Abuse Disguised as a Joke

abuse disguised as a joke

Abusers make jokes and comments that they want you to believe are funny, but you know they are really threats and put-downs in disguise. They’re sick personal jokes between the two of you. Only you know the real story behind his “humor” so friends may wonder why you cry at his jokes.

If you say something about it in front of other people, your abuser will likely either give you a hug and say he didn’t mean it or look at you like you’re crazy (discounting your reaction). After all, abusers need to make sure other people believe you are overly emotional so their story about you will stick.

Sometimes abusers will do things you do not like at all, then laugh about it as if it were funny.

Abusers tend to use sarcastic humor and make fun of other people – but they rarely if ever poke fun at themselves.

How My Husband Uses Abuse Disguised as a Joke

It’s supposed to be funny that he wants to run me through a wood chipper and feed pieces of me to the fish. He tells everyone about it, but he only elaborates on his “joke” when we’re alone. He’ll tell me how he’s going to replace the chopping parts of the chipper when he’s through and then divide my chunks into twenty bags. “I’ll have bait for a lot of fishin’ trips!”

Sometimes he’ll make fun of me in a cruel manner in front of his friends. Then he’ll get up, throw his arms around me, and say “I didn’t mean it, honey! I’m just teasing you!”

When my husband says things like this, he’s really telling me that he loves putting me down because it makes him feel good. He can say whatever he wants because he is “just being funny” when he says it, but I look like I don’t know how to take a joke. He is in control. Everyone laughs, don’t they? He couldn’t really mean it, could he?

My husband knows that I do not like playing around with weapons. He has several knives, and he’ll smile and say, “I’ll cut you, woman” while slicing the knife through the air. He puts bread knives to our boys’ throats while holding their heads tight and says he is “just playing.”

I’m kind of jumpy, and I don’t like it when he scares me. I don’t mind if the kids jump out from behind a door, but if he does it, my heart races for minutes afterward! He scares me and then sneers and laughs. It’s mean. I’ve asked him to stop, but he won’t. Last night he pounded on the window right beside my desk and scared me so bad I pushed my rolling chair half-way across the room.

How to React to Verbal Abuse Disguised as Jokes

how to react to abuse disguised as a jokeThings you can say when your abuser lashes out “in jest”:

  • “I don’t think that’s funny. It feels like an insult.”
  • “You know, just the other day you told me very seriously that you would (do that same thing). Now you’re acting like it is a joke, but I don’t think it is.”
  • “Now that you’ve made yourself feel more important, I’m going to go watch some television.”
  • “I don’t like being the butt of your jokes. Please stop it.”

After you say these things, walk away. If you can’t think of anything to say, then just walk away. Do not engage him, do not respond to further remarks unless it’s to say, “I will talk to you about it later.” Go do something enjoyable.

Things not to say or do:

  • Do not pretend you think the joke is funny.
  • Do not try to explain your sense of humor, and don’t insult his sense of “humor.”
  • Don’t jab at him with a similar joke unless you enjoy exchanging verbal punches.

Remember that these statements are to help you feel better and detach from your abuser’s antics. They do not guarantee that your abuser will stop abusing you, nor do they protect you from further abuse. You should fill out a safety plan so you know what you will do if things get out of hand.

Based on the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003 and my experiences with verbal abuse.

(Visited 51,903 times, 14 visits today)


  1. Ben Atherton-Zeman says:

    It shouldn’t be up to you to interrupt your husband’s “jokes” – it’s up to others who are around. The “I don’t think that’s funny” would also be great coming from one of your friends.

    • I don’t agree. Victims of abuse spend too much time waiting on someone else to help them, waiting on the abuser to see how much damage she’s doing. The victim must be in charge of his or her own boundaries and the enforcement of them. Besides, most of the “jokes” have secret meanings that no one but the victim and abuser know about.

    • It’s nice if a friend stands up for you, that is true. But you have to remember that many abuse victims suffer not only verbal/emotional abuse, but physical violence, too. If the abuser finds out his/her victim has been talking about their big secret, the victim may severely “pay” for their betrayal. Every situation is different.

      Ben, if you’re the friend of an abusive man, saying something to him – telling him you see the abuse he inflicts – is a valiant action. Some abusers truly were just “raised that way” and see no other way to be. You CAN make a difference to them and their families. And ANYTIME you hear a bad joke, it’s okay and courageous to say you don’t like it.


    • Thank you! You deserve to be able to let loose at home and not be subliminally assailed by a veritable boogy man, as do your children. It’s better they grow up in an overtly “broken home” being that they will end up with even more issues from this type of insidious environment he has subjected you all to.

  2. Malika Bourne says:

    You statement,”After all, abusers need to make sure other people believe you are overly emotional so their story about you will stick.” is a big ah-ha moment.
    Damn him, any way. I am not just over emotional. I am passionately right.

    • My partner’s family giggles when this happens. They say it is just silly talk… it is not. He says it with a mean face. So when this happens, I really feel more of an impact and I shut down. After a while, it makes me angry that he is doing it and everyone thinks he is cute. He is 51 years old.

      • Jerk has no respect and neither to his teachers who brought him up! It’s not funny and you need put a stop to him! These bullies!

      • Anonymous says:

        I love this reply. He’s 51, where are your manners. You should know that it’s being mean. Immature is what it is and very dysfunctional.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Part of the answer here is not to encourage the abuser when you hear jokes made against a spouse. it’s difficult to call that person out because no one wants to be unpleasant. And, the person who is the brunt of the joke is supposed to just take it in good humor.

    • Anonymous, if we don’t participate in the laughter, then that’s a good start. It’s doubly hard when the 2nd spouse makes a joke too (makes light of it). And then again, until you’ve spent time with a couple, you just don’t know if its a one-time ribbing or ongoing. We could take the spouse being made fun of aside later and give him or her our support. It’s possible they don’t know joking (humiliation) is a factor in domestic abuse.

  4. My sons grandma (fathers side) keeps doing this to me and my 8 year old son. I got sick of it and screamed at her in public, shes not so quick to do it to me now but my son now gets it all. I constantly tell my partner how much we dont like it but he gets annoyed, thinking im putting his mum down. Weve argued about this for years. Earlier she said to my son. “Oh my god, look at that ugly mug, especially with no teeth” (my sons front adult teeth are taking a while to grow through). She went out the room straight away and I turned to my partner and said thats not very nice. He looked angry at me and said he must have been pulling a funny face. I have a mental disorder so they use that to excuse nasty put downs. Am I overreacting? Ive told my son to tell her “if I said that to you grandma, how would you feel? I would be told off for being nasty and rude” Hes starting to hate his Dad and Grandma. Hopefully im not just getting overemotional about it. I wouldnt dare be rude to anyone like that cos I hate hurting peoples feelings. I cant exactly stop my son seeing her because they use the mental health card to take him away from me. Its happened before for six months. Dunno what to do, someone tell me im overeacting cos im ready to blow my lid at them

    • Get into therapy if you aren’t already there. Talk about whatever mental health problem you have and the abuse you’re witnessing. If you end up going to court, your therapist should be able to participate and vouch for you. Just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, overreacting or anything like that.

      Limit your son’s exposure, and continue to stick up for him. The fact that your son is starting to dislike the two of them is a sign that you are not overreacting.

      • MISS KATIE A KAUTE says:

        Ah thank you!!! Its been making me feel awful for ages. I made my partner confront his mum over the teeth comment. He said he did and that she said she’d be mindful in the future which sounds odd coming from her. Ill try and trust that he really did talk to her. Ive been in therapy for years so I suppose thats a good thing. Eventually I’ll break from him, hes too crushing and neglectful anyway. His mum said to me the other day “I hope I didnt crush him (my partner) too much when he was growing up” I was so tempted to say “well yes you did actually, hes now incapable of empathy/sympathy/emotion and treats women terribly” but I didnt haha. Thank you for your advice, really put my mind at ease

  5. Anonymous says:

    All of those “jokes” aren’t funny at all, that’s plain creepy.

