Thursday, June 20, 2013

Teasing, Sarcasm and Emotional Scarring in Adults

Teasing, as either a teaser or target is a universal experience that all persons participate in, or are exposed to at some level. The childhood rhyme says "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me". This is probably one of the biggest lies we try to convince ourselves, and our children.

No matter your age, I bet you can remember clearly a time when you were teased, made fun of, the brunt of a sarcastic or mean comment when you were growing up. Even if you said something and kids laughed at you, that embarrassed feeling is something that stays with most people as one of the emotional scars we carry. It can become part of the way we develop low self-esteem.

If you ask your friends about their memories of teasing, you will find those memories are easily accessible. If you ask those same friends about times when someone said something nice to them, those memories are harder to recall.

Research done with young adults found that those who had been teased as children had higher measures of depression, anxiety, fear of negative evaluation and loneliness.

The limited research asking older adults about the long-term consequences of teasing has shown effects of elevated levels of depression and anxiety, and lower self esteem. but there is certainly plenty of anecdotal information that you can learn from speaking with your friends and relatives. You may have been the one teased, or you may have teased others. I've read different excuses from people who teased others:

"They did it to me"
"Everyone did it"
"It makes you stronger when you learn to deal with it"
"The parts of my body that they teased me about back then are now what I consider my best assets.
"That's how I showed someone I liked them."

From my informal questioning, I've found that even adult males continue to tease females way after the request has been made to stop. After many years, and probably with maturity older girls get to a point of realizing that boys don't know how to show affection, so they tease girls.

In the past 20 years, the issue of sexual teasing of a more intense nature has become such an important issue that now there are laws to protect women at work from sexual harassment. (the laws now apply this behavior directed at men as well). The definition of this behavior is very specific and relates to adult behavior:

"unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment." (United Nations Declaration)

The bottom line is, if someone says to stop teasing them, you should stop. It doesn't matter if you "didn't mean anything" with it. If you continue, verbal teasing moves into the legal realm of harassment. One can only imagine the terrible future implications that "sexting": teenagers sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones, will have on their adult lives.

Sarcasm, as humor is a form of hidden aggression. People often will hide behind their comment saying "I was only kidding". However, no matter what you really meant, be it seriously (only you truly know), or in jest, the things you have said to people stays in their memories along with their memory of you being the culprit. These hurtful statements can remain a lifetime, and form a belief system in a person with low self-esteem.

Think about the things that were said to you, in humor or in all seriousness. It is very hard to dismiss what you've heard. You can try to logically explain to yourself that the words are meaningless, but your body will tell you the truth. Do you get a corresponding feeling somewhere in your body when you think about something that was hurtful? Do you feel a tightness in your chest; does your breathing become shallow; do you feel embarrassed, ashamed, sad? It is extremely difficult to talk yourself out of these feelings. There is one thing that definitely can help. It's called EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique, or Meridian Tapping.

Take time and think before you speak. Once words have been spoken, you can apologize, but you can never remove them from someone's hearing. Gossip, words that you say about another person can get back to them easily. Do you want to be responsible for emotional scars and their impact left on another human being?

And if you are the one who has heard harsh words that still hurt deep inside you, there is help that will work quickly and effectively to remove the emotional impact and give you a new clear way of seeing yourself.

Words can deliver support and connection; or they can be hateful and destructive. Choose wisely before you speak.

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