You'd think that saving the world on a semi-regular basis would give your sense of self-worth a bit of a boost, if not cause some serious ego issues. The parades in your honour, the best-selling biography by your most ardent fan (Monster Slaying and Other Handy Household Hints), the fact that the town hall's been renamed after you... Surely you don't need anyone else to tell you that you're loved and needed, right?
Not if this hero is anything to go by.
No matter how much they do for the world or what their loyal friends tell them, they're still incapable of believing that they're anything more than useless. Every little mistake leads to a massive display about how it's all their fault and how they're just not good enough. Praise may lead only to Dismissing a Compliment.
Welcome to the world of Heroic Self-Deprecation. It doesn't matter how many lives they've saved, worlds they've rescued or bad guys they've defeated — their self esteem remains in negative figures and they'll still have a periodic Heroic BSOD, rendered useless until someone can convince them that they really are the most perfect person in the world. And someone will. The flip side of suffering from Heroic Self-Deprecation is that you automatically get equipped with a group of friends who will act as cheering squad, reminding you (and the audience) of just how wonderful you are. Expect many flashbacks to your heroic/kind deeds, the occasional Get Ahold Of Yourself Man, and phrases such as "You can do it!" "This is no time to get depressed!" or "We're counting on you!" Magical Girls especially are prone to giving speeches of thanks after this happens: she repays her squad by crediting them (and her boyfriend, and her parents, and her pet hamster...) with all of her victories, even if all they did was stand around slack-jawed as she did her super-special-shiny attack.
This can get rather irritating, especially if the hero's exploits are so grandiose that nobody could fail to realize that they are A Very Important Person. It's a bit of a cheap trick, after all; the writers don't want to show a "big headed" hero, but they want to make it clear that they're all that and a bag of chips too. So they have the hero put themselves down incessantly to avoid bragging, while having the Greek Chorus of their friends reminding us that just because they don't brag about it doesn't mean that they're not the best thing since sliced bread.
In Ancient Greece the opposite was true; a real hero acknowledged his triumphs and was expected to boast about anything he had really done. As long as you avoided hubris, this was fine; it showed generosity of spirit.
Taken far enough, this can be considered a Mary Sue trait. Of course, it's not always the case, but if it reaches Wangst proportions... well, tough luck.
While this trope tends to be associated with female characters, there are enough male examples so that it is not Always Female. Children and teenagers of either sex can be prone to this if they're thrown in at the deep end early in life, but young boys are more likely to be given a storyline where they get big headed and have to be brought down to earth. Adult males are not immune, either; while bragging might be seen as less of a sin for men, and reversing it as less necessary, there will still be a few authors who use modesty as a virtue and go a bit too far.
Contrast Think Nothing of It, which is reasonable self-deprecation; Guilt Gambit, which is just a ploy to garner pity for the self; and Dude, Where's My Respect?, where a character with a lot of accomplishments is belittled by the other people instead of him/herself. If this mood is just a one off thing for a character, then it is You Are Better Than You Think You Are.
Very much Truth in Television. Many great leaders and thinkers have suffered from depression, resulting in this exact symptom.
Not to be confused with Self-Deprecation, which is just cracking jokes. See also "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Driven by Envy.
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Anime and Manga
Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist easily qualifies. He's a child genius, one of the youngest and greatest alchemists ever to exist, but he blames himself for the loss of Alphonse's body, and even at the end of the series is still beating himself up over Nina being turned into a chimera by her father, despite having saved countless other people along the way.
Orihime from Bleach. "Being lonely... isn't nearly as bad as being in the way. If I'm just going to be a hindrance on Kurosaki-kun and everyone, then it's better to be lonely!" Also, when she tells Rangiku about her insecurities and says "I am useless..."
Hakuron from Haou Airen keeps saying horrible things about himself and insists in telling Kurumi that he's a monster and she should reject him for such stuff, but that doesn't stop him from hugging her passionately and sexing her up. Many times, against her will.
Hatsumi Narita from Hot Gimmick tends to put herself down quite a bit, feeling that she is weak and unable to vocalize her emotions. The fact that her abusive boyfriendRyoki actively encourages this in her, by calling her "stupid", "dimwit", "birdbrain", and making her feel bad if her world doesn't revolve around him, doesn't help much.
Maya Kitajima from Glass Mask sees herself as plain-looking, boring, clumsy and good for nothing.
It helps that her mother kept telling her that, too, until she died, realizing what a great kid Maya was, after all.
Elfen Lied: Lucy constantly puts herself down, because she was left alone at a young age and tormented in an orphanage by the other children for being "different." Later, she meets Kouta, and for the first time in her life she feels loved, only to kill his dad and sister when she thinks that he betrays her. She then realizes her mistake when she sees how upset Kouta is, feels immense guilt, and only keeps herself alive so that she can someday meet Kouta again and apologize to him.
Tsuna Sawada from Katekyo Hitman Reborn!. Gets called "No-Good Tsuna" by his peers for his poor grades, athletic and social skills and doesn't exactly discourage these remarks directed towards him, even though, through Character Development, he's become stronger, less of a wimp, and more able to protect his "family". In the beginning he was also more likely to insist that he wasn't capable to do anything mafia-wise without Reborn's help. However, it's also something that pisses Reborn off immensely, and is shown as something he'll have to get over eventually. So when Tsuna demonstrates even a tiny bit of self confidence, Reborn regards it as a vast improvement.
To be fair, Tsuna still is a no-good bump on a log unless he's in Dying Will mode, which despite apparently being offscreen and instant now, still requires either pills or a bullet to the noggin.
Enma Kozato even more so. It's partly because of this that the two end up becoming fast friends because they finally found someone they can relate to in this regard.
Usagi in Sailor Moon, but it's balanced out by the other cast members criticizing and pointing out her faults, especially early on.
Sora Naegino in Kaleido Star has defied several laws of basic physics in some of her stunts, but constantly angsts (and sometimes downright wangsts) that she's not good enough to be a true Kaleido Star, that she'll never be as good as Miss Layla Hamilton, and that maybe her dream is too far out of her reach to achieve. Cue Mia, Anna, Ken and Marion breaking out the cheerleading gear to reassure her that she can defy gravity (again) if she puts her mind to it.
