One basic concept in understanding ourselves is the use of defenses for modulating anxiety and keeping our emotions regulated. Over time, the patterns we use can become part of our brain’s circuitry and so automatic that we become unaware of them.
One of our more helpful defenses is humor. Seeing the incongruity between how things are and how we think they should be can be processed as frustrating and anger producing, or, as in the case of humor, interesting and even amusing. Humor can soften the edges in a situation where tensions at work have gotten out of proportion. Humor can mitigate complete discouragement when we honestly say to each other things are so bad that they are almost funny. In the most stressful professions, a dark humor is sometimes misunderstood as a lack of feeling, when it is the defense that allows humans to deal with the unthinkable.
A sense of humor has been identified as an indicator of intelligence because it is the capacity that allows us to see beyond the situation we are in. It allows us to look through a larger window.
It is important to develop the nerve and strength to look through our windows rather than cultivate defenses that can be self destructive such as denial, rationalization, projection, passive aggression, and intellectualizing. Defenses are an important part of our process of dealing with the realities of our lives. This is the first in a series of columns discussing the ways we defend.