The joke's on me: the dangers of self-deprecation.

I have a weird bald patch in one of my eyebrows. Tell me I look nice today and I’ll probably tell you about it.

Compliment me on my jacket and I’ll respond that I got it from the op shop for a fiver and it still bears the faint aroma of someone else’s cats.

I’m lucky to have an hourglass figure, you say? Wait until I regale you with details about how my boobs look like garage sale balloons – on a Wednesday.

Yep, I do like to partake in a bit of self-deprecation. It’s the Aussie way, is it not? It’s part of our humour, and besides, no-one likes a wanker. I’ve got many a flaw, physical and otherwise, and I’d hate for anyone to think I’m too up myself to recognise them. So rather than take a compliment, I’ll beat any would-be critics to the punch with a dose of droll self-disparagement and a swift kick to whatever rickety stilts must surely be propping their expectations up.

It’s just a bit of a jest at my own expense. I imagine it makes me more approachable, and besides, it’s not like a proclivity for casual self-effacement ever hurt anyone.

Except, I’ve realised, it does.

Author, Michaelie Clark.

The first time this awareness struck me was when a good friend of mine made a derogatory comment about her bum, which I think is actually a very good bum, and which I would think is lovely regardless, because it’s part of her. I said something to that effect and then immediately launched into a critical analysis of my own derriere, which I found to be inferior, and therefore, since my friend’s superior bum was causing her angst, decided mine must be on a par with Tony Abbott’s onion eating in terms of ludicrous national shame.

That’s when it hit me. It may seem obvious to anyone operating outside my cerebrum, but until that moment, it hadn’t really occurred to me that my self-deprecation could be having a negative effect on the self-esteem of others.

When I’m waxing lyrical about the blemish on my chin, am I making the person next to me feel self-conscious about their bout of acne? When I complain that I’ve eaten too much risotto and have to lie about for hours until I can do my jeans up again, am I undermining the worth of my curvier companions?

The answer is yes, of course. By holding myself up as a failed example of the cultural ideal, all I’m doing is ratifying the unrealistic standards of femininity I claim to abhor. Worse, it implies that I judge the people around me in this way. I don’t. I genuinely believe all of the people in my life – kind, funny, clever and unique – are beautiful just as they are. So why don’t I trust them to see me in the same light?

Image: iStock.

This forced me to take a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror. While I generally am a fairly confident person, it has become apparent that when doubt does plague me, I fall back on a coping mechanism of self-deprecation that is actually rather self-destructive. And, having come through a decade of depression and anxiety to be happier and more at peace with the world in the last three years than ever before in my adult life, that sort of caper just isn’t going to cut the mustard.

Between a mélange of medication and a desire for nothing but eating and sleeping, my weight fluctuated madly during the years of my depression. I know that I will bear the scars of that time on my body forever. There isn’t much I can do about that, or any of the other things that are ‘wrong’ with me. What I can do, however, is let the emotional wounds heal, instead of constantly picking at them. I can learn some self-acceptance, rather than continuing to abrade myself – and others – with the sharp edge of self-deprecation.

So this is the first step.

As difficult as it is for me, I’m sharing this story in the hope that I will be more accountable to myself for the one flaw that really makes a difference to my sense of self and my state of well-being. I don’t think it will be easy to change, and I know I’ll probably falter along the way, but I’m making a choice – I’m choosing to try to love myself.

No joke.

This post originally appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission. 

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