Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.

Verbal Abuse Disguised as a Joke

Four men making one man the butt of their jokes

What Is Abuse Disguised as Jokes?

Abuse disguised as a joke happens when abusers tease or make fun of you, usually in front of others. However, you know they are 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.” Friends probably wonder why you become so upset when the abuser teases you.

Getting upset about the abuse disguised as a joke in front of others usually hurts you. Your abuser might apologize (but won’t really mean it). They may just look at you like you’re crazy and walk away. There may come a time when your abuser has to make you look like the bad guy. So the abuser sets you up with hurtful “jokes” that upset you. The abusive person wants to show others how “irrational” or “unstable” you are. At least, that’s what it can look like to observers if you get too worked up. When the day comes, the abuser will remind the others how irrationally you acted, and they’ll believe the lies.

People use abuse disguised as a joke to say or do things that you don’t like, Then laugh about it. For example, I don’t like racist or sexist jokes, but my abuser tells them to me anyway. I don’t laugh, so he angrily berates me for not “admitting” they are funny.

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

Examples of Abuse Disguised as a Joke in My Abusive Relationship

Making Jokes About Me When We’re Around His Friends

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, smiles, and says, “I didn’t mean it, honey! I’m just teasing you!”

When my husband says that, he’s telling me that he loves putting me down because it makes him feel good. He can say anything because he’s “just being funny”. Unfortunately, my sour reaction makes it seem like I can’t take a joke. He is in control. Everyone laughs, don’t they? He couldn’t really mean it, could he?

His Abusive Jokes Are Scary When We’re Alone

The Wood Chipper

He laughs about running me through a wood chipper and then feeding my pieces to the fish. He loves this joke and tells everyone about it. They generally laugh because it seems like it has to be a joke.

However, when we’re alone, he elaborates on this “funny story”. He tells me how he’s going to buy one wood chipper and steal another. After he kills me, usually by strangulation, he’ll run me through the wood chipper he stole. He’ll divide my chunks into twenty bags and drop me and parts of the wood chipper in twenty different lakes. “Woman, they will never, ever, find you.” But if they happen to find some pieces, and check the wood chipper he bought, they’ll find no DNA.

Two Other Ways He Gets His Kicks

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 try to scare me. But when 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. It scared me so bad I pushed my rolling chair halfway across the room. I think he’s able to scare me when the kids don’t because he’s hurt me so many times before.

How to React to Verbal Abuse Disguised as a Joke

Do These Things

Things you can say when your abuser uses verbal abuse disguised as a joke or 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.

Don’t Do These Things

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 “how to” 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: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558503048, Adams Media, February 2003, and my experiences with verbal abuse.

Featured Photo by Matheus Ferrero