Why You Don’t Like Being Teased

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I tend to avoid people who favor barbed, teasing modes of interacting, even when I know they’re well-meaning.  Not only do their teases feel hurtful, but I’m not good at the snappy come-backs that teasing seems to call for. I find myself smiling as a way to cover up my hurt feelings (not an unusual reaction – this is one of smiling’s primary functions.)

I’m probably on the thin-skinned end of the spectrum. But Gretchen Rubin over at the Happiness Project has uncovered fascinating new research that suggests that my feelings about teasing are pretty common:  teasers tend to believe that their comments are less hurtful than the teasee thinks.

Here’s the research that she cites from David Dunning’s book, Self-Insight: Road Blocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself:

“People commonly tease each other, but it appears that people who are teased misunderstand the intentions of the person doing the teasing. Often, teasing is done in a spirit of affection and playfulness, and teasers attempt to convey these intentions through subtle nonverbal cues. However, those who are being teased tend to miss these benign aims. When they describe a time they teased their roommate, people tend to describe the action as more humorous and lighthearted than does the person being teased, who instead rates such incidents as more malicious and annoying. The good intentions of teasers are just not as obvious as teasers believe.” (Kruger, Gordon, Kuban) (page 129).

Gretchen also gives the example of a loving mother she knows who said to her daughter, “Hey, Messy Girl, are you planning to drag a brush through that rat’s nest on your head?” She knew the mother’s intentions were benign, but felt that she’d have been hurt if her mother said something like that to her.

This got me thinking about when teasing really is OK. For example, I sometimes call my three year old “Buster.” It’s an affectionate nickname, and he knows it. “Call me Buster again!” he sometimes tells me. Now when his friends come over they ask if I can call them Buster too.

Maybe the question is whether there’s anything passive-aggressive going on under the tease.  The Messy Girl’s mother was using teasing to get her daughter to be cleaner.  Some people use teasing to establish dominance – when I was in college, I noticed that guys did this with each other all the time.  They seemed to find these back-and-forths hilarious, even when they were on the receiving end of the tease. But now I wonder what they were really feeling.  (Any college guys out there, current or former?  What do you think?)

And what do you all think about teasing in general?


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38 Comments

  1. Ron Amundson on 04.02.2011 at 12:02 (Reply)

    Back in my day, we teased each other all the time, and it was absolutely positively hilarious, no matter which side one was on… In a lot of ways being on the receiving end was even more of a blast. In that regard, my experiences would seem to go against the conclusions of Kruger, Gordon, and Kuban.

    Personality types are incredibly diverse though, and a one size all approach is counter-producitve. For some, perhaps even jovial banter could come across as teasing. The key I think is to develop the skills to discern what is cool, and what is not for the folks we interact with. Ie, had teasing each other had not been part of our interaction style back at uni, life likely would have been pretty boring. On the other hand, for others, anything even leaning toward teasing coming across maliciously would not be cool at all.

  2. austinklee on 04.02.2011 at 12:23 (Reply)

    I’m a guy and teasing is just the way my group of friends communicated. I can’t speak for the other guys in our group, but I never felt offended or got my feelings hurt. I just understood that this was how our particular group communicated affection.

    I have since learned through anecdotal evidence that most groups of guys around that age communicate affection in this way. (Obviously this is probably a guy thing.)

  3. Tweets that mention Why You Don’t Like Being Teased -- Topsy.com on 04.02.2011 at 12:26

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ron Amundson and C L R, A Joe Smith. A Joe Smith said: Why You Don’t Like Being Teased: http://bit.ly/h8BXPV via @addthis […]

  4. Susan on 04.02.2011 at 14:23 (Reply)

    “The key I think is to develop the skills to discern what is cool, and what is not for the folks we interact with” — that is very wise advice from Ron! And according to the research, not so easily followed. Ron, any thoughts on how to do that?

  5. Emily on 04.02.2011 at 14:25 (Reply)

    I have been teased quite a bit in my life and have never really enjoyed it, although I have always been excellent at smiling and hiding it. I eventually developed this defense mechanism of often making fun of myself in order to deflect some of it. It’s taken 38 years for me to finally start to let people know quite how much I dislike it. Thanks for this - it makes me feel better to know I’m not alone in this!

