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Self-Deprecating Humor as a Coping Mechanism

“I hate myself lol”

“I failed this test, so I might as well go jump off a bridge!”

“Someone please put me in the trash can, where I belong.”

These are all examples of self-deprecating humor, which is a method of belittling oneself with humor. In recent years, self-deprecating humor has become prevalent in teenage culture, infiltrating memes and everyday conversations. While self-deprecating humor is funny to many, overusing it can have detrimental effects on people’s mental health, as well as their relationships with others.

One way that self-deprecating humor harms mental well-being is by lowering self-esteem. Research indicates that self-talk influences our perception of ourselves and the world. When we disparage ourselves, our brains subconsciously take in what we’re saying as fact, no matter how offhand our comments might be. This in turn affects the way others perceive us. People who consistently talk down on themselves might have more trouble sustaining a healthy relationship with friends and family because they feel unworthy of being loved. Conversely, positive humor is a predictor of greater relationship satisfaction. People who recognize their strengths are more likely to speak positively of themselves. Trading negative jokes for positive self-talk can boost self-esteem, which in turn improves our relationships.

However, before brushing off all self-deprecating humor as simply just being self-esteem related, we must deeply examine why people feel the inclination to bring themselves down. Sometimes, it’s because they have nowhere to turn for help with personal issues that they’re going through. Other times, they are trying to deny their sadness. For example, the self-deprecating humor that late actor and comedian Robin Williams was iconic for masked his internal battle with clinical depression.

That being said though, I’d like to clarify that I am not advocating for the eradication of self-deprecating humor. After all, it is relevant in a variety of situations and certainly can be used as a coping mechanism for people with mental illnesses. It is also not the job of neurotypical people to police others on what they can and can’t say – sweeping the unimaginable challenges mentally disabled people face under the rug is both ableist and unproductive. Rather, self-deprecating humor should be used in moderation and in tandem with other coping mechanisms, such as meditation, support, exercise, art, and writing.

It’s easy to brush harmful sentiments under the rug and laugh at a deprecating joke, but given the stigma that surrounds mental health in our community, we should show more compassion and concern for those who constantly use self-deprecating humor. The next time your friend jokes, “I feel like getting hit by a bus,” you should dig deeper into why they’re feeling that way and encourage them to use positive self-talk. We must prioritize self-love, because the ultimate source of happiness comes from within.

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