Humor as Deflection

Is it worth a chuckle? Or simply a form of denial?

One camel said to the other

My former boyfriend (FBF) and I had a difference that caused a recurring issue: when I had something weighing on my mind, he liked to keep things light and playful. When I needed to express something potentially difficult to say or hear, his response, in attempt to lighten my mood, was often humor.

When we have something to share, something serious, like a hurt, fear or intense emotion, we want to be heard and understood. It can be hurtful if, instead of holding space for our feelings, our partner or friend tries to deflect our pain with comedy. No matter how well intended, when FBF tried to make me laugh instead of allowing me to experience my emotions, I felt dismissed and that my feelings weren’t important. Over time, I closed up, stopped sharing and assumed I didn’t matter to him.

Intense emotions can be uncomfortable for an innocent bystander. When we’re upset, passions can escalate quickly and it’s easy to assume that the fear, anger or hurt is intended for us. But trying to deflect someone’s sadness or hurt because of our own discomfort is a tactic that often creates frustration for both parties. If someone tries to hold our arms down, it makes us want to flap them all the more, which makes the holder try even harder to hold! It’s an all-around unsatisfying experience.

It can be tough to know how to respond when someone is ripe with pain. It may be natural to try and be witty as a stab at relieving the atmosphere and deflecting the emotional intensity. However, like trying to fix things, working to be funny to shift the conversation is nothing more than a struggle to avoid discomfort. Worse, it diverts the attention from the person who needs it to the person who’s supposed to be giving it. And even worse yet, humor as a response doesn’t acknowledge the hurting person’s pain. In fact, it says, Oh ya, shame you’re hurting but listen to how clever I am.

While everyone has their own personal style for expressing emotion and a preferred prescription for receiving support, meditation philosophy teaches us that it’s okay to feel. It teaches us that all thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve to be heard; nothing is either good or bad, but how we think about it that makes it so. When we sit in silence, we learn to hear and feel our pain – literally and figuratively. And we learn to be with it.

No offense to the stand up comics among us, FBF included. They are only trying to comfort us in the way they know how. However, it seems in our world today we are too anxious for a snicker. It appears that nearly everyone is spinning nearly everything into a clever pun, punch line, or parody of Donald Trump. We’ve been brainwashed by the instant gratification culture that it’s all good. Well, it’s not. And that’s okay.

Looking for a laugh in an uncomfortable situation, especially a serious one, is avoidance. If, instead of holding space in a pregnant pause, we rush to fill the awkward silence with clowning, we’re selling out. When we make a game of something that’s difficult, it keeps us from having to stare it in the face.

When I was going through my divorce, a very influential teacher told me to embrace the beauty of my current state of rawness. She urged me to not shirk from the pain but to let my body soften so it could flow through me. When we’ve been stripped bare, we can feel both the beauty and sting of life even more deeply, and actually, this is a gift.

So bring it on, good, bad and indifferent. No diversions. Like drinking or doing drugs, constantly searching for a laugh is sometimes nothing but an attempt to avoid unpleasant feelings. Sure, humor can be a harmless and fun form of coping, but it’s also mighty powerful to be able to sit through pain, our own or that of someone we love, without cracking a joke.

Q: What do yoga, meditation and an apple peeler have in common? 
A: They both take you to the core.

One Response to Humor as Deflection

  1. Terri June 8, 2017 at 3:49 pm #

    A beautiful and powerful statement. Hopefully, the FBF, whether he remains that or not, will begin to understand the significance of Listening and to distinguish the moments when a serious, heart-to-heart is in order. But what is so pronounced in this essay is your ability to identify and to articulate with honesty and sensitivity an issue that affects many relationships. So glad I saw the post on Facebook.

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