Let’s get over self-deprecation

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

It’s no secret that I hate self-deprecation.

I do. I really really do. Which is weird, because I’m guilty of it myself. Everybody is, actually. Because it’s so easy, isn’t it? To walk into a test saying “I’m going to fail” — at least then, you won’t seem arrogant. To look at yourself in the mirror and say “I look terrible today” — at least then, you won’t seem vain. Criticizing ourselves is like heroin — it feels right at the time, but in the end, it’s only going to hurt us.

One of my favorite book series of all times is the Sherlock Holmes novels. I remember reading this one line when I was twelve or thirteen: “‘I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician, all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.’” I liked that line a lot, even if I didn’t know why at the time. Now, I think it’s because Holmes said exactly what I had been internalizing for years. I shouldn’t have to put myself down all of the time – not if I know I don’t deserve it. So I decided to try and live by that mantra – to try to neither overestimate nor underestimate myself. To just see me.

That lasted maybe a month.

It’s hard to be nice to yourself. It is. For one, there are the external pressures. It feels weird to say you think you did okay on a test when all of your friends around you are complaining about how they definitely failed it. It’s much easier to join in the choir – to say that you didn’t study enough, that no, you didn’t know the answer to number 23 either, that you’ll be lucky to get a C. And there are billions of people in the world to compare yourself to. Millions of people prettier than you, hundreds of thousands who have better test scores. 

And then, internally. Everybody has a little voice in their head that’s always telling them they’re not good enough. For some people, it’s a whisper, lost in the wind. For others, it’s a scream, drowning out everything else. I was just terrified that other people would hear my little voice too. It was easier to guess ahead of time what it was going to say – control the narrative, almost. If I say I’m a bad dancer before my friends come to see me perform, then at least I can’t disappoint them. And if I think it, then I can’t disappoint myself. 

So, for a while, I played along. I did what I was supposed to. If someone said my makeup looked good, I’d say “Oh thanks, but it looks terrible today.” If someone else was talking about how badly they were doing in a class, instead of building them up, I’d tear myself down: “Oh, you’re not doing half as bad as I am! It’s a miracle I got an A on that test last week.” At first, I felt kind of dirty saying bad things about myself. But soon it became automatic, easy. I started saying those things even when no one was around, just to myself. And I started to believe them.

That’s when I knew it had to stop.

I think there’s a big difference between modesty and humility. Modesty is the father of self-deprecation – it’s about not thinking too much of yourself, not overvaluing yourself. The word always makes me think of the 18th century when women had to be ‘modest’ or suffer the consequences. Humility is about not feeling the need to constantly show off your good qualities to others (Sherlock could have done with a little humility himself). But personally, I wish that people would err on the side of not being humble enough. The worst thing that can happen if you’re too cocky is that you’ll be annoying; the worst thing that can happen if you’re not cocky enough is that you learn to hate yourself.

Technically, these words are synonyms — but that’s just how I conceptualize my thoughts. But I guess that what I’m trying to say is, don’t think that by putting yourself down, you’re doing the right thing. You’re just hurting yourself. So let yourself know when you’re doing something good. Me? If someone asks how I did on a test, I’ll tell them – good or bad. If I think I did my eyeliner well this morning, I’m giving myself a pat on the back. I’m doing my best to make Sherlock proud – to give myself credit when credit is due, and to own my mistakes. 

In a world where it’s expected to speak poorly of ourselves, we have to be our own cheerleaders. So grab your pom poms, because the game is about to start.