I Texted You: Is Self-Deprecation Holding Us Back?

Leandra (blue bubbles) and Amelia (gray bubbles) text about howย self-deprecation affects our confidence


*We text in real time, so kindly ignore the autocorrections and typos. Our thumbs are wild animals. They cannot and will not be tamed.


Illustration by Maria Sainte, follow her @saintemaria.


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  • A Girl

    I too have been thinking a lot about where self-deprecation stops being funny and starts being…counter-productive. I will say you both are skilled writers and deprecate yourselves (?) gracefully and humorously in your writing. For me, I realize it’s my default reaction when my boss tries to give me a compliment or praise for a job well done–I think because I am somewhat apathetic at my job/don’t see the work I’m doing as super relevant to my long term ASPIRATIONS. Not cute to do in front of your boss, though. I’ve decided for me it is a matter of knowing your audience/being mature enough to recognize when you just gotta suck it up and say a dang “thank u! !!”

  • I have found a good way to accept a compliment is to say something along the lines of “wow, that is so nice of you to say” or “thank you so much that means a lot” or my new fav “that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!” I think it gives the complimenter a boost of joy that they made someone’s day and that their compliment is taken seriously. It gives their words more weight than just dismissing them and saying “omg no you’re crazy let me list reasons why you’re wrong by calling me awesome” In general, my humor is fairly self deprecating, and I do think it is a defense mechanism of sorts but when it comes to compliments or praise, I think accepting it for what it is (a buncha nice words) is best for yourself and the person complimenting you. It’s like receiving a gift and then sending a really nice thank you note.

    • I like your suggestions because they bring it back to the complimenter. I find self-deprecation a bit self-centered

  • I use self-deprecation mostly because of two reasons 1) oh they’re complimenting me because they haven’t noticed all the flaws yet–let me point them out before they point them out to me 2) they’re just being nice they don’t really mean it they’re just trying to flatter me

    But then. I realized when I’m the giver of compliments and I get a long-winded explanation back it 1) takes the wind out of the sails of my compliment and I’m like well “ex-queeze me for trying to say something nice” (I kid but not really) or 2) I just see an insecure person unable to take a compliment.

    So I try to just say thank you. Most people aren’t Regina George. And even if they are, that’s not my problem. It’s not my problem to figure out the motives of people’s compliments (Unless I’m Obama and they’re Putin–but even then…I’ll keep those thoughts to myself).

    If I feel like I got a compliment I really don’t deserve though, I’ll say thank you with a laugh or “Thanks… I’m trying my best lol”

    • MT

      I feel this pretty hard.

  • Would love to add a thought or two … but I have just finished my today’s round of pushups (46) and cannot type right now cause my arms are suing me … killing me.

    OK, I’ll try …. What is life but pain, anyway? ๐Ÿ˜€

    It is true one can be self-deprecating and confident at the same time. There is a state of mind where you don’t acutely assign everything that’s happening to you, yourself and …yours. So you can joke about yourself as you would about anyone else – without insulting anyone, which is a great plus. And when you know things happen for reasons outside yourself, accepting compliments gets easier, too: People often pay compliments because something or someone gives them a great pleasure, so they are actually just reacting to their own well-being, extending it to you as the deserving party. No need to start doubting eveything you’ve achieved that very moment, often, noone wants to tell you they like every single fact of your work or your existence: They may simply like the feeling you were/are able to evoke in them. Nothing wrong with that.
    Like: It makes me very happy to see there are people out there who are seriously funny (you know who you are!) because it is a nice feeling to belong to a group of people with similar … preferences (my group membership stemming from the simple love for good jokes and laughter). So if you get a compliment from me, it was because I thought you deserved it and also because I enjoyed my life more in your “presence”. Surely there’s no need to be nervous when a part of my compliment has to do with myself and is not really concerned with the facts of your existence/work/etc.?
    And while it seems I am talking only about myself, I am actually not: If you turn around every compliment you get, you’ll see it typically has to do a lot with the person pushing it your way, with the overall situation and so on. It should of course include you, too ๐Ÿ™‚ but people paying compliments are certainly no gods who see you haven’t swept under your bed for months (you know who you are!)

    aaaaa …. now let me finally get killed by my old arms. Darn pushup enthusiasm (loving it, thank you Josie ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Ellie

