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
Things 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.