Freud categorized certain common coping strategies as “defense mechanisms.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_mechanisms Most people are familiar with at least a few of them – repression, denial, regression and rationalization. Later, scholars broke them down into hierarchical categorizations. Believe it or not, humor, where an uncomfortable or unpleasant internal reaction is transformed into a more enjoyable emotion, is considered one of the “higher-order” defense mechanisms.
Since high school, I’ve known my tendency to seek the humor in the things that happen to me was a way of coping with the inherent discomfort. A couple of weeks ago, a line from a song reminded me of this:
It’s only funny ‘cause I learned to laugh.
How many of us, with what degree of frequency, teach ourselves to laugh instead of cry? Another musician’s words come to mind:
You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.
I worry about how people with disabilities handle the ongoing, daily discrimination and oppression they face. I’ve watched many people become increasingly bitter and then be rejected more because of that bitterness. I’ve noticed others become comedians, poking fun at themselves before another can do it. (This is often hard to discern from those who use humor as a means to dispel others’ discomfort.) Sometimes the humor turns dark, as if the bitter and the funny were shaken well, then poured. As I think back, I know my own use of comedy has evolved, from protective to bitter to something cleansing.
No matter how we have each learned to cope, our coping sprang from a need to handle constant emotional assaults from the outside world. Yet, our world praises the disabled comedian and shuns the bitter one.
I’m not going to suddenly give up my tendency to find the funny, but I am beginning to wonder if bitterness is, in fact, a more honest reaction. How people with disabilities are treated is painful. Transforming that hurt into humor is far more enjoyable for everyone involved, but is it as honest as bitter?