Laughing it off
September 12, 2022 10:16 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to laugh at myself and let go?

I've always been an anxious person and struggle with recurring depression, and one thing that's not helping me at all is that I take myself way too seriously. When I embarrass myself in any way, it puts me in a tailspin of shame and rumination which takes a long time to get out of. And I feel embarrassed a lot.

In case it matters, my most common sources of shame are linguistic errors and cultural clumsiness. I'm an immigrant living in a country with really different social expectations and norms than the ones I grew up with (although I never had the smoothest of social skills anyway), so behaviors and responses that feel natural to me are often perceived as a bit odd, surprising or baffling by people around me. I also live my daily life speaking a language that I learned as an adult, so even though I'm quite fluent by now, I frequently make mistakes, and occasionally really, painfully dumb ones. (And the more anxious I get, the more I stumble.) I'm now middle aged, my language skills are never going to be perfect (been here for decades already), and I think I just need to find a way to feel less miserable about coming off as a well meaning but awkward weirdo.

The advice I often hear is "stop taking yourself so seriously", and I would really, really love to, but how on Earth do you actually do that? I mean seriously (ha ha, no but really), how can I cultivate a gentle sense of humor about myself if my natural tendency is to be highly self critical?

(Oh and just in case this needs pointing out, I'm not like this towards other people at all. I don't dwell on let alone relish their mistakes, and I deeply dislike cringe comedy.)
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
since you describe yourself of able to extend generosity and charitable thoughts to other people, perhaps you can start with identifying what are the general traits and habit of thinking that you use with other people that you are able to achieve this kindness of spirit? Then actively use it on yourself the moment you start to spiral. Good luck!
posted by cendawanita at 10:25 PM on September 12, 2022

Do you also have opportunities to see yourself in a more flattering light? To appreciate what you bring to the table, to be around people who speak your language or where your own cultural norms are embraced and appreciated? I think the tension of operating in a second language and culture is hard to overstate, and getting some chances to take off that burden may help you remember it's not something wrong with you, it's just something about you that doesn't fit this particular costume quite right - no flaw or failure, any more than shoes that pinch your feet would be a personal failing.
posted by Lady Li at 11:16 PM on September 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

The idea that you should be laughing at yourself may not be helpful.

The trick, I think, is to find a way to accept yourself as you are; you are not swimming in native cultural waters - and that's ok. You make linguistic errors - and that's ok. Accept these things as they are and try to be at peace with them. The reality is that everyone else looks at others like you do, they don't dwell on other's mistakes generally and in all likelihood no one is dwelling on your mistakes specifically except you.

Cultivating a practice of mindfulness could well help you, but you don't have to become the laughing Buddha.
posted by deadwax at 12:33 AM on September 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

Eh, laughing at your self is good, it's the brain/mind's reset button to get out of non-productive loops or realizing false appraisals of the situation. It's like "you're over thinking a plate of beans and need to hit the funny buzzer". Totally a good survival mechanism that keeps you from internalizing an un-truth sort of thing. It's also pleasurable due to Darwinian reasons to reinforce the self correction. Laughter is almost always a proper self correctional activity, if it weren't, it wouldn't be funny.

Otherwise, I agree with deadwax on the point that 90% of people really don't give a fuck and forget you and what may have happened within a minute or so. The same way you don't really hold a grudge or opinion about some random strange interaction, neither do they. People mostly remember the good bits and forget the slightly awkward bits with the same ease. If they don't, they're the 10% that you just blow off as idiots and you're fine and even better off ignoring them all together. Not worth your time. Only deal with people that accept you as you are flaws and weird and different and everything else.

But it's totally fine to laugh at yourself, it's healthy, it's your brain either telling you not to do that again because it's not a good survival strategy, or it's just a bit of harmless fun like telling a dirty joke and making someone else laugh. As long and both parties can go away and have not much more than "this odd thing happened today", most people don't take even the slightly odd decades here foreigner being a bit weird to me as much more than any other slightly odd thing that happened today and it's going to be forgotten by tomorrow. "Oh yeah, I saw a coyote last night, walked right past me", mostly meh.

Feel free to laugh at yourself.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:56 AM on September 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

To address the language aspect:

I'm a native English-speaker. I also live in a place where I speak a non-native language (French) all the time. I am also a perfectionist and speak a third language (Spanish) fluently, essentially without errors. So there's this idea in my head that I should speak French without errors.

Guess what. It doesn't happen. And it doesn't matter! Does. Not. Matter. If you make a mistake, people who speak other languages will probably sympathize. People who don't speak other languages probably just don't think that much about language and won't care.

It's natural to view oneself as the centre of the universe but to think that other people are turning over in their heads MY language goofs the same way I am is too self-centred. People just go back to thinking about their own shit. It's human nature.

Learning languages for me is not the most difficult part. Being kind to myself and forgiving is the hurdle.

Realizing the mind space you take up in others' heads is key.
posted by fruitslinger at 7:04 AM on September 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

I come off as well meaning but awkward weirdo even in my native language, so I guess I can sympathise. But, I try to hang out with people who don’t remind me of that fact too often, so I can generally mostly forget that it’s happening. I can use it as a reason for when things go weirdly with someone I just met, so it even has explanatory value. It’s just who I am, no need for shame.
posted by rd45 at 7:07 AM on September 13, 2022

Something that has really helped me feel less awkward is realizing that people are primarily self-centered. This isn't a bad thing! It's just that most people only really notice themselves + maybe their immediate sphere. Other people, once out of sight, are completely out of mind.

When I make a mistake--say, dump coffee on myself in the break room at work--and there are witnesses, they will probably see me. They may even laugh. But in three or four minutes, their break will be over, and they will leave the room and forget all about me. They've got work things to do, and they're worried about the weather, and can't remember who needs to pick up the kid, and dammit this is the shirt that has a hole in it...

By the time they see me again they may vaguely recall I did something silly and messy, but their primary concern is 'is this person nice to me and not difficult to be around' because that's what matters to people unless they are weird nitpicky jerks.
posted by kkar at 11:04 AM on September 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

For things like that, what helps me most is seeing other people, especially people I admire, model the behavior that I want. Real life examples are best, but repeated exposure in movies or TV shows also helps. I can't think of specific examples to point you to offhand, but maybe keep an eye out for it?
posted by trig at 1:47 AM on September 14, 2022

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