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Have you ever been made fun of by someone else?
Or perhaps you’ve been the one who’s mocked others for some reason or another?
Either way, do you remember what you thought and felt during that experience? If you were the tormentor, what were the motivations behind your actions? If you were the victim, how did it make you feel? Do you still have lasting scars from what you experienced? And did you ever tease others in turn?
Let’s examine the psychology behind why some people like to mock others. Then we’ll delve into how to deal with this kind of behavior if and when it arises.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist if someone is making fun of you and it’s getting you down. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
12 Psychological Reasons Why People Make Fun Of Others
There are several reasons why people make fun of others, depending on who they are and the peers they hang out with. For example, some folks thrive on roasting one another: to them, it’s a form of affection, and poking fun at one another means that they’re being playful and having a laugh.
That said, this only works if everyone is wired the same way and enjoys these kinds of interactions. Furthermore, there’s a huge difference between friends play-mocking one another and people teasing others in order to hurt or belittle them.
Below are some of the psychological reasons why some people make fun of others.
1. Insecurity (they put others down in order to make themselves look better).
A person who constantly makes fun of others is often incredibly insecure about their status in the social group. As a result, they try to climb the social ladder by drawing attention to others’ shortcomings. They’ll tease and mock those around them in an attempt to establish (or maintain) a position at the top, or at least close to it.
Think of this like two people on a seesaw: one of them is literally trying to put the other down in order to lift themselves up.
These people aren’t in high-ranking positions to begin with. In fact, they might be quite low in terms of social hierarchy. As such, they take opportunities when they arise and will torment other people to get into their peers’ good graces. It’s basically cruelty and sycophantic groveling to make others think they’re worthy of being in the peer group.
2. They’re uncomfortable with those who are different.
You may have noticed that some people make fun of anyone who’s different from them. This might revolve around mocking those who have different fashion or entertainment preferences, but it can also center on differences in ethnicity or appearance.
Xenophobia is a fear of strangers, but it can also refer to a fear of anything foreign or unfamiliar. It’s why many get angry if others speak in a language they don’t understand when they’re in their presence. They’ll naturally assume that what’s being said is insulting toward them, rather than being totally innocuous.
Similarly, their mockery of the “other” can be used to reinforce the validity of their own preferences and personal choices. As a result, they counteract this discomfort by poking fun or bullying. This reinforces their stance that their choices and preferences are correct and that anything different is somehow weird or “wrong.”
Children might make fun of other kids for having what they consider to be “unusual” items in their packed lunch. For instance, a child whose family emigrated from Japan might have a bento box with onigiri and fish in it instead of the far more familiar ham and cheese sandwich. Meanwhile, that sandwich would be considered weird or gross in an Indian school cafeteria where kids would be found happily munching on samosas and dhal.
This mockery of the “other” doesn’t necessarily evaporate once childhood is over. This same behavior is often seen in adults, be it in a post-secondary school or an office environment. Furthermore, the mockery might extend to the other person’s clothing, mannerisms, gender identity, speech, and so on. Whatever is different becomes grounds for disdain and ridicule.
3. Learned behaviors from others.
People often mimic the behavior they’ve been exposed to, especially when it comes to family and close social dynamics. As a result, if someone has grown up in an environment where mocking others was normal and commonplace, then they’ll be likely to follow suit in their own interactions.
Sadly, some parents use mockery and negative reinforcement to try to encourage their children to do various things. Maybe they put their kids down and make fun of them for being “babies” if they’re afraid to go on rides or can’t tie their shoes properly. They might think they’re pushing the kids to be better, when in reality they’re annihilating their children’s self-esteem.
Guess what those kids are going to do to others (including their own children) as they get older? Their elders have set this type of behavior as a precedent, so they’re extremely likely to repeat it.
4. Projection about their own perceived flaws or shortcomings.
This happens when someone dislikes something about themselves. They’ll make fun of those who also have those traits, but to a greater degree than they do. One classic example of this would be a person who’s overweight but mocks those who have larger bodies. They may even tease those who are trying to get fit.
You’ll see the same types of behavior in people who are self-conscious about their age, as they’ll mock their peers for how old and tired they look. Basically, whatever they hate about themselves, they’ll ridicule in others. It’s self-loathing by proxy.
5. The need to be the center of attention.
Have you ever experienced a wave of joy after a bunch of people laughed at a joke you’ve made? Well, some people get an endorphin rush from that kind of attention and strive to get more of it by any means possible. As such, if someone got an intense reaction after roasting someone else, they might try to recreate the experience.
