You Must Be Joking!

It wasn’t good news. She put down the phone and knew she would have to break it to her husband. A few hours later he returned home from work. ‘Hello’, he said, as she started to giggle. ‘What’s up?’, he continued with a blank stare, as her giggling broke into outward laughter, progressing swiftly to fully-fledged body-shaking hysteria.  ‘Your Nan’s died’, she blurted out, as the tears rolled down her face.

When calm had been restored, I asked her afterwards how her husband had taken her delivery of the sad news. ‘Oh he knows me’, she replied, ‘I always respond like that to bad news’.

It’s no doubt that her humour wasn’t intended to upset or offend, but it seeped out none-the-less.  As shocking as it might seem to others, this is in fact, a really good example of the psychological defence mechanism of reaction formation.  The mind is full of subconscious mechanisms of defence and reaction formation occurs when an unwanted or painful emotion or thought, is literally ‘masked’ by the unconscious defence that displays behaviour of the exact opposite.

Some people have an innate fear of clowns.  And there is a very good reason for that as well.  As with other archaic archetypal structures buried in the invisible depths of the unconscious, there lives the Trickster Archetype.  The Trickster Archetype does love to jest.  And we know many a true word is hidden in that! Having analysed the trickster element, it appears to me that should it connect with a congruent mind, the outcome is hilarious humour.  However, should it connect with an incongruent mind, the outcome is a psychopathic, twisted enjoyment of torture.   In my view, a full-blown reaction formation of a mind that split, due to the excruciatingly painful experience of loss, of unconditional love as a child.

Comedians, those who make their life about entertaining and making other people laugh, behind the scenes often suffer depression.  Sometimes that depression turns into an addiction to avoid a reality, and many people are surprised to learn that someone so vibrant on stage can be so down when not in the limelight.  But this all adds weight to my theory that the brighter the light the darker the shadow.  One must always embrace the dichotomies within themselves to achieve internal congruence.

Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious is a relatively undiscussed book written by Freud in 1905. Perhaps interestingly, as a response to the upsetting realisation that my inter-disciplinary perspective discussing the spirituality in schizophrenia, was not going to be embraced in academia 15 years ago, at the 11th hour I changed the topic of my final essay into the Function And Form Of Humour, handed it in anonymously and received a first.  It reminds me of something the late, great comedian Bob Monkhouse said about his disapproving teachers as a naive adolescent in education – “I told them I wanted to be a comedian when I grew up and they laughed at me, well they’re not laughing now”.

Carole Sawo


< back