Being comfortable with laughing at yourself (your shortcomings and mistakes), is a beneficial trait to have. It communicates to those around you that you don’t take yourself too seriously. As others laugh at your expense, they counter-intuitively grow to like you a little bit more. They see you as imperfect, therefore making their own lives feel just a little bit more perfect than before. It seems like a form of pressure is lifted off their shoulders, whilst they laugh at an imperfection you’ve publicized about yourself. For just an instant, they can let their guard down as you let down yours with self-deprecating jokes.
Self-deprecating humor is thereby a tool many use to seem relatable, and generally more liked by those around them. This article is not about those aspects of self-deprecating humor. What this article aims to shine a light on, are the darker sides of self-deprecating humor which are seldom explored. It hopes to warn you against agreeing with self-deprecating humor of a certain kind, and hopes to colorize a rather grey area of the human psyche.
A Tool to Test the Waters of Opinion
There are times when people use self-deprecating humor to test whether an opinion they hold about themselves rings true with others. As a disguise of an insecurity they have, humor will be an attempt to distract from a sort of pain that drives it. “No, I ate all of them,” they may respond to your question of whether they shared the box of donuts they were carrying down the hall. Or their response to your inquiry about their night out may be: “The bar I was at was nice, I had a good view from the corner of the room.”
Context is key when it comes down to determining whether an insecurity is driving self deprecating jokes that others tell. For instance, in the first example above, the meaning behind a joke about eating all the donuts may change depending on a person’s visible body weight. If the person who tells that joke is sensitive about being overweight, your warm reception of it can be perceived as a confirmation of their negative perception of themselves. Though it may not seem as extensively damaging from the get go, we shouldn’t underestimate the potency of people’s internal dialogue in relation to what they perceive themselves to be.
In the second example used above, a depressive episode may be driving someone’s lack of confidence to interact with others at the bar. Their comment about sitting alone in the corner may be a signal for you to inquire into the state of their mental health. It may be an opening into asking them if everything’s alright, and whether they want to go to the bar together on Friday night, rather than going out alone again. It may also be a test of sorts on their part, of whether others perceive them to be a “loner,” or a “loser,” serving to confirm an idea they have of themselves.
People can use humor to communicate uncomfortable thoughts and insecurities. They may shroud an attempt of asking for help with a self-deprecating joke, or they may be testing whether you perceive them to be the person they perceive themselves to be. If you mindlessly giggle at their joke and exude an essence of agreement with the message it contains, you may send them a dreaded confirmation of something they do not want confirmed.
As an extension of the previous thought, self-deprecating jokes can also be attempts at garnering compliments, not just efforts to subtly test the waters of public opinion. Once you recognize that there may be some painful thoughts driving the self-deprecating humor you hear from others, analyze whether a kind word is warranted from you.
A simple sentence which disputes the underlying notion of a self-deprecating joke can have tremendous effect on a person’s perception of you. Not only would you disagree with the opinions of themselves they’ve attempted to test out, but you would serve to explicitly steer their confidence in the right direction. It’ll enable them to rid themselves of doubt, for even just a few hours, days, or months.
Someone’s attempt to fish for compliments, no matter how obvious it may be, shouldn’t automatically be perceived with negativity. Yes, there are those who just can’t get enough positive feedback, and yearn to garner it on every step. However, there are also those who are genuine in the fragility of their confidence, and the potency of their anxiety. They may be using self-deprecating humor as a resort to jump-start the confidence they have in themselves within the context of that joke.
Be cautious of being too agreeing with people’s self-deprecating humor, and be tuned into the context of their jokes. These attempts at garnering a laugh may very well be subtle hints at things not going right in the minds of the joke’s owners.