    One seemingly benign language choice in this text conversation that really struck me was when Leandra said, “One quality I really admire in other women is confidence. That no bullshit, this is who I am mentality. I want to emulate it and believe I’m capable of it but in thinking through becoming that person I’ve had to think a little bit about where to, I guess, trim the fat.” Specifically within that, “trim the fat.” Maybe I’m over-ascribing the power of language here, but that casually chosen metaphor conflates “trimming fat” with necessary to being a woman who is confident, no bullshit, really okay with who she is. I feel like it really exposes how embodied “success” or aspiration is for women; and how deeper anxieties and issues continue to get worked out and “solved” on a more surface-level platform of the body. I remember when I had an eating disorder in high school, and my journal entries from that time using language like that and “cutting away the excess” to get “to who I really am”. I’m thinking about the conversation about body issues and eating had on Man Repeller recently, and I’m starting to talk too abstractly. But maybe being okay with the fat, and really understanding that it’s a much more complex equation than just subtracting it, would be a better place to start.

    • Ellie

      I know that the image intended was probably just like the culinary process of trimming away the fat of like chicken or steak. But even so, I wonder if my read is still valid?

      • There’s a good novel by Milan Kundera in which he claims something along the lines of … “there are two kinds of women in this world. Those who gather stuff and those who trim stuff.” While I don’t know whether this is true or whether this is true only with women or whether there also exist mixed types … ๐Ÿ™‚ I am not going to forget this possibility any time soon. Like: personally, I can never have enough information or experience, but there are areas where all I do is trim (like with things to be learnt from information, experience, material things … bottom lines). So no, not a strange idea at all, imho. Trimming the fat.

      • Ann

        This is amazing.

  • ReinaG

    I agree with Amelia in her last few messages about how SD is a by product of confidence/comfort. On the other side I think when a person compliments you and you say thank you you’re sort of confirming like “yea I do look good today” or “I am doing a good job thank you for noticing.” I think to accept the compliment you yourself have to believe it (that’s where confidence comes in). For me it is also a little easier to accept these compliments or comments from family or close friends because I don’t doubt their honesty and therefore it takes less confidence (i have more comfort) on my part to appreciate, accept and agree. With someone more distant its like I have to take this step back and think “Do i look good? Is that piece of work actually one of my best? Is this person just being polite? What’s the ulterior motive?” It’s much easier to say Oh no way! unless I already felt really good about the subject ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I myself don’t self depreciate too much but I definitely don’t say thank you enough. I don’t think we are really taught to pat our selves on the back anymore.

  • Living Paula Blog

    Some interesting thoughts here!


  • When they give me a compliment, like, what a nice skirt, I’d answer, “Oh thanks, it’s from Zara”… like, it’s very affordable, but if it’s an expensive item, I normally don’t say it, just if the person to whom I’m talking to wears brands all the time.

    Why?… A big question in my live.

    & if you want to know what are brands like Dior or Calvin Klein doing to get GenerationZ’s attention, don’t miss my latest post! (Also if you are curious about what is GenerationZ)


    Bests!! Marรญa.

  • MT

    I’m wading in a weird gulf with regard to self deprication lately: I have come to realize that I need to stop rebuffing compliments, but self deprication is my natural impulse for one of the reasons mentioned here: I want to point out flaws in what’s being complimented a jokey way before other people notice them. So I’m trying really hard to teach myself to just say thank you and not qualify it, but I almost ALWAYS say something self depricating first, and then have to follow up with, “Oh and also thank you that was a kind thing to say.”

    I’ve gotten really good at following my jokey thing with a genuine response. I just need to teach myself to give the geniune response FIRST.

    • So… I found compartmentalizing my self deprecation to be really helpful, but only because I decided on the compartments when I was in a happy, confident place, and because I decided on areas to sort of combat the most common back-handed-y compliments, truly embrace compliments on stuff I find important, and have a little more fun with the more superficial compliments.

      “You’re so thin, you must eat like a bird!”… Hey! Well. No. I eat chocolate every day. But then I also ride a bike to work. It’s all about the routine, l-o-l. Level of self deprecation: 3/10.

      “I love x design you did at work.”… Thank you! I really enjoyed working on it. There’s this really cool article I’d found that inspired me about xyz. I’ll send it to you! 0/10.

      “You can wear anything you want. A burlap sack would look good on
      you”… And that’s just one of the many benefits of having the body
      frame of a twelve year old boy! Did you know EVERYTHING is cheaper in the little boy’s section at TJ Maxx? 8/10.


