Last weekend the Hubbage and I hosted my sister-in-law “Bernadette”. Two or three years ago, she divorced a very angry, abusive, and viciously sarcastic man. She is, to put it lightly, EXTREMELY sensitive to sarcasm, as well has harmless humor she deems as sarcasm.
The Hubbage is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and his humor is mainly silly. Like, REALLY silly. Not sarcastic. Not off-color. Add to that he has not a mean bone in his body. The only problem with his stories and jokes is that they sometimes go on a tad too long, or it’s one funny observation after another. He’s aware of this, and points to his side, where there’s an invisible ‘button’ I can push to shut him up.
More than once during the weekend, she accused both of us as being sarcastic and hurtful — even though at no time did we poke fun at her in any way. It wouldn’t even have occurred to us to do so. Yet on the last day, she gave my husband a lecture on his humor. (She’s all about confrontation, and because I’m a total wuss, I sort of admire that in her.) But her going after my husband had me stunned.
I get that the ex did a number on her, but she’s doing us no favor by having us walk on eggshells around her.
She’s scheduled to go on a trip with us later this year. I’d appreciate any wisdom on how to handle her without having to check ourselves every time we think of opening our mouths. 0316-15
So, Bernadette is your husband’s sister? This story would have made sense if Bernadette is your sister and she was not used to her brother-in-law’s humor but she grew up with her brother, your “Hubbage”, so she well knows of his sense of humor long before she married and divorced the vicious ex.
In that light I can offer several observations. The first being that if Bernadette is offended by her brother’s humor which she grew up knowing and living with and which predates her bad experience by years, then I suspect there is baggage from childhood that has not been resolved. How well did Bernadette and Hubbage get along as children? Did she find him funny and kind back then like you do now? If they enjoyed a good relationship through most of childhood and early adulthood, it is baffling why that foundation of the relationship does not carry through the bad times she had with someone else. In other words, the many years of happy times with her own brother should outweigh the few years of bad times with the ex husband.
The second observation is that some people seem to never move forward from being a victim. While new victims desperately need tender, loving care to get them through the trauma, there are far too many people who stay in that victim role for years after the event is over. Being the victim has become a familiar behavioral habit with patterns of thinking that never transition into a positive, “forward to the future” outlook. It’s as if the memory tape or mental conversations are on a rewind loop that plays over and over again. Just like recovery from an injury or surgery requires physical therapy to work those bones and muscles so they remember how they are designed to move, build strength and train them to behave differently after a long hiatus, so too, is mental recovery from traumatic events. Victims need help breaking the habit of their thinking and move them into more positive modes of viewing the world and people around them.
I think I would shelve, at least temporarily, any humor that could be construed as sarcastic. There are so many other ways to be humorous and things to laugh about that limiting sarcasm-type humor shouldn’t feel like a deprivation. Watch humorous movies, play games that have a high probability of causing laughter, perhaps go to a improvisation comedy club while on vacation. It seems to me that Bernadette needs to relearn how to laugh first and then move on to being less sensitive to humor she perceives as sarcastic. And it’s OK to gently and kindly tell her that laughter is OK and that you enjoy laughing.