  6. Daphne on 04.02.2011 at 14:59 (Reply)

    I would add that I’ve always felt impatient when I’m teased. It’s such an inferior humor, revealing a lack of imagination on the part of the teaser.

  7. Christy on 05.02.2011 at 14:21 (Reply)

    I don’t think I’m ever actually hurt by teasing, but I do tend to feel rather awkward. I don’t know how to respond, especially if I find it stupid rather than amusing.
    Much teasing does tend to be at the expense of the person being teased, rather than being a relationship-building interaction.

  8. KLZ on 07.02.2011 at 16:13 (Reply)

    I don’t mind being teased on many subjects. When I do mind being teased, it’s situations where I’ve repeatedly stated I’m not comfortable with the topic but continue to get teased about it anyway. That’s mainly a family experience - they’re trying to gentle get me to change while I want them to be ok with who I am.

    The thing about teasing that’s so hard is that even people like me, who are largely ok with it, can still end up wildly offended if you tease them about the wrong thing.

  9. LeAnne on 08.02.2011 at 08:13 (Reply)

    I just discovered your blog via Gretchin Rubin’s site. I love what I’ve found here.

    For the past several months, I have struggled with understanding why I’ve been distancing myself from my sister, whom I love dearly. You’ve nailed it here. A big part of our family dynamic is teasing. Sometimes it does bother me, but mostly I do take it in stride and I can give as good as I get. Something changed when we started interacting publically on facebook. At first, we traded good natured jabs. But, then I noticed that I was feeling the hits come a bit below the belt. I honestly don’t think she intended to hurt me, but the one-up-manship of zingers went a bit over the line. Friends commented on how funny our interactions were, but it wasn’t feeling good to me at all. That feeling tainted our face to face (or voice to voice) relationship and it came to the point where I found it difficult to speak with her at all. I’m going to take some time to digest this post and maybe I’ll come up with a way to change the dynamic a bit so its more comfortable.

  10. aha on 08.02.2011 at 08:20 (Reply)

    I’m particularly sensitive about teasing, because I grew up in a family that teased a lot about purposely hurtful things. When I would ask for them to not tease me about something, I’d be told how I “need to learn how to take teasing, because this is what we do, and it’s not about you! Your so selfish that YOU want US to change our behavior to make YOU feel good”. In those situations, teasing (that is, putting a laugh on top of purposely hurtful comments) was a way to make inappropriate behavior “socially acceptable”. In retrospect, it was abusive- parents in power saying mean things, and not respecting that the children didn’t feel the humor or “love” in it.

  11. Kathy on 08.02.2011 at 08:56 (Reply)

    My family and close friends tease each other a lot and always have, it is part of our history/dynamic. We know where each other is coming from and it is done with love and humor. We also know the boundaries and that comes from years of being together. We find that the banter can lighten the mood quickly and reminds us that we are ‘home’ with no thoughts of “what did they mean by that”.

    Now, on the other hand my husbands family teases passive-aggressively and I cannot tease them on any level because they think I tease with their same intent, which I don’t.

    There are those who tease negatively and those who tease positively (with no malice intent). I’ve learned the difference for the most part. I feel if people tease me and I’ve made it clear that I don’t like it and they continue then that is a lack of respect and that tells me who they are and their teasing style. I think we each have our boundary lines, know when they are crossed and are as individual as each person is.

  12. Vee on 08.02.2011 at 11:32 (Reply)

    My husband’s family teases affectionately (and sometimes, I think, passive-aggressively), and I always dislike it. I’m not yet comfortable enough with them to understand the subtleties in their meanings, and also, I just don’t like being teased. I, too, am a bit thin-skinned, and I try not to think of it as a fault - it’s just the way I am!

  13. Beth on 08.02.2011 at 13:45 (Reply)

    I have groups of people who tease and groups who don’t… the thing that I try to remember to do is to never say anything in jest that I would not say in a quiet respectful manner to the same person. And I most definitely try to not say anything to someone else that I would not be willing to hear said to me - teasing or not.

