Ask yourself these questions and really think about the answers: How would you react if you were walking around a store and when you got to the register the cashier pointed to your shirt and said, “You might want to button that back up”? Unbeknownst to you, you had been walking around the store with two of the middle buttons of your shirt unbuttoned. What if you were at work giving a presentation and you jumbled your words? What would you do if you fell down in public? Any of these situations would be embarrassing for most people, but after the initial embarrassment, would you be able to laugh at yourself?
Learning to genuinely laugh at yourself isn’t easy for most people. I add the word genuinely because some people wear a mask and they laugh at themselves outwardly, but are seething or crying inside. Faking the laughter, while beating yourself up inside, has the opposite effect of genuinely laughing at what has happened and moving on. We bury that secret shame inside while pretending to be ok, and we don’t give ourselves the chance to ever be our authentic selves.
But again, this is not easy for most people to put into practice…myself included.
So, let’s start with what we gain when we learn to laugh at ourselves.
First and foremost, it can improve our health and well-being.
Our stress levels go down, which makes everything from our heart, to our lungs, to the amount of inflammation present in our bodies better. Laughter in general creates more feel-good chemicals in our brains, which help us to feel more optimistic and happier, but can also help with things like pain relief. Our immune systems are better able to fight off disease. It can help improve short-term memory and our ability to learn. And overall, we have more confidence in ourselves and our ability to handle whatever comes our way.
Our relationships get better.
Because we aren’t taking everything so seriously, we are more relaxed around people. We aren’t constantly trying to monitor everything we do, so we can be more present with what we’re doing. Instead of trying to protect ourselves from ridicule we make an effort to try to make people smile and laugh more. We’re more understanding of those that are being made fun of, and rather than stepping back because we don’t want to become the butt of the joke ourselves, we step in to take some of the heat off of them.
It can also show others that it’s ok to laugh at themselves, thus giving them the opportunity to improve their lives in these ways as well.
The way that we see the world as a whole, shifts.
We start to see the world, not as a threatening place, but as a place of joy and possibility. In taking things less personally, we see things from an outsider’s perspective in general. We become more understanding of those around us, because we can see that, if they are making fun of us, or lashing out at us, they are really just fearful and hurting.
So now, back to those first questions…turn things around a little and ask yourself these questions:
What would you do if you were walking through a store and you saw a couple of the middle buttons of someone’s shirt unbuttoned? If you knew they hadn’t done it on purpose.
If a co-worker, or a public speaker, was doing a presentation and they jumbled their words, how would you react?
What would you do if your best friend fell down in public, or if a perfect stranger did?
How would you react if you were at a restaurant and you saw someone flip a plate over and spill it in their lap?
Would you laugh at these people? Point at them and make fun of them? Call them stupid?
If so, then you really need to check in with why that is. Because if you’re ridiculing and judging people, even secretly, then you’re going to assume that others are doing the same to you. This will skew every interaction that you have with people.
But for most of us, seeing other people in a position like this would make us feel bad for them. We may laugh at some point, but our initial reaction is one of feeling their pain in some way because we’ve been there ourselves.
When other people make mistakes, we tend to be way more forgiving with them than we are with ourselves for making the same mistakes.
When we make a misstep, we beat ourselves up. “Why didn’t I pay attention?” “How did I not notice that?” “I should be better than this.”
When others make mistakes, or do something that we deem as stupid, we laugh hysterically. But if the tables are turned, we get upset that people are laughing at us.
Why the double standard? Why is it so hard for us to laugh at ourselves?
We don’t want to show weakness or vulnerability.
If we fall down and other people see us, then we believe that they see us as somehow flawed. In seeking to repair that view of ourselves we lash out at people and try to make them feel as embarrassed as we did in the moment that we fell. If we jumble our words in a presentation then we worry that everyone will think that we’re stupid. To keep that from happening we go to extremes to prove that isn’t true. Often, people do this by trying to show how stupid someone else is.
We take ourselves and the world too seriously.
We are trying so hard to keep up a certain persona, to be liked, to fit in, and we’re afraid that if we laugh at ourselves then that persona will crack and everyone will see us for who we really are. Or, we’re trying to control every situation around us (in an effort to keep bad things from happening, or to keep from feeling anything) and our misstep shows us that we aren’t as in control as we thought we were.
We lack of confidence – in ourselves and our abilities.
