It’s an easy habit to resort to — you make a comment in a conversation, and to counter what you said or to lesson its effects, you say something self-deprecating, often in a humorous way.
Making fun of yourself, or using self-deprecating humor, is incredibly common and is usually thrown into a conversation sarcastically. Although a normal amount of this type of humor is perfectly healthy, constantly resorting to self-deprecation can also have unwanted consequences.
There’s a definite difference between light-heartedly making fun of oneself and repeatedly tearing oneself down, even if it’s just for laughs. It’s normal and even healthy to have a sense of humor about ourselves and not to take ourselves too seriously. Self-deprecating or hurtful language, when directed at ourselves often, is entirely different.
A large part of this lies in the fact that our thoughts often dictate our behavior and our attitude. Even everyday comments said without thinking can affect us subconsciously and lead us to form certain opinions of ourselves that may not be positive. If you constantly joke about an aspect of your looks or about how you are terrible at a class, you subconsciously enforce these thoughts and begin to believe them, even if originally meant in a joking manner.
Similarly, making negative comments about a situation or a person often, even when not meant to be taken seriously, affects our thought processes and attitudes throughout the day. A study by the University of Minnesota even found that negative thinking—about ourselves, others or situations—can have long-term health consequences. Self-criticism and negativity, when practiced often, affects not just ourselves but the people around us. A habitual self-critical sense of humor can easily be transferred to or taken on by the people we spend time with.
Additionally, self-deprecating humor can serve as a defense mechanism in place of expressing deeper emotions. In an effort to hide our insecurities or not address our problems, it can be much easier to constantly joke about our flaws. Again, having a sense of humor about oneself is normal and beneficial, but using self-criticism as a shield to conceal insecurities is an approach that appears helpful, but over time can be harmful.
People who practice self-criticism in a joking or light-hearted manner often may state that it’s just a part of their humor or that it’s not meant to be taken seriously. This may be true, but it’s important to at least consider how the topics we consistently choose to “joke” about affect how we feel about ourselves on a daily basis. Our thoughts influence our actions, and even light-hearted negativity, can subconsciously affect behavior or be used as a way to cope.
Next time you resort to self-deprecating humor, as we all do at some point, consider whether the point you are making is simply joking in context, or if your relied-upon “sense of humor” in reality is a source of negativity or an attempt to conceal deeper issues in your life. Consistently tearing yourself down isn’t always worth the laugh from your friends.