    I have found over the last few years that my heart has grown less tolerant than my thick skin might suggest. Since I have been attempting to remove negative speak from my own vocabulary - I figure this is a by-product as I wait for the people who care about me to figure out that I don’t speak that way anymore so I would appreciate them not using it towards me…

  14. Laura on 08.02.2011 at 14:06 (Reply)

    I’ve been teased by my family for most of my 41 years, mainly by my father. I think a lot of people use teasing as a mode of communication when they are incapable of commucating in a “normal” fashion.
    He to this day, teases me about things that were relivant 20 years ago. For instance, he has called me “Gucci” since I was 20 years old, as I use to spend most of the money I made on clothes. Now that I am a stay at home mom with 2 kids, I can’t remember the last time I spent money on myself. But it makes him feel better to keep that stereotype alive.
    Anyway, I have learned that much of the teasing I have received is part of people’s insecurities, and it’s actually made me stronger, and more confident.

  15. LAA Spikes on 08.02.2011 at 15:31 (Reply)

    Then there is the smart alek teasing my son and his generation does. I do not apreciate being the tail end on thier “jokes” and the teasing is (i feel) direspectful. I am also thin skinned having been teased way too much my whole life so i may not be a good judge.

  16. Julie on 08.02.2011 at 16:42 (Reply)

    I tend to tease a lot — because I’m jokey and playful by nature — but I am worried it hurts people’s feelings and I’m trying to think about it and stop. Thanks for this post.

  17. Janet on 08.02.2011 at 19:16 (Reply)

    My mother is the product of merciless teasing by her 3 older brothers. To this day, she is defensive and self-conscious and can’t say “I don’t know” or “I was wrong.” because they made her feel stupid. I’m sure they all thought it was just in fun. It took me a long time to figure this out, as I was in the position of always feeling “wrong” as a child and felt like it was a huge flaw. While I think gentle, affectionate teasing is possible, it is often thinly veiled aggression, like tickling. The person may be smiling (or laughing) but what they really want to say is “stop”.

  18. Cath on 09.02.2011 at 02:15 (Reply)

    I grew up in a house with a lot of teasing. I and the only girl of my parents’ four children, so I got it a lot. It didn’t really bother me that much, so long as it didn’t cross certain lines. So now if I make any tease-jokes, I evaluate it beforehand and try not to insult anyone and am very careful not to let it go so far as to make the person feel badly about themselves.

    I definitely don’t passive-aggressively tease because I think it makes everyone around you - including yourself - feel terrible. If there is something that is actually bothersome about someone, I tell them directly, not through a tease.

    And if it’s obvious that someone is the kind of person that doesn’t like to be teased, I don’t tease them. I think, too, it’s up to the person being teased to at least say something to stick up for themselves, though. It’s very possible that the person teasing is doing so in an innocent way and would rather know that the person they’re teasing doesn’t think it’s funny so that they can stop.

    Basically, it can be okay, but when in doubt, don’t tease.

  19. Ron Amundson on 09.02.2011 at 09:58 (Reply)

    @Susan, as far as the how to learn discernment, wowzers, thats a tough one. Certainly awareness of the issue is key, but beyond that, it is a heart / compassion issue, and that has to come from within. Its sort of like a lot of workplace sensitivity training… Unless one is receptive to such, it goes in one ear and out the other. Deep down though, I think there is a natural law aspect of do no harm which resides in pretty much everyone… granted, its often masked or even buried by other competing interests.

  20. April on 10.02.2011 at 18:16 (Reply)

    The book “He Said, She Said” by Deborah Tannen looks at communicating from a male, female perspective and is VERY enlightening at how differently men and women communicate, including teasing. I highly recommend it.