People who are insecure, have a hard time laughing at themselves. They already feel like they aren’t good enough, so laughing at themselves makes them feel even worse. They see themselves as the butt of everyone’s joke because of the way they feel about themselves.
We think that if we laugh at ourselves then we’re giving others permission to laugh at us.
The thing is, if you’re laughing at yourself then other people can’t laugh at you because they will be laughing with you. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s true. If people are genuinely laughing at you to try to be mean, when you laugh at yourself it takes the wind out of their sails. They think that in laughing at you they can make you feel less than. They think that they can get a rise out of you. They think that they can look like the funny one. If you laugh at yourself, it’s like telling the punchline of someone else’s joke…it defeats them.
“When you can laugh at yourself, no one can make a fool out of you.”
– Joan Rivers
We see the world as a place that is full of traps.
Some people think that the world is out to get them. When something happens, they automatically take it personally instead of viewing it as an opportunity to learn something about themselves, or as something that happens to everyone.
Learning to laugh at yourself is really learning to love yourself for who you are, flaws and all. So how do we get started?
First, we need to figure out why it bothers us so much when something like falling down in public happens to us.
Think about the last time that something like this happened to you. If you weren’t able to laugh at yourself, think back to what was going on around you when this happened. Was there someone around that you were trying to impress? Was there someone there who always makes fun of you or picks on you if you make a mistake? Were you trying to control the situation, to look like you had it all together, and things didn’t go as planned?
Next, we need to learn the difference between someone laughing at us out of meanness and someone laughing at us because what we did is funny, or because they may have easily done the same thing.
Those who are laughing at you to be mean are looking for a reason to tear you down. Just because someone laughs at you doesn’t mean that they are being cruel to you though. If one of my close friends or family was to fall down, I would make sure they were ok, and then I would laugh at them. Just as they would if I fell down. It’s the intent behind why people are laughing that you need to learn to determine. If we have already worked through step one then this intent will be easier to figure out, and less clouded by how we’re feeling about ourselves.
The next thing we need to do is to realize that people’s reactions are more about them than about us.
If you are trying to impress someone and you fall down, drop food in your lap, or jumble your words, and that person laughs at you in a mean way….are they really worth your time anyway? If they are proving up front that they are going to belittle you by laughing at you when you’re down (maybe literally), they are not someone that you want in your life.
Remember that, just because you did something that you deem “stupid”, does not make you a stupid person.
Just because you dropped something, tripped and fell, jumbled your words, or did something that causes embarrassment, doesn’t say anything about you as a person. Dropping a plate of food on the ground, spilling your drink, falling up the stairs, and anything else like this doesn’t change how kind you are to others. It doesn’t change how you care about your family and friends. It doesn’t change your work ethic. When you do something “stupid”, practice saying, “I did a stupid thing, I’m not a stupid person”. This allows you to acknowledge that you may not have been paying attention when you walked through your living room and you stubbed your toe and knocked over a vase full of flowers, but it does not make you a stupid person. It does not change who you are at your core.
The biggest key to learning to laugh at yourself is figuring out why you take things so personally, why you feel like you have to keep up a persona in front of people.
Are you afraid that if they see the real you, they won’t like you? Do you feel that if you can control things you can keep from having anything bad happen in your life? If you show any vulnerabilities, are you afraid that people will exploit them and use them against you?
Diving in to the deeper reasons behind why we can’t laugh at ourselves can help us to heal those wounds and have a better life overall. Everyone is a little different, so a one size fits all solution doesn’t exist. Each of us has to do our own exploration.
One thing that does help everyone, is to remember that you are not alone in how you’re feeling when you do something “stupid” or embarrassing. We have ALL been there at one time or another. Some of us more often than others. =)
If we are able to laugh things like this off, it’s actually much easier to recover from them personally and socially. It’s not wrong to be a little embarrassed when things like this happen. In fact, it’s a normal human response. The trouble comes in when we continue to beat ourselves up for our perceived mistakes in situations like this. As we discussed in “Does How We Think Really Matter”, our self-talk is important. If we’re always beating ourselves up for something like this happening, it messes with our world view. The way that we see ourselves affects the way that we see the world around us.
Learning to laugh at ourselves gives us the opportunity to see the world for what it is: a beautiful place, full of possibilities. It allows us to see ourselves for who we really are, and to live our lives in the most authentic way we possibly can.