We condemn ourselves; we condemn others. And we demand the ideal while living in a world of flaws. We are drawn outward for comparisons to measure personal worth, keying in on examples that magnify our insufficiencies and lack. With unfair comparisons, we harshly judge our worth. We self deprecate, pelting our confidence with judgmental comparisons and unfair expectations.
Blurred by ego, and intrusions of parental tutelage, our visions of self are tainted from childhood. We need defined benchmarks to assess value. Determining personal value is a complex task, our faulty comparisons triggers shame, coveting, and self deprecating judging—the nasties that destroy the soul and disrupt inner peace.
We aren’t simply good or bad; but a being with a variety of talents, flaws and characteristics. Our achievements and failures can’t be evaluated without the contrasting background of childhood poverty and riches; there is no objective comparison. We can’t place a price tag on human value. Albeit, we are competitive, prone to compare salaries, possessions, friends, happiness, and positions. Consequently, We want to know where we fit and how we compete. Wrongly, we bolster our security by being better than others; but shamefully bow when comparisons are unfavorable.
When we compare, we paint incomplete pictures. We view our selves (and others) with a distorted image. The blurred colors of perspective present faded portraits. We judge unfairly. Other people may excel in some talents and possessions; but without knowing the original investment, the final product is incomplete.
We all have strengths; we all have weaknesses. If I compare myself to Donald Trump in finances and to the Dalai Lama in compassion, I feel grossly inadequate. I fare much better when I reverse the comparisons (Donald Trump’s compassion and the Dalai Lama’s possessions). I remain constant but by changing the comparison creates a critical shift. My value remains the same—just the perspective changes with the moving criteria.
“Our achievements and failures can’t be evaluated without the contrasting background of childhood poverty and riches; there is no objective comparison.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Depression and Realistic Self Appraisals
Interestingly, some studies have discovered a connection between depression and realistic self-appraisals. Does tranquility depend on deception? Should we sacrifice accuracy for happiness? Correlations don’t necessarily indicate cause. Perhaps accurate self-appraisals only cause depression when coupled with an unrealistic expectation of perfection.
Some findings suggest that an accurate take on reality actually may cause some depression. In psychology this is referred to as depressive realism. Perhaps, we need structure to self-appraisals that balances weaknesses with strengths. We have plenty of both. SWOT analysis is a good model for these types of self-analysis.
Acceptance of Imperfection
If human imperfection is unacceptable, and we only settle for more, accurately perceiving our feeble mind and failing self-discipline will certainly depress. Achieving ideals of perfection is impossible. We either must rely on deceptive assessments or crippling discouragement, leaving us feeling helpless, and depressed.
A fragile self is wounded by harsh self-criticism; the damning shame motivates social withdrawal, and paralyzing fear. Self-criticism, social withdrawal and missed opportunities further incapacitates efforts to improve, inviting discouragement, depression and helplessness. This trifecta of demons strangles development and diminishes the resources essential for growth.
Running around deprecating on our selves hurts, even when done with a splash of humor. The humor just dismisses the seriousness of these harmful practices. We can be modest without self deprecation.
Self-deprecation is the nasty habit of self judgement through belittling, insulting, denying oneself healthy recognition for accomplishments.
Research has shown that self-deprecation is harmful to mental health. One resent paper states, “self-deprecation is associated with depressive symptoms, and could be one of the behaviors exhibited by subjects suffering from this psychopathology” (Silva, et. al., 2020).
Self-deprecating thoughts can be linked to the first of Aaron T. Beck’s cognitive triad of depression—a negative view of self. Beck wrote that that the first component of the triad “revolves around the patient’s negative view of himself.” He further describes this view as the patient sees themselves as “defective, inadequate, diseased, or deprived.” The patient, Beck continues, “tends to attribute unpleasant experiences to a psychological, moral, or physical defect in himself” (Beck, 1987, p. 11).
Self deprecating is not the only way to avoid hurtful self aggrandizing. Faulty and puffed views of self, seeking self-confidence from belittling others, also obscures personal weaknesses and hampers growth. The narcissist destroys relationships, squanders employment opportunities and poisons futures. The occasional flashes of reality are blinding and quickly denied.
We can give ourselves unconditional positive regard. Understanding the imperfect nature of our existence, our proneness to struggle, but forgive ourselves as we claw our way to self improvement.
Self-deprecating is the opposite of unconditional positive regard—malignant self-regard.
Malignant self-regard is considered by many a personality construct. “the characteristics composing malignant self-regard are exacerbated perfectionism and self-criticism, a high need for approval and recognition, constant feelings of guilt and shame, feeling inadequate, a tendency to develop depressive conditions, difficulties in maintaining self-esteem, sensitivity to criticism, and inability to control anger and frustration” (Silva, et. al., 2020).
Healthy Personal Assessments
Neither a self deprecator or aggrandizer be.
Our self evaluation doesn’t have to be one or the other. We probably incorporate small portions of each. We must be mindful of the dangers of each and self correct often.
When making personal assessments, both positive and negative comparative judgments limit growth. We are uniquely us. Gleaming insights from others is essential but must be done without deprecating our own worth. We can inquisitively muse, “she is fantastic at that, I wonder if I can adopt some of her social skills.” And then integrate what we learn.
Becoming mindful of harmful comparative judgments, opens us to a better path free from paradoxical choice between self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing.
Mindfulness of judgements requires a slowing down our racing mind, intervening on the intense reactiveness to feel, experience and notice.
Too many thoughts, words and behaviors flow under the bridge of recognition. They bombard our psyches but we overlook their presence.
See Mindfulness: Comforting Unpleasant Emotions for more on this topic
We can choose a compassionate approach, allowing for imperfections without harsh condemnation or poisoning denial. We can be human. Accordingly, we express compassion with kindness for our occasional missteps and lapses. The periodic errors shouldn’t deal a devastating blow to self-worth. We can acknowledge weakness and work towards correction. We error not because we are bad but because we are human.
From compassionate strength, grounded in reality, growth begins. We shed the judgmental self deprecations. We shun the deceptive self aggrandizing promotions and embrace our reality with courage. Our increased tolerance of shortcomings tames the critical judgments and encourages curious explorations into the self and world. From our new strength, We begin an upward cycle of growth, each step soothing our souls, satisfying our needs and materializing our hopes.
Beck, Aaron T. (1987). Cognitive Therapy of Depression (The Guilford Clinical Psychology and Psychopathology Series). The Guilford Press; 1st edition.
Silva Santos, I., Pimentel, C., Evangelista Mariano, T., & , (2022). Self-deprecation: Searching for a Measure. Psicogente.