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Taking Laughter Personally!
Elayne Savage. Ph.D. -- The Rejection Expert Elayne Savage. Ph.D. -- The Rejection Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Monday, February 28, 2022


By Elayne Savage, PhD


#186 Laughter canstockphoto68105518                                         ©Kakigori - Can Stock Photo Inc.

Over the years I’ve heard many stories from both workplace consultation and therapy clients about being on the receiving end of laughter and taking something personally.

Sometimes, though, it’s not about being on the receiving end. It’s about being unaware of their own laughter and then wondering why the other person is unsure about how to interpret the laughter.

I’ve been noticing how a new consultation client has been ending each of our Zoom sessions by signing off with nervous laughter.

I’m sure she is unaware she is doing it and unaware of how much this laughter detracts from the professional message she’s wanting to present

I’m planning to approach this by commenting on the gains she is making toward her goal of making a positive professional impression and ask if it’s OK if I offer a personal observation.  Would she like to work on becoming aware when she laughs and how it may negate the professional impression she wants to give in her business transactions.

Many of us know from our childhood experiences of being on the receiving end of laughter, how confusing it can be, how we don’t quite know how to respond to it.

Too often we had miserable experiences growing up thinking someone was derisively laughing at us.  Middle School is famous for fostering these insecurities!

Many of us used to ‘fill in the blanks’ with our own interpretation – and we still do!

I was one of those folks.

I wrote in Don’t Take It Personally! –– “It seems I was getting my feelings hurt all the time. I often thought people were laughing at me. I remember my first day at dancing class when I was about five years old. While all the parents watched, the teacher told us to follow her as best we could and she began to shuffle and stomp and kick. Then she began to shimmy, which we just couldn’t figure out. Can you just picture all of these little five-year-olds shaking their butts instead of their shoulders? The parents roared, and I, of course, thought they were laughing at me. For many years after that, I would make sure I was in the back row of any dance or movement class ….” 

“Another child might not have been so reactive. Another child might have been more resilient and not so quick to perceive rejection. Another child might have gone about his or her business without wasting time and energy on deciphering the meanings of looks, tones of voice, or laughs.”

Highly Sensitive to Laughter

There are a lot of us out there who had these disheartening early experiences and still find ourselves having strong reactions to someone’s laughter, interpreting it as someone laughing at us.

One woman remembers feeling the butt of everyone’s jokes — especially her older sister’s friends. Their teasing made her feel vulnerable and self-conscious all the time.

“It took a while, but I taught myself to use self-deprecating humor, trying to make sure everyone would be laughing with me and not at me. I could be a great stand-up comic!”

And speaking of humor and comedy, another woman recently hung up the phone when her mother started laughing during their conversation. After this hang up they didn’t talk for weeks.

When the daughter was able to talk about how hurt she was when her mother laughed at her, Mom looked genuinely surprised that her laughter was so hurtful – especially that her daughter felt Mom was directing it at her.

Then Mom tells a story her daughter has never heard before: “All my life my dream has been to be to be a comedian – to stand on the stage and bring joy by making people laugh!”

This story is  a good illustration of how laughter might be a double-edged sword: Wanting to bring joy through laughter to people could also cause someone to misunderstand and feel hurt.

From Self-reject to Self-respect TM

I, too, felt so much hurt from misunderstanding laughter. When I realized how this was influencing my adult interactions, I knew I had to do something to re-balance.

So I taught myself how to use laughter to overcome my moments of self-consciousness. As soon as I feel an insecurity coming on, I laugh at myself before anyone else can.

Actually I’ve developed a kind of silent giggle that instantly becomes available when I start to feel self-conscious. It helps me feel back in control of the situation and to sidestep potentially embarrassing moments.

Before I developed ‘the giggle’ I used to take myself so seriously. As a child I thought people were laughing at me all the time, so it wasn’t easy to learn to direct humor at myself. As I practiced, I discovered I wasn’t really laughing at myself. I was actually laughing with myself.

Once I began to lighten up everything changed — and I found I wasn’t taking things so personally.

Yes, that’s it: I learned how to find the balance of taking myself seriously enough to believe in myself, yet lightly enough to laugh with myself.

Do you, too, have a story to tell about your own or someone else’s nervous, self-conscious laughter?

Do you have a story to tell about overcoming the uneasy feelings that can arise in uncomfortable situations?

© Elayne Savage, PhD

Until next month,


Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.
Both books are now available on Kindle!



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To find out more about my speaking programs, coaching and consultation services visit: //www.QueenofRejection.com or call 510-540-6230 if you or your group can benefit.

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Name: Dr. Elayne Savage
Title: The Queen of Rejection
Group: Relationship Coach, Professional Speaker, Practicing Psychotherapist, Author
Dateline: San Francisco Bay Area, CA United States
Cell Phone: 510-816-6230
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