self-deprecation and other "stupid" thoughts
My friend gazed at me through FaceTime, a kind smile on her face. “I just want to let you know that I just counted you saying the word ‘stupid’ six times when talking about yourself.”


She grinned. “I’m telling you this for your sanctification.” A little church-girl humor there. I thanked her.

I was surprised not that I did it, but maybe how frequently. I know that self-deprecation is part of the stressed version of myself; it’s one of my “tells”. And as I’ve written, my behavior has been more in that vulnerable state lately. Unmoored. Tippy.

I’ve gotten better about not making jokes about my body, at least. (Body issues of mine have a thick and convoluted history; read here and here.) To my sister a few years ago, I shook my head–made a comment about my hulking German shoulders making me look like a linebacker from the back. She countered me, all seriousness: “Would you ever talk that way around your daughter?” Honestly, I wouldn’t. (If you vocalize your body image issues around your kids, don’t miss this brief video–which yes, my sister passed on.) But I had to wonder: Was it a problem to say it openly to a friend?

All of this makes me wonder why I’m more comfortable with self-deprecation than talking about my strengths. Which, healthy as it is, still feels about as natural as swallowing a tennis shoe.

Some of the “Whys”

  1. Ever since high school (where I was literally voted the special award of “most apologetic”), I’d rather beat people to the punch of criticizing me. I thought, if they know that I see my faults, they won’t feel the need to harbor irritation or invoke their own criticism. It’s not as funny to mock a girl who admits her own faults, right? (Yes, this is just as “high school” as it sounds.)
  2. Saying that what I wanted was “stupid” is easier than dealing with dashed hopes.
  3. Dwelling on my own weakness, my lack of worth, is easier than dealing with rejection. Or the idea that I didn’t matter to someone.
  4. When I was younger, it was a form of fishing for a compliment.

Sadly, just like pride, insecurity is still finding my value in my ability to perform; to be accepted. Early in our marriage, my husband explained the two “opposites” of pride and insecurity are the same sin–like some kind of demented barber pole, twisting around and around. And I’ve found it true in me and in others. They’re both finding their value outside of who God made me to be (usually in my performance or others’ approval), and what He did for me.

Hypocrites are quite good at making much of their humility and speaking lowly of themselves and their attainments. Such folk loudly proclaim their lowliness and then expect others to praise them for it! – Jonathan Edwards

Though I’ve come a long way in this, old habits are hard to shake. I get lazy and martyr-ish. Especially when dealing with life’s curveballs.

Self-deprecation, or modesty?

What’s the difference between self-deprecation and, say, modesty? Or vulnerability?

Briefly, it’s an underlying sense of worth. Vulnerability requires an underlying sense of our acceptability; our confidence. Self-deprecation perpetuates a sense of shame.

Dr. Brene Brown writes that shame is all about disconnection. Because of what we’ve done, which shame welds on to who we are, we’re rendered unworthy of being accepted; of connecting. And self-deprecation zeroes in on that. We’re not speaking our weakness out of courage, but out of insecurity.

The Tension

Here’s what I’m lassoing up from God’s Word about all this.

  1. A healthy tension exists between our two Selves: Sinner. Made in the image of God, and saved by God’s totally undeserved favor. Read: WORTHY. That’s the definition of humility to me: Seeing ourselves as God sees us. No greater. No less. 
  2. I need to look at myself with “sober judgment”–telling the truth about myself to me and others. No greater. No less. It won’t always be good stuff I share about me. (That’s healthy vulnerability, and people like David model it.) But telling the truth–i.e. not lying– means conveying my worth in how I communicate my weakness.
  3. But if I wouldn’t talk about someone else that way (Gosh! I’m so stupid), is it truly loving and authentic to speak of myself that way? (Um. If I would talk about someone else that way, maybe I have a whole ‘nother problem.) Am I communicating compassion toward weakness and failure? Is that how I want other women to speak of themselves? My daughter? Or do I want her to be a strong woman who can embrace both her strengths and her weaknesses–where God triumphs?

    But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for may power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults…For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

  4. When other people in the Bible question their abilities–Jeremiah, Gideon, Moses, Esther–I hear God saying (as this blogger puts it), “I chose you.  I made you the way you are.  I have a plan for you.  My strength is made perfect in your weakness.  I will help you. I will make you capable.  I will give you everything you need.  And I forgive you, so how about forgiving yourself?”


For a very long time I considered low self-esteem to be some kind of virtue, I had been warned so often against pride and conceit that I came to consider it a good thing to deprecate myself. But now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me. -Henri Nouwen


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