Sophia Peerzada, SEL Specialist

Self Deprecation. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been ‘self-deprecating’. The first time I learned of the term was during a conversation with my mom back when I was a middle-schooler. I was having some sort of preteen existential crisis, the root of which was my belief that I was inherently unlikable.

“Sophia, that is crazy! Everyone likes you because you’re just so self-deprecating. People love self-deprecating people!”

I nodded and pretended to know what that meant, walked away, and proceeded to Google the term.

self-dep·re·cat·ing

adjective

modest about or critical of oneself, especially humorously so.

“Oh, man,” I concluded, “that’s me.” You see, I’ve always been pretty insecure and I’ve always been really, really scared of being bullied by my peers with regard to my insecurities. Therefore, by the time I hit 3rd grade I began to slowly master the art of self-deprecation. I was a big girl relative to other girls in elementary school, both in height and weight. I quickly realized that that my best chance of not being made fun of by the other kids was to make fun of myself first. One day, I decided to draw attention to my own “chubby” belly by using it to catapult various objects across the classroom. I gathered some kids around me and said “watch this!” as I shoved a ballpoint pen into my belly button and then inflated my stomach quickly to propel it forward. The pen got some great air and I got some great laughs. In that moment, I took away the other kids’ ability to bully me. In that moment, I became my own biggest bully.

My habit of self-deprecation evolved over the years. In middle school I began to grow facial hair and sprout acne—both of which I was sure to call attention to and joke about openly. In high school I was always the first to highlight my own awkwardness or strange habits. It was my go-to defense mechanism, and on the outside it was working great! By the time I hit senior year I couldn’t come up with one instance of someone truly making fun of me or purposely hurting my feelings. For years I was always the first to throw myself under the bus for a good laugh. I was rewarded with social recognition from senior superlative (“Most Memorable”) to winning Prom Queen.

 

Unfortunately, however, I’ve suffered a range of consequences for my self-deprecating tendencies. I became paranoid about my stature as a friend: “there’s no way these people really like me—I’m so horrible!” I doubted my abilities as a student: “I only passed that test because the teacher made a mistake in grading.” I loathed my physical appearance, convinced that anyone who said I was pretty or thin was a liar or paid actor.

When I began working at Frameworks last year, one of the first concepts I was introduced to was that of regular compliment-giving and receiving. I was impressed to see staff members go out of their way to speak kindly of each other and encourage that behavior in the students they worked with. At one point, I had the opportunity to observe Frameworks staff teach a lesson revolving around compliments to a class of 6th grade students. During this lesson, students were asked to introduce themselves and give themselves a compliment. I stood there in shock as a majority of the students rather confidently shared something they truly liked about themselves. For me –an adult—complimenting myself was a daunting task and yet, I learned the importance of pushing myself to do so from listening to those 6th grade students.

Nowadays, I can honestly say that I’ve gotten a lot better at giving myself compliments. At first, I would mutter them and over time I learned to state them with confidence (the way the kids I get to work with do). By no means have I abandoned my self-deprecating ways—I’ve just learned to sprinkle in some kind words where there used to be none at all.

I am so proud to be part of an organization that encourages kids to view themselves in a positive light. I know that giving oneself compliments could seem trivial, but believe me when I say that such a practice can change kids’ lives for the better.