top of page

The Humour Shield

Updated: Jun 12

"Those who continuously use deflection, are just running away from their reflection.” ~ Christine E. Szymanski

I recall, not too long ago a conversation I was having with a group of friends at a party. We weren’t besties, but we weren’t acquaintances either. Everyone was on fairly good terms with each other, and occasionally we would go beyond small talk to discuss work, relationships and the like. Somewhere along the conversation, we talked about toxic managers at the office, work pressure, and balance. A question came up about why people feel burned out and out of balance. That’s when one of them remarked the following with a bright smile on his face:

“I don’t know, I’m just depressed all the time I guess. Haha!”

Upon hearing this, another responded with a smile of her own:

“Oh my god me too. I feel my anxiety all the time which makes me super stressed at work. I need a vacation!”

Following this, the whole group started laughing and moved on to talking about travel before they filled their cups with some more alcohol.

There are a few ways we can look at this. One, this group was just having a good time and venting about their work. Two, this group was slightly tipsy so they didn’t pay a lot of attention to what they were saying and so they probably didn’t mean it. Three, this group has individuals who are struggling with serious mental conditions but aren’t comfortable with talking about it openly, so they rely on humour as a means of deflection to preserve themselves in front of the whole group. The avoidance of being vulnerable.

Using humour and sarcasm is often associated with being witty. A sign of high emotional intelligence. Like most things in life though, moderation is key. Humour and sarcasm are no different. Too much can make it difficult to have a conversation with someone, especially when everything they say is made out to be a joke, a sarcastic remark, or an attempt at undermining something as a means to appear humorous.

But why does this happen?

Trusting the Facade

I did an episode recently titled ‘The Ego Game’, where I talked about how we all have individual identities that we’ve created for ourselves as a means of living in society. These identities may seem authentic, but they’re merely illusions that don’t hold a lot of substance. Of course, we need them to function in the world, but that’s about it. This can be broken down with the following self-reflective questions:

Q1. What we think of ourselves

Q2. What we think others think about ourselves

Q3. What we would like others to think about ourselves

Because something like ‘self-worth’ is not quantifiable, the answer to Q1. is usually either that we think that we’re better than we are, or we think that we’re worse than we are. This affects our understanding and response to questions 2 and 3. If we think we’re better than we are, we tend to live with the proverbial chip on our shoulders - the innate urge to prove ourselves to everyone, wherever the opportunity arises. We want to establish dominance at work, or in friendships or relationships. We’re blinded by our narcissism to the point where no amount of validation is ever enough to satiate our ego.

On the flip side, if we believe that we’re worse than we are, we tend to live with a certain amount of self-doubt all the time - not humility necessarily, self-doubt. A sign that someone thinks this way is the use of excessive self-deprecating humour. Once again, not to be confused with humility. Self-deprecating humour where one undermines his/her achievements or capabilities because they either don’t feel worthy of the credit, or they believe that the validation is disingenuous.

This brings us to Q3, what we would like others to think about us. Here’s where the facade is most prevalent - and where social media acts as our assistant, serving us whatever we want on a silver plate full of dopamine and validation. This is also where humour and sarcasm shine the most because using humour and sarcasm is a convenient way to deflect certain conversations without necessarily being upfront about one’s boundaries and preferences. By creating a facade through social media or in real life, we preserve what we truly hold to be true by creating a false narrative so that we don’t appear vulnerable.

It’s more common than you think.

There may be multiple reasons why this happens. Some people have trauma that they deal with, experiences in the past where someone took advantage of their trust, manipulated or even gaslighted them, destroying every ounce of trust they were capable of placing in another individual. Alternatively, some people feel that no matter what they do or who they speak to, they won’t be heard. They may be listened to, but they won’t feel heard.

What does this mean?

Lost in translation

In ‘The Ego Game’, I point out that we each have different versions of ourselves that we portray in front of different individuals in our lives. The way we talk and behave varies from when we’re at work, with family, with acquaintances, with close friends, with partner/s, etc. This is because not all conversation is appropriate for all individuals. We pick and choose our conversations and the versions of ourselves we wish to put forward because we feel like this is the version that would be understood the best and is the most relevant in said situation. For instance, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to talk about our relationships or childhood, whether good or bad, to our local barista during our 10 am coffee run. Regardless of how polite they might be or how desperate we may be for personal connection, it simply just isn’t the right environment.

Sometimes, we may feel like what we really believe may not be understood by anyone. This is a symptom of loneliness but rather than accepting it or seeking help, we may resort to sarcasm or humour to preserve the facade. Why? Well, reputation is very important for the ego.

After all, who wants to admit to being lonely?

It may take a few attempts at having a conversation before we realise that no matter how much we try, no matter who we speak to, our message is simply getting lost in translation. We try to explain something and rather than being heard, we either get advice, or the other person filling the gaps before talking about how ‘they relate so hard’.

We all know someone like that.

So what?

Why does any of this matter? So what if someone relies on humour and sarcasm as their armour against people? As I mentioned before, having a conversation with these people can be challenging. Of course, if they’re an acquaintance then it may not matter much. However, any hopes of fostering a deeper connection with these people can be challenging because they tend to make a joke out of everything. Topics like anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout are not funny and they never will be. No number of smiles and laughs will change that.

This isn’t an attempt to demonise these individuals. It’s not uncommon to see such people rely on alcohol as a crutch to deal with their emotions. If not alcohol, they may just accept their fate and internalise their emotions and suffer, rather than talk about it in the hopes of feeling better. This isn’t to say that talking about it will help, it may not. It may even make it worse. No part of this is meant to be easy, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying - especially if we’re talking about those who are close to us.

Anyone can put up ‘pseudo-inspirational’ posts and stories on Instagram and TikTok preaching about independence, solitude, and self-preservation. I am of the firm opinion that anyone who believes that solitude is ‘good’, hasn’t struggled with loneliness. There’s a difference between being comfortable in your own company and choosing to be alone. There are people of all sorts, shapes and colours out there, making this world interesting.

Now one might argue that if anyone has a problem with someone who behaves in this way, to just avoid them altogether. There is truth to this, but only to an extent. As mentioned earlier, it becomes a tricky space to navigate if they’re particularly close to you; but also, excessive humour and sarcasm about sensitive topics like anxiety, depression, and loneliness display a lack of empathy towards people who genuinely suffer from these conditions. If we are to live in a society where mental health is given the amount of attention it should receive, it’s imperative to preserve a culture where openly communicating about these subjects with someone is treated with respect and understanding. This doesn’t mean talking about your issues to a random stranger you met at a party 15 minutes ago, but rather voice is out with someone you trust to help deal with it.

If that’s not an option, then know that your shield of humour and sarcasm may not be as effective as you think it is. It may be solid to some, and transparent to others.


Podcast Links

Prefer listening?

Check out this podcast episode for the Ideas & More show on Apple Podcasts & Spotify.

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page