Deep down, they don’t have anything against their victim. In fact, they might not have any poor feelings toward them at all. It’s very much a situation of: “It’s nothing personal—I just need to burn you because what I say makes others laugh, and that’s great for my ego.”
They may not even consider how their words and actions could affect their target. They’re literally just a tool to get the desired job done.
6. “Better than average effect” (BTAE).
This is a psychological effect in which people show how superior they are to others based on their personal behaviors. Then they put down those who either don’t behave the same way or whose efforts pale in comparison to their own.
This is especially common in those whose self-esteem is inextricably entwined with certain life choices. When and if others don’t behave as they do, they feel threatened in their position of perceived superiority, and thus have to put the other down by any means possible.
Examples of this might include people of one gender identity or sexual orientation mocking others for not having the same lean, or those with certain ethical dietary preferences putting down those who don’t make the same choices. In essence, it’s a type of “holier-than-thou-ism” that manifests as shaming and mockery.
The people who indulge in this type of behavior sincerely feel that they’re better than their peers. Some might feel that they’re more attractive, smarter, or that they have made more noble life choices than others.
Alternatively, if they’ve been receiving accolades because of their looks, intellect, or perceived virtue, and someone else starts getting more attention than them, they’ll immediately go on the attack in order to redirect attention back to themselves.
7. Ethical erosion.
In contrast to those who are trying to maintain a feeling of superiority over their peers, ethical erosion is a behavior that’s often demonstrated by people who are in positions of power or authority, such as healthcare providers and law enforcement officers.
When and if they come across others they perceive as being morally inferior or stupid, they become targets for what is considered to be justified mockery and contempt. A perfect example of this would be a doctor who makes fun of an obese patient for developing diabetes. They believe the comorbid effects would have been prevented if the patient had made “smarter” life choices.
This isn’t limited to healthcare workers, of course. Difficult, stressful times often show us the worst sides of people. These situations can cause people to abandon reason, logic, and basic human decency in an attempt to make themselves feel safe and protected.
It’s this type of behavior that made people turn their neighbors in to the Gestapo during WW2 in an attempt to ingratiate themselves to those in authority. Similarly, we’ve seen some people gloat and laugh when others have succumbed to illnesses after refusing treatments that could possibly have saved them, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses who decline blood transfusions.
8. Contempt toward perceived weakness.
Have you ever noticed that many of the people who seem the most frail and vulnerable are on the receiving end of mockery and contempt?
This is very much a herd mentality situation, in which those who are considered weak will be rejected by the strong. Athletes will make fun of those who are small or unfit. Popular people laugh and tease those whom they consider “weird” or unattractive.
Much like those who are insecure, those who are in positions of privilege try to maintain their position in the social hierarchy by any means necessary. They want (even need) to remain the kings and queens of their domain and won’t tolerate any potential threats to their rulership.
By making fun of others, they establish their dominance. Every time the other person shows vulnerability by caving to their abuse or showing emotional damage, such as crying or getting angry, they strengthen their position.
Furthermore, the fact that their victims are showing even greater weakness instead of trying to stand up for themselves intensifies the contempt. How can they possibly respect anyone who just takes their mockery instead of defending themselves?
It’s a bit distressing, but not unsurprising, that some people develop a dark sense of humor and use mockery as a coping mechanism when it comes to things that they’re afraid of. If a person is experiencing a difficult situation, or is struggling with a health concern, they may find themselves as the butt of jokes by others.
One example I can think of was a girl who was going through chemotherapy treatment for leukemia when we were in our teens. She lost about 30lbs as well as all of her hair, and she was constantly being made fun of by our peers. Later on, I overheard some students in the restroom discussing how fearful they were of getting cancer themselves.
A similar situation happened to a friend whose mother died of cancer. Our peers didn’t know how to handle or even process the idea of losing a beloved parent in that way, so they went on the attack with awful jokes and mockery.
You may have noticed that some people titter with laughter when they feel nervous or vulnerable. This is a similar situation, only they’re lashing outward because they don’t have the mechanisms needed to work through the difficult emotions they’re feeling.
Remember that human beings are still animals, and on an instinctive level, we know that abundant food and good health are the cornerstones of existence. Whenever there’s a perceived threat—such as with the aforementioned disease—the instinct is often to push away competitors and create distance from them.
10. They feel powerless, so they try to take power from others.
One of the main reasons why people make fun of others is because they feel small. Someone else—possibly an abusive parent or older sibling—has put them in a position where they feel powerless. They may have been physically, emotionally, psychologically, or even sexually abused, but they don’t have a healthy means of dealing with it.
