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There ought to be a word for the unjustified habit of putting oneself down or making unncessary excuses.

How many times have you heard someone say that they are not good enough? Maybe, as they served a meal or presented something they’d made, it was with an excuse, a mini-preamble that went something like “It’s not really up to much but…”, or, “Such-and-such is wrong but I hope it’s still OK…”.

Sometimes this might be an attempt at modesty, to guard against the sins of vanity and pride, and other times self-effacement might be due to uncertainty, fear of being judged in some way, or not measuring up to someone else’s standards. Whatever the reason, its an unhelpful habit which can be as painful for the listener as it is limiting for the speaker.

Convention dictates that when we are on the receiving end of excuses like this we respond with a formulaic attempt at reassurance (doesn’t work), or an admission of our own under-performance by saying something like “I do it all the time”. Empathetic though this is, commiseration (think of it as co-misery) doesn’t help the speaker much either.

Modesty is all very well, in fact it’s a necessity in a well-ordered psychological landscape, when it’s appropriate and well judged. Superfluous excuses can create an expectation of falling short and an unhelpful mind-set. Putting ourselves down might even make it more likely that others will do the same.

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