Using Humor to Disguise Fear or Terror

“Oh, Peter, of course I understand. And I approve. I’m a realist. Man has always insisted on making an ass of himself. Oh, come now, we must never lose our sense of humour. Still, I’ve always loved the tale of Tristan and Isolde. It’s the most beautiful story ever told – next to that of Mickey and Minnie Mouse” – Ellsworth Toohey (From “The Fountainhead”)

I have been reflecting on this idea a lot as I consider how I wound up in a gaslighting and abusive relationship and stayed on for as long as I did.

Upon exiting this relationship, something in me became unlocked, and I started writing a lot of poems – here’s one of them titled “How Abuse Starts”

It’s funny
It’s fun
It’s exhilarating
It’s dangerous
It’s evil
It’s routine

Feels like home

One of the key reasons why a woman may find herself attracted to a man is if the man is able to make her laugh. Incidentally, when a man wants to win a woman over, he often goes out of his way to make her laugh, and it works. We are attracted to humour because it is often seen as a marker of confidence, intelligence and charm. Laughter is deeply associated with pleasure and happiness. It activates the limbic system in our brain – the lower order center for emotional processing and causes the amygdala to release endorphins – a feel good hormone. On an interpersonal level, laughter signals acceptance and positive interactions. It is the lubricant in conversations and the analgesic to humdrum small talk. It cuts through our superficial defences and touches our emotional core, so there is a very primal aspect to it.

People who can make us laugh at ourselves get even more stripes. Think about the Canadian comedian Russell Peter. In a podcast interview with Jordan B Peterson, Jordan wryly noted that Russell Peter’s jokes which “insult one ethnic group after another” drew a multicultural audience which would be “waiting with bated breath for their turn to be insulted.” Russell Peter responded with a resounding “Yes” to this rather bizarre observation, to which Jordan said “what do you make of that and how the hell do you get away with it?”

Russell explained that when he talks about a certain group of people, he talks about them from their perspective, not his perspective – the way they read it is “this guy actually understands us, we can’t be offended because he just said something only we should know about ourselves – which means he’s either an insider, or he’s really paid a lot of attention to us, so one way or the other, they know it’s done as a tribute, as opposed to making fun of us. They think, ‘how did he know that? Okay we can trust this guy’ ”

Therein lies the rub – when you feel seen, heard and felt, you develop trust toward the person making you feel that way – your humanity is being acknowledged and it touches your soul. When you are able to apply humour in a way that makes the other party feel acknowledged, the Endorphine rush from laughter elevates the experience of being seen, heard and felt, and that makes you much more open and trusting of the person that tickles your funny bone. If you are the funny guy, you have hit the human jackpot, in my case, as my ex-husband has well and truly milked me for my inheritance, the phenomenon is more literal than figurative.

But my question today is “How do we allow humour to be a stand-in or an escape from dealing with difficult things with integrity and honesty? I think of situations where we laugh out of a sense of awkward discomfort because we cannot believe what the other party is saying. We do not know what to make of the situation, or if we do, we are afraid to confront them or hold them accountable, instead we dismiss and deny by laughing, as if automatically assuming that they meant what they said as a joke – when deep down inside, we know it is not.

The more you do this, instead of calling out what you see and feel discomfited by, the more it eats away away at your true sense of self and wholeness. It eats away at your confidence.

I think of situations in my own marriage where I lost touch with my feelings of fear and what those feeling were trying to tell me when I would let myself get distracted with my husband’s absurd jokes and inane but nonetheless amusing behaviours. In these instances I believe I was using humour to hide terror and fear – the fear and terror of knowing that my husband did not have my back, and that he was just using me for as long as I was complicit in not naming and calling out his covert abuse.

I think of how we can make fun of ourselves as a way of avoiding our own deeper more intense emotions – we dismiss, trivialise, stick our heads in the soil like the proverbial ostrich just to get away from the true feelings hiding behind that wry facade, or goofy humour. Over time, repeated behavioural habits of masking deeper emotions with humour results in us being tone deaf to our own emotions. It makes us blind to reality while robbing us from the joy of living out our true self.