Tohru Honda in Fruits Basket maintains that she's weak and useless even as the various Zodiac Sohmas make their way over to meet her and be healed by her universal love. They keep pretty quiet about Tohru's importance to them until fairly late in the story... to Tohru at least. They're always telling each other how wonderful she is, but they don't really inform Tohru of her own importance until the end.
Himeno of Prétear keeps dwelling on her "coarse" and "unladylike" nature, especially in the manga. You'd think she'd realize that, given the circumstances, martial arts are a heck of a lot more useful than flower arranging. Not to worry; her Seven Knights Of Leafe are there to cheer her on. Or, in Hayate's case, make snide comments until she's forced to get angry.
Ayumu from Spiral angsts that he's nothing but a poor man's version of his older brother constantly, to the point that, every single time he wins a game of wits (and we're talking about an anime where Gambit Roulettes are the height of Serious Business, so you know he gets into them a lot), he mopes that his brother would have won better.
It doesn't help that everyone is always waffling about how aweswome Kiyotaka is. Ayumu's last Crowning Moment Of Awesome is when he decides he doesn't care anymore and his brother can screw himself.
Yumi Fukuzawa from Maria-sama Ga Miteru is the petite soeur of the most popular girl at her school, who actually chases after her to make it happen. She is also highly respected (e.g. fawned over) by the members of the school's Absurdly Powerful Student Council and even gets a declaration of love from one the coolest girls in the series. Still, she keeps up a very self-berating attitude, although she does lighten up a bit as the series progresses.
End of Evangelion also revealed that Gendo skirted this trope. Deep down, he believed that nobody other than Yui could ever truly love him, and that anything he did would only end up hurting Shinji. Rather than falling into the usual self-loathing, he channeled it into his plan to end the suffering he was forced to endure due to his humanity.
Although he doesn't show it, it's revealed in an artbook (and in the manga version) that Kaji is a self-hating mess. In the manga, he describes himself as "someone who does not deserve to be happy" (which is the reason for his extremely dysfunctional relationship with Misato).
Asuka as well. Although she tries very hard to hide it by constantly acting confident, deep down she's a massive self-hating mess who is desperate for praise and validation from others.
The Prince of Tennis: Out of the Seigaku boys, Takashi Kawamura is the one who took the most time to reach the top (in the manga, he became a regular only in his senior year) and was bullied as a freshman by his sempai because he had problems with his Super Strength, so he's got a pathological case of self-deprecation unless he takes his racket and his sort-of Split Personality emerges. And even then, Kawamura's issues make him an uber example of the Determinator because he thinks that he's gotta prove to everyone that he's not The Load in Seigaku (even when his teammates, Tezuka included, have told him that he's no load).
Another (more subtle) example is Team Mom Shuuichirou Oishi, who has given up his place in the regulars row temporarily more than once, was quite peeved in the anime for his Game-Breaking Injury, and almost caused his partner and close friend Eiji an Heroic BSOD when he let Tezuka (manga) or Ryoma (anime) take his place right before the Nationals
Negi Springfield is so prone to this that it eventually became a fighting style for him, throwing punches while yelling out "I'm worthless!" to get his mood in the right place to use Black Magic. He once confronted the idea that all his abilities and accomplishments are front to let him run away. Another character reminded him that all his power, however it was gained or for what reason is his own to be proud of. He still occasionally falls into self-martyring and blame-taking, with some Survivors Guilt to boot.
Setsuna also gets some bouts of this after Tsukuyomi nearly defeats her. Humorously, while she rants about how weak she is, she saves herself and Konoka from a giant iron ball on a reflexwithout even noticing that she did so.
Naruto Uzumaki and Sakura Haruno constantly beat the shit out of themselves if they feel they are being "useless" and "weak". They especially can't stand the fact that they haven't been able to redeem their now evil friend, Sasuke. Before the Chunin exams finals, Naruto admitted that he viewed himself as a loser and tried to act cool and brash to cope with this.
It doesn't help that Naruto's self-worth was already frighteningly low, being a Stepford Smiler from the very beginning. His entire childhood consisted of him being ostracized, hated, and psychologically crippled by the extensive fear and loathing pushed onto him by his entire village. His self-confidence has gotten better over the course of the series, but it is still pretty damn fragile, and the only way he can function is by being a Determinator and using sheer willpower to push forward, even when his opinion of himself is horrible. Sasuke certainly doesn't help, as he continuously keeps grinding Naruto's self-esteem further into the dust everytime they meet.
Sasuke probably attacks Naruto's self-esteem because his own swings wildly between pitifully low to insanely high due to his Inferiority Superiority Complex. When Sasuke was an actual hero he felt he couldn't live up to his older brother's status as the Uchiha clan prodigy; after the brother killed the entire clan-the entire clan save Sasuke, which constituted Konoha's entire police force and many highly trained shinobi-Sasuke blamed himself for not being strong enough to avenge them and made very bad choices in order to gain power to defeat Itachi. During his time with Team 7 Sasuke was considered the best genin of his graduating class with good reason and yet was disappointed with himself for not being able to defeat opponents with much more experience than he possessed, ex. Haku and of course Itachi. In short, a lot of Sasuke's problems are because he can't stop ragging on himself for perceived flaws (while, arguably, not dealing with his real flaws).
Hinata also does this sometimes as well because of her insecurity, like in chapter 559.
Jiraiya has this near-pathological, even in his last moments he believes that his life was a complete waste and that he was a loser. His only goal in life was to have an awesome death. He managed it.
It's revealed that Kakashi also suffers from this: he literally calls himself trash when talking to Obito. May also count as a Tear Jerker.
The Twelve Kingdoms: Youko:"I'm such an useless queen!" This is after she had to fight her way to that position.
Haruto Sakuraba from Eyeshield 21 is initially ashamed of being build up by the media as the Ojou White Knights' ace, when he considers himself a mediocre athlete who can't compare to the White Knight's real ace, Seijuro Shin. He eventually gets over this, however, and becomes a great receiver who takes advantage of his height.
Hayate the Combat Butler. The poor boy's been under the impression he's going to someday receive some horrible punishment just for having yelled at Athena when she was trying to kill him. He believes that everyone hates him, except children, though he doesn't think of children as being anything other than friends. He also doesn't feel that he's worthy of having an Unwanted Harem of gorgeous girls who worship the ground he walks on, due to what happened with Athena.
