busy. My father was particularly AUTHORITARIAN, demanding respect and obedience. Combined with this, he was also fiery-tempered, distant, and emotionally unavailable. My mother was anxious, “neurotic” and prone to over-react, turning seemingly innocuous matters into high drama. I was highly aware that if I had any problems, I could not expect to discuss them with my parents, or to seek advice or assistance. In fact, it was best not to tell my parents. They were generally of the opinion that I was to “grow up and sort it” myself.

    Affection was not common in our household. My parents were not demonstrative in any way. We did not hug, or kiss, or publicly hold hands. We did not openly say we loved each other. Praise was rarely forthcoming – my parents were of that sort, where, if I got several A grades at school, they would only notice any LOWER grade I got, and ask why I had not worked at that subject!

    This is just a description of my EARLY childhood. I will gloss over my TEENAGE years, if I may. Suffice it to say, they were incredibly painful, and very traumatic. I was BULLIED persistently throughout my time at School, from Primary School right through to leaving Secondary School – most of the bullying relating to my mother’s illness, and my academia – accusations of “cheating” or of being “tutored”, comments to the effect of “you cannot be that clever, your mother’s a nutter”.

    I was a teenage REBEL. I rebelled against the bullies, staying away from School when I could. I rebelled against my parents; this resulted in numerous (and escalating) arguments and fights. I attempted more than once to run away from home. Allow me to say only that fear, and a need for self-preservation, drove me to this. My parents TRULY believe in CORPORAL PUNISHMENT.

    There is a tendency to describe self-deprecation as a sort of “DEFENCE MECHANISM” along the lines of those proposed by Sigmund and Anna Freud (1930’s). This places self-deprecation in the category of FALSE PERSONA (as you have written). I would argue that this is not strictly correct.

    In my experience, an individual often has some degree of awareness of a false persona, and may well know when they have deliberately chosen to adopt it. The adoption of a false persona can therefore be a CONSCIOUS act. Yes, it might be argued that defence mechanisms, too, are deliberately adopted by individuals in order to help deal with particular situations. In this sense, their adoption may lead to the creation of a false persona.

    However, I feel that it is actually a far more subtle and insidious process. You suggest that self-deprecation is a strategy for coping based upon deliberate and advance manipulation of other people’s expectations – i.e. that the self-deprecating person “jumps in first” to put him/herself down, before others can do it. True, this may well happen – BUT IT IS NOT ALWAYS A CONSCIOUS ACT.

    The truly self-deprecating person may well be unaware as to how they act. It has become perfectly “natural” for them to behave in this manner. They genuinely BELIEVE that they are worthless, and so whatever they say is, in their eyes, true. They are not trying to “disarm” another person, or to lower their expectations in the hope that this will draw attention away from the actions of the self-deprecator. No, they are simply stating fact. They believe that they have no worth, and cannot do things to an acceptable standard. Thus, the need to constantly apologise for their actions may be GENUINE.

    Both from personal, and from professional, experience, I am well aware that the more people are told something about themselves, the more they come to believe it. This is true both for positive, and negative, statements. So, if a person endlessly hears, as they are growing up, “that was rubbish”, “don’t do that, it’s silly”, “you stupid…”, “go away, you’re wasting my time”, “you lazy brat, you only got a C”… and endless permutations… they may well come to believe that what is said, is true.

    As we grow and develop, we form internal models that tell us how we see the world about us, how it functions, our place in it, others’ places in it. These internal images are called SCHEMAS. Dependent upon our life experiences, they can be negative, or positive. Information that we receive from outside sources (e.g. parents, teachers, friends) is internalised, and becomes the foundation of our schemas. Thus, if we receive mainly negative information about ourselves, and the world about us, our schemas will be correspondingly negative.

    In this way, the process of child to adult development becomes increasingly complex. We are never isolated entities – rather we exist within society, and the world at large. Our actions are determined by multiple factors – including our personality traits, our schemas, and the continuing influence of other people. In turn, we affect the behaviour and actions of those about us. SYMBIOSIS, of a twisted sort of nature!

    People who are self-deprecating have been reared in such a way as to have ingrained negative experiences, and negative beliefs about themselves. They have simply heard the negative far too often for it (in their eyes) not to be true! Their schemas are probably negative, thus their views about themselves, and the world in general, may be negative.

    However, what they believe, is also, to them, VERY REAL. It is not an “act”. Their behaviour is not really the adoption of a false persona. It is the behaviour of somebody who feels truly worthless – who has been raised in the belief that their worthlessness is FACT.

