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5 Powerful Tips to Break the Trap of Self-Deprecation

5 Powerful Tips to Break the Trap of Self-Deprecation

One of my favorite podcast co-hosts frequently jokes about himself. He talks of things he doesn’t do well and how he misses the mark. As a listener, I relate. I laugh. And I move forward as three hosts zoom in on the real focus of conversation, often around tough experiences.

I wonder, “Why is it funny when he says it...but not funny in other instances? Why is it that when someone says negative things about themselves it often weighs the atmosphere down, even if they’re trying to be funny? What’s the difference?”

What sounds self-deprecating may be truth from a healthy place of confidence if it bears healthy fruit, like a sense of relatability and release from shame and pain. The focus isn’t about devaluing self, it’s more about not overinflating self.

However, many times self-deprecation comes from pride covering pain, or a life overwhelmed with hurt.

Self-deprecation often stems from self-protective methods that hide true thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Whether words incite humor or pity, we can easily end up trapped in a world that feels true but isn’t.

When you or I minimize what God values, we miss out on experiencing the fullness of God’s value for his creation.

Are you ready to live in the fullness of who you already are? Here are five powerful tips to break the trap of self-deprecation:

1. Consider Underlying Meanings

What’s underneath what you say has more power than the words themselves. Your internal beliefs and applied meanings alter how words impact you. Consider the possible meanings in this scenario.

“I’m no good at…” For example, basketball.

These words may relay a matter-of-fact statement. Something like, “I don’t often succeed at getting the ball through the net.” This may be an honest utterance simply stating a lack of skill.

When wounds from past experiences tie worth and value to ability, the same phrase may denigrate who you are – based on what you’re not great at. The impact on your soul translates into a message that says, “I am no good. There is nothing good about me.” This type of self-deprecation can trap you in a cycle of believing you’re less than God says you are.

In another possibility, the hidden meaning applied to the same few words may be a false presentation designed to make someone seem humble in unhealthy ways. “I’m no good at…” becomes a declaration of untruth.

The soul believes different than the mouth declares.

A false presentation of saying you’re not good at something that you are actually good at is just as deprecating to the truth of who you are. It tells others you think you’re less than what you know to be true.

By catching your words and considering the meanings you apply, you may notice ways you depreciate your value or the value of others. You may not do so intentionally, but the outcome is damaging.

2. Consider Underlying Motivations

In the examples above, each meaning is rooted in different motivations. One is motivated to reveal truth. It has no ulterior motive. Other meanings have to do with unhealthy self-protection. They are shaped by lies and motivated to hide what’s real and true.

When words shape your identity, rather than letting your true identity (as God sees you) shape the words you use, your motivations become focused on hiding and protecting rather than healthy vulnerability. This may look like shying away from attention or seeking it.

Sometimes shame for who you are gets tied up with your idea of humility and we need to untangle the knot. False humility says you’re not good at something when the truth is you are. When you’re motivated to portray yourself as less than you believe yourself to be, false humility attempts to manage how others see us.

Self-deprecation may also be used to cover pain through humor. These expressions aren’t honest either, and they’re highly damaging to self. When we laugh away our pain, we deny God’s powerful presence to heal and reveal His truth in pain.

To break this damaging cycle of self-devaluation, consider possible motivations to hide, deny real pain, or react out of fear because it’s scary to be who God created you to be.

3. Consider What’s True

In each of the examples above, a key element is truth. Self-deprecation by definition is devaluation. When you devalue what God values, you strip away the truth of your worth and beauty. The truth, every one of us has both good and bad in us. All of us are both incapable and more than conquerors. What’s true often lies in the tension of both and, not either or.

Romans 12:3 says, “'For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.’”

This encourages you to think with clarity and accuracy about who you are. Not more. Not less. What’s true is how God sees each one of us and that none of us are yet living as the person He designed us to be. When you consider what’s true, you consider how much you need God and how much God has given you. Both are true.

If you have a tendency to put yourself down, consider what God says is true about who you are, who He is, and how He works. Also, consider what’s true about tough realities you may face, needs you have, desires unfulfilled, emotions that need safe processing, and expectations that aren’t healthy.

When you bring these before God with honesty and vulnerability, you make space to receive His truth.

4. Consider What’s Yours to Own

We are each responsible for our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, actions, and words. You are the only one who can change unhealthy motivations and meanings that keep you from living with confidence and humility, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

You are the only one who can respond to God’s soul-shaping work. As you notice areas that cause hurt and harm, which includes distancing yourself from reliance on God, you can bring it before the One who brings transformation.

Boundaries are helpful here. You can set boundaries on unhealthy words spoken about yourself, while leaving room to receive God’s truth. This means actively recognizing what’s within your responsibility to care for, including words that damage and a heart carrying pain. Actively catching destructive thoughts and words and speaking what is true instead. Also, actively pursuing healing and growth so your heart is whole.

You are also responsible for using the gifts God gives you. You are responsible for responding to His work, as well as His image, in you. When you own what is your responsibility, not more or less, your words are more likely to be honoring. This may include acknowledging what you’re good at and living out the gifts you’ve been given.

Consider what destructive speech thoughts, feelings, attitudes, actions, and words you need to own. Also consider those that reflect a life sourced by God and walk forward with these gifts.

5. Consider Your Heart

What you believe about who you are and who God is shapes the words you use about yourself. What you say and do are often rooted in what you believe to be true at the deepest level of your heart, not just what you want to believe.

When you speak untrue words that devalue or falsely under-value who you are, your external actions reveal your internal structure. You may say one thing, but the truth in your heart is another. This can stir up anxiety, confusion, and a lack of connection with others, with God, and within ourselves.

Scripture has a lot to say about the power of the tongue and the words we use. For example, “'The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.’” Luke 6:45

Self-deprecating words may reveal what you don’t want to believe, but actually do. Like what you believe about who you are, who God is, and how God can work in your life. These are rooted in heart beliefs, which are often wired in through experiences.

Each of us needs healing. You and I need personal, spiritual, and emotional growth. When uneasiness surfaces after words have been spoken, consider that nudge of awareness an opportunity to move towards health. Consider what God may have to say that brings healing and wholeness to your heart so your words bear fruit and give life.

Getting to the root of why self-deprecating language is used and how it impacts you isn’t easy, but God loves to meet you in the process. If you need help diving into this further, consider Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets which facilitate a process of growth and healing with God.

headshot of author Jolene UnderwoodJolene Underwood is an emotional health warrior, and soul care mentor. She writes from a place of compassion for wounded Christians to encourage and equip them in a life of spiritual growth with emotional health. Her passion for Christian counseling helps others cultivate a life well-lived. Jolene writes regularly at JoleneUnderwood.com. She also leads a community of writers called Rise Up Writers. Her tool, Unleash : Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds experience greater freedom. Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or via the Cultivated Life Newsletter.Grab her FREE Cultivate Connection sheet to engage with God and His word in a new way.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Viktor-Gladkov