I personally think that when you hit the point where you think anything is fair game for a joke, you have hit a new level of delusion. Horace Walpole, an 18th Century writer and historian, said “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.”

This has been quoted to me on occasion when I shared with some friends how I felt about certain events in my life. Instead of showing empathy and holding space for me to articulate my thoughts and feelings without judgement, they told me in essence to “think more and feel less”

There have been other friends who have said to me, “Don’t think so much” or “Don’t overthink it.” I personally think that saying things like that just shuts people down emotionally and shames them. It is easier to tell someone not to overthink than to say what you actually mean: “I’m sorry to hear that that you’re struggling, but I don’t really want to know the full length and breath of what you’re dealing with, so I will just ask you not to overthink it.”

It is hurtful at worst, and insensitive at best.

To be fully human, we have to be able to be fully open to our feelings and emotions and examine the length and breadth of them. This is crucial in gaining more knowledge of ourselves. When you try to trivialise or minimise your emotions, you are denying a part of who you are.

It is one thing to feel your feelings and observe them, it’s another thing to fuse with your emotions and allow them to define who you are. The former is healthy and the latter is unhealthy. For example, if you think to yourself when feeling triggered, “I am angry” it is quite different from telling yourself, “I am feeling angry” – there is a space that is created between you and your emotions when you recognise that you are just feeling an emotion, rather than being owned or defined by it.

When we are able to hold space for ourselves to feel our emotions fully and articulate them, whether to a trusted friend or in a journal entry, that is when we will be more self-aware and able to extend that same love and self-awareness to others as well.

Let humour have its place in the world. But let us not use humour to avoid the hard work of dealing with loss and working through grief and unprocessed trauma.

“Laughter cannot mask a heavy heart. When the laughter ends, the grief remains” Proverbs 14:13

References

Peterson, Jordan, host. “S4E24: How We’re Breeding Narcissists| Russell Peters & Jordan Peterson – MP Podcast.” The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, Season 4, episode 24, MP Podcast

Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York, Penguin Random House, 1943

David, Susan A. Emotional agility: get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. New York, Penguin Random House, 2016

Cardoso, Silvia. Our Ancient Laughing Brain. New York, The Dana Press, 2017

The Living Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 1971.

Why David Bothers Me

As a mature Christian, I find it unsettling that after all these years, the biblical David still really irritates and annoys me, and I would daresay even outrages me.

As much as I try to put this conflict in my heart to rest, I still find it very difficult to accept that he has such a place of honor in Biblical history.

Why doesn’t Daniel (of the Lion’s Den fame) get more airtime? He was so much more committed to God, and humble and consistent overall. His testimony is so much more consistent and courageous.

I find it shocking that David committed adultery and was a murderer, yet so many people all over the world see it fit to name their sons after him. Do they know that he willfully inflicted himself on Bathsheba (a woman who just happened to be taking bath in her private estate)? Do they know that he connived to kill off her husband, Uriah, a devoted and loyal servant of his own kingship when Bathsheba told him that she was pregnant with his son, by intentionally asking his military commanders to put Uriah in the frontline?

Does it bother them that David was so unscrupulous? Or do they like the fact that he was able to transgress on such a phenomenal level and yet still be considered ”a man after God’s own heart,” be crowned King of all Israel and have almost half (73) of all of the 150 Psalms in the Bible to his own name?

I came away today from a discussion on this topic with a good friend who has a Master’s in Biblical Counselling. She said that the difference between someone like David and someone like his son, Solomon, was that his heart was turned towards Christ in repentance. Solomon evaded being honest and laying his heart bare before Christ by continually indulging in worldly things, like wine, women and song, and lots of $$$.

David returned to the Lord again and again when he realized that he had strayed.

So can I ask something else?

Where was David’s heart when he was in the midst of conniving to kill Uriah? Where was his heart when he was bedding Bathsheba? Was his commitment and relationship to Christ something that he could compartmentalize and shut-off?

