Laughter – Not always the best medicine!

I often hear laughter coming from individuals while they are mentioning traumatic past experiences. Whether they are talking about how they were abused as a child or how they used to shoot up drugs into inconspicuous places. A short giggle here, or a wry laugh that ends their sentence. A sentence that is not at all funny or laughable and often times my experience of the conversation is a visceral response that is raw and painful.

I do understand the laughter and where it comes from. I used to do it as well. I now believe that laughing at traumatic things in our past is harmful to us and it is also a dishonest response. I should clarify one point before going on. I am not against humor or comedic responses to life. I am actually quite the joker when it comes to laughing about life’s many situations.

There is the saying by Carol Burnett about “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” I agree with this to a degree but there is a fundamental piece missing from this particular meme. If the tragedy has not been dealt with- through self-knowledge, therapy or other means of self work, the tragedy is comedic only because the issue is still raw and too painful to deal with. Because the individual has not worked through the trauma of the past, they must giggle or laugh as a defense mechanism to cover over the true emotion under the laughter.

The laughter is also an invitation to the listener to join along in the conversation as a tale of laughable past times. Of course if the listener joins in with returning laughter, the trauma will continue to destroy and manipulate the host. I didn’t realize how selfish it is to laugh about my own unprocessed trauma. Telling others about your past traumas with laughter causes the listener to feel the emotions for you. The feelings you are covering over are being felt by the person you are talking to. If they are not feeling your hidden emotions, they are non-empathetic and you are wasting time talking to that person anyway. Maybe that is what you want. If you just want someone to join along with your misplaced laughter, that’s fine too but I can not join along with that kind of empty relationship blather.

I’m not saying that laughing at your own trauma is contemptible or horrible or anything like that. Like I mentioned above, I understand it and I used to do it myself. All I am saying is I think it is a very important topic that we should evaluate honestly and objectively. Nothing in recovery is more important than being honest with yourself. If you notice someone giggle or laugh at something traumatic or horrific, pay attention to how you both deal with that situation. Challenge yourself to talk about the laughter in the discussion and you may be amazed at how advantageous and open your conversations can become.

Laughter is not always the best medicine.

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts on this topic. 🙂


15 thoughts on “Laughter – Not always the best medicine!

  1. Hi Dustin,

    Thank you for writing. I know the concept you are speaking of and well, ‘use’ it too. And I do wonder about it when I hear myself laugh stuff away. Often I do it because I feel I have lost the interest of the person who’s listening. Because they discard my issue, I discard myself. Maybe I have done something before to have lost their interest, lacking integrity or truth, not sure. There is a possibility that some people are not good listeners too, of course.

    Sometimes I joke about things that I, in hindsight, did not want to really feel when telling them. This also happens with people (i!) who are stuck in the story: they keep on telling the same thing over and over and over again and at first I think ‘They have processed that well, look how jolly they speak of that car accident.’ And then I hear the same story again, almost verbatim, and again, no changes there and jokes and laughs at exactly the same places in the story. And then I think: not processed, more like stuck.

    When I do that to my therapist he asks: ‘Can you accept, that what you are saying, is true?’ Well, actually he says ‘May it be true?’ which is less judgemental, but might not get the meaning accross in writing. Several occasions I have been, only a that moment, first been confronted with the truth of what had happened.

    There’s another version of this and this is where people (i!) use a story as a shield. ‘See what has been done to me!’ Another saddening version of not wanting to be with the emotion of has happened but this time I believe combined with desperation. Healing does not take place there, in neither places. So yes, recognisable, and yes, better to not to. 🙂

    Thanks for writing, food for thought.
    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you are blaming yourself too much in your interactions with others. That don’t mean I’m right, it’s just what I think. Lol if you were losing someone’s interest in a conversation, it’s dishonest if they don’t let you know. I don’t believe that there are a select few who are just born as bad listeners. We all have that capacity- some more than others. Lol I can be horrible at it and really have to focus my attention to the words of others. I don’t believe we are consciously hiding behind laughter but I think whatever the reason or emotion we cover up, it is not helpful. Thanks for your thoughts on this. Very interesting stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing this Dustin. I never thought about it and I thank you for opening up my mind on this subject. I tend to laugh at things that make me uncomfortable and perhaps I have not fully dealt with the issue and use laughter as a means of escaping dealing with the feeling. I will certainly be more aware of this as a result of your post. Thank you again Dustin

