My husband is brutal: he teases and torments me unmercifully. But I’m just as bad. From the moment we wake up until we crawl exhausted into bed at the end of the day, we are constantly harassing one another. In fact, the first words out of his mouth as he opens his eyes at 5 am are “Are you annoying me yet?” To which I respond, “I can begin whenever you want.” Or perhaps I’m feeling more considerate at that moment: “I’m trying really hard not to but it’s not working.” If, later in the day, he asks why I’m being so irritating I simply reply, “Because you make it so easy for me!” Then we both have a good laugh. It doesn’t matter how many times we repeat this exact scenario, we still find it hilarious. We know each others funny bones intimately and are well aware of what each person is comfortable with in terms of teasing as well as what crosses the line. I can tell simply by his body language if I’ve gone to far. It may be that I’ve touched upon something sensitive or perhaps he’s simply not in the playful zone at that moment. Either way, I immediately acknowledge my lack of sensitivity and apologize. He, like each of us, decides what is and isn’t amusing to him or when something, once taken in jest, has lost its lighthearted component.
But how can one know if a cutting remark is playful banter or a biting insult? There are a few key elements that distinguish the two. To insult is “to treat with indignity or contempt; to injure or offend; rude” – powerful words all indicative of disrespect with an attempt to harm. Good natured, witty, and joking are words used to define banter, quite a contrast from a verbal slur. In addition to one’s choice of words, intent is critical in determining whether a comment is impudent or witty. Your best friend may refer to you as crazy. Insult or banter? If that term suggests that you are mentally imbalanced and possibly dangerous you would probably take offense. However, if she was referring to your unpredictable, free-spirited, and fun-filled behavior you may very well delight in her assessment.
Prior to engaging in playful banter, consider the following:
o Know person’s level and style of humor before making any remarks.
o Pay careful attention to your motive: is it playful, light-hearted; intended to make the other person laugh?
o Avoid sensitive topics or anything that may be perceived as offensive or impolite.
o Be certain the individual is in a jovial mood.
o Check your sarcasm at the door. Sarcasm is not humor – it is passive/aggressive anger.
The following characterize insulting behavior:
o You seek to get reaction out of other party, to exert power and control over their feelings and actions; symptomatic of bullying behavior.
o Your comments are embarrassing, humiliating, hurting or causing discomfort to the intended party.
o Your comments are unkind, disrespectful, negative, and serve no productive purpose.
If in fact, you are subjected to derogatory statements, take positive action:
o First and foremost, seek to understand why their comments bother you. This experience can truly be an enlightening moment if you allow it to be. Ask yourself, “What within me needs to heal?”
o Speak up, be assertive. Inform the other person that you do not care for what they are saying to or about you. Set and enforce firm and reasonable boundaries.
o Remove yourself from the individual or situation. Re evaluate if it is in your best interest to continue having a relationship with them and if so, to what extent.
o Remember, their comments are not reflective of you but rather are a portal to their issues. Forgive them for their insensitive remarks.
Conversation needn’t be stuffy or restricted. One can speak openly and honestly to others even concerning sensitive issues. But when words hurt, we need to take a step back, re examine ourselves, consider the motives behind such statements, and choose how we interpret and respond to them. Words can fill our souls with joy and laughter or rip our hearts to pieces. So choose them wisely for once spoken they can never be retracted. And the effects can be long-lasting.
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