I am back on social media. (Follow me here and here). One of the first things that I saw was a picture of a person who looked beat. The caption said, “Me after pretending to have it all together” or something like that.

I suspect that people do this to appear humble, vulnerable, modest, and relatable. All of those traits involve being real, down-to-earth, flawed, and willing to admit it. Those are healthy things.

Self-deprecation is something else entirely. It’s negative self-talk that is damaging to your self-esteem and relationships. Let’s look at the difference.

What Is Modesty?

Modesty is a middle path way of evaluating your own importance. You’re neither over-estimating your value nor underestimating it.

Practicing modesty is a way to stay connected to others by not raising yourself above them, regardless of how skilled or exceptional you may be. It’s an important component of emotional intelligence, self-esteem, and wellbeing. It’s an important component of emotional intelligence, self-esteem, and wellbeing.

When we are modest, we also give others the comfort and safety to get close. We give ourselves space to try, fail, and succeed. Nothing is at stake regardless of the outcome of our efforts. We are still ourselves and valued. We extend the same care to others.

What is Self-Deprecation?

Some people confuse modesty with self-deprecation. They play small to be nonthreatening to others and raise others above them to make them feel better. It’s a way to be pleasing that creates separation may invite abuse.

Self-deprecation may be self-defense against anticipated criticism. If I let everyone know that I am a fool, when I am criticized or called names, I can pretend that it doesn’t hurt because I said it first.

Are You Self-Deprecating?

Here are some examples to help you see the difference between modesty and self-deprecation.

(Modesty) Someone says, “Wow, you look great!” and you accept it by saying, “Thank you” and nothing more.

(Self-deprecation) Someone says, “Wow, you look great!” and you say, “It took me two hours to do my hair, and I never look this good on any other day. And I certainly don’t look as good as you!” Essentially, you have just refused the compliment and stolen their enthusiasm.

(Modesty) You make the most home runs in the baseball game. When the reporter compliments you on your performance, you respond with, “It was a team effort.”

(Self-deprecation) You make the most home runs in the baseball game. When the reporters compliments you on your performance, you respond with, “Yep, the old, fat boy still has a little life in him!”

How To Stop Beating Yourself Up

Notice what you are doing. You can’t stop if you aren’t self-aware.

Understand the negative impact. Don’t stop engaging in self-deprecation because I’m suggesting it. Only do it if you believe that it’s not great for your self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. Let your wellness be the motivation to do something different.

Learn to accept compliments. “Thank you” is a great way to deal with the discomfort of being in the spotlight. You don’t have to say anything else. You don’t have to return the compliment or downplay your achievements. Let yourself be appreciated.

Be yourself. Sometimes people pretend to be something that they aren’t to be liked. This can be exhausting. It also creates superficial relationships that leave you feeling isolated and lonely. Be real. Let people get to know and love the real you.

Stop comparing yourself to others. You’re you. If someone is doing something better than you, let it motivate you to work harder. If someone is doing well, appreciate them without making it mean something about you. Everyone is unique. Celebrate diversity.

Don’t take things too seriously. Learn to laugh at life. Whether you are making things tough or someone else is, roll with it. Fifty years from now (and probably a lot sooner), none of it will matter. Don’t let it matter now.

Forgive. If you make a mistake, forgive yourself. If someone does you wrong, let that go, too. It won’t stop the bad things from happening, but it will help you get over the humps more easily.

Keep things in perspective. Regardless of how high or low you climb, it’s all forgotten some day. There is no reason to elevate yourself or lower yourself. Everyone is flawed. Everyone has value.

Learn healthier coping skills. Self-deprecation is a way to deal with stress, stay in a “low man on the totem pole” comfort zone, get attention, avoid attention, and deal with criticism. When you have healthier coping skills, you don’t have to use skills with negative consequences.

Still Unsure? Here’s How to Tell the Difference

If you are still struggling to tell the difference between modesty and self-deprecation, do the “feel test.” If it feels yucky, manipulative, dirty, or uncomfortable, it’s most likely self-deprecation. We feel best around people who exude healthy, authentic, vibrant energy.

Self-deprecation is a way to control other people’s perception of you. Just be you. Take up space. You’re worthy.