Mental Health

Why Do We Downplay Our Accomplishments? – My Brain’s Not Broken


Last year, I wrote a series of posts about challenging my instincts toward minimize the good things I do in life.

Back in 2021, I wrote a few posts about challenging my instincts. I’m interested in instincts because for a long time, I overestimated their power. I thought instincts were something that could never change. I thought they were something we’d have to live with, and I would have to learn how to fight them. The reason I wanted to challenge my instincts then, and I still do now, is because I don’t like all my instincts. One of the most challenging in particular is my ability to downplay accomplishments. And I’m not alone. Why do we downplay our accomplishments, and what is behind that? That’s what I want to investigate today.

How People Downplay Their Achievements

Before we talk about why people might do this, it’s good to understand what this looks like. It goes by many names, but there are plenty of ways we downplay our accomplishments. Minimization, imposter syndrome, self-doubt, self-deprecation…the list goes on. And while each of these terms have different definitions, the result is similar. The end result is that we devalue the things we do and in a similar way, devalue ourselves.

It can also be hard to recognize when we’re doing this to ourselves, which presents a real challenge. It’s easy to point out when someone is being mean to someone else. You can see one person say something, and see the impact that has on someone else. It’s harder to realize when you’re treating yourself that way, and habits can form quick. We’re quick find a justification for treating ourselves a certain way, to explain it away. If it goes unchecked, we can fall into a habit of thinking this is just who we are.

Why Do We Do This?

It pains me to write this, but the simple answer is that there isn’t one. We don’t act this way because we “feel like it” or it’s the best decision for us. We do this because we’re complex human beings, and we have complex reasons. But the point I want to drill home today is that people don’t do this for no reason. We might not always know why we’re doing something, but there’s no reason to assume it’s at random.

Even though they might manifest in the same ways, my reason for being self-deprecating is my own. There are root causes for why I do this, and same would go for anyone else. What are those root causes? Unfortunately, that’s a question I can’t answer for others – it’s hard enough to answer for myself.

This realization could send someone down a rabbit hole, but I’d like to offer an alternative point of view. Most of my life, I thought I downplayed anything good I did because it was just who I was. That’s the way I am, and there’s nothing I can do about it. But that’s not completely true, is it? There’s a reason behind why I do this, and even though I don’t know it yet, there’s comfort in knowing there’s a reason. I can’t always figure out the way my brain works, but there’s a reason it does what it does. And I’ve seen that the more I learn, the more I grow as a person, and that’s a connection I love to see.

"You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare." - Georgia O'Keeffe

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