Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarcasm or Self-Effacing Humor Anyone?

Where I grew up, we all used sarcasm to one degree or another. Later in life, I learned how to use self-effacing humor. I would - essentially - poke fun at myself.

Also, I would use sarcasm, not a mean sarcasm, but what I considered to be a little good natured fun, a teasing, poking gentleness toward others. It was my way of showing my affection for the other person. I would do this with males and females (when I was single).

With females it is a form of flirting - this teasing thing. So I was always careful never tease a female when I was married.

At Al-Anon a few people in various meetings came up to me and asked me not to poke fun at myself. They did not like hearing me criticize myself. My response was a very "Really? Is that how you hear it?" A resounding "yes" would be the reply.

Let me give you an example of one time when I shared. I said, "Hi I'm Joe. I must be the biggest idiot in the entire eastern hemisphere because of what I did yesterday. Wait until you hear this . . . " Or something like that. I was using drama - for effect - and probably - no definitely - for laughter through being ridiculous by exaggeration.

I truly do not think I am the biggest idiot. There are far greater idiots than me.

You see, there it is again. That last sentence.

Is that sarcastic? Is that self-effacing?

The person, whom I respect very much, came up to me and said, "I like Joe. I don't like Joe criticizing Joe." Now, she is married. She isn't hitting on me. I would have thought that a LONG time ago - possibly. But she really meant what she said. Since that time, my humor is being observed to see if I do this often.

I can tell you I asked others in Al-Anon about self-effacing humor. They said, "No don't do it." My therapist, Sherpa, guide to places I am heading without a compass or map, said the same, "Stop it now."

However, there were two guys on a boat on the lake this weekend that said, "What? Self-effacing humor is great stuff. As long as you don't take it too seriously." Of course these guys are guys. These guys are a "type cast" set of guys - like the ones - from New Jersey, or Miami or boat (pronounced boat - meaning "both" - it's a NY or NJ or Miami accent - which by the way I don't have and I am neither condoning nor condemning - however - if you are in NY and you want to rumble - I will have to say "I can take on boat of yas" - meaning "both of you.").

Anyway. I am cutting back on the self-effacing humor. I am eliminating sarcasm all together.

I would like your thoughts on whether there is room for self-effacing humor in life.


Kim A. said...

What a great question. I have learned by actually "listening" to how I speak that what I think is humor or making light of someone else or myself comes across as crass. I consider one of my defects to be that what I hear in my mind and how it is taken by others can be two very different things. In fact I often feel like the idiot because something I meant in jest isn't taken that way. I do this with myself and others. When I was younger, my parents often told me to "lighten up and toughen up". I think I use dry wit and barbs due to this influence. Not really an answer but a really GREAT question, Joe.


Anonymous said...

There are times in life when we decide either to acquire or to prune out certain traits and behaviors from our personalities because they no longer fit the behavior of the person we want to become. We outgrow the behavior or we grow into the behavior.

The question I used to ask myself each morning when my husband was drinking was, "Am I better off with him or without him?"

You could also apply this question as a test for other choices you want to make. "Am I better off with this sort of humor or with out it?"

If you tell yourself something often enough, eventually you will believe it. There is truth in that sentence. Is there a kernel of truth in your self deprecation? When you did whatever you did, was your inner voice telling you what an idiot you were or asking yourself how you could be so stupid? Is your "pain-body" feeding on the retelling of the incident? (yes...you finally got me to buy and read Tolle's book. I am on the pain-body chapter now)

If not and its simply spinning a good yarn to entertain, great! We need all the laughs we can get!

But maybe on closer examination you might decide to cut back on it, if not entirely, then with certain groups of people.

The important thing is that you are becoming the most authentic you that you can be. Each person's circumstance is unique. Judging others is useless. I am sure you will figure out the answer to your question, because...you have asked the question.


Anonymous said...

I have caught myself using this kind of humor. When I can really pay attention - I see that it is usually a way to deflect (or take the heat off...) - for example; I will make fun of myself before anyone else does, so that I am not another's "victim". There's also a bit of superiority there - I can figure out how big of an idiot I am myself, I don't need anyone else to tell me.

One thing that I like about your Al-Anon friends' suggestions is that, if you tried it (to pay attention and quell this habit for a while), you might be able to develop the habit of a little stop before you automatically utilized this type of humor. Eventually, that would lead to you having a choice of whether you wanted to do it or not. Is this a useful tool, or a habit that is doing me a disservice? Al-Anon is all about choices and changing our automatic reactions (the things we can change). Only you can know whether this kind of humor is doing a service to you. It's worth finding out if it is.

Joe, thanks for the great question. This gave me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

I need advice. My husband has been cutting back on his alcohol usage. It was causing great pain within our marriage. His father is an alcoholic and alcohol is the bond shared between the two whenever they get together. My mother in law has chosen not to ever discuss the pain in her marriage to an alcoholic and I respect that. I have mentioned to her several times that my husband, her son, struggles with abusing alcohol. Sadly, she points at me as being far from perfect,end of talk. At our most recent family gathering I mentioned to her that our marriage was improving since we were actively taking measures to address the alcohol abuse and he'd agreed to cut back. A month goes by and she calls my husband via his cellphone and invites him home to New York to spend quality time with his father in a BAR watching and Irish football game for the weekend. I am hurt by her attempts to separate my husband from his family in TX and place him in an environment that he's weakest in. Anytime spent with his father always revolves around excess beer drinking. She didn't invite me or speak with me about this. I'm pretty sure she knows how I'd feel. I feel she's not respecting me and our children. We have 3. They need a healthy father. I hoped she'd support his efforts to cut back and not place a gun to his disease. Any thoughts on how I should respond? I feel she's not being respectful of me. Please help. Thx in advance and sorry this is so long.

Syd said...

I don't mind humor at meetings. Sometimes meetings get so heavy that it is nice to have some self-effacing humor. Most of that humor that I've heard hasn't seemed manipulative in any way but just another way to express how crazy living with alcoholism can be sometimes. I'm not really good at the humor thing, although there have been times when things have honestly been funny and I've talked about it.

tearlessnights said...

Wow... I love the input and insight everyone shared.
I have come to believe that my humor is a total defense mechanism. It is a 'social acceptable' defense mechanism... people often even COUNT of me to BE the comic relief in a situation.

I agree with poster "S" that it is a way to quell others' criticism and advice if I beat them to the punch. If I can laugh at myself, perhaps it won't be so painful if someone else laughs at me or points out a flaw. I have found that people also depend of me to bring levity and laughter to a situation. (Or at least I THINK they do - haha).

For today, I am learning that humor has its place. It is a nice and enjoyable gift. But it is like a very rich and very flavorful condiment: best used sparingly so as to not overpower the flavor of the dish or become the only thing you taste.

So Recovery meetings and intense conversations - probably not... maybe I need to be more of a listener and strip away my defenses and be TRUE.
Out to dinner a fun or at a party with friends - AWESOME! Bring on the laughter!