Actually, Hayate doesn't feel he deserves having a girlfriend because he can't financially support her...which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Albeit, this WAS beaten into his head by Athena, so it still counts.
And ironically, she did it so that he would become independent from his parents, and agree to live with her, since the alternative to staying in her castle was rather terrifying, and she did condemn his naivety towards his parents. Overall, it's a cryptic Training from Hell version of I Want My Beloved to Be Happy.
Hinagiku also seems to be falling to this trope often now. Usually in regards to her affections towards Hayate.
Most of the other characters get their own chances at it, though except for the above two, they're rather well solved by the time the next story arc comes around.
Yukinari Sasaki from Girls Bravo does this often. It's one of the reasons he was bullied/beat up by girls for most of his young life, because he would frequently blame himself and was "too much of a coward to talk back!"
Yura from Honey Hunt engages in this often, maintaining that she's "not beautiful" despite being very pretty when she fixes herself up, and that she's not cut out to be a actress. She also tends to blame herself whenever things go wrong, claiming that she's just being a burden on others and that she's "just no good".
Shizuo, the bartender who is prone to massive fits of rage that reach Charles Atlas Superpower levels also counts. Aside from Izaya's constant teasing, he talks down on himself for being so violent and loathing, because he believes that he has no reason to be. True in form, he had a loving family and a normal, happy life, until one day in third grade, when he was provoked...
Also, Shizuo's issues with anger and being unable to control himself have pretty much shot his self-esteem to hell. It's bad enough that when Saika declares its love for him, he responds mostly with confusion — because he can't imagine why someone could love him.
Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke. Without the heroic part, but on a scale of 100, Sawako has a self-esteem in the single-digits.
Karin Karino in Kare First Love has low self-esteem at first. She grows past this by the end of the manga.
Shina Dark: Both Christina and Galett have crushing self-esteem issues. Galett's are just better hidden behind her Action Girl facade.
Miranda Lotto of D.Gray-Man often feels inferior and useless, partially because she was fired from all one hundred jobs she previously tried to work. This is mostly Played for Laughs though. It gets Played for Drama later on, though. Since her Healing Hands doesn't actually heals, just restores it to a previous state while active, anyone that recieves fatal woulds will die once she turns off her Innocence. She loathes herself due to not being able to properly save anyone, and at one time she would rather die from exhaustion by keeping her Innocence active rather than turning off her Innocence and let people die.
A proper example would be Lenalee, who, even though she´s a Stepford Smiler who would do anything for her True Companions, hates herself for not caring as much as she should about people she doesn´t know.
Soul Eater: A chapter revealed that Maka has a LOT of secret insecurities about her strength as a meister.
Something of a Tear Jerker in how it came about; illustrated by her seeming inability to pull off one of her signature moves, and coming after a period of poor Maka having gained much greater confidence and increased ability in the areas which troubled her earlier on; see how she handles both Arachne and Gopher.
As of the later chapters of the Book, her entire already fragile base of self-esteem is just slowly being bashed to pieces. What self-confidence she had is nose-diving, and it's very worrying considering it was never very substantial to begin with.
Yuki of Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru. Even though he can read people's minds by touching them to find out what's bothering them, heals peoples injuries by taking on their pain and wants to help people he tends to put himself down. "I was abandoned when I was born and hated for my strange powers. Hurting others...I'm completely unwanted, without a place anywhere! Why was I even born? Why? I'm not..." Not to mention "I always have to be saved by Luka. I'm powerless to do anything!"
Also, Kuroto once stated "I have caused great unhappiness for both of the people who saved me from solitude and gave me a home. That's why I don't deserve to be happy."
If you took a drink every time Ahiru laments in Princess Tutu that she's "just a duck", you'd probably have liver poisoning before you even finished the series.
Duo: If you leave him alone too long, Quatre always takes the blame himself for everything. I wouldn't be surprised if one day he starts saying his 'lack of effort' is the reason there's no air in outer space.
Waltz Stan, Subaru's commander in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. He's the head of the Emergency Services and a well-known hero for his actions during the massive airport fire. He also sees himself as completely useless since those actions led to him being injured him to the point of being unable to continue operating in the front lines and he failed to save more people than he had already.
Daisuke of D.N.Angel sometimes does this. "Without Dark I'm no good at all. No good..."
Abel Nightroad of Trinity Blood lapses into this kind of behavior pretty damn often. Every major arc involves at least one scene where he considers himself a worthless, monstrous sinner.
While he doesn't tend to voice his concerns, Tiger & Bunny hints (and Word of God confirms) that Kotetsu has more than a few self confidence issues. This is especially the case for the second half of the series, where the gradual loss of his powers bring up fears that he'll only become a deadweight holding Barnaby back.
Wakaba Shinohara in Revolutionary Girl Utena seems effervescently bubbly, energetic, and perky... until during the Black Rose Arc, we find that she deeply resents people who are special, having a rather low sense of self-worth herself. Shiori Takatsuki (looks sweet and gentle and demure, but is very malicious and has horrible self-esteem since her "best friend" Juri is a beautiful and strong Lady of War) also counts.
Mawaru-Penguindrum: In Episode 14 a mentally-broken Yuri drugs up Ringo, strips both of them naked and then tries to rape her, while mentally repeating how much she hates herself due to her body issues and loneliness.
I think I'm creepy. I just can't stand any part of myself. If I went to a picnic and saw my ugly face reflected in the lake, I'd just jump into it. If I went shopping and saw my ugly figure reflected in the show window, I'd bang my head against the glass and cut my throat with a fragment. My TV is always on. That's because if I turned it off, I'd see my ugly reflection. On sunny days, I have no desire to leave the house. Even my shadow is ugly. I'm an ugly manga child who'll never see the day when I become a swan. I changed the lightbulb over my sink to the lowest wattage.
After a lifetime of neglect and harassment, the eponymous Natsume of Natsume Yuujinchou has come to see his existence as an inconvenience to the people around him, and thus is very reluctant to ask for help or do anything he thinks might trouble people.
Gilbert of Pandora Hearts often acts like this in regards to Oz his master.
Perona of One Piece has forcing this on people as a power. It makes her Nigh-Unstoppable until she faces Usopp, who lives and breathes this trope.