What happened to his conscience?

According to Freudian psychoanalytical theory there are three components to our psyche: the ID, the Ego and the Super ID.

The ID consists of our natural instincts – aggression, sex-drive and the will-to-survive, it is concerned with immediate gratification, the ego is concerned with manipulating the material world and reality as we see it in practical and tenable ways to get the things we want, and enables us to delay gratification, (think ’the blue pill’ in the Matrix) and finally, the SuperID which is concerned with being ’good’ and meeting ideas of morality and respectability within the socio-cultural frameworks we are embedded in.

I daresay, having had a very close look at David life, he was not governed by the SuperID AT ALL. He defied social-norms again and again, refusing to let others define him or social expectations govern his actions. He boldly came forward to offer his services against Goliath, when he was deemed as a lowly and weak shepherd boy. As the crowned King of Israel, he danced in a such a spontaneous and undignified manner to the extent that he inspired contempt from his own wife. He pretended to be crazy to get out a life-and-death situation with the enemy, he worked as a mercenary for many years and killed off many innocent women and children in his line of work. The lows in his life are glossed over for the most part. But David definitely was a social deviant in many ways.

His life was rather defined by a close relationship with God – not someone he viewed as a distant and moralizing deity, but rather as a close friend, companion and provider of all of his needs. Someone that he owed his life to, but someone who would stand by him through the good, the bad and ugly.

Basically someone that he did not need to hide anything from.

Therein lies the rub.

David trusted God completely, even in those moments when he willfully chose to go against God’s will, (or when his SuperID was asleep), when he was confronted with the truth about his own actions, he was not afraid to turn back to God in repentance and truth.

For many of us, even Christians, we like to hold on to the illusion that we are ’good’ or can be ’good’ on our own terms – we try so hard to win people over, to win God over and to live respectable lives – however, trying to be ’good’ goes against the grain of true Christianity. The heart of Christianity says that we are all decidedly ’not good.’ If we were capable of being good on our own, then Christ would never have had to die, and his death on the cross would be utterly redundant.

Our conscience can rest easy because Christ died for all of our sins, past, present and future. But does that give us license to sin more? No, but it does mean that it gives us a freedom from a guilty conscience and the ability to live without a cloud of guilt and condemnation hovering over us. We can stop trying to be ’good’ and we can start living from our truest selves.

We do not have to run away from those internal voices that keep on reminding us how ’bad’ we are. Instead, we can just kindly tell those voices to leave our head. ’Get out, I don’t need you anymore’ we can say nicely to our harsh internal parents, especially if we didn’t grow up in an environment that felt supportive and understanding of our inner child.

Having said all this, I think my conclusion about David is… it was never about him, rather about how much God’s grace was poured out on his life in spite of his abysmal failures as a leader.

Sure, he had some amazing successes, but it is hard to look past the fact that he was a murderer and adulterer.

It is hard to look past his hypocrisy and pig-headedness on so many levels.

Maybe that is why people name their sons David, because it reminds them of how God’s grace was poured out again and again on David’s life because he kept turning to God in spite of all of his failings.

It is telling that the name David means ’Beloved.’

When we are willing to embrace our ‘inner David’ (Belovedness), we come closer to the heart of Christ.

We come closer to the very heart of love itself.

McLeod, S. A. (2019, September 25). Id, ego and superego. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html

deviance (social deviance)

The Cathedral of Your Mind

What do you build in the Cathedral
Of your mind?

Garbage in, garbage out
What are you watching
These days?

What images play in your mind?
How do you like them?

Does your spirit sense
Something’s amiss
Or is it like sleeping beauty

Waiting for true love’s kiss

Do you feel like you were
Made for something more
Than just another day
Of going through the motions

Which parts of yourself
Do you sell
So you can runaway

Have you considered
That you don’t need
Anyone else

To own your own reality?

Have you realized
That it’s okay to love

Yourself well enough

To let go and ask Jesus for what you want?

Not what you think you should?