Furthermore, they may have been prevented from getting any kind of support for what they were going through.
All the difficult emotions they experience because of someone else’s cruelty must go somewhere. While some people turn everything inward and repress all of their hurts and frustrations, others lash out at those around them. In particular, they’ll choose to unleash their hurt at those who are least likely to fight back.
As a result, they end up feeling empowered again, even on some small level. In their mind, they’re no longer the lowest rung on the ladder: someone else is lowlier than they are. At the very least, they have power over someone else, and that’s all that matters to them.
11. Low emotional intelligence.
Some people simply think that anything different from what they like is inferior or dumb and choose to mock it accordingly. They don’t even consider how their behavior affects others, because why would they? Everything they say is hilarious to them, and if you try to argue a differing opinion, well you’re just wrong. Furthermore, you’ll be included in that mockery for having such dumb preferences.
If you call them out on their behavior, they’ll laugh even harder and tell you to relax because it’s “just a joke.” Needless to say, it’s both frustrating and exhausting to have to deal with people like this on a regular basis.
Mockery is often a technique that abusers use to control or change others around them. It’s frequently used by narcissists to adjust their partners or children into versions that they would prefer, and they can be downright unrelenting in their abuse until the one they’re making fun of makes the changes demanded of them.
Some of the most common insults and mockery revolve around the other person’s appearance, interests, behaviors, and personal preferences. The abuser will either fixate on things they want their victim to change or on aspects the victim likes in order to degrade them.
For example, if they dislike their partner’s hairstyle, they’ll insult and tease them constantly until they change it. Their abuse will intensify the longer it goes unchanged, and the narcissist might even try to rope other family and friends in to join the mockery, as there’s strength in numbers.
This behavior isn’t limited to narcissists either.
Some parents will make fun of their offspring in order to try to shift them into becoming what they perceive as “better” (e.g., more preferable) versions of themselves. Instead of being encouraging and supportive, they’re mocking and demeaning in an attempt to change their children.
Even worse, their abusive behavior is justified by them as “just trying to help,” when in fact it’s a means of coercion and control.
What To Do When Someone Makes Fun Of You
We really do recommend that you seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to deal with the person who is making fun of you and the psychological effects their words have had on you.
There are a few different approaches you can take if you’re being teased regularly. These usually involve either calling someone out on their terrible behavior or stopping them from continuing to make fun of you in the future.
Ask them to explain themselves.
This is one of the best responses you can use, because it puts them in a position of having to explain their actions. They never can, which inevitably results in them proving that they’re the a**hole.
It’s an approach that works particularly well for people who are displaying overt xenophobia (as mentioned earlier), as well as other types of bigotry and hatefulness toward things like race, sexual preference, able-bodiedness, and so on.
If someone humiliates you in public, ask them to please explain to the group why what they’ve said is funny. Don’t let them off the hook when they pull the “it’s just a joke” line, either. Ask them to please explain why this is a joke and what is so terribly amusing about it.
They never have a good answer, and they will either try to change the subject or find a reason to excuse themselves. It’ll cause them a fair amount of embarrassment since you’ve called them out in front of their peers, so be forewarned that they might get belligerent or aggressive with you about it later.
Laugh at them.
One of the best ways to respond to someone else when they make fun of you is to laugh at them in turn. These insignificant little petty tyrants have so little going on in their lives that the only joy they get is in trying to make fun of you. If that isn’t worthy of a chuckle, what is?
Refuse to dignify what they’ve said with a response.
If someone has insulted or made fun of you, they’re undoubtedly waiting to see how you respond. Remember what we said earlier about how they feed on other people’s emotions? They usually don’t know what to do if you refuse to give them the energy they’re seeking.
After they’ve said their piece, just look at them flatly for a few heartbeats, and then turn back to whatever it was you were doing. This lets them know that what they’ve said isn’t worth your time or energy. It’ll make them look foolish and re-establish your strength in the eyes of those around you.
Report them to a higher authority, if you feel that it’s warranted.
If the person who’s making fun of you is a work colleague, then you can talk to the human resources (HR) department about their behavior. Let them know that this person is creating a hostile work environment, and provide solid examples of how they’ve been tormenting you.
Chances are high that this person has already been reported for poor behavior toward others. If they’ve been written up enough times, they might actually be let go due to continued workplace harassment.
If this happens, know that you didn’t “make them lose their job.” They did that themselves by exhibiting poor behavior and treating others badly. If anything, you’ve helped to spare countless other people from being abused by them, so know that you’ve done the right thing.
