We’ve all witnessed it before—a family member or friend who becomes the life of the party by making themselves the butt of every joke. Or maybe you are that person. Every comment opens the door for yet another quick-witted, self-inflicted jab. And while the crowds may laugh, it’s not always funny.
The ability to enjoy life and not take ourselves too seriously is a good thing. But if we’re continually at the receiving end of our own punch lines, then we’re likely experiencing too much of this good thing. A little self-deprecation injected into conversations from time to time can help others drop their guard and feel more relaxed with us, but continual negative comments about ourselves becomes unhealthy. We’re learning more and more about the power of words every day, and we know words can hurt—even when we speak them jokingly.
Words affect both our emotions and actions, and this is well demonstrated in science. For example, scientists discovered that simply by hearing sentences about the elderly, research subjects began to walk more slowly. In other research, those reading words of love and kindness showed increased self-compassion—anxiety was lowered and mood was elevated.
Joking about our looks, where we come from, or what we do only reinforces the negative in our lives. Every time we belittle or devalue ourselves with our words, we chip away at the positive self-image we could (and should) have. Essentially, we become our own bully.
Many times, people do this as a means of avoiding embarrassment, or to somehow beat others to the punch if/when we believe we might be the target of someone else’s derogatory comments. But our best weapon for combating negative comments is through positive comments.
If you’ve made self-wounding jokes a habit, it’s time to reverse the behavior and kick the habit. Try to speak more positively about yourself and others. Before responding to comments, take a moment to censor negative thoughts and don’t let them come out of your mouth in the form of a joke. Value yourself as a person and citizen of our great world. When we value ourselves, others tend to follow our lead.
Changing the way we speak can be a challenge, but it’s most certainly worth it. Hold on to your humor without hiding behind it, and you can beat the bully within.