Sarcasm and How I Can’t Deal With It; From a PTSD Sufferer’s Point of View.

I use sarcasm quite often when I’m in a playful or bratty mood, but I try very hard not to use it while engaged in an argument or when important information needs to be relayed. At those crucial times, I’m all business. Even though I take a stand on this moral idea, there are exceptions to the rule.

Everyone has experienced a confrontation where the aggressor is downright cruel or ignorant, purposely throwing daggers to tear you down. It’s at these times that I will turn off everything about me that is fair and considerate to allow a nasty and self protective me to chew on some hateful people. I’m smart as a whip, in spite of my struggles with emotion, and quite witty too. I’ve been told that when I’m riled up I “go all redneck” and that my speech in these times is hard to understand. I can see that about myself when I look back on these events, but I also see a desperate woman trying to survive a destructive situation.

It’s evident that I know how to use sarcasm and that I’m capable of grasping the humor of it when I’m NOT affected by anxiety, fear, and anger. Those emotions, often extreme, change how my brain perceives sarcasm and also ambiguity. Under normal circumstances, I can blow off negative sarcasm with “Yeah, screw you. Haha, you’re funny”. When my brain is functioning at regular levels and my natural ability to find the logic in my environment is intact, my skin is as thick as anyone else’s.

But that’s no longer true as adrenaline courses through my veins, my body starts to go into protective mode, and my brain jumps into action in an attempt to shut all of this down. At these times, after this aggressor has triggered me, I find it nearly impossible to comprehend the sarcasm. I don’t know if that person is serious about their statement, if they mean to simply hurt me with it, or if I’m just way out in left field perceiving their statement. Worst of all, there’s a very good chance that I’ll actually believe what they said to be true when, in reality, they were merely using sarcasm to gain control of the situation.

For example; someone very close to me once stood on the stairs and screamed “A little Lithium would do you some good”. I was sobbing because this man had been insensitive and unempathetic to my pleas. You have to first notice that he screamed this statement and that he chose the drug Lithium specifically. This leads me to believe that neither compassion for me nor true concern for my mental health was the basis for this statement. Secondly, Lithium, a psychotropic drug, is primarily used to treat the manic behavior of those with BPD (Bipolar Disorder) and Paranoid Schizophrenia. This obviously doesn’t apply to me and is further evidenced by the fact that he was the one standing on the stairs screaming when he said it, not me.

The first second after I heard this statement, I was extremely angry for hearing the word Lithium because of all the stigmas that apply to it. In the next few seconds, I began to question whether or not I really did need Lithium. Minutes after this statement, I was convinced that I was so broken that Lithium would be the only thing to save my life. Looking back, I’ve logically deduced that his statement was pure hatred and hurtfulness. But the path of progressively self loathing irrationality that my mind took was directly caused by his sarcasm.

He’s no expert on what would or would not help me, neither does he have the credentials to diagnose me or prescribe pharmaceutical treatment. I wish I could have been able to discern the real facts in the moment those words were spoken, but I was entrenched in PTSD symptoms at the time. In fact, I shut down shortly after that statement in utter fear that he would make efforts to have me committed to an institution.

Sarcasm is ingrained in my father. He and this other man have often said “I don’t know why such comments would affect you so much. They don’t affect anyone else like that”. My father goes on to trivialize my inability to handle sarcasm by saying “I’m just popping off, come on”. I believe there are two reasons for my issue with sarcasm and only one of them is PTSD.

Considering what I know about PTSD, sarcasm and ambiguity hits emotionally more than anything. Sarcasm creates doubt in one’s own self and ambiguity creates confusion regarding comprehension. I’m an “A to Z” personality. Everything that I learn or experience must have a beginning and an end, as well as follow a chronological path. I find it very difficult to jump into the middle of things and still be able to feel confident that my perception is valid. Likewise, when sarcasm is used and I can’t be sure that I know the real meaning of the statement, I can’t find a place to put that statement in my chronology. Is it closer to D or P? I don’t know. Does this statement apply to what he feels or what he’s doing? I’m not sure, but I want and need to know where to put it. Without a place to file this statement within my emotions, I become scared and confused; two emotions that wreak havoc.

On the other end of the spectrum, this analytical and methodical trait of mine also occurs naturally. It is identical to the same trait in my father. Routines are very important to me in the respect that I find comfort in repetition. I hated working as a subcontractor simply for the fact that there was no one place I could count on to arrive at work each day. Factory work was truly my forte, doing things over and over, and clocking in at the exact same spot every day. So, when my mind is traveling along in a straight line, whether it be a confrontation or idle chit chat, and someone tosses out sarcasm, it rocks my world.

My ability to recover quickly by assessing the sarcasm internally or asking for clarity out loud depends on my emotional state at the time. Use sarcasm while I’m upset and I’m almost always guaranteed not to recover quickly. The confusion and/or self doubt will eat at me for days. Give me a big fat “Psh, what are you so upset about” after using hurtful sarcasm and it only gets worse. I can say that there are a handful of people in my life that are willing to admit their sarcasm was hurtful and apologize. Within this same group, I feel safe to ask for clarification when sarcasm or ambiguity is used without fear of consequence. Clarity, when I ask for it, helps me a great deal, even if I was the one who misperceived in the first place. I still need to know that so I can file it away for future use. Asking for clarity does not mean that I’m trying to change someone’s opinion or control their words. My request for clarity is simply an effort to soothe my own mind.

The others in my life that refuse to educate themselves on this topic are triggers to be feared.

Meli