Self-deprecating humor is no laughing matter

In Opinion
Self-deprecating humor can be a good tool to ease the mood and show modesty, but people need to be careful when and how often they use it as it could negatively influence children and cover unresolved issues. (Photo Illustration by Bailey Carpenter / Daily Titan)

Self-deprecating humor is at the height of its popularity right now. Whether it be comedy routines, advertisements, memes or everyday conversations, it’s everywhere.

Most people are guilty of using this form of humor to get laughs and while there are some nice pros, there are significant and harrowing cons to belittling oneself for the sake of a joke.

People dealing with anxiety, depression or unresolved trauma should be wary of using self-deprecating humor, as should anyone who spends time around children since this kind of humor walks a thin line between harmless joking and unhealthy self-hate.

One benefit of this type of humor is that it makes the joker seem modest and relatable – a tactic that comedians like Louis C.K. and Tina Fey are famous for using.

Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Social Psychology program at Duke University, points out how it can be useful in the workplace in an article by The Muse.

“By self-deprecating a little, you’re making sure your co-workers and employers aren’t expecting too much, and you gain points for modesty,” Leary said.

Self-deprecating humor has also been found to be helpful when dating.

“Many studies show that a sense of humour is sexually attractive, especially to women, but we’ve found that self-deprecating humour is the most attractive of all,” said Gil Greengross, anthropologist and author of “Dissing Oneself: The Sexual Attractiveness of Self-Deprecating Humour” in an interview with the Guardian.

It’s not all that shocking that people prefer others who downplay themselves rather than those who are arrogant and pompous – no matter the situation – but there are definitely some places where self-deprecating humor is a drawback.

For example, when in a job interview or important meeting, it’s probably better to avoid downplaying achievements that deserve praise and highlighting shortcomings that one may normally joke about.

It’s important for people to not take themselves too seriously in life. A little self-deprecating humor can help keep the mood light and make the people around comfortable, but the trouble starts when people start to use it too much or use it to cover up more serious self-esteem issues.

Therapist Vaishali Patel asserts in her blog that there is a difference between modesty and pure self-deprecation, and too often people fall into the habit of sacrificing their self-worth for others’ amusement.

Self-deprecating humor goes too far when people don’t know how to accept compliments, revert to jokes during serious conversations and put up a front to keep people from helping with underlying issues.

Many adults who abuse self-deprecating humor are not properly dealing with traumas that have prevented them from developing proper self-acceptance or self-assurance.

Not only does this form of humor perpetuate low self-esteem, it also can create an unhealthy habit of thinking pessimistically instead of with self-love.

Most people have heard that the more someone repeats something, the more they and the people around them will believe it to be true – this tactic works in the form of positive reinforcement, i.e. repeating every morning “I am strong,” “I am capable,” etc., but it also works with negative ideas.

If people are constantly putting themselves down, even if it’s in a humorous way, some of those toxic thoughts can creep into their subconscious and have them truly believing that they are lesser.

This is especially a problem for children and young adults, because they are so observant and impressionable. When adults self-deprecate, children misunderstand the joke and only take in the idea that hating on oneself is okay.

Writer and blogger Anna Lind Thomas has vowed to stop using self-deprecating humor in front of her daughters because “they’re listening.”

“It didn’t hit me until I looked at my daughter who was looking right at me while I said horrible things about myself,” Thomas said in a video she posted to her Facebook. “(From today on) our daughters and our sons will see us loving ourselves, wholly and completely.”

Thomas’ call to action may seem cliche and silly, but it is important for children to grow up valuing themselves instead of a joke.

Self-deprecating humor can be useful and funny. Who doesn’t love a good laugh? But it’s when those laughs are badly influencing children or covering something serious that isn’t being addressed or processed properly, that this trend has gone too far.

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