“C’mon. I was just kidding. Where’s your sense of humor?”

Really? That was funny? Then why does your tongue feel thick and your brain frozen? Why do you long to run from the room? Why are you fighting to hold back tears?

 What is going on here? You thought you had a good sense of humor, but maybe you have gotten a little thin skinned? Maybe you need to loosen up? Maybe you need not to take things so seriously?

Or maybe…Just maybe, the problem isn’t you!

Google sarcasm and you will find hundreds of definitions. One thread runs throughout all of these-sarcasm involves using humor to convey an insult or express anger. While on the surface the words may not reflect this, just the intonation or gestures can turn a seemingly innocent utterance into a lethal shot. 

We all know sarcasm when we experience it even if we have a difficult time describing it. In 1964,United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it”. Maybe the same goes for sarcasm.

So, you know it is sarcasm and then you try to confront your assailant with their hurtful message, but somehow it gets turned on you. You were looking for validation but the result is further self-doubt and frustration.

Sarcasm in relationships is often humor masquerading as contempt. These cutting and hurtful remarks are the sucker punch of communication. Sarcastic quips can reflect both the lack of desire and lack of ability to communicate. It is a way to express angry yet avoid receiving any response. It delivers its painful punch but the sender deftly avoids taking any responsibility by making it YOUR problem. They take no accountability. “Hey, it was a JOKE! What’s your problem?!?” Sometimes that can be followed with the ever-withering, “What is it? Your time of the month?” Then you find yourself completely on the verge of losing it- either seething or sobbing. All the time, the sender stands there smirking with that, “See, you really are nuts” look.

Sarcastic barbs can also reflect hostility and a passion for control. The sender isn’t interested in resolving the conflict, but only in inflicting harm or feeling powerful. In the book “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles there is a line, “It was long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak.” And while the inability to be honest and straightforward with one’s feelings, is in theory, a weakness on the part of the sender, the recipient of sarcasm experiences the powerful onslaught of the demeaning and dismissive remarks.

In short, sarcasm is a complex issue and a big problem. It is especially damaging in interpersonal relationships. With sarcasm there is no conflict resolution; only hurt feelings and festering wounds. If left unresolved, resentment and angry grow and the relationship will wither and die.

So, what can we do about it? When we consider sarcasm in the context of our most important relationships we seem at a loss as to how to handle it. We get defensive, hurt, frustrated. We may explain, plead, scream or analyze to no avail. Perhaps rather than figure out how to “handle” it, we need to recognize that like violence, sarcasm has NO place in our relationships.

This following excerpt is from a research project regarding sarcasm in relationships by P. Valerie Dauphin . Read the entire article here>

“Since males generally use sarcasm more often and women tend to be more negatively effected by it, it is suggested that males either limit the amount of sarcastic remarks they make, or stop being sarcastic altogether. The thing with sarcasm is that there is too much room for misinterpretation. It is more time-consuming to decode than direct comments and one can never be 100% sure of what the sarcastic person means by his/her statement. Sarcasm is not a joke. Yes, it depends on the context and the relationship between individuals, among other factors, but it is rare that people take the time to think about whether all these factors suggest that the sarcasm will be taken effectively. Everyone will not stop being sarcastic; however, everyone can and should think about the implications and consequences of what they are about to say before they say it. “

Amen and thank you, Ms. Dauphin.



  1. CJ Golden on the 25. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    Sarcasm: I grew up with it’s painful barbs thrust at me from my father. My mother lived with it her entire married life and it eventually rendered her mind, spirit, personality to mush.
    No interpersonal relationship is going to be without conflict. At best we have open and honest, caring and kind communication. At the least we can be kind to each other.
    Sarcasm does not fit anywhere.
    Thank you, Donna, for another beautifully written and thought-provoking article.

  2. cinderkeys on the 26. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    Most sarcasm in my circle of friends is shared sarcasm against some other target. We don’t use it on each other in hurtful ways.

    That said, some people are more abrasive in their humor than others. I can deal with that under two conditions. One, they don’t go on an all-out attack. Two, they’re consistent. If they take abrasive humor good-naturedly, because they understand it’s just a joke, that’s fine. If they deal it out, but act hurt when somebody deals it back, there’s something wrong.

    • admin on the 26. Jun, 2011 remarked #

      Given that humor is subjective and some people are more sensitive than others, I wonder if it is a slippery slope to use sarcasm at all. There are so many other ways we can enjoy a laugh together such as a witty remark and not risk hurt feelings.

  3. Shanna on the 03. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    Great common sense here. Wish I’d thought of that.

  4. Mitch on the 03. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    Very true! Makes a change to see someone spell it out like that. 🙂

  5. Ruben on the 04. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    Very interesting entry, I look forward to the next! Thx for the share.

  6. cevon on the 20. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    Good points

  7. Diane M on the 13. Dec, 2011 remarked #

    excellent! sarcasm can kill relationships… and hurt people beyond repair. thank you for your amazing insight.

  8. MC on the 18. Jan, 2012 remarked #

    I really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it smart. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is really a tremendous!

  9. Elizaberth on the 12. Sep, 2012 remarked #

    Sarcasm has no place in relationships that are meaningful but seem to be alive and well in ones that are adversarial. I endured sarcasm for 15 years in a previous relationship and there was nothing humorous about it. Coveted verbal attacks disguised as humor are not humor, no matter how many justifications the one dishing out the sarcasm will make. They will invalidate the feelings of the one they direct their contempt it by accusing them of being insensitive or not having a sense of humor. Sarcasm needs an offender and a unwitting victim to exist. I have a sense of humor when it is humor but not when I am being insulted and the person doing it vainly tries to dress it up in a “veneer” of humor. Sarcasm has no place in our society and is best left for be watched Seinfeld re-runs.

  10. Kevin on the 13. Feb, 2013 remarked #

    I like this and can relate to it.

Leave a Comment