How can parents’ use of ‘humor’ potentially hurt their children?
I remember when I was very young, perhaps 3 or 4 years of age, my father would ‘play fight’ with me. For instance, he would ‘scissor’ me between his legs, exerting enough pressure for it to be painful, or, his speciality, hold me down and tickle me relentlessly to the point, in fact, when I would tearfully BEG him to stop. Laughing and crying at the same time was a peculiar sensation.
Most bizarrely, too, and, retrospectively, disturbingly, he once told me (again I’d have been about 4 years old), that if I misbehaved he would take down my shorts and underwear and lift me up over the garden fence so the neighbours could see my naked lower body and laugh at me. Disconcertingly odd behaviour on his behalf, surely?
The ‘tickling’ (‘tickling’ can actually be used as a form of torture, by the way, so don’t underestimate its potential effects – just because the victim’s laughing doesn’t mean s/he’s enjoying it!) was carried out by my father under the guise of ‘playing around’ as, to a much lesser degree (I took the threat seriously), perhaps was the threat to humiliate me in front of the neighbours.
Looking back now, it is clear to me both acts were, in fact, acts of mild sadism, even though my father may have claimed (I never brought the subject up whilst he was alive, which I regret) he was just ‘kidding around’.
Parents Who Use Destructive ‘Humor’:
Indeed, many parents emotionally wound their children under the guise of ‘kidding around’ or ‘just trying to be humorous.’
Destructive, hurtful or harmful humor is usually an expression of underlying negative feelings such as hatred, anger, hostility, resentment or, as in the case of the personal examples that I’ve provided above, sadism.
Often, too, these underlying negative feelings have not been caused by the victim of the destructive humor, but by others who the user of the destructive humor is not in a position to inact revenge upon – instead, s/he displaces the underlying negative feelings onto an innocent victim.
There are several categories of harmful and destructive humor which include the following:
– ‘humor’ that demeans and devalues an individual
– sexist/racist/otherwise offensively discriminatory ‘jokes’
– practical jokes
It should be borne in mind, also, that if we complain about being the object of cruel and hurtful humor, we may find ourselves accused of ‘not being able to take a joke’, or of ‘being oversensitive’ , that it was ‘just teasing’ or, especially irritatingly, being told that we need to ‘lighten up.’
There are, however, various methods that can be used to discourage others from using destructive humor. These include:
– don’t ‘play along’ by joining in the laughter just because you feel pressured to do so
– bluntly state you do not find the ‘joke’ funny or that it’s not your kind of humor (people who laugh at everything, paradoxically, often have little sense of humor and certainly lack discernment)
– start defining limits and boundaries if someone continually oversteps the mark by making so-called ‘funny’ comments are hurtful
– ask the individual to explain precisely why s/he considers what s/he said to be amusing
– respond with bored indifference, perhaps even feigning agreement.
With all these strategies, it is usually best to stay calm and not to display anger, if at all possible.
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You may also wish to read my related article entitled : Being Constantly Humiliated By Parents May Damage Brain’s Corpus Callosum.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).