Self Deprecation And What It Teaches Others About How to Treat You
I like to make jokes about myself. I am fully aware that I’m a terrible listener, often too loud, and painfully stubborn (I’m a Capricorn), which has led me into many comical situations. My sense of humor has always been something I’ve admired about myself, as well as being secure enough to freely use it to expose my own flaws and insecurities. But then one day, the jokes were no longer being made by me. It stopped being funny.
The first few times, it happened so quickly I barely had time to register that it was happening at all. We all laughed and moved along but something sat in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t settle for a while after. Over and over again and each time it gave me pause and their laughter rang in my ears hours later as I laid down in bed at night.
As I would twist and turn, wrestling with these thoughts, it brought up a lot of questions. Did the people I call my friends genuinely believe that I felt that way about myself? Did they really perceive me as some sort of ditz, who couldn’t keep up with them? Did they make jokes like this about me when I wasn’t around? But most importantly, how did I get here?
I ruminated over this last thought over a course of weeks. My sense of humor started when I was young. I’d learned early on that crying over everything was not going to resolve my problems, especially in a Caribbean household that frowned upon such open displays of vulnerability. So instead, I turned my sorrows into laughter. When a boy I had a crush on in sixth grade told me my braids were ugly, instead of crying like I wanted to, Icompared my braids to fat ugly snakes. In high school when the only boy I had ever liked ditched me right before prom, rather than allowing myself to feel the sting of that burn, I cackled about how he must have turned off his phone and joined a convent to get away from me. If I could be in on the joke, or even make the joke about myself before someone else did, there was nothing left to laugh at. No one could laugh at me privately and I felt safe in taking that power from other people.
I tried to tell myself that perhaps I was overthinking it. Maybe I was just being too sensitive. We made jokes about silly things I did all the time. It was nothing to start a fight over. But it kept happening. They were swift and sharp, like a rubber band snapping at my heart, leaving a stinging pain in its wrath. Over and over again, I held my tongue, until one night, I didn’t.
We were at a bowling alley. We were all having a good time, laughing about how the girls were being absolutely crushed in this round. Someone said something I didn’t understand because, as per usual, I hadn’t fully been listening. As I was asking someone to explain, someone said “Don’t bother, not like she’s gonna get it the second time around anyways”.
It felt like someone clicked freeze frame on the moment, and I watched my friends closely, their heads held back and mouths wide open, releasing their shrieks of joy at my expense.
“I’m sorry. Repeat yourself,” I said with a steeliness in my voice that surprised everyone, even me. An awkward silence fell over the group, and they all looked at each other, unsure of what to say.
“Oh, sorry,” they said. I nodded, gingerly picked up my things and went to the bathroom for a few moments. What they discussed while I was gone for those fifteen minutes, I’m not sure, but when I came back and we resumed our game, I didn’t hear another joke made about me.
Sitting in that bowling alley that night, listening to a laughter I knew was not with me, I realized that what had been bothering me was that I had been teaching people how to treat me. By disrespecting myself for their amusement, they had come to the conclusion that it was acceptable for them to do it as well. And I was the only one to blame for giving them the pass to do so.
It took time for me to learn how to keep my sense of humor and protect myself at the same time. I’ve learned not to let certain things slide. I speak up when something makes me uncomfortable. I’ve slowed down on jokes about myself that were too harsh or something I wouldn’t be willing to say about someone else. It’s a refreshing experience to not be so down on myself all the time. Everything and everyone around me started to treat me more gently and with more respect. It was almost as if the Universe had heard me stopped picking on me, and decided to follow my lead. My friends picked up on the lack of jokes I made about myself and stopped doing it as well. They realized that if we were going to be laughing at me, it was going to be on my terms and nobody else’s. I’ve created a boundary that still allows me to be myself, and still make light of rough situations but doesn’t leave any room for disrespect. Because that is something that nobody, not even the loudest, least attentive, most stubborn Capricorn, deserves.
About the Author
Iyana Jones is starting her graduate program in Media Studies with New School. She found her passion for writing in high school for writing for the school paper and now has expanded her interests to lifestyle, pop culture, and identity. Her goal is to write as the missing first generational black female voice she wish she had found earlier in life. Outside of writing, she's likely to be found feeding stray cats or watching bad MTV shows unironically. You can read more of her work on her blog here.