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  • Writer's pictureSarah M.

Harmful Humor

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”- Oscar Wilde. Whether sarcasm is a sign of intelligence or not it can easily get out of hand and cause some real damage.

Humor can be an extremely powerful coping tool, in even the toughest of circumstances. In general, humor can be tremendously useful in helping people cope not only during or immediately after a negative event but also over a long term.

Humor is a delicate dance most of us consider especially important, and yet humor research is still in its infancy. But any rules of thumb for using humor have to include a caveat: Context matters.

Being sarcastic is a humorous trait and laughing at yourself is a healthy message to not take yourself too seriously but when we cross the line and start to associate ourselves as this individual we are laughing about, that can be a dangerous and self harming situation.

Humor is something many use to cope with a lot of things in life. In my research I found that many great comedians are people with depression or at least struggled with some type of anxiety in their lives. And this isn't to say that all great comedians are depressed, it's that humor is a way out for many.

Many of us feel that humor matters, because it does. It's a characteristic that we value in our friends and partners, it's something that connect us.

I've always loved sharing a good laugh with people, and it can actually improve your health.

And being sarcastic is just one way of showing humor. Some use harmless sarcasm to affectionately "tease" and actually show they care about you, but sarcasm can also be a means of judging; yourself and others. Because most of the time sarcasm isn’t humor. It’s hostility.

Laughing at yourself and finding humor in the mundane is wonderful but when does it become more of a letting yourself down tool when you describe yourself?

You might be actually hiding behind it. The way you word something might not be taken seriously but it can get out of hand fairly quickly.

Using humor to make fun of yourself and your flaws is a serious message you might be sending yourself unconsciously. And it’s easy to see why; it makes you seem approachable. It shows that you are self-aware and that you’re not afraid to be vulnerable, but it can be detrimental.

It can be as simple as not being able to take a compliment. Nobody wants to come off as vain, so we sometimes find it easier to invalidate the compliment for the sake of humility.

It's also easy to convince yourself that your self-deprecation is just a means of socializing. It becomes a little harder to justify, however, when you’re the only one in the room.

The ultimate sign that you need to ease up on the self-deprecating humor is that you start accepting it as reality what you originally intended to be a light-hearted joke. The point of self-deprecation is to make light of your flaws and come to terms with the imperfections of humanity, not validate insecurities.

If you are continually speaking about yourself in a manner that puts yourself down, over time those comments and beliefs become a part of how you view yourself and impact your self-esteem. Think of it as slowly chipping away at the foundation of your sense of self over time.

So how do you find that healthy humorous balance?

When someone compliments you, the best response that you can have is “thank you.” Take the compliment, no need to reinvent the wheel. People appreciate when their complements are well received, and a simple “thank you” can go a long way.

It is sometimes easier to recognize other people’s behavior than it is to examine your own. Pointing out when others are being overly self-deprecating will not only help them to break the cycle, but it could also force you to stop and think about your own similar moments.

While sarcasm has become a staple of modern language, there are both risks and benefits. Engage sarcastically, yes, but know the limits.

Be quick to laugh and smile. Delight in the absurdity of life and in the jokes you hear.

Yet remember even though the ability to make light of yourself can have benefits, if it begins to dominate your sense of humor or becomes a go-to coping strategy when you’re uncomfortable, it might be an issue you want to address.


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