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Pursuing a Job, Self-effacement is Self Sabotage

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 1st 2011

Pursuing a Job, Self-effacement is Self SabotageBible:

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble --" James 4:6


"Self-effacement is the act of making oneself, one's actions, inconspicuous, especially because of humility. It is not making yourself noticeable; not trying to get the attention of other people."

How do you feel and respond when someone gives you a compliment on a job well done? For example, when you are told, "You are really talented," or, "I could never do that," or, "You are just brilliant," or, "What a brilliant idea you came up with. You are always so creative."

Many of us respond awkwardly to these compliments. We blush, shift our feet, look down and state "It was nothing," "Anyone could do it" or "It wasn't me, it was the team." Many patients have described the embarrassment they feel when someone compliments them. They report not knowing what to say or how to respond to the person offering the compliment. Others are disbelieving when this happens. They just can't acknowledge the fact that they did someting well and were recognized for it. Others have told me, "It was just a fluke, an accident, or it was nothing that I did." In all, the wish is to hide one's accomplishments from public view.

These reactions are complicated because, depending on the individual, they have different sources. For some people, these embarassed responses stem from low self esteem and the accompanying inability to believe that they did something right. Some have been indocrinated into the deeply cherished value that it is not a good thing to brag. Yet, for others, there is the fear that if their accomplishments are make known, they will be asked to do more of what they believe is really beyond their abilities.

Whatever the source of the self effacement may be, when pursuing a career and interviewing for a job, it does not work well.  Employers want to know an applicant's strengths, talents and past achievements. They want the job candidate to be noticable, conspicuous or, as the saying goes, "to standout from the others." In other words, they want to know if this is the right person for the job. Interviewers are impressed by those who make eye contact and who show leadership, creativity and the ability to be self starters. Self effacement just does not work in this situation. Many researchers have found that modesty has an overriding cost. Those who are self-effacing may be well liked. However, they are also seen as possibily being less competent than those who know how to demonstrate their strengths. This is why self-effacement is often self-defeating.

To get that job, promotion or salary increase, one must look the employer straight in the eye, give a firm handshake, smile, sit arms unfolded and project a steady voice. It's important to acknowledge one's successes without apologies.

Remember, "Don't hide your lights under a bushel basket."

There are many excellent programs to attend on assertiveness training where people learn how to do this.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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