Freud categorized certain common coping strategies as “defense 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 weks 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 themsellves 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?
The following was posted as my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2016
>> 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. <<
What is natural to you is honest. What gets your needs met is a coping skill. For some people, bitterness and anger are their honest reaction. Others are natural clowns and comedy is their honest reaction. But as soon as you say transmutation — it's a change, it's not your first response. It isn't necessarily without its own truth, but it's not the whole truth.
Thanks for your comment.
I like the distinction you make between natural reaction and coping strategy. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on humor, but I’m having trouble imagining there is not some sort of response before the humor. Humor is based on *something* else. Irony or contradictions or extremes or something being ridiculous. Something. Irony, for example, is the incongruity between what is expected and what occurs. There is a step between what happens to a person and the reaction of “That’s irony” involving a comparison.
Or maybe I’m overthinking this.