Laughter really can be the best medicine. Finding humor in the face of adversity is a defense mechanism that can be used for both good and evil. Spinning a traumatic experience in a way that provides comedic relief might be just what the doctor ordered, whereas poking fun at another person’s expense in the face of uncomfortable circumstances can prove destructive.
Those who have undergone traumatic events of varying degrees typically need time to heal before being able to find humor in their situations. However, as Alex Lickerman, M.D., of University of Chicago, explains this coping mechanism can be indicative of psychological recovery. Though it is a defense mechanism to keep an individual from feeling the pain associated with the trigger, it has been found to actually reduce the amount of suffering experienced. Nervous laughter is another form of this defense mechanism, occurring when someone laughs at the sight of a terrible accident or giggles when an old friend suddenly professes his or her undying love. It is a physiological response that, while socially inappropriate, shields the person from having to confront uncomfortable emotions.
Self-deprecating humor can arise when an individual pokes fun at himself or herself. This can be endearing, as it indicates that the person has a sense of humor, but it can also highlight low self-esteem and insecurities. In Charles P. Silet’s publication entitled “The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays,” he notes, “Freud defines humor in general as a socially accepted outlet for repressed ideas…” Silet ties this to the self-deprecating humor of Woody Allen and similar comedians, stating, “…Freud set the precedent for studies of Jewish humor when he suggested that Jewish humorists are the butt of their own jokes.” In the context of self-deprecation, humor is an opportunity for people to joke about their own insecurities before others have the opportunity to do so.
Sarcasm is sometimes employed to belittle or mock others. In this sense, sarcasm can be a defense mechanism aimed to direct aggression toward another individual under the guise of humor. Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross, LMFT, explains that people who use humor at the expense of others are often “defending against their own insecurities.”
Humor can be a helpful defense mechanism used to cope with unpleasant circumstances or past trauma. However, this habit can turn destructive when used to hurt others or conceal an individual’s insecurities or anxiety. If the latter describes you or a loved one, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals facing mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer