What To Do When You Are the Butt of a Joke

Burst of multicolor lights.

It’s a situation that we can’t ignore. There’s one moment in time when many people with hearing loss would experience this particular situation. The problem usually involves someone using us as a prop for humour. 

It usually starts with you and a few other people having a conversation.  You’re not talking. You’re sitting quietly or engaged in something else. The environment isn’t a place where you can hear everything perfectly around you. You’re not hearing everything clearly, but you expect to follow along. Your attention is on other things, trying to understand what they’re saying or focusing on what’s at hand. For a second, things change. 

You missed hearing someone talking to you. Everyone starts to notice that you haven’t responded or heard the person talking to you. Then, suddenly, everyone is beginning to look right at you, laughing and giggling at the same time. Someone must have said something to you, and you missed hearing what they said. There is no doubt in your mind that you are a butt of a joke now.

It’s humiliating to have people laugh directly at you. You know you deserve respect from others, but it hurts. It makes you feel embarrassed and ashamed for not hearing well. You know you’ll be more accepted if they are patient and compassionate. Your emotions are boiling up, and you want to cry.

Situations like these can be maddening, frustrating, and annoying at the same time. They are far too common and can happen to you and anyone with hearing loss. These middle-finger moments can really get to you. This is the part of life that isn’t fun. You’re experiencing people as they are. 

If you decide to give the middle finger or not, there are three better things you can do right away to bring control of the situation and keep your head high.

#1. Contact Human Resources (HR) at your workplace

If this is a workplace issue, then you want to contact the human resource (HR) department. In some company cultures, they have a high priority of fostering belonging and inclusiveness. Discriminatory behaviours are not allowed in the workplace, which can lead to legal actions.

In similar situations, women would often hear sexual comments from men. Blacks would receive insensitive comments about their skin colour, hair or cultural behaviours. These examples, including someone making fun of you, are categorized as insensitive comments and bullying that calls for disciplinary actions.

I say some companies because you may be working in a company without a person to discuss workplace issues. This happens often in startups or small organizations with few employees and no organizational charts. Often, the only person you could speak to was the person who joined in to laugh at you. These companies are not conducive to discussing workplace issues, but you need to speak to someone with authority. 

Take this as a lesson that you need to join companies that make efforts to prioritize a safe and inclusive workplace through the implementation of processes and practices that ensure people can report and discuss issues. Otherwise, you are in an environment that is a recipe for toxic workplace culture. Those types of companies don’t do well for your well-being, your career, or your life aspirations. 

Keep detailed notes of when it happened, the time it happened, where it happened, who was there and your experience as it occurred. These records will help HR investigate the situation. They may interview other witnesses to get to the bottom of the situation.

When you are reporting the situation, don’t downplay what has happened. Remember you were affected by it, and it hurt you. Your organization should prioritize creating a safe place for you to be productive at your assignments and on the job. You can’t be at your best when your confidence becomes a barrier to completing tasks. You were hired because you can do the job. Your employers could at least clear the way the issues and do the right thing that is best for the organization.

#2. Have a comeback

People can be ignorant sometimes, and they need to be reminded of that. As the situation is happening, you have the choice to be assertive. Your assertiveness is a direct communication that allows others to understand how you want to be treated. 

There are two approaches that you may want to take. You may choose to point out the behaviour. In this case, you can’t make references or name-calling. You’re being part of the problem and just doing what they’re doing back to them. People don’t change when they are being attacked or feel threatened. Their brain goes into defence mode to protect them. Try to say the word ‘you’ at the beginning of your sentence, like ‘you are …” Someone hearing it will think that you are accusing them. You have no authority to tell them what they are. But you can reference your perspective on how you feel they are behaving. Always lead with “I,” like “I am… this.’

The other approach is to be assertive and share your feelings immediately. This isn’t a poor-me type. I’m not talking about using this to gain sympathy. How others respond is out of your control. Your actions should be less dependent on how others react. 

Being assertive and sharing your emotions out loud can give you a sense of control without holding your feelings inside. If the relationship among your workers means something to you, this is an opportunity to share your feelings. 

Acknowledge that what just happened hurts. Next, use this time to state your preference for other behaviours that others should adopt instead. 

Here are a few suggestions. You can choose one that you are most comfortable with. Adjust to use words that you would say instead.

“I’m disappointed with what just happened right now. It appears to me you’re not showing any respect for my hearing. I can’t hear clearly right now. Instead, It would help me if you …. “

“My hearing loss is not a prop for your entertainment. Please, don’t do that again.”

You may choose to go strong further with this. 

“I thought you knew that hearing will always be a challenge for me. Hearing aids [or cochlear implants] are not a fix or a laughing matter. I would rather you speak with me, not at me, from now on.”

#3. Lean with empathy

Sometimes doing nothing is equally a choice with power. You don’t necessarily need to respond but change your mindset to how you are interpreting the situation.

You need to be reminded that there isn’t anything wrong with you. When someone makes fun of you, it signals a deeper issue underneath them. People uncomfortable with themselves and situations often want to use humour to distract from the real issues. Perhaps when you didn’t respond, the person felt ignored and rejected. Or maybe they are generally insecure people.

Usually, people who need or urge to make fun of others have self-esteem issues. They may play out their worst fear of people laughing at them by doing the very thing that they’re scared of to others. This gives them the impression of control of the situation.

Other people who join in to laugh are doing it to belong. Humans, particularly in crowds, want to be connected and part of the pack. They don’t want to be laughed at or singled out. Participating in poor behaviours gives them an excuse to avoid being the target. 

If you can think of the situation as having nothing to do with you but more with other people’s insecurity, you will have a greater sense of empathy to understand the hurt and fear that others have but are not self-aware of.

Take back control of your life.

When people are laughing at you, and you’re certain that it’s not something you are making up, remember that humans are complex creatures with inner wounds that are not healed. We all live with insecurities, be it our hearing loss, other trauma, or negative experiences from the past. 

Taking control of the situation when you’re at the receiving end of the wound is all that you can do. You have the power of choices when you are faced with others laughing at you. But don’t let these people dictate how you live your life now and in the future. They’re not worth it that much.

If you liked this post, you’d LOVE Making Sense Sunday

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