In Sangatsu No Lion, one of Rei's major flaws is his lack of self-esteem. His family issues that he blames himself for and his struggles as a professional shogi player despite being lauded as one of the few players to become pro in middle-school serve as few of the many factors that exacerbate his extremely low opinion of himself.
In Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, everyone praises Yuusha as the World's Strongest Man, but he's secretly sad and considers everyone else to be better than him. This is because his incredible strength and fighting skills are useless in the fields of economics and politics, which are the real cornerstones of power in this world. He's Book Dumb, the others aren't.
Jeremy and Ian do this to themselves a LOT in A Cruel God Reigns. Jeremy often asserts that he "smells rotten" and that he makes those around him (particularly Ian) "dirty." Ian, likewise, regrets and agonizes over the fact that he did not notice that Jeremy was being abused, and that when he confessed, he did not at first believe him.
In Blue Exorcist the Kyoto arc showed Sheimi slipping into this. Considering she's something of a Fragile Flower who didn't have any friends due to first being rather sickly, and then having her legs cursed by a demon, it lead to her seeing herself as weak and burden; the reality is that she's probably the second strongest of the Cram Students and most her problems are easily handled by Character Development.
And then there is the strongest Cram Student himself; OkumuraRin. Who also does this to himself. Considering the fact he's the Son of Satan, has been locked out of the loop most of his life, his awakening involved him trying (and failing) to save his foster father from his blood father's possession, is hated for being said demon's son and has to constantly struggle in his classes we can't really blame him. It's almost a relief in fact; generally he's such a Grade A Stepford Smiler it's kinda freaky.
In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou is one of the most powerful characters in the series, but he doesn't see himself as anything special. He has no desire to correct the misconception that he is a mere level 0, and freely admits that everyone else can do things that he cannot.
Taishi of Servant × Service has a poor opinion on his abilities, and by Episode 3 he actually views Lucy and Yutaka — both newcomers, even — as superior to himself. This is in fact the main barrier between him and Chihaya, as he still thinks he's not good enough for her.
Gohan from Dragon Ball Z shows hints of this in the Cell Arc, berating himself for his docile nature. At the end, he berates himself for not finishing off Cell earlier like Goku told him to do. However, after Cell comes back to life and Gohan has a final showdown with him, Goku tells him to stop attacking himself, and pushes him to beat Cell.
As a Deconstruction of a Cape: Samaritan from Astro City, meaning it's a bit hard to get through dinner with him without hearing him complain.
Empowered eats this trope for breakfast, with a title character who thinks she's a significantly worse superhero than she actually turns out to be
The character of MindF**k from the same series is a different example of this, in that she views herself as being less purely good than she actually is because she had to Mind Rape herself into becoming a good person. The fact that this made her into easily the most selfless character in the comic doesn't seem to have changed her opinion of herself
Spider-Man has been milking this trope for decades, even despite the fact that he's one of the most famous heroes in the Marvel Universe, an undoubted A-lister, and he's had numerous hot girlfriends over the years.
In Spider-Man's case, it's justified due to the fact that for each positive thing that happens in his life, he has two things go wrong. His uncle is dead because of a crook he had a chance to stop. One of his "hot girlfriends" was killed by his arch enemy, who also happened to be the father of his best friend. He may be world famous, but it's mostly due to being painted as a menace by the media to the point where any action he takes is questioned about it's intention. He's fought alongside many other heroes, relatively he only recently joined the Avengers after a long career which often saw him outright rejected due to his outlaw status. Spider-Man's self deprecation is a rare case where it's actually fairly realistic why he would feel that way.
Weaponized by Reed Richards when Doctor Strange gives him a magic device that activates only when Reed admits there are things he doesn't know. For bonus points, Reed was fighting Doctor Doom, Marvel's all-time number one egomaniac.
Fallout: Equestria has a very egregious example in the protagonist, Lil'pip. She narrates the story in first person. And that first person has some serious self esteem issues. Not to mention that she's constantly questioning her own motivations and actions, and every time she slips she beats herself up so much you're doubting between giving her a hug or a Bright Slap. Additionally, the story presents some very interesting examples of characters who have the potential to be heroes but became corrupted because they trusted their own judgment too much.
Beth Lestrade in Children of Time, in the three-part 1st season finale. She's thrust into life-or-death situations and manages not only to keep her head above the water but also to keep an entire gang of Victorian street kids safe. Her planning also leads to the rescue of Dr. Watson and her Heroic Suicide to the redemption of Sherlock Holmes. But throughout all this and after she comes Back from the Dead, she never once thinks of herself as anything more than "just a kid," and certainly not a hero. She gets upset when others insist that she is, because she sees her actions as just doing what had to be done: ergo, anyone could do it; she just happened to be the one in the right place at the right time. The task falls to Sherlock to show her that she's worth the respect and love that he and others have for her.
"Why would anyone want to save ME? All I do is prank my parents, prank other people's parents, and throw water balloons at anyone I see. I wouldn't be shocked if everyone was celebrating back at my house!"
This is a staple of most Superhero movies, where the hero suffers some (usually) public defeat that is both physical and spiritual. In fact it is a major theme of The Dark Knight. Batman seems thoroughly disgusted with himself when Rachel dies and public opinion of him hits an all time low. In a rare subversion, he embraces his low public relations score for the greater good.
George Bailey, from It's a Wonderful Life, suffers this. Despite repeatedly sacrificing his own desires to help others, and doing enormous amounts of good in his hometown, he feels worthless because he's never done anything 'big'.
This is a recurring theme with Bella in Twilight, as she spends a good quarter of the first book alone lamenting how boring, clumsy, plain, useless, etc. she is in relation to Edward. He, on the other hand, does the same thing in the unfinished Midnight Sun manuscript, decrying his bloodlust, darkness, monstrosity, etc. and how he will never be good enough for Bella.
A Series of Unfortunate Events: Lemony Snicket is frequently disparaging of himself; he has described himself as a coward, and at various points in his novels comments that he would not have been as brave as the Baudelaire children had he been in their situation.
The titular heroine of the fantasy novel Rhapsody (and its sequels) is pretty much a textbook example of this: despite being amazingly beautiful, powerful, intelligent, musically talented, and so on and so forth, she is constantly and loudly insisting that she's ugly and worthless and everyone must hate her and think she's a freak. It gets very obnoxious after a while.
