January 10, 2011

A Note to Myself and Others Like Me

Here is the problem with self-deprecation: it sets the bar. It shows other people where we draw the line.

When we say, "Oh my god, please excuse the house, it's a MESS!," we might mean to be saying, "Please don't think less of me because my house is messy, I'm sure your house is WAY BETTER," but what we're inadvertently saying is, "This is what I consider unacceptable. If your house is better than this, it might or might not be fine; if it is the same or worse, it is unacceptable or beyond unacceptable, and now you know what I think of it."

When we say, "Oh my god, I am so fat, I am so out of shape!," we might mean to be saying, "Please don't think less of me because of how I look," but what we're inadvertently saying is, "This is what I consider unacceptable. If you are thinner than me or more in shape than me, you might or might not be okay. If you are comparably as fat/unfit, or MORE fat/unfit, you are unacceptable too, and now you know what I think of you."

When we say ANYTHING that judges ourselves, we're telling someone else how we judge. Even if we only judge OURSELVES that harshly, and actually look at other people through a much softer lens.

(I feel like I need to offer a benediction after that, and perhaps communion. JUDGE NOT, LEST YOU INADVERTENTLY JUDGE OTHERS. GO IN PEACE. And have one bite of bread and one sip of wine on your way out.) (Also, I will forget this in 10 minutes and resume attempting to tell people they are better than me, while inadvertently telling them otherwise.)

42 comments:

Bunnyslippers said...

Amen.

(my verification is buttgene ... Heh.)

Laura said...

I just love the way you think.

Karen L said...

Well put. I got into a frindship-ending argument in high school with a very slender girl, whose "I'm SOOO fat comments" had ticked me off for the last time.

Deanna said...

True, so very true!

And also, Amen!

St said...

Will you be my BFF?

Brenna said...

Very well said.

Amanda said...

Great timing! I read your post and then picked up Alexa Stevenson's Half-Baked to finish reading. The page I started on included her making this exact same point/commentary, though using different examples. I loved the timing of where I am in her book coupled with your post.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

Yes. Very true. And well said.

bluedaisy said...

You know, I don't think I've ever thought of things that way! Although I am trying to avoid CONSTANTLY apologizing for things that friends don't really care about anyway-if they did, they probably wouldn't be my friend, right? This is good stuff and I missed mass on Sunday so I needed this ;)

Christina said...

Such a good point!

I had an awkward conversation with a VERY good family friend a few months ago. She was expressing absolute disgust over a routine, normal way of doing something. (So much so, that thousands of things are sold in everyday stores like Target to help aid in this way of doing a chore) It's the way I do the chore, so it was kind of weird. She was saying all ppl that do the chore this way is gross, blah blah.

I've felt kind of inadequate since then. Like - does she think I'm gross and unclean?! And if it's gross why does pretty much everybody I know do it that way?!

Jess said...

I once had a friend (please note: had) that would gripe about things her husband did, ie NOT WASH the butter knife after making a pb&j and other silly things that I did all the time. It got so I felt like she was putting me down too. When that friendship ended it was such a relief!

d e v a n said...

My least favorite is when people say, "I'm so fat! i am a cow!" etc, etc, when they're about 50 lbs lighter than me. I stand there actually feeling like a cow. It's one thing to want to lose weight, but it's another to call yourself a cow and look over at your friend, usually in a restaurant setting no doubt, and say you're so fat while they are eating a cheeseburger.

Jenny said...

I used to be self-deprecating in a way to beat others to the punch. If I say it first, and fake laugh about it, then they can't really judge me because I already have and so forth. I had a very dear friend who had a problem with me, for the very things you mentioned so I started being much more thoughtful about the things I would say. Years later, I read the Julia Childs autobiography and she mentions a time when she was cooking for a friend and the meal turned out horrible, but she never apologized for it or made some self-deprecating remark, she said she never apologized for her food whether it was delicious or horrible. I really liked that and started realizing how I never liked how anyone else always said "Oh sorry my house is so HORRIBLE!" or "I look like hell today!"

Caitlin said...

This reminds me of a friend/acquaintance who will frequently, at the end of a large meal we all share and enjoy together, raise her hand and say "Okay, I'm so full! Whose belly is fat and hanging over their pants? Whose?" with her hand raised and looking around like she wants people to raise their hand and participate. ...!!!!!

Of course, she is the smallest one in the group, and never shuts up about working out.