  21. Joanie on 15.02.2011 at 17:22 (Reply)

    So many of those who claim to be hurt by teasing also admit to smiling to hide the hurt or confusion. Perhaps it is difficult for teasers to learn that their teasing is hurtful if the ones hurt keep smiling through. I have definitely teased with what I’d hoped to be good humor & affection but realized I’d hit a wrong note & quickly apologized if I didn’t get a crinkle eyed smile back. Crinkly eyes can’t be faked so look for those teasers. And thin skinned teasees please stop smiling and say something.

  22. trish on 21.02.2011 at 00:24 (Reply)

    just tonight, my friend’s 21 year old daughter responded to something I said with (excuse my political incorrectness) with the verbal and physical remarks that resemble someone who has a severe speech impediment. Not long after, my other friend’s 18 year old son mimic’d me and his mom during a board game we were playing. I tried to ‘grin and bear it’, but after the last remark, I got up and said, ‘your mother and I are smart women. We work hard. We make LOTS of money in our jobs - a heck of lot more than you I may add, and I am sick and tired of being disrespected. I walked out. The son attempted to apologize and then sent me about 5 text messages after I got home. The truth is, I am sick of being a doormat.

  23. thankfulunknown on 22.04.2011 at 16:49 (Reply)

    I left home when I was 14 and never looked back. I had taken verbal abuse from my father, my complacent mother, and my older brother most of my life. The entire family would say I would turn out like my crazy unbalanced maternal aunt, but actually, I validate myself these days and I must say, I’m happy.

  24. veniq on 04.05.2011 at 15:25 (Reply)

    I try not to tease. I like to think that I am thick-skinned but hey, I’m not. Teasing can sting. That said, I do use light teasing to ‘lighten’ the situation sometimes but it’s tricky when I’m with someone (else) who is thin-skinned: they end up feeling hurt by what I perceived to be funny.

    So the best solution, I’ve found, is to just can the teasing.

  25. hurt on 09.05.2011 at 00:55 (Reply)

    I was recently teased by a woman who worked out a lot and dressed provocatively. She looked very poorly in the face but felt that by teasing she could manipulate men with her ‘beauty’. She dumped her life problems on me and unfortunately being kind hearted I was compassionate towards her. In return she treated me as if I were the ‘bad’ person. She projected her past bf issues on me and acted cold and distant towards me. She treated me like I was some sort of pervert or in a suspicious manner. It was very insulting and degrading to me. Also given that i have had a very poor life experience with abusive women. It only made me feel worse along wit hall of the teasing she did. I stuggle now to get past her and that experience. But I am really haveing a hard time. I also have developed a serious hatred of women in general. I also do not trust women in any capacity. I hate being teased I always have but this woman’s physical teasing really traumatised me and I hate her and everything about her. When I see a woman who is a runner or someone who is like her it ignites my anger and deep hurt. Life has not been easy for me since last year. Unfortunately I am a Man and nobody cares about what men go through. People only like to mock and degrade men who have been wounded. So I have no one to talk to. That is how the world goes.

  26. MBD on 06.07.2011 at 19:25 (Reply)

    I am actually being teased mercilessly in a class I’m taking right now, and I’m ambivalent about how I feel about it.

    The very first day, I noted that our prof (a grad student) was rather seriously introverted, but also wielding a very dry humor that to most probably comes off as pure insult. That’s why I initially thought one of the other students had been outright insulted by the prof when he immediately rejected the student’s translation-NONE of us were prepared for the chilling effect of this student’s humiliation, and I think the prof knew something had gone horribly wrong. I thought about confronting him about his behavior after class, but with his cold demeanor he probably would have immediately denied and gone on the defensive. So I decided to put my own thick skin on the line.

    Every day since, I have been amping up my obvious mistakes to the level of braggadocio, mainly as a pressure release for the class. We’re all trying to learn a language here, but most of us are linguistics nerds and introverted to the nines. In response, the prof has begun directing the majority of his intensely sardonic responses my way and a few of the more nervous students have started laughing at our banter. The prof isn’t sputtering and stuttering as much after his bursts of what he calls wit, which goes to show his comfort level with teaching is improving.

    That’s not to say that his comments aren’t hurtful anymore; it’s just that I’d rather be the one giving him obvious things to tear to ribbons while others get a bit more slack. I really don’t like seeing other people ripped into by meanness.