    We must all be sensitive to the fact that childhood trauma can lead to multiple problems in ADULTHOOD. Not least of these is POST TRAUMATIC STRESS; a disorder in which the individual has been so affected by past trauma as to be unable to function effectively in the present. Post Traumatic Stress can lead to numerous symptoms, including the following:
    1. A need to avoid or escape any situation which reminds the sufferer of past traumatic experience.
    2. Low self-esteem and lack of self confidence.
    3. Feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and guilt.
    4. “Flashbacks” – where the sufferer re-lives past trauma in their head, experiencing it as though it is real, and current.
    5. Nightmares – dreaming about the trauma.
    6. Hypervigilance – increased awareness, and sensitivity to the possibility of future trauma; nervousness, “jumpiness” and anxiety.
    7. Feeling detached and emotionally numb.
    8. Sense of a foreshortened future, or of inability to succeed – believing that you will never get married, achieve academically, have a career, and such like.

    Recognise any of these? Yes? Interesting, isn’t it, how similar some of them are to what the so-called self-deprecating person feels and does!
    I can assure you that I re-live many aspects of MY childhood trauma, even as a adult. I can also assure you that this has a MAJOR effect upon my self-deprecating behaviour. The reason being is this…

    Whenever I find myself in a situation that does accidentally remind me of past troubles – particularly of being bullied – I experience FLASHBACKS. To this day, I can see my bullies clearly; especially their faces; I can hear their words, I can recall all their names. When this happens, I find myself fumbling for words, apologising for myself… in sum, self-deprecating all the more!

    Barry, what you say here about the act of self-deprecation is, in the main, highly accurate. However, personal observation of the issue (and what could be more astute than that?) leads me to believe that self-deprecation is more than a mere DEFENSE MECHANISM. The rationale behind it is far more complex than might at first be thought, and the nature of the act of self-deprecation is therefore determined by a far larger number of factors than have been adequately considered here. Besides, the behaviour itself, in that it becomes so ingrained in a person’s psyche, could well be considered UNCONSCIOUS. Given that we are not always aware of the real reasons for our unconscious acts, it thus becomes very hard to truly and accurately explain why individuals self-deprecate. The reasons are personal – and as individual as each and every one of us. A THEORY as to self-deprecation can therefore only be a GENERALISATION.

    By the way… sorry this is so long. Had a lot of thoughts on the matter!
    To assist – any words I have typed in capitals, or names of any writers/authors listed can be looked-up on Google (or similar), should readers wish to find out more about them.

    • Hi Elaine,

      Thank you so much for you eloquent and insightful dissection of self-deprecation.

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say, so I wonder if I have given a misleading impression somewhere. To be clear, I’m not equating self-deprecation just with a self-deprecating persona or front. In the model I’ve outlined, the whole self-deprecating “complex” or “tendency” begins in early experiences which form an unconscious – but utterly believed – sense of self as being “less than”. That is the crux of it. The more superficial strategy for interacting with others is adopted in adulthood just as a way to get along in ordinary life whilst inwardly feeling ultimately and irrevocably inferior. There can of course be different strategies, and I guess I’ve really only covered one in the article – the lowering of others’ expectations. But I’m aware that some people swing to the opposite – faking a sense of superiority. And some people just avoid interacting as much as possible, so there is little or no need for a false persona. I think a lot depends on other aspects of the personality. In my case, in addition to my own self-deprecating mindset, I also had (and still have) an enormous urge to get on and live life to the full, so I have always had this restlessness and a determination not to let even my own shadow hold me back.

      Also, speaking for myself, there came a point at which I started to question the validity of my sense of inferiority. How could it be that I was born “less than” others? No matter how much I felt it emotionally, I could see that logically it didn’t quite add up. So that, for me, was the point at which the unconscious self-deprecation became a more conscious issue. I didn’t have an insights into its origins and dynamics, but I could at least see that it was an unusual thing for me to believe about myself and I started to experiment with different strategies.

      I do accept, though, that most people do not even get that far. Their self-doubts and self-disparaging thoughts and feelings remain intact and unquestioned until the day they die. Which is awful, really – so isolating.

      Thanks again,


  48. this is Margo ,I want to thank you & the Spirits for all that you’ve done for me all these years. I’m thankful for all the time, money & effort you & the Spirits have put into my case. i have managed to win all court cases against me in short time through your powers, I will always be grateful, you saved me from life imprisonment.

💬 Leave a Reply 💬