HOtG 12th July 2013: Self doubt

July 12th Self-doubt versus self-deprecation

A few thoughts on yesterdays’ thread regarding the use of self-deprecation to introduce writing that has hitherto laid unseen, except by its author, for time immemorial… I immediately responded to Jon’s request by noting the gentle admonition and determining that I would, in future, be able to reveal the contents of my innermost soul to these wonderful friends, safe in the knowledge that I would receive positive affirmations of my writing skills. Many others also heaved a sigh of relief, either from the reassurance that this was true or from (in some cases I am sure – and I amongst them) the removal of this invisible screen that people erect to shield their sensitivities effectively, which can be a source of irritation. Some felt the need to explain their own motives (and by inference, those of others’) for using self-deprecation as a defensive tool. It turned into a long and very interesting discussion, which I devoured hungrily.

It got me thinking however… as all good writing should of course! Did I mean to be self-deprecating? Is it indeed churlish to be self-deprecating? Why would I want to express such boorishness and risk alienation from those whom I am rapidly coming to think of as dear friends?  Why are people generally prone to self-deprecation? The answer to that last one pops immediately into mind of course – we all want to be loved. I found an answer to my first question whilst I thought about that too … I think I am full of self-doubt.

So I asked myself this question… what is the difference between self-deprecation and self-doubt? As usual, when faced with such a dilemma, I consulted my dictionary. Religious people have their holy books, but my sacred text is and always has been the Oxford English Dictionary. As a teenager, when my friends were reading Cosmopolitan to align themselves to the very latest fashions, find out about adulthood or just look at the gloriously degenerate lives of the rich and famous, I would always high-tail it to the reference sections of the library, drag the magnificent tome that was MY dictionary (I was very possessive of it!) from its dusty resting place and I would dive in. Therein I found startling words with improbable explanations and I also found comfort in more familiar words, that I had heard but not understood. I was once called an ‘igoramus’ by an elderly music teacher as she sent me out of class for being disruptive – I can still remember dragging my chair back as I stood to my full height of 5 foot nothing (at the time) and declared ‘I think you’ll find that should be ‘ig-N-oramus’ Miss Turner’, before turning on my heels and making an excellent departure from the room, point, very clearly made! But I digress (how unusual for me!). What say you on the difference between self-doubt and self-depreciation?

My dictionary tells me these definitions:

Self-deprecation (adjective )

  • belittling or undervaluing oneself; excessively modest.

Self-deprecating (adjective)  

  • having a tendency to disparage oneself 

Self-doubt (noun) 

  • lack of confidence in the reliability of      one’s own motives, personality, thought, etc.

Self-deprecation is a defence mechanism to shield oneself from the potential of harsh judgements, to disparage oneself before others can do so, in order that we are able to withstand the onslaught when it comes. It is something we learn from having been knocked over (usually when young) and as such, is probably an important life skill. But, I agree with you Jon, it’s immensely irritating when people are excessively modest about their creations when clearly, they’re just looking for lots of praise because they actually know what they’ve created is really, really remarkably *good*. For example, I know I’m a brilliant teacher, because years of teaching literally hundreds of students have shown me this truth about myself. Students that I taught ten, fifteen or even twenty years ago seek me out from across the world to tell me how successful their lives have been and what small part they believe that my teachings have played in that success –that’s all very rewarding. I was so innovative in my teaching that I was at the forefront of the introduction of interactive whiteboard technology in Hong Kong, with education ministers from around the Asia Pacific rim as well as Australia visiting my classroom to observe my methods and I even presented a paper describing my techniques to the inaugural Pacific Rim education conference back in 2005. When I’m teaching, where I am supremely confident, I don’t have any self-doubt. I know I’m good at it. I’m also a brilliant cook and baker… but that’s a whole other story!

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was self-doubt that prompted my hesitant introduction to my poetry yesterday; i.e. a lack of self-confidence in the reliability of my own thoughts about my creative writing. I genuinely lack confidence in this because whilst I have been writing for many, many years, I haven’t shared these musings before and I don’t know if they have any appeal to others until I actually put them out there, unclothed from the shadowing mists of anonymity as they have always been. I haven’t even read them to my husband and goodness knows, he would critique them masterfully! So I think I understand Collette’s sentiments when she said…

The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen.’ Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873–1954), French author (‘Gigi’); extracted from her speech on being elected to the Belgian Academy.

What do you think? Is self-deprecation different to self-doubt? Is there an important role that self-doubt must play in a creative mind? Dare I even post this for debate? Hmm…

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