This happened all the time until finally had enough and said Hey! My belly hangs over my pants ALL THE TIME, so it still is, just like before I started eating! So let's not ask that question any more!
(Or something to that effect.)

She has toned it down, but still makes comments about how big her belly is after a meal. I just remind myself that it really is her own insecurity, and ignore it. Still, NOT CHARMING.

Nik-Nak said...

So my good friend always says "My house is a mess!! I hate it!! Please, don't even pay attention" Now I wonder what she is REALLY saying...and what it means about me??

jive turkey said...

I cannot be around those "I'm so fat/I hate my house/I hate my clothes/I'm so poor I can't do ANYTHING" people for more than 5 minutes before I want to push their head through a wall. Srsly.

I've tried to eliminate the self-deprecation stuff out of my vocabulary so the shorty doesn't hear me & pick it up, but I'm realizing there's a fine line between JOKING in self-deprecating fashion and being sincerely self-deprecating. And the kiddo is too young to tell the difference. Bummer.

Emily said...

This is so true! Also, you inspired me to share the benediction my college chaplain always gave:

May you accept life as a gift, and live life as a way of giving thanks.

Being kind to ourselves is, I think, one of the many ways to do this.

The Curmudgeon said...

Very, very wise.

Marie Green said...

I've realized this before, only to then quickly forget it. It seems like I do this with a lot of life's epiphanies... WHY is this? I have a good memory of events/people, but life lessons? Total lack of retention. Anyway, thanks for the reminder and for wording it in a genius way.

Swistle said...

Nik-Nak- I can almost 100% guarantee that what she means is "Please don't like me less because my house isn't as clean as I feel like it should be!"---and that she just isn't thinking about what it might sound like it implies, and probably hasn't even noticed anyone else's house. I think a few people do self-deprecation pointedly, but almost everyone does it as pure embarrassed self-deprecation.

andreaunplugged said...

Hmm, I've never thought of it this way. Thanks.

Nicole said...

Love this.

anne nahm said...

I had to click through, because this is sage, yo.

CAQuincy said...

Once again, you have NAILED it!

AJ said...

I had a friend who was 3in taller then me and weighed a good 25lbs less then me. Often while hanging out at her house with her, her mom would stop in. I used to get so upset when her mom would tell her (right in front of me) that she was getting too heavy and should start watching what she ate and work out. I told them both I felt judged when they would talk like that in front of me. Neither of them understood that it made me feel like a cow. That if she was fat what did that make me?

brzeski said...

Joining the horde...
Well said, Swistle. And, self-deprecation is so SELF damaging. I have noticed in the last year or so that I have a bad habit of using self-deprecation at work way too much. Like the ritual apology: "I'm sorry, but have you finished this thing that I need from you?" I have not yet found a way to stop it BEFORE it comes out of my mouth. Something I would like to work on. Because I'm totally undermining myself. And now that I think I have probably passed this on to my daughter, I will have to go hyperventilate in the restroom. Note: Must fix self so do not completely ruin child.
Love and hugs
Corinne

Snoopyfan said...

I have a very good friend who always asks me to excuse the mess in her house (it is rarely messy-not even close to mine!) and I know it is because she is A)a perfectionist and B)a little bit OCD. I just let it roll off me. I know she is not judging my house and I always tell her I am not judging hers either.

Joanne said...

I'm glad you posted about it in your moment of clarity, so you have a record. This is brilliant. I remember reading once that if you were worried people were judging you for your weight, YOU probably judged people for their weight. That is, you had an opinion about it. It was a big realization for me, because of course I did do that and I still do, sometimes, but I try not to. When I don't judge other people, not only is it a better way to be, I feel better about it. Win Win!

Marie Green said...

Another thought- I think that sometimes when I say things like "my house is a disaster!", I'm saying it so that the other person knows *I* KNOW that it's bad. So that they don't think that *I* think it's normal to live with such a mess. Like, I'm covering my own bases. Like, I'm going to claim it so that no one else has the chance to point it out to me. Not that anyone WOULD point it out to me, but WHAT IF THEY DID (even just in their head)? OMG so embarrassing. But if *I* declare it first, then there's no way anyone would dare point out to me something I already know.

And you're totally right that when I make these comments it bares basically NOTHING AT ALL of what I think of another's housekeeping. I have a very soft focus on OTHERS, as you said. (And I think when you live in a space it seems GROSSER than when you visit a space.) (Not that this just applies to the clean house thing... that's just the example I got stuck using.)

mayhem said...

