The Trouble with Sarcasm

While sarcasm is a very common human behavior, it should only
be used as humor, and then only to spice up the conversation.

by Michael Corthell

Sarcasm is used by most people, but it is how it is used that makes all the difference.

Sarcasm is actually rooted in fear and hostility that is born of a inner sense of powerlessness. It is actually hostility disguised as humor.  Despite smiling outwardly by this 'humor', most people who are the butt sarcastic comments and jokes are hurt by them in small or even great ways.

It is not surprising then that the origin of the word sarcasm derives from the Greek word “sarkazein” which literally means ''to tear or strip the flesh off.''  Very often the word sarcasm is modified by the word ''cutting'' and that it hurts.

 What is the feeling associated with sarcasm?

The answer is helplessness and lack of control. Sarcasm is the weapon of disempowered people, who use information to regain some of their missing feeling of control over bad situations. Sarcasm has it's genesis in childhood -- growing up in out of control, and dysfunctional family groups.

A prime example

Children are innocent little people and sarcasm goes right over their little heads. Therefore when they respond to what they just heard literally and get an odd reaction, telling them they have misheard and misunderstood, they get very confused. Over time, using sarcasm in communication with a child is nothing short of verbal abuse, leaving the child's self-esteem damaged, thereby giving the child a deepening sense of inadequacy.

Here is a prime example of what I mean. In one family, money is tight, but the kids are not aware of this. One of the kids comes to Mom, possibly while she is busy with the latest bills, and says to her, ''Mom, can I please get a new 'whatever'? My friends have them and they are really cool!''

''Sure'', says the mother, ''Right after we come back from Disney World''. Right away you can see what this does. The son or daughter is getting really excited, having just heard they are all going on a dream vacation, the pictures of which the child has probably seen before in ads and TV commercials.
''Wow!'', Jane or Johnny says, ''When are we going?''

''What are you talking about?, says the frustrated mother, trying desperately to figure out how to make ends meet, ''We’re not going anywhere, now go away and let me finish with these bills''.

Sarcasm is a learned behavior and is transferred to the next generation as a negative coping mechanism.

That is how sarcasm begins. Here is how it negatively
affects the relationships we have with others.

Sarcasm is considered by many to be the lowest form of wit, and it is true indeed that there isn't really much art to this particular kind of humor. However that doesn't mean that it can't also be hurtful, and in many cases sarcasm can be very difficult to handle. It is often meant only as humor, and is indeed intended as a joke. Although it sometimes is genuinely funny, sarcasm relies on putting another person down, and as a result will often make those people look or feel small.

[One thing to keep in mind is that if sarcasm is meant only as humor, then you will notice that the person is consistently sarcastic – about themselves, and about other things rather than just directing it toward you.]

If you feel that you are using too much sarcasm in your life and want to overcome it, here are some tips:

Ask your friends, and especially your best friends and your partner. ''Am I too sarcastic?''

  • When you talk to someone, pay attention to confused looks
  • Recall any 'whiney sessions'' you may have had lately and examine the type of interaction you have with the people in them, because misery loves company and sarcasm is the weapon of the helpless.
  • Make a list of your frustrations and imagine yourself in those situations. What are you saying?
  • For each of your frustrations, you many want to ask yourself, 'What is at least one thing I can do to make this situation acceptable?''
  • Ask yourself if your expectations of each of these situations is realistic. Are you seeing the other persons point of view?
  • Whenever you feel helpless, stop and ask yourself if this is really the case and take some action or adjust your expectations immediately.

  • The genesis of sarcasm is a childhood marked by disappointment, false promises and dashed hopes. Very often it is the least of antisocial and self-destructive behaviors manifested, but never the less sarcasm can be very destructive to all interpersonal relationships.

    The answer of course is, as always, tolerance and kindness toward everyone. Walking a mile in another's shoes will always change our perspective on the situations we find ourselves in.