I laughed my ass off at work this week by the way.
At a few points, I was even doubled over, gasping for breath, wiping tears from my eyes – as my therapeutic partner sat rocking back and forth on the couch – shaking their head, flapping their hands and cackling like a loon.
In the face of death, despair, depression, divorce, dread, disruption, disability, (there are an awful lot of bad “D” words aren’t there?) we find space, on the edges of the pain, to roll our eyes, to shake our heads and goggle at the nonsense of who we are, and what we do, what has been done to us, how the hell we have gotten here, and the sheer ridiculousness of the whole kit and caboodle.
Often enough, my clients just enjoy making fun of me.
I’ll paint a pretty wide target, and happily and repeatedly climb the ladder to the dunk tank to await their best shot.
(I’ll get my own gentle jabs in here and there to keep things in balance as well mind you)
Therapeutic horseplay, testing the strength of our alliance, enjoying our trust in each other, playing with the parameters of our shared perspectives and friendly teasing about the divergences in our world views shores up and sustains the work.
“Okay, I’m going to do that thing right now, that always totally annoys you, where I start to act like I’m your therapist or something – but please be patient with me, it will be over in just a second….”
“Hmm? Did I give you any really good advice about that last week? No? My advice about it this week would probably suck too – so why don’t you just tell me more about your thoughts on the subject…”
“I hear you, I know you ‘don’t know’ what you are thinking or feeling – but haven’t I told you ‘I don’t know’ is the only entirely unacceptable answer in therapy? Do me a favor right now, and lets just make something up – or make a wild guess and we’ll just go from there?”
Shared laughter distracts us, lowers our defenses, undermines resistances, mitigates embarrassment and helps me to sometimes get around a psychic barricade that might otherwise be insurmountable.
“Im sure you are going to say I’m full of shit right now but-”
“You are full of shit.”
“Oh, yes. Well, thank you. And I just gave you that free shot so perhaps you should thank me as well – but can we please get back to talking about the thing that I aways think you are avoiding and you think has nothing to do with it? Indulge your old grey haired therapist for a minute? Pretty please?”
Laughter can set limits gently, effectively, and sets us back to the work at hand.
And there are relieving pleasures that come from envisioning our conflicts from the most absurd and novel perspectives.
When we really isolate and dissect the inner commentary issued by the Persecutory Judge – the inhibiting, Shaming Editor – the Huckster Fortuneteller that always, and only predicts doom – and all the other archetypal entities that reside in our brains and undermine our joy in life – and follow their premises all the way out to their absurd conclusions – we can at last see how asinine, how divorced from reality, how rigid, archaic and daft the motley chorus of domineering introjects can be.
We can snicker at them together undermining their power in our lives, as defiant laughter casts off the years of blind obedience to internal and external oppressors now dethroned.
A private, confidential laugh in the consultation room directed at those we fear or distrust or are battling with takes them down a peg in our overestimation, lays bare their vulnerabilities, drawing off our excessive aggression and draining rage out of our healthy anger.
The psychiatrist who works on the other side of the wall from me (a very nice man, by the way, who thoughtfully put a white noise machine on top of his book case next to our shared vent) was initially flabbergasted at the extent to which we had to go to sufficiently sound proof our offices. “What on earth are you all doing in there?” He asked. “What is so funny anyway that gales of laughter are pouring into my office?”
Healing makes us laugh. Laughing helps us heal.
When you finally find enough distance it is flat out hilarious.
The more awake we become, the more we can compassionately, roundly laugh at our our own antics while sleep walking.
Laughter loudly lets the gas out of states of narcissistic inflation – our own and others. A laugh at our own expense reminds us to cherish our limitations and enjoy our own finite-ness.
Laughter elevates us from states of deflation, empowers us, summons our armor and strengthens our confidence in our ability to win the match if not the entire tournament.
Laughter is a mechanism by which shame can be reduced or eliminated. Laughter allows more of one’s selves to get into the act. ~ Philip Bromberg, Awakening the Dreamer: Clinical Journeys
Early in my own treatment, I particularly enjoyed shaking my therapist out of the mirroring, kind, empathic “boo-boo face” that he used, consciously or not, to help me feel my own sorrows and losses. Being able to make even just the corner of his mouth crack into an unwilling half-grin bought me enough space from my own pain to metabolize it a bite at a time, with out taking in more than I could chew.
It made me feel that I had connected to him, reached him, effected him through his training, his stance, and the so serious wall of empathy that sometimes left me feeling alone. It let me give to him, offering a small tip of mild amusement for all the crap I was making him sit through with me. It was where mutuality first lived between us.
When laughter is a reparative gift it must be accepted.
A mommy puts a shoe on her head. Her infant laughs.
This is a shoe on the wrong end! This is an aspect of mommy I have never seen! Mommy feels silly too -and she is laughing at herself, and laughing at her child’s laughter. The little one takes the other shoe – and puts it on his own head, or hands it to his mother to make another joke with. This passing back and forth of joy, this Winnicottian play is where the heart of relationship takes place. Without it we will will not know that our happiness has an effect on the loved object. Without it we will feel impotent, hopeless, lost, and search, maybe for the rest of our lives, for a way to know we are real, to feel our impact, to know we exist.
Humor is often called a high level defense – and certainly it can attempt to cover up, distract, and diffuse emotional experience and intimacy. Yet, humor used for regressive, avoidant or destructive purposes isn’t actually funny somehow. It stings, or it bites, annoys or enrages – but when its not used in the service of health growth or connection, it undermines itself. It doesn’t make us laugh. It makes us flinch.
“Yes, very funny, – but listen, I think we are talking about something important here”
Over the years, several clients have commented on hearing laughter just before the door opens at the end of the session prior to theirs. They wonder if the other is happier or “more fun” to treat.
Each time I’ve said: “You often leave here laughing, even after a very hard session, or you say something to me over your shoulder to make me laugh – you just don’t notice. Pay attention and you’ll see.”
Its one of the ways that we put our skin back on, after exposing all of our raw nerves – as we leave session to head back out into the world.
Our own Unconscious and Life itself will make Fools of us all, and as we begin to take pleasure in that, we know healing has begun.
copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford