What I’ve Learned About Self-Deprecation

I am the first to make fun of myself in any given social situation. Yes, I’m a fundamentally ridiculous person who does things like cry at the Dignity Health / Hello humankindness commercials (think: man returning baby horse to mama horse, divers cutting trash off of whale) every single time I see them. I’ve also worn the same multi-colored duster jacket for the last 10 years, walking around planet Earth like a goddamn Lenny Kravitz impersonator. So, in essence, it’s easy to poke fun at me, and even I fully understand that.

I’ve also found that self-deprecation works WONDERS when making new friends. After relocating to California in my mid-20s with zero friends, zero job, zero plan other than $6,000 in my checking account and a naive belief in myself that I could hack it in the most expensive city in the country (hahahaha), I found that poking fun at the general ridiculousness of my personality and life decisions made other people feel at ease and therefore far more likely to befriend me, either because I was willing to say the things they wish they could admit about themselves OR because they simply found me entertaining.

Either way, making myself the butt of the joke has been a useful tool in building a social life from scratch in a new place. After all, this mentality coincides nicely with my personal ethos that life is a little bit bizarro and we could all do ourselves a favor by taking it (and ourselves) a little bit less seriously.

However, what I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older and transitioned into my 30’s (because yes, I’M IN MY 30s NOW) is that when you make fun of yourself so freely, you open the door for other people to do the same. The self-deprecation becomes just.. deprecation.. and that ribbing, no matter how harmless it may be intended, often feels hurtful.

I’m thinking of that scene in “Mean Girls” where Cady calls Damian “too gay to function” and Janice, his longtime friend, protector, and originator of the phrase, snaps and says, “Hey! Only I can say that!” Well, that’s how it feels when you make fun of yourself regularly: other people interpret that as a green light to poke fun at you too.

My brand of self-deprecation is rooted, obviously, in vulnerability. I am deeply flawed and not only do I know it, but I try and embrace it. However, the way I self-deprecate should not be mistaken as low self-esteem. I know myself, I love myself, I’m actively working through my issues, and I’m therefore comfortable discussing the most embarrassing parts of who I am. And what I secretly suspect is that this willingness to be vulnerable, even if masked in humor, is what attracts other people to me: who doesn’t want a friend that leads by example when paving the way towards a safe zone where both people can be their true, authentic selves — warts and all?

Yet I find that I’ve also attracted different kinds of friends over the years too; ones who thinks that because I openly and regularly acknowledge what a work-in-progress-weirdo I am, that it’s OK to point those things out too. Not lovingly, but critically. Not in reference to themselves, but to ME.

I never want to stop being myself, and part of being “myself” is being open and honest and vulnerable about the things I struggle with. I think it’s a beautiful part of my personality that has allowed me to grow close to a lot of people who now mean the world to me. I also sincerely like being funny and making others laugh.

However, I no longer want to put myself down as tactic for forging new friendships. I now realize that it can attract people who don’t self-deprecate back, but instead pile on in an attempt to deflect away from their own problems. Where’s the line? Well, I reckon it’s when people don’t use humor to relate to you with their own mistakes and shortcomings, but instead point the finger and laugh. And honey, I know NO ONE’S that perfect.

It’s an awesome thing to know oneself and love oneself and acknowledge that oneself is a complicated, hot-ass mess. It’s not an awesome thing to make yourself the butt of every joke so that Joe, Mike, Becky, and all their friends think it’s OK to make you the butt of all their jokes, too.

I guess I’m realizing that at 32, I’m not cool with anyone making fun of me but me. And also sometimes my fiancé, because man does that guy put up with a lot. And also my lifelong best friend, who has (somehow) endured DECADES of my crazy ass. But that’s it.

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