Effects of self-deprecating humour on your mental health

No laughing matter.

14 March, 2024
Effects of self-deprecating humour on your mental health

Having a great sense of humour and being the life of the party, making everyone laugh with your witty jokes and comedic timing, is all good. But when you resort to self-deprecating humour that sees you downplay, belittle, and insult yourself or your achievements, it’s not really that funny anymore. The act of self-deprecating humour may be (occasionally) associated with humility, where it has a positive effect on your mental health, but there is a good chance it also affects your mental health negatively due to the self-sabotage that is taking place. 

So how do you work it out? The answer is moderation.  

Why do we do it? 

When interacting with others, people want to avoid coming across as all-knowing, vain, and conceited. And in doing so, they end up underplaying themselves to appear more modest, which makes others see them as less of a threat. Now a reserved individual may use self-deprecation to protect themselves to avoid social disapproval. A confident, influential person, on the other hand, could use this kind of humour to appear more down-to-earth and garner support from others. 

Common indicators

One of the most common signs of self-deprecating humour is when someone is incapable of taking a compliment. Picture this: someone compliments your outfit and rather than thanking them, you feel the need to respond with something derogatory like how old the outfit is or how it was a last-minute choice, etc. You often feel an almost instinctual need to downplay yourself with negative self-talk or make light of your misfortune with self-deprecating humour. 

The pros

To begin with, self-deprecation is a coping mechanism. Humour, in general, is a very good way to deal with stress and anxiety. Making light of our imperfections and cracking a joke on our shortcomings acts as an antidote thereby reducing tension and allowing you to cope with the situation better. Secondly, it’s a good way for you to connect with people by showing your humble and vulnerable side. You humanise yourself and foster a sense of camaraderie by sharing failure and embarrassment that people can relate to.

The cons 

Imagine telling your friend or colleague that they aren’t good or smart enough in front of a crowd (your colleagues, friends, etc). That’s certainly damaging to their mental health, isn’t it? So why do you think it’s okay to do the same to yourself? While it may seem like you’re getting a few laughs and appear down-to-earth, this way of undermining yourself, putting others above you, and most importantly not talking about your accomplishments, can have a host of negative consequences including anxiety and depression.

Our mind works on reinforcement and latches on to what is repeated. Constantly making jokes at your own expense reinforces a negative self-image where you’re telling yourself you’re not good enough. And doing so makes it difficult to be excited and optimistic about the new things in your life. If this is your go-to humour, then it’s a fundamental problem and a red flag. You may need to do some self-reflection to understand why you behave this way. 

People could also think that you’re telling the truth and perceive you as weak or someone whose not serious, and might not talk to you about things that matter. It’s an even bigger problem when the only thing you can joke about is yourself. If you’re engaging in such behaviour, you have to understand what you’re doing and find out why you can’t find anything else to be funny. 

Finding the right balance

Too much of a good thing is always bad, which is why you need to find the sweet spot between the humility that you desire and the self-confidence you deserve, which is crucial in your interactions with others and yourself. 

You can start by accepting compliments, especially when you deserve it. Take baby steps towards positive change—a simple ‘thank you’ will do the trick. The next necessary step is you putting yourself in a mind space where you allow yourself to get used to praise, and even flattery in some instances. With self-deprecation being an instinct, work towards breaking patterns that see you constantly put yourself down by thinking and speaking more positively about yourself. 

Inputs by Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai and Sherene Aftab, psychologist & founder Serene Hour Counselling and Career Advice Consultancy

Also read: 70 funny jokes to have up your sleeve