Are you Praying Against Yourself? The Abusive Art of Self-Deprecation

Words said, have power. Self-deprecation is to pray against the self, but we can learn to pray for the self and so develop healthier thinking patterns.

It was the words at the end of his sentence that caught my attention.

‘I’m so stupid; I always do things like that’.

You learn to notice them—little words used as qualifying comments that disempower the self.

I think that many of us have little words or sentences that we probably tell ourselves and others. Sometimes they slip out in conversation.

Maybe they are offered up as an excuse or reason for things being the way they are.

Most of these thought sentences are kept quietly to ourselves, where they can continue to shape and poison our thinking. We say them so many times that we become used to them. They are our default thinking regime.

As a child, I was taught to ‘not think too highly of oneself’ Romans 12:3 and that ‘pride comes before a fall’ Proverbs 16:18

So the obvious course is to think lowly of yourself and to keep yourself humble through a self-flagellation diatribe of dismissive self-talk.

We self-deprecate as a spiritual discipline, thinking we are doing the right thing.

Yet, I believe, all this self-deprecation can become like poison leaking into the groundwater of our soul.

It can slowly poison us to where we loath ourselves, and we consider ourselves as a worm and as a wretch. Sit in a pile of pus long enough, and you will get sick.

Our velcro brain looks for the negative.

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. [This] shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction. Rick Hanson

The abusive art of self-deprecation 

Some have mastered the art of self-deprecation. They are perfectionists at belittling and undervaluing themselves. Then they turn their attention towards others.

It’s very interesting to look into the background of the word deprecate.

To ‘deprecate’ means to ‘pray against’.

Early 17th century (in the sense’ pray against’): from Latin deprecat- ‘prayed against (as being evil)’, from the verb deprecari, from de- (expressing reversal) + precari’ pray.’

When we self-deprecate, we pray against the self and various parts of who we are.

We use words to cut ourselves down. This gets, as I have said, into the groundwater of our soul, our self-talk becomes contaminated with this poison. We drink from this well, thinking it’s normal. Our brain wiring rope bridges keep being reinforced.

If I were to say that I was going to ‘deprecate’ you, to ‘pray against you’, then you would consider this as being abusive.

If we see a parent vomiting toxic words on a child or witness an abusive husband, wife, employer, we would call this abuse. Yet we tolerate and possibly admire people who do this to themselves. We think it’s ok to do it to ourselves.

Crushed Soul

Is your soul being crushed?

I read this passage the other day.

Fools are undone by their big mouths;
    their souls are crushed by their words. Proverbs 18:7

What words are you saying to yourself? What words are you saying to others?

I’ve met many people whose souls have been crushed. Either by the words of others or by the words they have ‘deprecated’ (prayed) over themselves.

We can’t control the actions of others. Some people are going to spill poison on us because that is what’s in them. They need to take responsibility for themselves.

But we can control ourselves and our response to their poison. Do we take it in, do we deprecate ourselves with it?

Praying for the self 

If we deprecate or pray against the self, perhaps a better and healthier alternative is to pray for the self. To pray in support of the self.

What would that look like?

Perhaps it would be praying positive, loving, and compassionate words about ourselves.

  • I am loved
  • I am known
  • I have worth
  • I have value
  • God loves me, and I am worthy of this love
  • God rejoices over me, renews me, and delights in me. Zephaniah 3:17

What does your crushed soul most need to hear?

This is where journaling and a thinking compass can help.

Journalling can be useful to unpack many of those self-deprecating thoughts we keep telling our souls. Then we can use a thinking compass to record down prayers of positivity, love, and compassion to help us rewire the brain.

Words said, have power. When we self-deprecate, we pray against the self, but we can learn to pray for the self and so develop healthier thinking patterns.

Mental Health is ... self praying faith, hope, and love into your soulClick To Tweet

Quotes to consider

  • The brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. Rick Hanson
  • To shift a truth from your head to your heart, speak it loud, speak it often, and make a deliberate choice to believe it. David Riddell
  • Praise and encouragement is much more effective in changing others’ behavior than is criticism, but which do you use on yourself? D. Riddell

Questions to answer

  1. Do you notice when people say little words of ‘self-deprecation’?
  2. What words do you tell yourself? Are they encouraging words or critical words?
  3. What words do you need to pray over your self?

Further reading

Barry Pearman