Now is a good time to touch on perhaps an unexpected tool in your toolkit:
Do you have a collection of things that make you laugh? Do you even know what makes you laugh?
This is an indispensable tool, but one that must be used with care. Yes, you have to practice your humor.
When I started counseling, my first counselor informed me that I had a nervous laugh. Really? Yes, really. It actually sounded different than my natural laugh. It popped out when I laughed at things I shouldn’t laugh at, like laughing about being abused. It wasn’t funny. It isn’t funny.
This tool is truly personal. Not everyone laughs at the same things. Even so, it’s important to remember that you need a sense of humor to survive.
That being said, to me, humor that belittles one’s self or someone else is not healthy. This is the kind of humor I knew best. In fact, as I look at the various sitcoms and other humorous programs, belittling is the predominant factor in the jokes. For me, passing along the cuts and barbs makes me feel like it’s happening all over again.
That being said, being able to laugh at yourself is essential, while at the same time always making yourself the butt of a joke is not healthy. If you’re tearing yourself down, then all you’ve done is replaced your abuser. Yes, I did that.
An unexpected aspect of humor is that sometimes laughing is used to cover another emotion. I think it’s acceptable, to a point, as long as I’m honest with myself about what I’m truly feeling. For example: Sometimes I laugh so I don’t cry, because it isn’t always safe to cry, either because it sets me up for further ridicule or because I’m not prepared to cope with all the emotions I’m feeling at the moment.
I’ve also discovered there is an art to gentle teasing, and it’s nothing like I endured growing up. I enjoy teasing with some of my close friends, but some of them still find it too painful, and I try to respect their boundaries.
Listen to what you say to yourself and to others. Then think about how it makes you feel. Then think about how it would make you feel if someone said it to you. Being aware will become a part of who you are, with time, if it isn’t already.
Will you still make snarky comments or biting remarks? From time to time. Remember, none of the tools in this book are once and done tools. They all require repetition and fine-tuning. As long as you’re here, on this planet, the project isn’t done.
Wow. Re-reading some of these paragraphs the material sounds really preachy. I thought about cutting them, but then I remind myself that first and foremost, this book is for me, for my benefit, to help me become healthy, and learning to have a sense of humor is part of learning to be healthy.
God has a sense of humor, so it must be healthy. How do I know? Otters. Ferrets. Penguins. Dolphins. Watching them play makes me laugh, no matter how crumby I’m feeling.
Explore humor. Find what makes you smile and laugh and cultivate it. Cultivating your humor is another one of those things that doesn’t simply happen. Any farmer will tell you that cultivating a crop of anything requires a lot of work and time. The fun part about humor is that the idea is to spend the work and time laughing.
My sense of humor has changed, as I’ve grown healthier. Some things that used to make me laugh don’t anymore, and things I found humorless, now tickle my funny bone. I do laugh a lot more, including at myself.
There are different kinds of humor. Personally, I love a bit of good, dry humor. I like a little bit of slapstick, once in a while. I like sarcasm used sparingly. That being said, having lived in a culture, for a short time, where sarcasm had no meaning, I found I missed it. For example, try to explain, without a working knowledge of sarcasm, the humor of Clint Eastwood’s famous line, in Dirty Harry: “Make my day.” Good luck with that.
I relish a clever play on words, though I admit that sexual innuendos tend to make me cringe. A guy I dated turned everything I said into a sexual innuendo. Everything. It was annoying and boring.
The cute kid and animal pictures are always welcome additions to my day. And there is nothing on the planet like a baby’s laugh.
An odd note on humor: I was teased about the way I laughed. At various times, I was told that I brayed like a donkey, sounded like a hyena, and snorted like a pig. I literally went about changing the way I laughed. Anyone who hears me laugh, now, isn’t hearing the way I laughed growing up. Really. And doesn’t that end the chapter on a less than humorous note.
So, if I’m going to incorporate humor as a tool, then I need to learn to embrace it as fully as I do my other tools. It’s difficult to laugh at much of anything, when you’d really rather cry. I’m struggling to not ignore my need to weep, while at the same time, endeavoring to find the humor that will lighten my heart.
Perhaps the important thing to recognize is that I do have a sense of humor, and it isn’t cruel. I’m doing something right.
© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy