Millennials and Gen Z might be the most caring and compassionate generations we have ever seen. They are more accepting of the LGBTQ community and people of color than the generations before them. They stand up for women’s rights and equality, and they love dogs. Excuse me, Doggos.
Despite their capacity to care for others and rally against injustice, there is one group of people they assault with relentless passion; Themselves.
If you don’t know it by now, Millennials and Gen Z love self-deprecating humor and jokes about suicide, and they express these jokes in the most fitting way to their generations. Memes.
If you’re confused, let me give you a taste.
If you are laughing, you’re probably under 38 or have a dark sense of humor. If you’re not laughing, you might be a baby boomer. Don’t worry; there is a meme for that too.
That’s just a small example of what the internet has to offer. There is a community on Reddit of 845,000 people called 2meirl4meirl that shares memes and jokes like this all day. Not to mention Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram are also full of them as well.
When defending this type of humor, those who use it will be quick to point out there is nothing wrong with making a joke at your own expense. That using humor is a coping skill, and that they are not hurting anyone else.
Is Self Deprecating Humor a Coping Skill?
No. God no.
Okay, actually, technically it is a coping skill. It’s just a negative coping skill.
Don’t count that as a point, that is not a point!
Self-deprecating humor is a bad coping skill because it negatively reinforces negative thought processes.
What Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) tells us is that the things that people continually tell themselves become the things that they believe.
Making these types of jokes and partaking in them helps reinforce negative mindsets.
Sure the jokes above might be relatable, but they are also encouraging negative coping skills.
You will be alone.
Stay in bed all day.
Hilarious. Except they’re not.
I work with a lot of clients who are battling with anxiety and depression that cling to these mindsets. These jokes bring them a short laugh while reinforcing their negative coping skills.
This type of humor is not normalizing anxiety and depression, which can be a good thing. They are normalizing negative coping skills, which is a bad thing.
Luckily Millenials and Gen Z are the therapy generations. They don’t see therapy as a stigma and are happy to be a part of it. Unluckily, they find solidarity on Twitter to make light of their negative coping skills.
It’s Not Hurting Anyone
Except it is.
Culture is cultivated through humor, and often, the jokes of the time represent what people accept at the time.
There were times when people told racist jokes. They didn’t consider themselves racist or the jokes they told harmful. They were just that, jokes.
Except we know that racist jokes are harmful to others and create a culture where laughing at someone because of the color of their skin is acceptable.
Sexist jokes were also popular and culturally accepted. Here is one for you. Why did the woman cross the road?
Yeah, I’m not finishing that because it’s not funny. Even if you do consider them funny, it is still not appropriate to make jokes that reinforce negative cultural mindsets.
Millennials and Gen Z have the same mindset that other generations have had. Yes, I’m comparing you to baby boomers. Yes, I know that you hate that.
Millennials and Gen Z are appalled by the use of racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes. However, when it comes to making fun of themselves, they don’t see the irony.
Racists jokes marginalize people of color. Sexist jokes reinforce negative stereotypes in men and women. Homophobic jokes reinforce hate. Self-deprecating humor hurts you and people dealing with depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
Making these jokes, even if you don’t believe them, even if they don’t reinforce negative coping skills in your self, they still impact others.
They marginalize anxiety and depression in the same way racist, and sexists jokes did.
Self-deprecating humor hurts others because it creates and reinforces a culture of self-harm and negative coping skills.
From the experiences in my office, none of the people making these jokes would ever tell a friend or a loved one to kill themselves, or that they should give up. They tell themselves this all the time, and not just because they find it funny because they mean it. Whether they like it or not, this humor encourages their friends and others to think the same way.
They can say it is not their intent to harm or offend others, but then they will be stealing right out of the baby boomer playbook they despise so much.
Before you say this is an overreaction and that I am someone who wants to take your memes away, know this. I used to find them funny. As a millennial myself, when they first started appearing, I laughed probably more than I should have.
As a therapist, I laughed at the absurdity of it. I viewed it as an attempt at using humor to cope, but over time, things changed.
They started popping up more and more, and the negative mindsets continued to appear in my office. It wasn’t just from my clients. I was hearing about their friends and classmates. The normalization of negative coping skills to deal with being depressed, anxious, and suicidal.
I have had to admit people to hospitals and create safety plans with parents.
It’s hard to find them funny after that.
A Step Forward
It almost feels like humans have this innate desire to make fun of other people. Millennials and Gen Z stepped in and voiced how inappropriate that was and then went right ahead and started making fun of themselves.
Tell a millennial or Gen Z a racist, sexist or homophobic joke and you will be met with a glare and probably a few choice words. That is how future generations will look at self-deprecating humor. They will be dumbfounded about how two generations so focused on fighting for others ever found it funny to say such hurtful things about themselves.
In time I believe Millennials and Gen Z will see this humor for what it is. Their moral conscience gives me faith that once they become aware of the harm they are causing they will move away from it.
What Do You do In the Mean Time
Don’t encourage and reinforce the behavior by making light of it. Whether you realize it or not, you know people dealing with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, don’t promote their negative mindsets and coping skills with a lol or a laughing emoji.
A lot of people don’t see the harm in what they are saying. It’s one thing not to laugh, and it’s another thing to explain why that humor isn’t funny or acceptable. When those that didn’t know better in previous generations told offensive jokes it was up to others to educate them on why that wasn’t okay. The same thing applies here.
Reach Out To Them
If they are laughing at them, it is because they can relate to them. Tell them you care about them and don’t like to see them being so hard on themselves. Encourage them to see a therapist, or to talk with their therapist about the negative mindsets they get stuck in.
Millennials and Gen Z, do what you do best. Use memes to show love and support and encourage healthy coping skills instead of encouraging self-harm. Put an end to self-deprecating humor one wholesome meme at a time. Let your actions and words set an example to future generations on how to love others, as well as yourself.