Possibly something of a subversion than a straight use of the trope, as it is presented as something approaching an actual case of medical depression and her longest-running companion is, to put it mildly, somewhat less than impressed with her whinging.
Mundo Cani Dog of The Book of the Dun Cow is the most selfless, noble, and heroic character in the book, but he has terrible self-esteem, agrees with any insults, and doesn't even mind having his fur eaten by wild turkeys or being used as a doormat.
Honor Harrington has this on a full burner for the most of the series, and, as Michelle Henke once pointed out, is constitutionally incapable of even wishing anything good for herself, if there's any chance that it would be at someone else's cost. In the long run she gets enough self-appreciation beaten into her by her friends, but still always insists on Think Nothing of It despite any evidence to contrary. Of course, this fits with Honor's status as a Hornblower Expy. However, Honor's parents are some of the best doctors in existence, she has lots of contact with them, yet their concern for her self-image seems to be limited to her mother telling her she needs to get laid.
Ciaphas Cain is probably the only person in the Ciaphas Cain series who thinks that he is not worthy to be called a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM. There's a mixture of reasons for this: partly, it's because he knows that brushing away compliments about his mighty reputation will make him look heroic and modest to boot, partly that the vital contributions of his aide Jurgen are always overlooked and Cain gets all the credit, and partly because he really feels he doesn't deserve to celebrated as such a hero when was he only ever trying to save his own skin (or so he says).
It should be noted that the series is, in-universe, edited by his comrade in arms, who added extensive annotations on when Cain's narration missed important details- or when she felt he was being too tough on himself. It's up to the reader to decide who's interpretation is correct, although Amberley Vail was not the kind to soften facts, and Cain's culture is very focused on martyrdom.
That one is more due to the fact that, after having seen Cedric Diggory's death and Voldemort's resurrection, he isn't told anything about Voldemort, which he feels is important because Voldemort is trying to kill him personally. And he is proven correct later in the book, by Dumbledore nonetheless, when he says that he has just realized that, by not telling Harry what he should have known earlier believing he was protecting him, he only made things worse.
Harry's playing down of his own competence is probably justified, as he is already well aware that he's the centre of a 14 year old reputation built on a deed he didn't actually perform himself. The last thing he wants the other students to believe is that he can pull an unbeatable solution out of his arse every time or teach them to do the same, because he knows it could get them killed. And sure enough, Colin Creevey, one of his biggest fans, dies in the last book, and it hits Harry "like a punch in the gut". Then again, Colin knew the score: he'd had to go out of his way to evade McGonagall and sneak back to fight. What Harry couldn't comprehend was just how determined the whole school was to make a stand; if McGonagall hadn't ordered them out, everyone would have stayed to fight.
Also, a big theme in Ron Weasley's Character Development is feeling inferior and unskilled in relation to Harry and Hermione, which more than one mixes with Driven by Envy. He feels that he's not really good at anything, and even if he was, either his friends or his siblings would have done already anyway. Reading between the lines, he's not an idiot, has a certain amount of intuition his two friends often lack, and he's a world-class chess player.
During his last conversation with Harry, Dumbledore also shows a hefty amount of self deprecation. He lays bare all of the mistakes of his youth that drove him to become the Big Good, explains that he never sought a government position because he didn't think he could be trusted with more power, and apologizes to Harry for manipulating him in the fight against Voldemort. Dumbledore admits that Harry is the better man and that everything would have gone smoother if Dumbledore had put more faith in him. Harry being Harry reassures Dumbledore that You Are Better Than You Think You Are.
One can argue that J.K. Rowling handles this trope quite well: Harry self-deprecates because he's thrust into the position of the most important person in the world before he's even done growing up.
And Dumbledore was traumatized by the death of his sister and blames himself for it.
Ann from the Gemma Doyle trilogy is not a fan of herself. This is to the point of self-harm.
Flashman acts this way when anyone is looking, though in his case it's an utterly cynical ploy to boost his reputation as an innocent-hearted hero. There is also an Alternate Character Interpretation that Flashman is genuinely brave ("heroic" is not a word that can be used of a self-confessed rapist, murderer and slave-trader) but doesn't admit it to himself - if the definition of brave is "feel the fear and do it anyway" then Flashman is pretty much the poster child: he charged with the Light Brigade, fought on both sides of the US Civil War, took part in almost every major battle of the Indian Mutiny and stood beside Custer in his Last Stand... all while quaking in his boots with terror.
Enola Holmes is like this in the beginning, having grown up with the usual Victorian Age denigration of women and thinks she's stupid and ugly. However, this is eventually averted when she realizes that she is good looking at least as part of her disguises and the simple fact that any 14 year old girl who can keep one step ahead of her brother, Sherlock Holmes, and operate a successful Private Detective business at the same time is a bloody genius!
The Dresden Files' eponymous protagonist is this...probably. Nearly every chapter in the story is narrated from his perspective, so we really can't tell- other characters say that they believe he has deep, unwarranted self-esteem issues, but they aren't privy to Harry's inner thoughts, as he points out. He does many bad things in the books, as well as good things, and it's ultimately the reader's decision exactly where he falls on the antihero scale.
Quentin Leah in The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara couldn't save Tamis or Ard Patrinell. This transforms him into a Failure Knight who goes to insane risks to protect his adoptive brotehr and the rest of his friends. Yet despite this, he never thinks it's enough, regards himself as a failure, and just wants it to all end.
In the novelization of Revenge of the Sith by Matt Stover, the only person in the galaxy who doesn't believe Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the greatest Jedi Masters of his time is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
After the first book in The Bitterbynde Trilogy, the main character, Imrhien, runs into this trope, especially as other people tell her she's beautiful, and she can't comprehend it. Justified, as she spent the entire first book with a hideously deformed face, and was treated cruelly on account of it, and that, combined with her amnesia, formed her entire self-image.
Nadreck of Palain VII, from the Lensman universe, is the epitome of this trope. He's just taken down three near-impregnable enemy battle-fortresses by telepathically manipulating their crews into going insane and killing each other, but he tells his colleagues it's the worst performance he's ever put in since he was a child, solely because the three commanders survived and he was obliged to kill them himself. He almost resigns his commission when asked to divulge the details. Self-deprecation is a psychological trait of his entire species stretching back centuries, and it's documented in him when his character is first introduced, but he takes it to extremes here.