  6. My parents have always done this to me though not nearly the same level. They joke about my OCD and deliberately set it off and make me anxious and then make fun of my anxiety. They also make jokes about how “lazy” I am, even though I have severe depression. They call me pathetic when I give in to my OCD but they always frame it like a joke and laugh afterwards. If I don’t laugh at their jokes, or if I get upset, they act like I’m the one causing offence and they get all defensive and tell me it was just a joke. It’s very subtle but it’s utterly exhausting.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m so sorry for you. I know exactly what you’re talking about. Move out as soon as you can. You will not be able to change them and you won’t be able to heal until you’re away from them. Think of all the strategies you can to be independent. You and a friend get an apartment, live in the dorm at college, work with Youth Corps. Your life is at stake. Again, I’m so sorry that your life is so hard.

  7. What are you supposed to do if your abuser threatens to hurt you for leaving the house without telling him or starts to get violent if you don’t do what he wants when he wants something?

  8. anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing this!
    When my abuser drives and I’m in the passenger seat, he would push on my arm and say “Why don’t you wait til I get up to 70 and pull on that handle?”, all while hitting the unlock controls on his side. Many times, I considered doing it.

  9. Well, i think, being a victim of abused disguised jokes (mean jokes), leads to disrespect and lost of self-confidence. In some cases, it it better to stay away from the person to calm down oneself and leave one word which can give him/her the hint that you are offended with his/her jokes. Based on my experience, even if i tell them how i feel about their jokes and ask them to stop still, they keep on talking. So, to prevent making it as a big issue which can create trouble, just ignore about it and let time pass by without talking to them until they realize that you are serious and have bad feeling about their jokes.

  10. another thing, let’s say that cracking jokes can spice up one’s relationship towards the others… but once it becomes too much that it seems off the limit or somewhat like in the form of bullying, i think, there is nothing bad to express what we really feel about it.. yet it doesn’t mean we have to burst out with anger- that will be our lost. What i mean is that, lets just talk with them in nicer way as always possible so that it will not happen again, for them to have control and be sensitive with their jokes.. cause as what i read, “it is not what other people say, but rather of how a thing is being said” which makes the idea/ joke to be interpreted differently. 🙂 So we really have to think first before to talk

  11. metras.matthew@yahoo.com says:

    lately i been dealing with jabs and pokes from family members, they have been always using the excuse they love me and they are my friends. whenever they do this i get anxiety and panic trying to get away from them and they laugh holding me.i have autisim, tourettes, and aspergers and i dont know if thats the cause or its just them. im 26 and whenever i see them they do that. im a loner and i like being by myself. they even have a habit of teasing me about being gay and that just pushes me cause i had a ptsd back when i was a freshmen in highschool.

    also they like to make fun of stuff i point out such as when i go shopping with them, they always tease me when i help them remember something they forget such as food, cleaning stuff etc. it annoys me and i try my best to ignore and walk away from it but they always think i like it.

  12. Oh my gosh! I am living through everything you said with my youngest son. The same with my oldest, until he moved out. He does not speak to me, now!

  13. Barbara Carlson says:

    My husband (in his late 60’s) likes to make “jokes” at my expense at parties at my house. I was having a perfectly nice time, and he came through the room and loudly announced he’d put my “pussy pads” upstairs. I scowled at him and he said “Pussy, right? Poise. Pussy pads.” He basically announced to the whole room that I pee myself and used a vulgar term to boot. Ha ha ha ha. Funny joke. Yeah.

    Another time he was making “jokes” about my being frigid. As if I would want to have sex with someone who makes fun of my difficulty having an orgasm. I’m in my 60’s, too, and things just don’t work the same.

    My friends looked at me, saw I was furious and quickly found something else to do. He’s gotten worse over the years. Other times he’s really nice. He went to great lengths to get me a cake and flowers for my birthday. It’s very confusing. When I say something he says he’s just joking, can’t I take a joke? I very much want to ask him if he’d like me to joke about his inability to keep an erection, but I doubt that would help things.

  14. I am sick and f’ing tired of his cycles, nice, a jerk, abusive, sorry, nice a jerk, abusive, sorry. The final straw, he kicks my sleeping dog in the stomach because the dog was laying somewhere he needed to be for only a second. I found strength in this article and in the comments.

What do you think? Tell us!