Generally, people view modesty as a positive trait. As a result, when we speak about ourselves to others, we usually use language that belittles us in an effort to maintain modesty; we even pass off our self-deprecating remarks as humor.

However, when self-deprecating language enters our inner monologue, serious issues may follow.

“Wow, I’m an idiot. What was I thinking?”

“I contour my jawline out of shame, but I shouldn’t fat shame myself.”

“I looked around and thought, ‘Wow, I’m disgusting.’”

“Maybe I should lose weight, so I have less surface area to shave.”

“For the love of God, go get a salad, girl.”

This week, I wrote down any remotely belittling language or humor in my thoughts or words. The previous examples are only a few of the sentences of which I noted.

Research on the effects of self-deprecating humor is contradictory. Some studies associate self-deprecating humor with negative mental consequences, such as anger suppression and a lower sense of well-being.

Other studies have associated having an occasional laugh at oneself with higher psychological well-being, affecting feelings of happiness and one’s sociability.

Self-deprecating humor serves different purposes.

Many people use self-deprecating humor to make the people around them more comfortable. Others may use it to poke fun at their own insecurities before someone else can point them out. Some, who are confident in who they are, embrace these jokes as a form of accepting their flaws.

The question is: who was I trying to make comfortable? Myself? No one was around me for any of the above to apply; it was all part of my inner monologue.

My self-deprecating humor transformed into negative self-talk.

Negative Self-Talk ≠ Humor

Negative self-talk affects emotions and behavior, according to Amy Morin in a Psychology Today article. Morin is a college psychology instructor, best-selling author, social worker and psychotherapist.

“The conversations you have with yourself often turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Morin said.

The article specifies several steps to reducing a negative inner monologue.

One should recognize negative thoughts when they happen, as I did this week. As a result, it made me more aware of how often I was beating myself up for trivial affairs.

One should find a way to disprove a negative thought. Take one of my examples:

“Wow, I’m an idiot. What was I thinking?”

This was in response to some forgotten, slowly-mildewing laundry in the washing machine. I should have remembered that occasional forgetfulness does not reflect intelligence.

One should reframe their thought into something that makes more sense and is more realistic. When I forgot my laundry, my mind was occupied with more important issues, such as my job, the rising cases of COVID-19 in my city and social injustices in the US. I should have given myself more leeway.

One should also try to replace negative self-talk when they recognize it. Instead, I should have thought, “my mind is on overdrive and I forgot my laundry. It is okay. It was an accident; I can fix it easily.”

Negative self-talk will almost always be present; it is still a huge part of my humor. However, slowly introducing positive self-talk into one’s inner monologue can help balance out dark thoughts.

Self-deprecating language is ingrained in my everyday speech, even after clocking my negative words for days.

“Hey, y’all, might be a dumb question…”

Unintentionally, I sent the above text in a Women’s Republic Intern group chat while writing this article. I prefaced my text with belittling language. The irony did not register until someone told me my question was, in fact, not dumb.

It all starts with recognizing negative thoughts.