  27. Erik on 27.08.2011 at 07:28 (Reply)

    I think this page made me pinpoint why I have so few male friends.

    That is what they always do, they find something about you to tease you on and then they wont stop it… ever… while I get bored of it by the 3rd time, in their minds still as fresh as the first time and deserves the same amount of laughs.

    I simply cant understand that, I worked in construction and I got teased a lot, by the 3-4 day of taking the piss with the same joke I could not be bothered to fake a smile anymore, I started rolling my eyes… and they asked: “what’s wrong?”, basically why wasnt I laughing that they were teasing me… I just told them to their faces: “honestly, just wondering when you’ll think of something more original”

    There is also different types of teasin, I actually enjoy teasin when is something stupid/funny you might have done or said when the other person was with you because it reminds you both of when it first happened and how funny it was, is personal and is like an inside-tease, no one else will tease you the same way.. like with my best friend, I went shopping with her, she found a top she liked and fitted her perfectly, soon after we realized it was a maternity top… so now whenever we go shopping and she pics something out I’ll say at some point: “is that another maternity top?” or “that wont fit you, is not a maternity top” so she’ll look at me, laugh (not just smile) and go: “f*** off” or something like that, lol.

    The teasing I hate is the one that is made by the way you look/talk because it shows absolutely no imagination, they are likely teasing you about something you been teased about before so it does not make me get attached to the person teasing, it makes me feel like either punching them or ignoring them.

  28. Ging on 17.02.2012 at 08:28 (Reply)

    I was looking for an article about being sensitive, being teased, and not liking, and I found this. I’m glad I did. I’m having such a bad day. I know that my office mates were just being affectionate when they teased me about something that wasn’t true, but I didn’t like being ganged upon. The whole time they were teasing me, I just painfully smiled. I, too, am not good at making snappy comebacks that will make people quiet. When I do say something snappy, I tend to regret it, too. I don’t think I can confront them with it because they will think I’m a fun sucker. But I still feel bad. I honestly don’t know how to deal with this. :(

  29. Pherous on 31.07.2012 at 00:12 (Reply)

    “Crinkly eyes can’t be faked so look for those teasers. And thin skinned teasees please stop smiling and say something.”

    That’s easy to say, but there is often a price to pay for admitting that you’ve been hurt by a tease, particularly for males. Personally, I rarely smile and go along with such things any more. It doesn’t seem to make a difference in most cases. People don’t appear to be very observant about such things. I’ll take a person who is sensitive to others over a “friendly” person any day. I’m introverted and shy, but I am not a pushover and people sometimes don’t understand what they are getting into when they mess with me.

  30. Lady Unemployed on 03.05.2013 at 19:45 (Reply)

    Ohh I came across this post after just getting this at work today! I hate it! I also was trying to rant to a friend who promptly told me I should laugh it off, you only live once and shouldn’t be offended by teasing (or “insult” humor, as I referred to it). Good to know I’m not alone about being bothered by this!

  31. Ashley on 13.06.2013 at 12:36 (Reply)

    I’ve been struggling with this lately myself, particularly with a new friend whom I’m close with. I know life has dealt her a hard blow in regards to her family and such, but she teases a lot as a means of communication as well as sarcasm. I heard it said that sarcasm is just a socially acceptable way of communicating contempt. I have to say I agree. For me there are two kinds if teasing - safe teasing that is not about your character, looks, or personality. It’s more a teasing about past experiences. And then there’s the other teasing. Yuck! I’m introverted and thin skinned after being raised in a teasing an very passive aggressive family. But it is very hard to know how to respond to these things. Especially now when you get teased via text, email, and social media. So it’s not so easy as simply not smiling or saying something back. That’s how I stumbled on this today - out of frustration trying to find some validation and advice.

  32. Gabriel Cox on 20.01.2014 at 14:30 (Reply)

    I believe people tease for one reason and one reason only; to hurt. If your family tease you and they say it is affection, think again. Just because they are close to you that does not mean that they would not like to see you hurt to make themselves feel better. End of story.

