It probably doesn’t seem like humor is one of the important things to consider when reflecting about ways to deal with borderline. I have come to the conclusion, however, that humor is one of the underestimated and under-reflected things when it comes to dealing with BPD.
So what is humor? To me humor is the ability to see something funny in things. Either in things that are funny in themselves, or in the absurd, the unexpected or when things get a twist that alters the meaning or the perspective from which you look at it.
I grew up quite unfamiliar with the concept of humor. The family I grew up in was one where the only kind of laughing was laughing at someone. Laughing at someone else’s bad luck, at someone else getting hurt, at how stupid someone else is . . . This kind of ridicule was the only kind of laughing I knew.
Which brings me directly to what I think is the biggest pitfall of humor. Probably due to BPD I am very, very sensitive to getting laughed at, to getting ridiculed. If there is the remotest possibility that someone could be laughing at me or that I could be the subject of a joke, then that’s a terrible situation for me and I will take offense, get defensive and destructive. Just the same I am very afraid of looking stupid if everyone seems to get a joke, only I have no idea why it’s supposed to be funny. That’s embarrassing and a safe way to make me feel awful about myself and suspicious of everyone’s motives and the relationship I have to them. So in this regard humor can be very treacherous.
But humor has the same power in a positive way, too. In my family now, everyone laughs a lot. I learned that there is a big difference between laughing at someone and laughing together. Laughing together is one of the best things ever. It can be a bridge when there seems to be a gulf between me and someone else. It can defuse a tense situation. It can help against stress or unpleasant stuff. And it strengthens relationships. Which is all very important for someone with BPD.
What is funny is probably different for everyone. Me, I find simple jokes funny. Even when they’re silly. Or maybe especially when they are silly.
What’s brown and sticky? – A stick!
Knock-knock! – Who’s there? – Figs! – Figs who? – – – Figs the doorbell, it’s broken.
What’s a cat’s favorite color? – Purr-ple!
That’s the kind of jokes that get me laughing. Little games of silliness do, too. I also love it when I can make someone else laugh in the good way, like when I tell a silly joke like the ones above and the other person actually laughs instead of telling me that the joke is dumb.
What I still need to work on is learning to laugh about myself. Like when I make a mistake, not to take it too seriously, but to be able to laugh at myself, too. I used to be unable to do that at all, but I am getting a little better. And even when I still have a long way to go, I can already see that especially in the context of BPD it is a valuable ability. For example when I catch myself nursing absurd thoughts, I can now sometimes appreciate the absurdity and when I do and feel safe in the situation itself, I manage to smile or laugh. For example when I am all too quick to shoot an angry “I hate you” at my mom, and she looks at me and I realize I was being a little too dramatic and don’t really even mean it, I can now grin and allow for her to smile at it, too, and sometimes we even laugh about it, because shared humor makes the bad feelings go away.
But that only works when I don’t feel like she’ll be laughing at me, but feel secure that we’re laughing at my somewhat silly BPD behavior together. It makes all the difference.