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Laughter can pop up at any time, for various reasons and sometimes people are not aware of laughing in a spot you may think is innapropriate. I had a psychiatrist ask me during a session why I laughed when I spoke about being abused as a child, for me the laughter stems from nervousness, an automatic response over which I have no control. I doubt seriously if I will be able to recognize my nervousness in the future and be able to tell myself not to laugh or giggle, because of how it may look to a lay- person. If a person chooses to not participate in “conversation” with me because of my “misplaced” (in their opinion) laughter then so be it. My sober life and my mental state are two separate issues, and I deal with my mental state outside of my recovery program. And in my recovery program, we are not a glum lot. Thanks for your opinion and for your invitation to respond.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you that the laughter is unconscious and can often times be an automatic response. You have told me some pieces of your history and again, I am terribly sorry you had to go through what you did. I should clarify where I said I won’t join in with empty relationship blather I didn’t mean I would not talk with that person. I mean that I will not laugh along with them, like many people will do. Often times abused people don’t know when they are speaking to someone who they can be vulnerable with their stories and someone who would laugh along is not a very empathetic person- in my opinion. To say we are not a glum lot is a bit of a straw man. Of course I don’t believe that we can’t laugh and have a good time in recovery. There is a book called The origins of war in child abuse. I don’t know if you know of this book but the arguments that war is only possible on earth because of child abuse. The claims in this book are very strong and to date, it hasn’t been disproven. If this is the case, how important is it that we ostracize unsympathetic child abusers? The problems in society due to child abuse is legion and that is why laughter has the potential to shut down the discourse. Thank you for your comment and thoughts on the subject. I knew it was gonna be a touchy subject but I think its important to talk about. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post! I am the person that “laughs at a funeral” – I mean not really, I don’t think that I have actually but I do have a strange tendency to giggle when trying to say something serious. It’s an anxiety thing. I know it seems weird and I’ve had people say, how can I. It’s not that I mean it. It just kinda happens. Anyway, still working on that one. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi SC! Thanks for your comment. I think we are all guilty of giggling at times when we should be serious. From the comments, it sounds like a lot of us use laughter when anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions come up. Its tough because if we have empathy, and we show empathy to someone say, who is a sadist, we are letting a torcherer know right where it hurts. We don’t want to that of course. Yet if we are around someone who is caring and empathetic to our emotional state, we can really benefit from the true genuine emotions that we are having. Anyway, I could be completely wrong but from what I have read and experienced, it seems like a possibility. Great job on your broadcast show with the right now crew. It was great to hear some of your story live. Hope you had a good weekend.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting perspective… I love to make light of my situation as a youngster, but I’ve been through the fourth thru the twelfth on all of it. One would have to be a scary judge of character to pick out the motive behind the laughter.

    The way I look at it, before I would take someone else’s inventory on their laughter, or “challenge” them on it (in kinder terms), I’d better know that person pretty well, no?

    I may be sober but a shrink I am not. Food for thought. Good post man.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love when you comment on my posts. You help me see how I can become a better communicator and your rebuttals are thought provoking and challenging. Of course there are caveats and exceptions to this argument, as with almost all arguments so if you have dealt with the abuse you suffered as a child, that is much different from a newly sober individual who is laughing about their sexual or physical abuse that they have not dealt with. I think I can safely say that you don’t need to be a shrink to know that sexual, mental or physical abuse against a child is not something to laugh at. You are right about psychologizing the motives behind the laughter, but who does the laughter benefit?
      My fundamental purpose of my post is that when the non aggression principle is broken, especially against a child, laughing with the victim prior to their own resolution is colluding with the abuser.
      None of this is philosophical or proven I get all that- but I believe that we all have an eco-system of personalities and honest discourse will be shut down if a misplaced emotion is present.
      If a stranger started to talk to me about their childhood abuse while laughing about it, I would sympathize with that and ask them if they have dealt with it. If they haven’t processed it, what better way to help that person and show that you are willing to be open and honest with them by not laughing at something so tragic? I could be completely full of sh!t but I just cant see how the unprocessed abuse of an (adult) child (plus other circumstances) can be funny. Children already don’t have a voice in society; hitting children and national debt to name a couple issues should not even be debatable. okay Ive turned this into another blog so I will stop blabbing on. lol Thanks again Jim. I always enjoy your comments. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. This post and all of the responses has been very enlightening. I’m an anxious laugher (giggle at the most inappropriate moments especially when someone is expressing anger towards me or I’m flooded with emotion I can’t process any other way. (Imagine how validated and heard people feel when I laugh. NOT helpful!) I also had a counselor point out that I laughed while talking about particularly difficult events. I think like others have expressed there can be many reasons for laughter that doesn’t seem to fit the circumstances. In counseling, it helped me talk about painful experiences. In anxious situations it relieves some of the anxiety – while causing more in the other person I’m afraid. My mother always assumed it was defiance. That never ended well.

    It was interesting to find out that “it’s a thing” and that I’m not the only one afflicted with it. I don’t laugh when telling painful experiences anymore – maybe because dealing with the emotions from them made me need to talk about them a lot less to begin with.

    I like your approach of not laughing along with people who are sharing painful events. Letting them know you’re “safe” means a lot I would imagine.

    A very thoughtful and thought provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. I’m sorry that you mom threw adjectives at you instead of asking you what you were experiencing. I wonder if it becomes a “habit” for a person to laugh because they were not allowed to express their genuine emotions or feelings in their home as a child. I know that for me, there are things I can’t be honest about with my family. It seems to be around my preferences. I’m trying to picture myself as a young 5 year old and then asking myself if I were to talk about something sad or vile that happened to me- would naturally laugh? It seems hard to believe that I would. I find it strange that as a 36 year old, I do laugh. So I have to wonder, why is that? I am obviously no therapist and have no expertise in psychology so take what I say with a grain of salt. I just think it is a very compelling topic and I enjoy reading and thinking about it. I am not the first person to write on this subject but I think it is great to apply it to ourselves and ask ourself with honesty, if there is more hiding under our laughter. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment and I appreciate your thoughts and experience with the topic. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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