My Family, My Friends

One year at my family reunion, my cousin was upset with herself for having forgotten to bring something (a food item, I believe). She began berating herself out loud in a most unforgiving way. “I should have known better. Why didn’t I double check? I’m always forgetting something. Leave it to me. Mom told me not to forget it. Now everyone’s going to be disappointed, and it’s all my fault. I can’t do anything right…” My Great Uncle Shannon, who was quite elderly and frail at the time, had been quietly sitting in the living room, observing. Finally, when he had heard enough, he said to my cousin so sweetly, “Hey, that’s my friend you’re talking to.”

My cousin took my Uncle Shannon’s words to heart and ceased her self-deprecating litany at once. After all, who would dare be unkind to anyone my dear Uncle held in high esteem, even if it was oneself? Dictionary.com defines self-deprecating as belittling or undervaluing oneself; excessively modest. Wikipedia says it can be used as humor or to release tension. Perhaps it is a sort of coping mechanism. Unfortunately, it seems to fall into the category of excessive worrying. Self-deprecation is the internalized critical parent made manifest. I say it should be abandoned like a bad habit.

So, why do we continue to do it? Lots of reasons:

  1. To get a laugh
  2. To beat our critics to it
  3. To prevent something worse from happening
  4. To prove our modesty
  5. To continue what we learned  in childhood
  6. To deflect anxiety
  7. All of the above

NONE of these are good reasons. We all make mistakes, big and little. Sometimes we’re foolish, arrogant, selfish, rude, thoughtless, careless, ruthless, insincere, ignorant, clumsy, reckless and feckless. We all fall short now and then, but not always. When we seize on every opportunity to enumerate the breadth and depth of our unworthiness, we are digging an emotional trench that grows more and more difficult to crawl out of with each word. Negative self-talk is like a virus that makes us sicker and sicker. It poisons our minds against us so powerfully that we develop a negative filter that screens out all of our abilities and possibilities over time.

When I think of my Great Uncle Shannon calling my cousin his friend that day at the reunion, I am reminded of a quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” If you feel you need the help of a therapist to see yourself “rightly” after years of self-deprecation, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando at 407-443-8862. Schedule your appointment today. Our highly trained Licensed Mental Health Counselors are here to assist you.


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