  • Alarive

    Just saying Thank You isn’t as easy as it seems, when you’re not used to it. I’ve started being more conscious of this in a similar situation, and that’s when someone apologises or gives me an excuse. To every “Sorry I was late, the previous meeting ran overtime” I reply with “Thank you.” I used to say, “no problem”, “no worries”, “that’s okay” which basically means I’m belittling the value of my time. Replying with thank you becomes so powerful in that moment, because it’s acknowledging it while moving on at the same time.
    This might be more a tendency to people-please, which doesn’t relate to your content, but I found it interesting how difficult two simple words become. If I were to give you a compliment on MR, it would be for what it was it was and what it is right now. The absolute present, with a dash of the past. I have no idea where you are going to take it or plan to go or even are capable of going, so for you to use that as a defense for not accepting my compliment is not just detrimental to your work so far, but also to your ambitious self.

  • Hannah Cole

    I don't know why, but don't think it is something I could even stop if I tried. Maybe it would make me a little more carefree and positive and less highly strung, but then again, who knows…….

  • Mariana

    For me, unfortunately, self-deprecation is associated with low of self esteem. One time I met a guy, a nice one, I was attracted to him and we were kind of flirting (I say KIND OF because I was trying but KIND OF falling lol) telling me that I didn’t know how to receive a compliment. Basically my response to “You are interesting” or “Cute” or “I like you.” (whatever he said) was like “I am not”, “You are wrong”, “You are just saying that to be nice” something like that – I basically rejected the compliment. After he told me that I understood that was true, I don’t know very well how to respond to compliments and even at work, with my friends, I tend to respond in a weird-i-don’t-buy-that-shit-you-are-telling-me way. But in terms of criticism or people being unfair to me, I always have an assertive response. It is a work in progress thing ๐Ÿ™‚ and that guy made me think about that.

    • Mariana

      *…I was attracted to him and we were kind of flirting (I say KIND OF because I was trying but KIND OF falling lol) and he told that I didn’t know how to receive a compliment*

  • Elizabeth von E

    In the sphere of being unable to take a compliment, those who self deprecate are naturally self-reflective/navel gazers. Speaking as one. There is a comment here that self deprecation is self-centred and I think there is a grain of truth to that. People who self reflect are generally self-critical and can be blinded/too wound up in this facet of themselves. Get out of your head more. Its nice out ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anna

    I remember the first time I accepted a compliment with a simple thank you. Four other things popped into my head to say first and I consciously thought, I’m not going to say that or that or that or that. So there was a long pause before I said thank you.
    It’s easy now. It comes with practice. It’s actually a lot straighter. If you didn’t think your writing was any good at all you wouldn’t publish it. Somewhere in there you like it. Why pretend? Self-deprecating might be likable, I don’t know, but straightness is adorable!

  • Girl

    I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with self-deprecation. But I do understand why it may be holding women back – but it would only be because most people in this world aren’t as self-aware or open to that kind of humor and unfortunately those are the types of people who are often in positions of power. self deprecation would also be unhealthy if it was a symptom of low self esteem. i used to be overly self-deprecating and it was very much intertwined with how horrible I felt about myself & how self-conscious I was. I’ve learned to sort of turn it around — see it as a strength rather than a weakness. For example, I like to think of my proclivity towards self deprecation as a self-development catalyst. It’s acknowledging that you’re a work in progress — all humans are — you don’t deserve excessive praise not because you’re unworthy, but because you’re human and still growing and still have so much to do and improve. Of course you shouldn’t take it too far — know when you need to pat yourself on the back. Anyway, tbh, I think people in general need MORE self-deprecation. I’d rather be self-conscious once in a while, than an entitled asshole a la donald trump.

  • It DOES work. Since I read about how most women have a tendency to communicate in a self-deprecating way (a long time ago), I have focused hard on not doing it in every single email, text, conversation etc. – and not just work emails, but all around communication with friends and family as well – It has definitely made me more confident in standing by my opinion. And with compliments I have a habit of following the “thank you” with a story about whatever was complimented.. and I try not to care whether the person is interested in that story.

    However in terms of the use of it in the creative writing here on MR, I find it is mostly humorous, but would be interesting to see what would happen with a no-self-deprecation-month-experiment!

    BTW you can get a plugin for gmail that can help you be more assertive: http://www.psfk.com/2016/02/new-gmail-plug-in-highlights-wordsphrases-that-undermine-your-message.html

    Go go go!

  • Peter


    I can’t believe no one posted this yet

    • Mariana

      ahahah so funny!