Lilac from Of Fear and Faith doesn't usually have good things to say about herself, not helped by the voice of her mother inside her head berating her constantly. Phenix and August are also very hard on themselves.
This is, naturally, big in Victorian literature. Perhaps the most extreme example is Esther, of Bleak House, queen of Dickens' saintly female protagonists. The novel is split between omniscient third-person narration and Esther's first person view - and every second line of the woman's narration is pathological self-deprecation. As critics have pointed out, the extremity leaves an odd effect: since Dickens also requires the character to be a mouthpiece for Dickens' sharp, sometimes barbed, observations about characters, she comes across as passive-aggressive. It also makes her relationship with some of the other characters seem a little... unhealthy. For instance, she is not merely fond of her friend Ada, she is morbidly and self-abasingly obsessed with her. The most recent BBC adaptation to give Esther a complete personality rewrite to make her bearable to a modern audience: they endowed her with a sense of humour and replaced her hysterical self-loathing with a more likable mix of confidence and humbleness.
Lu, the protagonist of Murderess, suffers from this, even after heroically saving Hallwad and Aucasis from the Dark Ones’ tunnels.
Live Action TV
Smallville's Clark Kent lives this trope on occasion.
Supernatural's Dean Winchester falls into this trope but as the resident Chew Toy his friends and family tell him to quit whining. His brother Sam does, too, and just gets dismissed as whiny.
"One ex blood junkie, one dropout with six bucks to his name, and Mr. Comatose over there."
Stefan from The Vampire Diaries fits this trope. As a vampire who thinks he's a monster, Stefan constantly doesn't believe that he is truly good because of all of his guilt due to his dark past.
Years of being put down has resulted in Kotoha, Shinken Yellow in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, doing this to herself. When she's just absorbed into group efforts, it's no problem, especially since her job as retainer to her lord requires loyalty and to do what needs to be done. But if ever there's time to reflect on her worth, or points when their leader wants her sole decision on some matter, I'm-not-worthy-for-this-isms are inevitable. As is usual with toku character faults though, she slowly begins growing out of this by the season's halfway point.
It actually proves to be useful in one instance, since it renders her impervious to a Monster of the Week who damages opponents by insulting them.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer moves in and out of this trope. In Season Seven, she realized she had an inferiority complex about her superiority complex. She's very quick to think something is wrong with her whenever something suggests that this might be the case. Over the course of the TV show, Buffy prevents ten apocalypses and saves people from lesser threats on a regular basis.
The series 5 Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice" involves an enemy who insists on being called the "Dream Lord," with powers over dreams. Early on, the Doctor says "I know who you are. There's only one man in the universe who hates me that much." At the end of the episode we find out that the Dream Lord was a manifestation of the negtivity in the Doctor's subconscious.
In "Let's Kill Hitler", when the TARDIS voice interface takes on the image of the Doctor, he asks it to show him someone he likes instead.
The Eleventh Doctor practically runs on this trope. In "The God Complex", he delivers an Ironic Echo of something he'd said to Amy when she'd begun traveling with him, "I am just a madman with a box."
Overlapping with Never Trust a Trailer: In the trailer for the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor," we hear the War Doctor say "Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame." In the episode proper, we realize he's referring to himself as the lesser man, with his future selves being the great ones.
Although Frasier Crane is usually quite vain, pompous, and full of himself, and quite willing to rub it in everyone's face, this arrogance is largely a cover for his insecurity, and when it fails him, his self-loathing black moods are miserable. His brother Niles usually has to flip their Vitriolic Best Buds bickering on its head and do the same thing to himself to get Frasier out of it:
Frasier: I wanted my day. I wanted hoopla and fuss, I practically planned the whole thing myself. Says a lot about me as a psychiatrist, doesn't it? I'm a small man.
Niles: Well, what does it say about me that I was happy seeing you miss your day? I was jealous all week! I'm a tiny man.
Frasier: Next to me, you're a giant!
Niles: I stare up at your ankles!
Frasier: I need a stepladder just to —
Niles: Oh, let's not do this again.
Friends: Chandler makes constant jokes at his own expense. His first line of the series is a quip about his pathetic dating life. His snarking actually belies devestatingly low self-esteem stemming from his neglectful parents and constant rejection. This is ironic as he has the most successful, well-paid career of the gang, is relatively attractive, intelligent and very witty. As the series continues you see him gain confidence, (largely in part to his relationship with the supportive Monica) and become less self deprecating.
Stargate SG-1: In "Meridian", Oma Desala wants to help Daniel ascend, but he gets stuck on this trope. He blames himself for Share's death and Sarah's enslavement by Osiris and claims that nothing he's ever done has made any real difference. Daniel also insists that he doesn't deserve to ascend due to these failings, though he eventually comes around.
Zyuden Sentai Kyoryugerplayed this for laughs in #7. The Monster of the Week can create copies of people, and attempts to drive a wedge between the team by having the copies insult the real ones. However, when Fake!Ian starts insulting Daigo, he completely agrees with all of it and asks Fake!Ian how he can become a better person, which is ultimately what reveals the MOTW's plot.
Dino Attack RPG: Despite the team's high regard for Rex, he feels that he is undeserving of his great reputation and considers himself a Failure Hero. This became most apparent towards the end of the Final Battle, though this was compounded by his guilt over Amanda's death.
Lowen the Cavalier from Fire Emblem 7 is sweet, a great Team Chef, has great potential as a cavalier (and pretty good growths in-game, unless you count magic defense) and works damn hard to get the work done... but he's got crippling self-esteem problems and several supports with others (his boss Marcus, his mentor Harken and his potential girlfriend Rebecca) have him saying he's just a nuisance and a load in the group.
Wolt, Roy's best friend and milk-sibling from the prequel. He's a talented archer and Roy greatly values both his friendship and skill, but Wolt still sees himself as being weak and nothing but a hindrance to him. Like with Lowen, most of his Support Conversations revolve around other characters helping him to overcome his low self-esteem.
Cordelia from Fire Emblem Awakening is skilled in many different fields, such as fighting, music, and even smithing. Despite this, she keeps telling the other characters that she isn't a genius and tries to downplay her achievements.