The same goes for if you’re dealing with this kind of behavior at school. If you’re in high school, talk to your guidance counselor or a teacher whom you trust. Similarly, if you’re away at college, file a report with your student services representative.
Respond with compassion.
Keep in mind that other people’s behavior toward you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. As such, disarm their mockery with compassion and kindness, even if you don’t sincerely feel it. In situations like this, it’s helpful to know some details of their personal life that you can use as fuel for your retort.
For instance, if they make fun of your appearance (e.g., physical attributes, clothing choices, etc.), you can plaster a look of concern on your face and let them know that you understand that they’re going through a difficult time. Then you can recommend a therapist that might be able to help them. They usually have no idea how to respond to this and either shut up or leave.
Be prepared to shut them down.
Depending on the situation and the people involved, sometimes it’s better to shut the other person down so they stop permanently, rather than trying to “be the bigger person and rise above.” Laughing, ignoring them, and walking away can be effective, but those techniques don’t work for everyone.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to end someone’s amusement at making fun of you is to take away their pleasure in doing so. One way to do this is through comeback lines that suck the air out of their sails.
Once again, the responses you can use will depend on the circumstances. For example, you’d use a different retort toward someone who’s insulting your appearance at school than someone who’s mocking you passive-aggressively at the office.
If someone is making fun of your appearance:
Look them up and down slowly, smirk, and ask, “Do you own a mirror? Or do they shatter themselves to avoid you?”
…or insult them several times harder.
If they’re making fun of some aspect of how you look, take note of their potential insecurities and turn the mockery around.
As an example, if some girl at the office is making fun of what you’re wearing because it’s too revealing, and you know she had a bad breakup recently, smile brightly and let her know that her ex-boyfriend appreciates what you wear… especially when it’s crumpled on his bedroom floor.
Once she’s finished crying in the office bathroom, she’ll likely leave you alone from there on in.
Make them uncomfortable.
One of the best responses to mockery that I ever saw was when someone yelled “F*G” at a rather flamboyantly gay male friend of mine in class. He waved back and said, “It’s great that you’re advertising, but I’m not interested!” Everyone erupted into laughter, and the guy who’d yelled the insult stormed out of the room.
When they get a response they didn’t expect, they don’t know how to respond. This helps you establish dominance in the situation, while they make themselves look like fools.
Let them know their words don’t mean a thing to you.
There’s a great comeback that I’ve used to good effect on several occasions, whether in school, social groups, or work environments. Thus far, it’s worked 100% of the time to stop someone’s mockery toward me permanently.
After they’ve made what they think is a cutting or mocking remark, smile gently and say, “Your opinion is as worthless as you are.” Then walk away and don’t look back.
This neutralizes every comeback they might dredge up and addresses every single causal factor mentioned above. Furthermore, it embodies the very nature of “F*ck around and find out.” Well, they found out.
Note: When you’re using comebacks and retorts to shut the other person down, remember to maintain your calm at all times. Never raise your voice, nor allow yourself to show any emotion other than amusement or mild annoyance. Do not yell, and don’t say or do anything that could be used against you to greater detriment. Make sure that you always maintain an air of quiet grace and dignity, and you’ll absolutely emerge the victor.
If the person making fun of you escalates things physically after you respond to them, you can file a report or press charges against them accordingly.
What To Do When You See Someone Making Fun Of Someone Else
If you’ve ever had someone step up and defend you when someone was making fun of you, chances are you felt immense gratitude toward them for doing so. As such, if you see someone teasing another, consider speaking out against such awful behavior.
This is especially effective if you’re perceived to be in a position of esteem—like if you’re in the popular crowd at school and you stand up for someone who’s younger, nerdy, or awkward. Similarly, if you’re the center of your social circle, you could use your position to call out your acquaintances for trash talking or mocking others they perceive to be inferior.
When someone you admire and respect speaks out on someone’s behalf, it does really great things for their self-esteem. Furthermore, it establishes a precedent: if the group’s alpha male or queen bee makes it clear that a specific person is not to be teased, then the others will fall into line accordingly.
Note: If you see a stranger being mocked or verbally abused, the wise choice is to not get directly involved but to be a witness, document it if possible, and report it where necessary. You never know how the perpetrator will react to you getting involved and your personal safety is paramount. And, sometimes, someone else speaking up can make matters ten times worse for the person being mocked.
Still not sure what to do when people make fun of you? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
We really recommend you speak to a therapist rather than a friend or family member. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to manage the situation while addressing any harm the person’s words or actions have had on you.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.