Now,

What will you build in the Cathedral of Your Mind?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jesus said “Unless you turn to God from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore anyone who humbles himself as this little child, is the greatest in the Kindom of Heaven. And any of you who welcomes a little child like this because you are mine, is welcoming me and caring for me.” Matthew 18:3-5

For years as a Christian I couldn’t pray truly honest prayers.

I thought I was being honest, but so many emotions were buried deep within me that I couldn’t access them and articulate them in my prayers to Jesus. A deep sense of shame and unworthiness kept me from accessing my true feelings like fear, happiness, sadness, anger, surprise and disgust that were hidden under a general sense of ‘stress and defectiveness.’

As a result, my prayers to Jesus felt wooden, empty and rote. I felt like I was going through the motions and it felt like a wall was growing between us.

As I have learned to draw near and depend fully on Jesus through this time of testing, I have learned to let go and live as a child, to get in touch with my true emotions and to accept myself unconditionally as a beloved child of my my Heavenly Father.

This means trusting that He is working all things out for me even if I don’t understand how. This means having the peace that passes all understanding even if there is a long-list of things to get done, trusting that I’ll come to each of those items as the Holy Spirit enables and empowers me. I get those things done from a spirit of rest rather than that of worry and anxiety.

This also means not depending on the approval, opinion or validation of others for a sense of internal peace and security, because all I need is God’s approval, and I already have it.

This also means listening to Him and writing down the things He’s saying to me, and also taking steps of faith to do the things He’s asking me to do day by day, even though some of these things may seem difficult and daunting to do.

I do not have a lot of courage or confidence in myself.

I never have, but with the assurance that I can come to Christ as I am, with all of my foibles and peccadillos and be completely accepted and loved, fully as I am, not as I think I OUGHT TO BE, I can find the courage to keep moving forward with honesty and integrity in spite of all the challenges and opposition I face.

In addition to this, I am encouraged to pray boldly for myself, as well as those God has put in my life.

Praise be to God for allowing me to pray freely and live in the fullness of faith!

I do not pray because God is going to necessarily do everything I pray for, but I pray because I know God’s heart is good and He has put it on my heart to pray for myself and others and, as a result I can live in simple obedience to His call on my life. There is so much joy that comes from being able to pray honestly and boldly while releasing the outcome to God’s sovereign will.

In the book of Hebrews, it is boldly stated, “Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22”

We can approach God in our prayers like little children asking honestly for the things we want. We can also tell him how we really feel about things, like if we feel hatred for someone or wish someone were dead – all these are things that David the Psalmist earnestly and openly shared with God without any shame.

Jesus meets us where we are at and wants the real us, not the ‘good’ (read ‘contrived’) us. Trust God to be big enough to handle you in all your shades and trust Him to bring you to repentance and right-mindedness even as you pour our your heart to Him. So come boldly and ASK.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Ask and it will be given to you; 

Seek and you will find;

Knock and the door will be opened to you. 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 

Matthew 7:7-11

I love the Lord because he hears my prayers and answers them. Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I breathe.

Psalm 116: 1-2

Lone Tree

A solitary silhouette
You stand,
Against the stark backdrop
Of azure blue
And feathery white clouds

What makes you prevail
In this sun-scorched earth
Inhabited by thorn
And thistle?

All by yourself, you grow

What desires have you housed
In your tent
Other than the thirst for life?

Each rare instance that rain falls,
You receive as a kiss of grace
Quenching your thirst
With a vision of heaven

Every branch and woody sinew
Turned towards the light

Watered by a quiet stream
We cannot see
All through the year

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Epitaph

As if life wasn’t hard enough
You and I danced a beautiful
Dance of dysfunction

As I look back
There were all these signs
But why did I ignore them?

Was it because I was
Drawn to the fire
As a moth is drawn to
The flame?

