Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cranky Analysis: Using Humor

It's been a while since I took a look at the American Psychological Association's web page on Controlling Anger Before it Controls You. There are still a couple of strategies left. Today, I'll look at the use of humor ...

Using Humor

"Silly humor" can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry and call someone a name or refer to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that word would literally look like. If you're at work and you think of a coworker as a "dirtbag" or a "single-cell life form," for example, picture a large bag full of dirt (or an amoeba) sitting at your colleague's desk, talking on the phone, going to meetings. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humor can always be relied on to help unknot a tense situation.

The underlying message of highly angry people, Dr. Deffenbacher says, is "things oughta go my way!" Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!

When you feel that urge, he suggests, picture yourself as a god or goddess, a supreme ruler, who owns the streets and stores and office space, striding alone and having your way in all situations while others defer to you. The more detail you can get into your imaginary scenes, the more chances you have to realize that maybe you are being unreasonable; you'll also realize how unimportant the things you're angry about really are. There are two cautions in using humor. First, don't try to just "laugh off" your problems; rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don't give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that's just another form of unhealthy anger expression.

What these techniques have in common is a refusal to take yourself too seriously. Anger is a serious emotion, but it's often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.

The first visualization strategy does not sing to me. The second section, speaking about cranky people feeling that things should go their way and not necessarily being able to handle it well when things don't is more relevant. But, again, the strategy to deal with it does not resonate well with me. I'm not that great at visualizing.

The last paragraph, though, is dead on. Anger is caused, quite often, by taking yourself too seriously, giving yourself more importance than the object of your anger. Humor, by definition, requires that you not take things too seriously, but instead see their aburdity, their silliness, their ... humor.

When I am not too absorbed in my crankiness, but have a part of my mind standing a bit apart and observing what I'm doing, I can often see that my crankiness is caused by taking myself too seriously. That's when I have a chance to ask myself why I think this issue is such a big deal. Whether I use humor to skewer my self-importance and expose the absurdity of my reaction or some other tool, this self-awareness is a key way for me to slow down cranky reactions.


awb said...

Humor works great, it's just that most people don't find me funny, so I waste my A material. I put comments and get no answer, so I guess it's subjective? I'd rather laugh than cry, when appropriate I suppose?


Cranky said...

Andy - I must admit that I find you funny. This comment is making me laugh!