Colette Brunel from Tales of Symphonia. Treated as a tragic character flaw. She also gets better once the burden of having to save the world is lifted from her by Lloyd.
Tales of the Abyss has Luke. After his Heel Realization sets in and once he's done his Heroic BSOD, he spends the rest of the game like this, only fully recovering right at the final boss. Once the rest of the party gets over how he accidentally killed thousands due to his own selfishness (about a few hours after they are reunited), they keep telling him not to say such stupid things.
Asch gets pissed whenever Luke does put himself down. Then again, he gets annoyed by virtually everything, but the party, for once, thinks this he is justified.
Tales of Vesperia practices this too, with Yuri, although it's much subtler. Mostly it's tied in with his inferiority complex when compared to Flynn, but later on, after he kills Ragou and Cumore, he starts to hate on himself for being a criminal, too, and he also self-deprecates for letting Raven essentially abduct Estelle right out from under his nose.
Cecil Harvey from Final Fantasy IV spends half of the game hating himself for accidentally destroying a village of innocent bystanders (and doing other evil deeds as well). Even after his redemption he still goes back to reminisce about it eventually.
Redemption does not equal forgetfulness.
Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII as well. (And how!) He didn't so much 'put up an image' of stoicism as attempt to adopt a totally different personality because he hated his own so much.
He does this in the Kingdom Hearts series as well—more so in the second game, when Tifa is trying to cheer him up and encourage him to find his light, but Cloud essentially says "Yeah, whatever...".
Speaking of Kingdom Hearts, Hercules loses all of his heroic will in the second game due to letting the Hydra destroy the Coliseum. He spends a good majority of the return trip down-talking himself, which eventually begins to aggravate even the main characters.
Lightning of Final Fantasy XIII. Through and through, she's strong and independent and heroic. She saved her sister, two worlds, millions of people, etc. and takes it further in the Sequel as she protects humanity across the entire timeline, protects a Goddess, and leads armies into battle as she fights an unwinnable war (she can't win... but she can stalemate indefinitely). You can always count on her to get the job done better than anyone else. Her opinion of herself? She's a rotten, no good killer who has failed everyone she loves and cares about every step of the way; refuses to forgive herself for not believing her sister at the start of XIII, no matter how understandable her actions were; feels she must atone for her sins and gain "redemption"; is constantly apologizing to her sister for failing her (Serah strongly disagrees with Lightning on this); and scoffs any time anyone tries to commend her.
Miranda in the Mass Effect trilogy has pretty severe self-esteem issues along these lines; since she was designed from the ground up to be 'perfect', she's got trouble believing she actually earned any of her accomplishments.
In the third game, Shepard gets in on the act, questioning why everyone is putting their faith in him/her, even though by this point s/he is the biggest damn hero in the galaxy and according to the Leviathans, the greatest threat ever to have faced the Reapers...and the Reapers have been around for over a billion years.
Vivian from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Despite easily being the most powerful and the most versatile partner Mario had, she failed to develop much self-confidence until late in the game. She had a good reason, though; her sisters were bullies who always told her she was worthless (the biggest reason for her Heel-Face Turn).
Metal Gear - Solid Snake is proud of his deeds and aware of his competence... but don't, ever call him a hero. You'll get a ten minute lecture if you're lucky.
According to Snake, a hero does it because it's right, a soldier does it because he's ordered. He's very much the second, he thinks, and refuses to let anyone (especially himself) forget it.
Between his PTSD and his survivor's guilt, Otacon can keep up with Snake in this regard any day. Ironically, both of them form an independent paramilitary organization dedicated to opposing Metal Gears in MGS4, where Snake is most likely to angst and insist he's not a hero.
Several people in Fate/stay night do not consider themselves successes despite their legacies.
Servant Saber considers her tenure as king to have been a big mistake and wants to use the Grail to make sure a more worthy person is made king in her stead despite her positive mythological portrayal. The land she lived in fell into civil war due to people finding her leadership too cold and her closest friends Guinevere and Lancelot were heavily involved in that.
There's also Archer, who thanks to his own actions has cursed himself into being a Counter Guardian, or a type of Heroic Spirit that prevents tragedies and potential apocalypses. He thought it would be a good thing and help him save more people in the long run, but that's not really how it works, which leads him hating the job he does. Since he feels his ideal is now impossible and yet has to follow through on it anyway with no regard to his will, he wants to challenge his past self.
Lorence Lancaster in Silver Chaos is extremely strict to himself even if the others look up to him, and in his route he doesn't want to confess to Might because he is convinced his love must be one-sided.
A common ailment among Homestuck characters. Karkat has unresolved issues involving his blood type (and that's just for starters; the boy really has it in for himself); Dave has trouble judging himself by his own standards instead of comparing himself to others; and Sollux is a Mood-Swinger caught between depression and rage.
Sollux: (to his girlfriend) iif you weren't 2o great iid thiink you were 2tupiid for liiking me.
Terezi, of all characters, has fallen into this too, and it seems to have taken a toll on her.
Mackenzie from Tales of MU abhors violence, to the point that she'd rather die or get raped than risk hurting her attacker. Her compassion, empathy, and acceptance are borderline Messianic. She abjectly refuses to believe she is anything but irredeemably evil, a result of her father being a demon and her caretaker being a demon hunter, not to mention that she has more Berserk Buttons than Bruce Banner.
Phase of the Whateley Universe does this a lot. But given that Phase is on a team with Tennyo, Fey, Lancer, Bladedancer, and Chaka, it's sort of realistic to think he's not Superman and Batman rolled into one. Also, in battles, Phase is afraid, and it doesn't seem like his teammates ever worry about that stuff.
However, it should be noted that Phase is in reality one of the most dangerous members of Team Kimba. He's incredibly smart, he rarely loses (and if he does, he goes back for a rematch armed with knowledge of how to beat his opponents), he has a utility belt packed full of holdouts useful for any situation, his disruption-light tactic can turn Exemplars into monsters, his knowledge of economics is so good that he's a multi-billionaire before he's sixteen, and his powers can get him through almost any fight.
Iriana Estchell of Ilivais X flat-out hates pretty much everything about herself, and will usually counter a mushy compliment with self-insult.
When The Nostalgia Critic is really stuck in depression, he can't stand to wear his usual suit. It's only when he manages to get out of it that he'll put it back on again.