You told me life was precious
But you didn’t know
Just how precious it was
Until you walked out on me

You sang a song of freedom
But there is no
Freedom without surrender

I’m tired of running from the pain
My love
So I’m letting you go

The story you wanted to
Write of a nuclear family
Tight and close knit
Constricts my soul,
Like a vice around my neck

Because that’s not what I was designed
For
I fought so hard for us
But now it’s ashes in the dust

Hot coals in the fire
The forgers fire
Is calling out to me

I must surrender to His call
And you must reckon with
Your creator

Broken eyes
Broken heart
Broken soul

I’ll see you again on the
Other side

16 “See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
17     no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 54: 16-17

Listen

I rediscovered recently on an older blog of mine that I had forgotten about.

My entries in that blog really spoke to me and reminded me of the person I am deep inside, someone that went into hiding for a long time.

I wonder if in the process of being married and building a life with my ex-husband, where I felt compelled to focus so much on externalities, I forgot who I really was.

I wrote this poem in 2012. It’s called “Listen.”

Listen,
To the internal clicks and sighs
The silent telling of whys

Follow,
Those signs
The little longings
That beckon you to quiet

Watch,
The moments transform
As you allow those
Voices to die

Laugh,
From the belly
As you awaken
From sleep to rest

And Thank,
Your lucky stars above
As you quicken
to who you are

Gaslighter

Over and over again
It goes
In my mind
And my thoughts
My soul

Who was he?
Who were we?

Quiet memories of
Evenings spent watching LOTR
And your favorite animes:
Full Metal Alchemist
Death Note
Naruto

I lived for these
Moments of connection
With you
Where I could catch a
Glimpse of the
Worlds in which you lived
The tropes you operated on

How many times
Did we fight
And all I ended up
Feeling was a sense
Of abject failure?

How many conversations
Did we have
As to where I felt
We were stuck in
A holding pattern?

I got zero no matter
How much
Energy I expended

How many confrontations
Were deflected
And how many promises
Undelivered

There’s a word that’s
Coming up a lot in my mind
These days:

“Gaslighter”

I lived in your reality
For so long
I thought your barbed words
Were ‘cute’
You passed off hurtful words
And actions
As ‘jokes’ even though
They formed a consistent
Pattern

Gaslighter
For nine long years
I lived with
You and endured
So much self-doubt
Shame and blame

You found me when
I was vulnerable
And twisted my reality
For yours

I kept feeling
Afraid you’d
Leave me one day

The day came

You beat me up
And said
“This is it, you fucking
Bitch, I’m getting
A divorce”

As I sat in the
Corner of the couch
In a foetal position
To protect myself
From your blows
Raining down on me

Gaslighter

I loved you

In the end
All of these affections
Ended in such
Violence

Gaslighter

I hurt you

I kept apologizing
For losing my temper
And yelling,
Being controlling,

You called me a bully.

I thought you were joking

Gaslighter
I thought I needed you

But all this while

I was running
Away from Myself

Nice Girl

You try to be kind
You try to be good
But have you been kind
To yourself?

Have you thought
About how much
You can bear
How much you can carry?

The only cross
You ever needed to carry
Was your own
Yet you had no time for that

You see the sadness
And loneliness in others
But do you see
The devastation in your own heart?

You keep walking on eggshells
Believing that
You need you to be
Something you’re not

You try to be strong
Not realizing how
Powerful you are
When you feel weak

Their hurtful words
They don’t define you
Their thoughtless actions
Are not your fault

Their silence
Does not reflect on you
and you don’t have
To live in fear of punishment

Let go and trust
Take all the time you need
To heal, feel and be you

This world is your playground
And you can live in safety
Child, take all the time you need
To grow up

Summer Roses

Pale Pink
Summer roses in the sky
Remind me of
Days spent alone at home
Prepping dinner, playing house
and you’d return
With a bunch of roses

Back then you loved me
Back then you held me
Back then we loved and
Hurt so hard
I couldn’t let go

Now the pink
Has turned to blue
And black
On my body, my face
My eye

Nobody told me
how someone you’d
share your soul with
could ever touch you
like that
treat you like
a filthy rag
and discard you with such ease

Today I seem OK
The bruises have healed
But the hurt goes
Deeper still

Pale pink summer roses in the sky
Remind me of you