I am an outgoing person. I have no problem interacting with people and making friends, nor do I have an ego problem. But I have recently noticed that sometimes when I am just hanging out with family or friends and everyone is in a good mood, someone would joke to someone in a way that is obviously hurtful to that person. I have been on the receiving end too. Not all of them, but some of them, say things that can't be immediately fixed right away (sometimes not at all).

The thing is.. I always try to be respectful even with my closest friends/family and consciously make an effort to not say something that would embarrass them. Some examples of what I am talking about would be if someone jokes about:

  • your physical appearance
  • the way you talk
  • making fun of your age (oh you are not married yet? wow, when will you get married? at 90? do you wanna die alone?)
  • if someone is poor, making fun of their financial situation
  • if someone is short, joking about their height
  • making fun of someone's race (where I live this is normal and not considered a big political issue)

The problem is.. people who do this are most of the time your close friends and family, who you have to meet and interact with. And when you try to politely tell them that what they said was hurtful, they just brush it off saying

I was just kidding. Stop being so serious.

What I have experienced when you confront someone about this type of behavior is that they, in turn, start acting like you hurt them.

So my question is: when you are being made fun of by people like this, how can you let them know that this certain issue is sensitive to you and you would like them to not joke about it, without turning it into an argument?


I never ever confronted anyone in public. I know that would embarrass them in return and that is the exact opposite of what I want. I always talk about it with the person when it's just me and them and we are in a relaxed mood. I don't interfere when it happens with other people except try to divert the conversation to something else.

But when it happens to me, I either ignore it, or I do sometimes mention it to the person in private. Like:

Remember that you said this the other day, I understand that you didn't mean it but it hurt me and also now others make fun of it too. So please be considerate in the future. I will appreciate it

In return, I get advised to grow a thick skin and that I am too sensitive.

  • What is your goal here? What would you like your reaction to achieve? Also, this is all written in such a way that it's all sounding hypothetical. If you've actually tried stuff, would you please write it down as such? If you haven't, could you make that clearer too? I've been working on something similar in the Sandbox, it's not perfect yet but perhaps it may help you structure your question too.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Nov 4, 2018 at 13:48
  • hypothetical? how is it hypothetical if someone has actually experienced it? Nov 4, 2018 at 13:51
  • Hi! I just edited your question to hopefully make it easier to read. I have a couple questions though - could you include an example of how you have tried asking them to stop, and your cultural background so answers can take that into account?
    – Em C
    Nov 4, 2018 at 15:18
  • Also, the answers on this related question might be helpful for your situation too.
    – Em C
    Nov 4, 2018 at 15:21
  • Yes. Thank you for editing. This does look much better now. Ok i will edit the question. Nov 4, 2018 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


First of all, I would not presume people get offended at these jokes. I really appreciate the kindness in wanting to stand up for others. It is entirely possible some people are taking them "in good faith" so I would be hesitant of standing up to them without checking that it actually bothers them.

Of course when you are the target of the jokes that's a different story.

Take the sting out

One skill I've found to help in that particular situation is to ask someone to "explain the joke" and pretending that you don't understand it's a joke and that they're discussing it entirely in good faith. That takes the sting out of it.

Them: wow when will you get married? at 90?

You: I don't get it, can you explain what you mean to me?

Them: ... it's a joke

You: Oh, why is the age someone is getting married funny?


Them: X is so fat he needs a mirror to use the toilet

You: I don't think X needs a mirror to use the toilet or why we're discussing X's toilet habits, can you explain that?

Note that there is an underlying group dynamic of power in jokes that are perceived as aggressive as offensive - be watchful for that.

Give feedback in private:

Note that criticizing their joking behaviour in public is generally poorly received in my experienced (and it seems like this has been your experience as well). If you do choose to bring it up with them do so:

  • In private.
  • While explaining you are providing the feedback because you care about them.
  • Directly.
  • Stating only the facts and without accusing them.

Hey, I care about you and value your company in social gatherings. I noticed that there were jokes made about X today and X is sensitive about topic Y. It really bothers them. What do you think we can do about the situation to make sure X feels welcome to join our gatherings?

You really don't have to do this though, this is not really your problem to fix and I think a "group dynamics" solution like the first on is likely better in most scenarios.


Sarcasm sometimes helps to make them ask themselves what effects their statements are supposed to have - or show there is more behind a solution than a simple hint of someone not married or fat or something else.

Such like Well yes ... but that's a matter where simple assessments don't help.
This explains one can state something again and again, it won't help.

Or more special

wow, when will you get married? at 90?

The registrar always complains I need a partner to marry. Could you ask the next man/women coming along if they want to?

This is a start for you to continue with an explanation instead of laughing
It's not easy to find a partner and I don't want to marry just anyone only to be married. So what now?

If they tell you to not be serious, go on like but I am serious right now, why aren't you too?
If the person can take it, why not say make it funny next time then I'll know it's a joke.

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