Teasing is not “funny”

Something I’ve thought about frequently in the past: We respect people more, the less we know them.
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With friends we trust, we allow ourselves to let go and make the kind of inappropriate remarks or jokes that we’d never dare pull on a stranger, and it’s well received, because it’s all “in good fun”. Yet, perhaps the person at the receiving end isn’t taking those remarks well, perhaps that person is having their self-esteem slowly, but surely, eroded away by these small trust funny5transgressions. And the worst part is they won’t even realize it, because the actions are so subtle, and so acceptable, the thought doesn’t even cross their minds.
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There is this “teasing” thing that we do. We transfer our own beliefs about what is okay and what isn’t onto others. We tease, joke, cajole, wheedle, laugh… and might unknowingly cause harm. We cite “Grow up” or “I’m just kidding” or “I’m just teasing” as ways to dismiss someone else’s feelings.
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Some people are more susceptible to teasing, of course, due to their perceptions gleaned from experience, and we all have different experiences.
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I used to be unable to control blushing and/or crying. Seriously. Whenever someone even hinted at making fun of me, especially when I was younger,  I would feel my cheeks start to burn and tears well up in my eyes. I hated it. Loathed that I had no control.
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Then I thought what about parenting? We teach our kids how to navigate the social world by their interactions with us. We might not understand that a silly joke at their expense (that wasn’t purposely hurtful of course) can chip away at self-esteem. We might not comprehend that our children need a safe place that is free from taunting or even perceived taunting.
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When either of my girls gets upset for no apparent reason over a small thing (such as a joke) as their mother I need to understand there IS a reason. And trust me… I’ve done it too. Said something one day that was met with raucous laughter only to have something similar bring about a tear-fest the very next day.
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What do you do? Well for one, I don’t leave any discomfort hanging in the air without investigation. “Why did that hurt?” “I love you” and “I’m sorry” is always a good place to start. Yes… even if YOU don’t think you did anything wrong. The self-esteem (of children especially) is a fragile thing, wrought with fluttering tendrils of doubt that entwine themselves in the best intentions. Add teenage hormones to the mix and it can feel like walking on eggshells.
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Of course, with my children, we then do the work. Talking of integrity and motives and emotional fortitude, we tackle the issue together. Now we can’t always do that for other grown folks… but what we CAN do is show empathy. We can remember what it felt like to be teased or bullied and assure them that it wasn’t intentional. And then??? Then you don’t do it again. Period.
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Most of all I have to remember these five things…
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1. Other people’s feelings don’t have to make sense to you. Feelings don’t always make sense.
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2. Dismissing another person’s pain because you think it’s silly is possibly one of the most harmful things you can do.
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3. Transgressions are easily forgiven. The cause of the angst is rarely what YOU’VE said but more the inner turmoil caused from another source. (If you’re not purposely being unkind that is)
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4. Everyone has a need to be heard. Not everyone can verbalise this in an articulate way.
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5. Don’t do it again. You’ve been shown and told a source of pain. Just because YOU think it’s silly doesn’t make it invalid.
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Things NOT to say/do?
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1. “Stop being so sensitive!”
2. “Can’t you take a joke?”
3. “Get over it already.”
4. Get mad and punish the person by withdrawing affection/attention.
5. Keep teasing in the hopes that they’ll someday think it’s funny too.
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We’ve all had situations where we’ve felt powerless. Some people are powerless over how they react to their emotions. Simple kindness is always the answer. Remember that it doesn’t have to make sense to YOU. It’s not about YOU. But make darn sure you do your very best to do no purposeful harm.
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Compassion is a wonderful, necessary thing.

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