Humor and dysfunction
I’ve been trying to write about isolation for a week. Isolation might be the most present and consistent “symptom” (feature? facet?) of my life, lifestyle, personality, chosen profession, relationships…all of it. It’s probably a whole series of posts, that also requires digging into control and fear and trust and a host of other issues.
I’m setting the topic aside for now, but hey, if any of you writing types want a prompt—maybe write/journal about isolation? What it looks like for you, what it means to you, what it gives and what it takes away?
Meanwhile, I realized this morning that I also want to write about some of the things my life experience has given me, things I like about myself. While I was reading about isolation in Tian Dayton’s book, Emotional Sobriety, I also came across this:
“Humor is another asset that those from problematic backgrounds often develop. Out-of-the-ordinary circumstances we have had to cope with can give us a real sense of the fringe of life. Our humor can be hilariously zany, biting, or insightful. We have used humor for very specific reasons: to manage the unmanageable, to lighten the family’s emotional load by breaking tension, and to find alternative ways of bonding and feeling good.”
This kind of humor and use of humor is a major personality trait of my family of origin. Obviously, life with an alcoholic isn’t a laugh-riot, but both my mom and dad—and especially my mom’s extended family—had this hilariously biting sense of humor, and an ability to laugh at the absurdity of ourselves and life around us.
I recognize that humor is not always a net good, because the thing about a biting sense of humor is sometimes that bite hurts. It can be used to dismiss, gaslight, mock, shame, and belittle. And I’ve definitely been bitten and have bitten in that dynamic when there’s almost a competition to see who can make the most smart, witty sarcastic comment first.
In college, a group of friends basically held an intervention with me saying my “jokes” were often too biting—I had hurt and belittled my friends enough that they had to talk to me about it! That was awkward, to say the least, but it was a needed course correction and I’m glad they called me out.
All of that said and acknowledged, the sense of humor I’ve inherited has ultimately contributed to my resilience. My sister and I can laugh ourselves to tears reliving certain painful moments of our childhood, marveling at the absurdity of it all and the “what were they thinking?” take on the behavior of adults around us. I can laugh in the re-telling of my dad teaching me to ride a bike, and how he screamed, “Just fucking pedal!” at me as I wobbled down the sidewalk.
Being able to step outside of that potentially traumatizing experience from the safety of my adulthood and shake my head at my late father, who struggled to know how to parent—not having had great models of it, himself—allows me to transform the memory in a way, to “manage the unmanageable,” and even have a little compassion for my dad who I’m sure did not like himself for screaming at me.
Having a sense of humor about myself also allows me to have compassion on me, and deal quickly with myself when I’m acting up. Also, instead of nurturing grudges and keeping score, I can laugh and let go of the infinite little frustrations in marriage and relationships, not giving minor things more weight than they deserve. When I can see the absurdity in myself and make it funny to me, I have a better chance of not getting stuck in it.
I still have to watch myself. It’s very easy to cross the line from affectionate amusement at the foibles of others to leaving bodies in the wake in my haste to show off my wit. But when I can really laugh from a healthy place with my mom and sister or with my husband, about ourselves and the situations we’ve been in and gotten ourselves in, at our foibles and recurring issues…it all feels so much more manageable and helps enable me to move forward with a little more compassion for myself and others.
I didn’t sense a huge privacy concern re the last post, so am just keeping things as they are for now.
If you are Very Online, you’ve heard about some issues at Substack Inc. I’m keeping my free newsletters here for now as I’m not eager for more admin tasks, but a future move is possible. We’ll see.
If you write something about isolation that you want to share, send it to me!