Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Teasing: A Victim Speaks (and Does It to Others)

Gretchen Rubin, over at the Happiness Project, has an interesting article about Teasing.

I had two rather contradictory reactions to this piece. She quotes David Dunning's book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself.

“People commonly tease each other, but it appears that people who are teased misunderstand the intentions of the person doing the teasing. Often, teasing is done in a spirit of affection and playfulness, and teasers attempt to convey these intentions through subtle nonverbal cues. However those who are being teased tend to miss these benign aims. When they describe a time they teased their roommate, people tend to describe the action as more humorous and lighthearted than does the person being teased, who instead rates such incidents as more malicious and annoying. The good intentions of teasers are just not as obvious as teasers believe.” (Kruger, Gordon, Kuban, in press) (page 129)

Then she goes on to talk about how teasing seems funnier to the person doing the teasing and how her family did not tease each other. In the end she relates hearing a mother say to her daughter, "Hey, Messy Girl, are you planning to drag a brush through that rat's nest on your head?" and thinking that the girl was probably upset with this teasing.

First, I was teased a great deal growing up. It hurt. I've already related how I was teased as a child for being fat (even when I wasn't, really) and grew up feeling ugly and unlovable. I don't like teasing. People say "children can be so cruel" and they are right. The problem is that most people who say that are merely excusing it as a normal part of growing up--a sort of "boys will be boys" (so we don't have to deal with it). Teasing and bullying are frequently not far apart among youngsters. I find my memories of teasing very painful ones.

I've also experienced teasing as an adult. I volunteer for several groups and, in one of the groups, several older men apparently have a "wry" sense of humor (I guess that's how many people would put it) and come across as very grumpy, even mean. They say things which are probably viewed by them as teasing but, until I got used to the way they talked, seemed rather hurtful. I've since discovered that they are actually pretty nice guys and it is part of how they make you feel included in a group. Recently one of the men has stopped teasing me and I've realized that for him this is a bad sign, because he is unhappy with me because of some politics going on in that group. It has been hard for me to deal with these people because I couldn't really see what they were doing (their intent) over their seemingly hurtful words.

On the other hand, I know that I use sarcasm and teasing all of the time. I think it has become a bit of a defense mechanism. I'm not the first person to use self-deprecating humor and teasing (of myself and others) to ease my own sense of myself. I think I'm being funny but seeing this quote made me wonder if I was inflicting the same discomfort on other people when I thought I was doing a harmless teasing.

Perhaps that is why I only had a shrug for the example which Gretchen gives of the mother teasing her daughter about her hair. Depending on the tone of voice, age of daughter, and how public the statement was made, I just didn't see it as being that bad. I suppose if her voice was harsh and loud, her daughter is above the age of 8, and it was done in a room full of people who were looking at the daughter, this would be a very bad thing for the mother to do. Otherwise, I can see a daughter rolling her eyes at this (see my last post about mothers pushing daughters' buttons) but it isn't much in the way of teasing.

This article gave me a lot to think about. I'm going to watch myself a little more closely for awhile and see how often I am tempted to make teasing comments to people. Perhaps being more aware of my own tendencies will help.

What is your take on teasing? When is it allowable? Is it ever an acceptable way to talk to someone?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post - the Happiness Project one was interesting too.

    For me it all depends on what's going on behind the teasing - what emotions, intentions and energy are driving it. It can be a way of being completely loving and light-hearted and, as you say, not taking yourself too seriously. My husband and I tease each other a lot like this, I also like teasing and banter with other people. But it can also express bullying and cruelty, especially when the teaser denies the effect they are having upon the teased - "it's only teasing, can't you take a little joke?"

    It's not always easy to draw a line between two, though. Sometimes if something has really upset me, I have to ask my husband to switch off from our teasing behaviour, otherwise I don't feel taken seriously. With new people I think I try and work out if teasing is okay for them before I let loose with it, but sometimes I sense I'm getting it wrong, they're uncomfortable and I have to tone it down.


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