  33. derik on 27.01.2014 at 09:14 (Reply)

    PLEASE SEE TO THIS…I’M REALLY DEPRESSED I’VE BOARD EXAMINATION COMING UP AND THIS THING PRICKS AND I’M NOT ABLE TO CONCENTRATE!!!!
    when i was in seventh….. people used to tease me . they called me Gay . now I’m about to pass out. but that torture which i faced and sometimes still do face it today. it scares me because i feel when I’ll get into a college and someone from my school reveals my past then what would happen to me. will people become judgemental. will they outcast me.
    I’m always scared of my past. even in Tuitions i go and if my tuition fellow mates are mutually friends with my school mates then they also get to know the thing and they ask me about it. I’m not gay. that’s what people had made me. can you suggest me a way on how to deal with problems like this. how to deal when people around me ask me about my past. how should i react to this. I’m not able to forget it. how to erase this thing and move on….

    1. Susan Cain on 27.01.2014 at 12:46 (Reply)

      Oh please don’t worry about this, Derik! People really do grow up and move on. In college people don’t care much what happened in lower school. The older you get and the more you can forge your own life instead of being trapped in a building with your schoolmates, as you once were, the more this will recede into the past. MANY accomplished people had childhoods like this, and no one judges them for it — on the contrary, it’s a sign of perseverance and the strength to overcome.

      All this said - I am SO SORRY this happened to you.

  34. Charles on 25.02.2014 at 09:10 (Reply)

    There is a difference between humor and teasing with males. Humor invites others into the group to enjoy something and teasing creates a hierarchy sometimes excluding people from the group. It can also be a way to find weaknesses in people so they can be exploited in an aggressive manner. Any of the persons above that say they enjoy it are probably the aggressors. Many a fist fight have been started by ‘teasing,’ so the better at fisticuffs one is, the more ‘harmless’ it all seems. This is a more civilized way than just duking it out from the start. Every pack has an Alpha, it’s human nature.

  35. abhaille on 07.05.2014 at 20:06 (Reply)

    I was teased a lot when I was small. I didn’t have siblings and I thought that teasing was mean. I got it from parents and aunts and uncles and although some of it is well and affectionately meant, being on the receiving end was unpleasant. Some of the teasing was cruel (I’m going to exchange you for THAT little girl in the Sears catalog) as a way to get me to make up my bed.

    I do occasionally tease but only with someone I know very well, or in a sweet way -today I told a little girl that I liked her sparkly dress because fairies left sparkly sprinkles behind. She smiled really big and nodded.

    Most of the teasing I hear between students in my high poverty urban high school is unkind and racially charged.

  36. Katie on 13.12.2014 at 13:47 (Reply)

    I prefer hanging out with guys and the teasing that happens in these groups is great. I hate being teased in mixed company by women. Women use distancing humor to establish false social dominance or to hide insecurities when they feel threatened, outclassed (intellectually or in any other way), and insecure. It’s manipulative and it’s a major put off for me. And it accomplishes precisely the opposite of their general intentions which are to find a way to connect.

    1. Kim on 24.02.2015 at 15:33 (Reply)

      I am a very quiet person working in the back of our building. For the most part, I have gotten along fine with my co-workers, which normally are only 2 other people. Now there is a new bookkeeper, who talks trash a lot with the office manager. They have always been friendly with me, so i take a break occasionally and go “visit” with them. Today the office manager said to me, “You’re doing all that partying back there, making so much noise! Keep it down, will ya?” It’s her tone that’s kind of aggressive, even angry. The bookkeeper joined in too. “She wants to move to another building!” Talking about me, I’m agreeing with my boss to move the office to downtown, and they are not happy about that move.
      It was hard for me to gauge whether to laugh or say something, so I just smiled. Yuck. Now I’m back in my office feeling less than, because A: I’m the type of person who seemingly gets teased a lot, and B: I don’t know what to say when it happens. Being a shy, quiet person this is always so uncomfortable. I usually will take someone aside later, after I’ve calmed down. And they’re very apologetic, but in an office situation I’m hesitant.

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