Rejection is part and parcel of an actor’s career. But for the most part, we expect that rejection to come externally. What is less talked about is the rejection we tend to mete out to ourselves, and the toll it can take on mental health and even career success.
Usually, it starts innocently enough. Many people use humor as a defense mechanism, and self-deprecating humor is a particularly popular brand. Used sparingly, it can be harmless. But when it becomes a habit, there can be unexpected consequences. It’s so easy for self-deprecating humor to morph into negative self-talk. From there, it is mere steps away from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Especially when we’re in a slump, it’s important to pay attention to how we are treating ourselves. The habits we form early on often continue to define how we treat ourselves over the course of our careers. Think about all the energy it takes to constantly disparage your efforts. This energy would better serve you being put towards building yourself up and advocating for yourself.
But what to do about it? There are a few key things it can be helpful to remember.
Pay attention to your self-talk.
The first weapon in your arsenal is acknowledgment. Oftentimes we can slip into self-deprecation or negative self-talk without even knowing. Start taking note of the times you use self-deprecation in public and in private. Note how often it happens, and if there are any patterns. Is it worse when you’re stressed? When you have a big opportunity in the balance? Knowing when you’re reacting this way can help you stay vigilant and reroute your thoughts.
Figure out the why.
Habits are easier to change when you know what is at the root of them. Is it a matter of rejecting yourself before others get there? Managing the expectations of others so you don’t need to fear disappointing them? If you can figure out why you’re verbally tearing yourself down, it might be easier to work on giving yourself whatever was lacking in the first place.
It’s easy to judge yourself for your negative self-talk, but that can become a vicious circle. As difficult as it may be, it’s important to exercise forgiveness. Remember that this kind of behavior usually starts as a reasonable response to a stressful situation, or as a protective measure. So there’s no need to beat yourself up for having formed these habits. Maybe just thank them for their work and remind them their services are no longer needed.
Define your boundaries and stick to them.
As bad as I am at setting boundaries with others, I’m a thousand times worse at setting them with myself. Luckily, it’s something I’m aware of and working on. A tip passed on by multiple therapists is to ask yourself whether you would say the things you say to yourself to anyone else. I know I can’t imagine treating anyone else the way I sometimes treat myself. And while setting boundaries with coworkers and friends is something we’re often encouraged to do, it’s easy to forget to do it with ourselves. Practice advocating for yourself the way you would for a friend. Call yourself on it when you’re not being kind or reasonable with yourself.
All this is not to say you should never use self-deprecating humor. It’s perfectly fine in moderation. But when it becomes a defining trait, all it’s really doing is draining your mental resources and broadcasting to others (including casting directors) how little you value yourself. Love yourself courageously. Even if you have to fake it till you make it. Eventually, that confidence and self-worth will shine through.