A friend recently showed me part of her kitchen floor where she had spent two hours scrubbing/cleaning the grout with a toothbrush.

I would never have noticed that the grout was dirty. Nor would I ever have noticed that one section of the floor was cleaner than the rest.

You can bet I'll be checking my floors before the next time she comes over...

Thanks for this reminder. I don't want to make others uncomfortable by judging myself "unacceptable", but I'm sure I have done that at times.

Chibi said...

Oof. I never thought of it this way. :( I'm master of self-deprecation (I was actually called on it by a new-to-me physiotherapist last night): I explained it by saying it was a defence mechanism - if I make fun of me first, I take that opportunity away from you.

I hope I can remember this for next time (and I hope it's not too late).

Swistle said...

Chibi- And, my GUESS is that most people understand the social custom of self-deprecation and DON'T take it personally. My guess is that it's mostly an issue in relationships where there is ALREADY an underlying Thing---such as if a mother-in-law says to her daughter-in-law that her own house is SUCH a mess, when the MIL keeps a far cleaner house than the SIL and seems to be Sending a Message about what's expected (and about WHO is expected to do it). For a lot of normal relationships, a quick "Don't mind the house---it's a mess!" will just be taken as Standard Social Thing to Say.

Kelsey said...

I am pretty sure I've never thought about it that way... but it makes a lot of sense.

My mom kept a house that looked magazine -shoot ready a lot of the time, so our house is 99% of the time a disaster compared to the house I grew up in and I view it through that lens and apologize a lot for what is probably a normal amount of mess.

I know that I'm self-deprecating to attempt to keep people from thinking that I don't realize things about our home or our kids or my own appearance. But maybe I need to be a little more careful...

Superjules said...

I'm in school so what I hear a lot of is stuff like "Oh my god I'm so behind! I only studied for 3 hours last night!" I, who likely didn't study anywhere NEAR 3 hours last night, am left feeling like anything under 3 hours is unacceptable and GAH!

P.S. My word verification is "musho." An accurate description of how my brain feels after 3 hours of studying.

Shelly said...

Oh, your MIL example just hit a bull's eye with me. My MIL used to tell story after story about herself and how she never judged anyone on anything - not the state of their house, not how much money they had, etc., etc. Then, she and her hubby came to live with me and my hubby and newborn daughter for a while (which turned into two years!). I started noticing little things, like she wouldn't laugh when I joked about cleaning I would get around to "someday". Then, one day, when she thought no one was at home, she came in and said to her hubby, "This house is a fiasco, as always." and he made some snarky comment back about how I hadn't done anything all day except read. I WAS at home, and stuck my head out of the room I was in, and said hello, then closed the door and waited on my hubby to get home. That event permanently damaged my relationship with her. We were super close before and now we're just cordial.

Slim said...

A friend just posted a Facebook status about how much she was dreading an upcoming shopping expedition. Because worrying about whether your body meets some sort of arbitrary, unrealistic standards is an excellent use of your mental energy. Or something.
And yes, she is much closer to the standard than I am.

Ann Wyse said...

Oh, dear. So I guess responding like it's a competition isn't a good idea? I would say something like: "oh, you should see my kitchen, it's WAY dirtier." Or "Don't worry, my stomach jiggles after I fast for 3 days AND hold my breath while lying still."

No, honestly, good point!

Swistle said...

Ann Wyse- I TOTALLY DO THAT TOO!! I say, "Oh, man, this is NOTHING, you should see MY house!" or "Pfff, I have jeans TWICE the size of what I wore in college!" Ha ha! What I hope is that MOST of us understand this as The Language of Bonding Over Flaws, and it is only a tiny minority doing otherwise.

Sheena/H2Mommy said...

I am definitely guilty of this, especially when it cones to my home and visitors.

Jen said...

I am guilty of this. I do it all the time as a defense though. I figure that if I gently put myself down first no one else will be able to do it harshly. I would rather hear my own joking put downs that someone else's not so joking ones. Like my moms or my mother in laws.

Issues, I gots them.

Shannon said...

Thanks, Swistle. This has really made me think about things I say about myself - and given me a way to call people when they do it to themselves. Brilliant!

Val said...

This is really wise and thought-provoking. Good stuff here, Swistle.