When Being Laughed at Doesn’t Seem Funny

Though the common adage suggesting that it’s good to be able to laugh at oneself may hold a fair amount of truth in terms of maintaining a healthy self-image and overall well-being, sometimes it can be more difficult to accept or tolerate the laughter of others when directed towards us. Being laughed at is something that everyone is bound to experience from time to time, whether the situation is truly humiliating or is simply a friendly jest between family members. For many people, being laughed at is an occasional fact of life, and it fails to have much if any influence over personal thoughts and feelings. But for others, the thought of being laughed at is equitable with the deepest horrors possible. Gelotophobia, the phobia of being laughed at, is a mental health concern that affects people around the globe and whose precise functioning and clinical presentation have not always been straightforward.

As part of a quest to better understand the differences between a simple aversion to being laughed at and an instance of gelotophobia, a study carried out principally at the University of Zurich, but with international contributors, has recently been concluded. Working with over twenty thousand people via questionnaire, the research team, comprised of staff from over seventy three countries, examined the histories and ideas of those who were averse to being laughed at to a range of degrees. The research was successful in establishing clear differences between those exhibiting gelotophobia and those with a normal level of aversion to being laughed at by others.

The researchers noted that those with gelotophobia are likely to avoid social situations in which they may feel threatened by the possibility of self-directed laughter, a behavior that is likely to have negative effects on social and personal well-being and relationships. The study is available for review in the latest issue of the journal Humor.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Hank


    October 18th, 2009 at 2:37 AM

    It is indeed difficult to laugh at oneself and is not possible for each one to do it. Only a few of us have the capability to laugh at ourselves and it is, according to me, a symbol of self-confidence and character.

  • Zane


    October 18th, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    I hate for anyone to laugh at me, well I guess unless I am telling a funny joke.

  • Mark


    October 19th, 2009 at 3:30 AM

    Laughing with someone is something but laughing at oneself is degrading.

  • Antony


    October 19th, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    I can laugh at myself, and most of my friends appreciate this quality of mine… I do not, somehow, feel offended when the joke is on me, and in fact enjoy it.

  • Tom


    October 19th, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    I completely agree… I know a lot of people who enjoy having a laugh at others’ expense but go critically beserk when somebody does it to them… it is not a healthy practice and we should learn that if we cannot handle something about us, we have no right to subject others to the same…

  • Honie


    October 19th, 2009 at 10:24 AM

    Well, I have to admit that I don’t quite enjoy being laughed at or even laughing at myself… but atleast I do not ridicule or mock at others… for people who do it- they deserve a taste of their own medicine:)
    I can tell by experience that it feels awful to be laughed at.

  • Amanda


    October 19th, 2009 at 3:19 PM

    I have seen a few such people and I feel very sad for them. They are so conscious, because they are scared that something might go wrong and they may end up being laughed at… it is extremely disturbing to see such behavior. Due to their fear, they lack any kind of self-confidence in their actions and talk. This may really push a person to extreme measures such as suicide or drug-abuse.

  • Myra


    October 20th, 2009 at 4:53 AM

    All close knit friends have a joke to laugh about. What’s the big deal if that be ur embarassing moments. Dont forget America’s funniest home videos is a show that thrives on laughing at yourself and getting paid for it. I basically think a person with a bigger ego wont be able to handle that.

  • Cathleen


    October 20th, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    If you can’t have a good laugh at yourself sometimes then what a sad life you must be living. There are times when I have seen people who get so mad when they do something that makes someone else laugh at the- they just can’t take a joke! Life is too precious to get all caught up in that kind of stuff.

  • Speedi


    June 18th, 2010 at 12:21 AM

    I don’t like to be laughed at. Period. It’s even worse when I’m being VERY serious about something and a person laughs at me. I’ve had that to happen too many times. I have often asked close friends and relatives why people find my funny. Is it my facial expressions? Is it how I speak? None of them can tell me (or won’t tell me). I don’t know. It’s horrible being laughed at, but it’s even worse when you’re being laughed at while you’re trying to be serious.

    Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Jim G.

    Jim G.

    December 17th, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    Yes, and it both hurts me and pisses me off at the same time. Believe me, i know just how you feel, like the other person doesn’t believe what you are saying,or something.

  • Emily


    June 2nd, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I can be odd and unintentionally funny. I became upset because my loved one constantly points out my ‘funny expressions’ and laughs when I’m speaking with him. I told him that I don’t like it when he does this and he said, “Okay, I will never laugh in your presence again, I will always be serious with you, you want a professional manner from me like I’m a therapist”. I said, “No, I don’t want you to poke fun at me all the time and laugh when I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you”. He said, “Oh so it bothers you when I laugh at you? But you say things in a way that’s so cute and funny”. I told him to bite his tongue. If a kid had a lisp would you go on about it and not listen to what the kid was saying?

  • nessa


    December 10th, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    It has taken me a while to learn to laugh at myself as i have grown up with the notion that being laughed at means I’m stupid. I think it takes a strong person to laugh at themselves I also think there’s a fine line between laughing at yourself and someone saying something designed to upset you and you laughing along so emphasizing their point. With being laughed at came with shame and embarrassment for me and I think this is true for anyone else who has the fear of being laughed at. Unfortunately there are people you meet that will laugh at you and that’s the problem the lack of sensitivity on their part, as they tend to be the ones who can give it but not take it, which i can understand too.

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