  • love this!! as a teenage girl this is one of the most directly relatable things i have read. i can’t remember the last time i properly accepted a compliment ha // messystreet.com

  • Anja

    It is not entirely on point, but the discussion reminded me of a bit in Huxley’s “After Many a Summer” about self-ridicule – he talks about fat people, but can be applied to whichever insecurity, and says “That jolly manner they sometimes have, and the jokes they make at their own expense – it’s just a case of alibis and prophylactics. They vaccinate themselves with their own ridicule so that they shan’t react too violently to other people’s.”

  • BK

    I think the appearance-related form of self deprecation is particularly interesting. If I’ve put effort into my looks, I know I look good before stepping out the door. But then, during the course of the day somebody says “hey you look cool today” and I’m all “reaaaalllly? I just threw this on, it’s so whatever. I don’t know”, not because I think it’s true, but because it’s often the sort of stock answer that I always blurt out. It’s almost reflex. My new trick is to try to catch myself before I start yammering and just say “thanks”. It doesn’t get to the bottom of why exactly I’ve started the reflex in the beginning but it’s a strategy to short-circuit it.

    Also – and this may incite a riot – I don’t agree that paying a compliment back is necessary. In fact I feel it’s gratuitous, or can even undermine the meaning of the initial gesture. If you want to pay somebody a compliment, it should be because you genuinely think there’s something about them or their actions that is worthy of praise and you want to make them aware of it, if they aren’t aware already. It shouldn’t be a social obligation. After all it is an act of giving (“giving a compliment”) and true giving is based on kindness (nb NOT niceness), and expects nothing in return.

  • Jessica H

    Working in Advertising I learned a few things about this subject:
    – Having your spokesperson be self-deprecating makes them relatable, and likable as opposed to someone who never recognizes their faults and shortcomings. It’s a way of appearing more human and imperfect.
    – Self-deprecation is a cheap way of getting a laugh and/or breaking up an awkward situation.

  • 808kate

    I read this this morning, and now I’ve been thinking about it all day. I think self-deprecation can be charming used sparingly and around acquaintances (like when someone you might be intimidated by, or someone you just met says something self-deprecating and it humanizes them; you end up feeling more comfortable). But when we just absolutely cannot take a compliment without equivocating it’s very tiring to those around us. I naturally want to do this but am practicing just saying “thanks” or “That’s nice of you to say.” And then we move on to the next thing, and everything is fine! I’ve grown the most in my life when I started learning to be earnest and vulnerable, trying not to fret about whether everyone everywhere likes me, and avoiding being self-deprecating in response to compliments is a part of that.

  • Pamela

    This is so true. I always feel weird accepting compliments and always try to take away the attention. Now I’m trying to say thank you and accept it.

  • I’m slightly going off on a tangent here – but Leandra’s comment about saying “sorry” and “just” struck a chord (in a different context). For work emails, I’ve found myself having to resist writing lines like “sorry to bother you again, but I was just wondering…”. It’s only when I’ve seen other people write like that, that it made me really think about it. It gives the impression that the person is unsure instead of sounding confident and assertive. Another example “I think that’s the answer” instead of “The answer is X”.

  • han

    i made a conscious effort to just say thank you to compliments a little while back, and i have found in some circumstances that the complimenter is taken aback by a non self deprecating response. It is almost expected, as a woman that you point out your own flaws or moderate the compliment. I still fall into old habits of being self deprecating and not allowing my skills or achievements the light they deserve but i have more confidence in myself and my abilities now than i ever have before. I try to keep a level head and be realistic, but sometimes, i know i have done a good job/have a good skill and i feel that i have the right to express that when it’s a relevant part of a conversation. It doesn’t always get received well. I have been told that it sounds like bragging. And maybe it is, but i think there is an acceptable level of bragging that should be ok, when what you are saying is true, and i think that for men this level is much higher than it is for women. Maybe this is why there are way more men in higher positions in companies than women, because they are allowed more scope to tell others how good they are.

  • Mama A

    OMG – I have been trying to get my teenage daughters to stop with the self – deprecation! And btw, sweet ladies – it is not a millennial thing – it is a 40+ thing too! Sometimes it feels like a security blanket. Let me hide behind something “funny” because who has the guts to just say something positive or accept something positive. That being said it is not always a bad thing. It can be funny at times – unfortunately too often it becomes a bad habit. A way for us to avoid compliments or admit that we are actually great.