In the later seasons of Family Guy Meg fell into this trope more often than not. Given her status as extreme Butt Monkey on the show, this isn't surprising.
Even Batman falls into this in one episode of the Dini-Timm cartoon, when Commissioner Gordon is wounded during a police bust. Batman bitterly reproaches himself for his failure, thinking he does more to help merchandise salesmen than the people who really need it. This trope is Lampshaded by Robin, who points out that Gordon is fully aware of the dangers of his job, and tries to remind Batman that Gotham would probably have fallen apart without him. Eventually, it's subverted when a disgusted Robin gives up trying to cheer up Batman and goes to the hospital to protect Gordon, since the mobster they busted has escaped from prison and is probably going to pay the Commissioner a "visit". Subverted again when Batman snaps himself out of his depression and goes to the hospital himself. The mob boss tries to whack Gordon, and runs into Batman...
Nearly saves Fluttershy from corruption in the season two premiere. Discord starts mocking her about how weak and useless she is, expecting her to get riled up and protest about how her kindness has done so much good... but instead, her self-esteem is so crappy she "agrees" with him wholeheartedly, and starts talking about how grateful she is to have friends who are willing to help her so much because she's good for so little, despite the fact that this is the pony who walked up to a raging manticore, made a dragon cry, and stared down a cockatrice that was turning her to stone at the time, among other things in season 1 alone. Just when it looks like she's off the hook, Discord loses his patience and corrupts her by sheer brute force.
Twilight Sparkle also has shades of this, particularly in "Boast Busters;" she's afraid of defeating a Small Name, Big Ego character in a magical contest simply because she doesn't want others to think she's showing off. This later comes into effect in "Lesson Zero," where Twilight begins mentally unhinging because she hasn't sent in her weekly friendship report and fears getting sent back to magic kindergarten, or possibly to the moon. Never mind all her positive findings before then.
Spike's reaction to praise from the Mane Six and Princess Cadance for saving everypony from the iceberg cloud in Equestria Games.
Spike: I just saw what needed to be done and reacted. Just so happens I can breathe fire, and if any of you could do that, you'd have done the same.
Sir Winston Churchill. Greatest Briton. Nobel Prize winner. Depression sufferer (especially in his later years, when he was already very established as one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century).
Neil Gaiman: Even after all these years of being recognized as one of Earth's greatest living writers he still seems to think of himself as a relatively normal person and seems slightly bemused and perplexed at all the attention people give him.
Abraham Lincoln is said to have been a master of self-hatred.
Reversed by John Forbes Nash, famous mathematician and logician, who instead of self-deprecation had delusions of even greater grandeur; for example, he once turned down an important academic chair because, as he wrote back, his election as the Emperor of Antarctica was imminent.
Thus illustrating how John Nash was Crazy Awesome. A schizophrenic revolutionized economics by developing Game Theory, and I do believe he won a Nobel Prize for it.
Nobel Prize in Economics. And not just his game theory but many other breakthroughs in economics are attributed in large part to his revolutionary papers. However, Heroic Self-Deprecationdoes actually apply to him. His schizophrenia was composed of two states: one where he believed he was on a vast and important quest of the highest importance, chosen by aliens to change the political fabric of the world, and become the first World Citizen; and one where he was less than nothing, a distorted and worthless shadow of a human being. Having these two opposite and somewhat mutually exclusive mindsets constantly warring for dominance was not healthy, and did not turn out well.
English novelist Thomas Hardy, despite achieving fame and success in his 30s, had constant doubts about his literary talent, to the extent that following bad reviews for Jude the Obscure he gave up writing fiction altogether and didn't write another novel for the last 30 years of his life.
Leo Tolstoy is a well-respected and famous Russian writer and philosopher (at least in his country). In a autobiographical work of his, My Confession, he mentions that he had recurring bouts of depression despite having what many would call a happy life: he had a beloved wife; good children; a large estate "which grew and increased without any labour on [his] part"; was respected and praised by friends, neighbours, and strangers alike; and was mentally and physically well (excluding his depression). Why was he depressed? Because he was wondering if life was even worth living. In the end, he concluded that it was.
Just about any serviceman or woman decorated for valor, especially those with the highest commendations (Medal of Honor, Victoria Cross, etc) will often dismiss the honor as being decorated "for just doing my job".
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that explains both this trope and its inverse (dumb people thinking they are actually pretty good). In effect, if you are competent, you tend to assume other people are about as knowledgeable as you are, so you underestimate your own talent. And if you aren't, you think you're actually pretty good at something without so much as scratching the surface.
This may be why Babe Ruth is often credited with popularizing the "aw, anybody could have done it" attitude. Considering his background and (especially) the team he played for, it's no wonder he believed this.
Another psychological condition which this trope is pretty much the embodiment of is the impostor syndrome, a syndrome in which the sufferer is unable to acknowledge his or her own talents and accomplishments, puts them down to luck, coincidence or the skill of others, and is convinced that any recognition and success they have achieved is undeserved and that in reality they're just frauds waiting to be found out. Amanda Palmer dubbed this phenomenon "The Fraud Police", an imaginary police force in your mind that you expect to show up at your door any day and arrest you for being a fraud. The video is a commencement speech in which she gives some amazing advice on how to deal with the fraud police, which she says everyone will get a visit from at some point in their life, no matter who they are or how successful they've become. So to you - yes, you - who are reading this article because you experience self-doubt: Watch the video, don't give up, and believe in yourself, because You Are Better Than You Think You Are.
Some children have impostor syndrome. While we usually think of kids as blaming their bad deeds on an Imaginary Friend, some kids actually "blame" one for their achievements. Said kids usually lack the confidence to assume they'd be able to do as well next time.
"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision." - Bertrand Russell
Various works have been done on the gender difference involved in this: in general, young boys were found to be much more likely to accept the credit due when they were praised, but young girls were more likely to play down their achievements or claim that someone else helped them. This has led to a Nature Versus Nurture debate: are most girls naturally more modest and boys more assertive, or does society train boys to assert themselves (to the point of boasting), while teaching girls that "it's not nice to brag" and that they should "share" credit for their achievements?
It's been said that Doug Walker's self-esteem is so low it's burrowed down to come out the opposite side of the world. Check out his anniversary special commentaries to see his Guilt Complex take over.