There are times and situations that teasing someone can create a bond of friendship and that the bond created is a result of a well-meaning intention to prepare a person for what they might encounter in the future.

I don't mind the occasional teasing, but there are cases when the teasing goes a bit too far and begins to sort of sting. It's not because they are intentionally being mean, but rather that I'm a variable person and can be rather sensitive in certain subjects.

Personal appearance for example being the biggest one I can think of, I already am well aware I look like a werewolf, and have done my best to mitigate the look with no success. When I've spent an hour that morning working on my appearance to avoid this, and someone pokes fun to try and get me to smile, I usually plaster a fake smile and join in, just taking the hurt.

To be clear, I don't want to make them feel ashamed, and I have fun (most of the time) joking around with them and teasing each other. Some subjects are particularly hurtful to me personally though, hence the question. I don't want to lose the teasing dynamic I have with them, but if I bring up the subjects that are painful to me, they'll avoid it entirely and I might lose that bond I have with them.

How can I tell someone their teasing is hurting my feelings without being seen as too sensitive?

Edit: This applies to family (extended like cousins etc.), and coworkers. Those that I choose as my friends know where I'm touchy.

  • 6
    In my opinion, it would help if you specified which kind of people you are talking about, as the suggestions may vary. E. g. in case of close friends, you could react differently than in case of acquaintances, family or co-workers. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 16:28
  • Could you mention an example at all? Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 16:29
  • @Tycho'sNose I did, in the second paragraph (third now).
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 16:33
  • @AnneDaunted I steer away from anything that might be a weak point to anyone unless I know them better. Things like appearance, family, are offlimits. Their excel knowledge is fair game. :P
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 16:44
  • 2
    What's wrong with looking like a werewolf?
    – JAB
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 14:18

7 Answers 7


This is what is making answering your question tricky:

Some subjects are particularly hurtful to me personally though, hence the question. I don't want to lose the teasing dynamic I have with them, but if I bring up the subjects that are painful to me, they'll avoid it entirely

You realize yourself that you can't ask people to tease you selectively. They seem to have found something that you are self-conscious about (?) and pick on you about it. And it's not like you can tell them,

Hey, could you please not tease me about [appearance I mind] but it's fine teasing me about [other I don't mind]

What I would do in this case, would be to say exactly what you told us.

That you don't find [appearance joke] funny anymore. That it has actually started to hurt your feelings and that you have felt reluctant telling them all this time because you didn't want to miss on those times when joking, teasing, and being playful was fun. Let them suggest a solution.

This is a risk ("they'll avoid it entirely") you might have to take if you want this to stop. Weigh it out. What is more important to you?

  • 7
    This isn't meant to undermine your answer, but my friends and I have always had a selective-teasing sort of arrangement, as have other groups of people I know. Teasing is expected, but there are topics that are "off limits" that are never used for jokes. It's nothing too formal, but as friends we don't want to make each other unhappy. If the OP's friends are similar in that regard, they might be willing to avoid some topics altogether.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 12:39
  • @Upper_Case Yes, but I assume it was something that sort of came naturally in your group, because you had an awareness of what could bother someone. Not everyone's boundaries are the same. It might be worth sharing with the OP how you made that arrangement with your friends. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 12:53
  • 1
    Very true, and you are correct that it was mostly an organic development for us. In cases where people kept on teasing about a hurtful topic, typically the person who was bothered would say so, which is right in line with your answer.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 13:00

It is okay to say what you are too sensitive about. If people like you, and it seems these people do, they understand and respect that. They won't stop interactive in a playful way.

I am sensitive about my weight. I have some health issues historically that at times have caused me to be thinner than I like. I do not like comments about it, even in joking. People love to say things like when it's a very windy day to "Oh someone grab threetimes before she blows away!" They do not mean for that to be hurtful, but I prefer not to be reminded all the time that you are focusing on my weight. That is what I hear when people say that.

So, I would tell them that. I would just be upfront. Also be aware, for whatever it is worth, some people really like hair. I do. I will have to ask my husband now if I have at all bothered him with my comments. I don't think so in our case (I think he would have said), but I married a very hairy man and it's one of the things I find very attractive about him. So if I knew you, and commented about your hair, I would mean it complimentary. I would very much want to know though if something I said was making you self conscious and would never want to make someone I know feel that way.

I do tell people I prefer they not comment on my weight and in my case, everyone generally respects that and they still tease me a ton on other things because those things are fine. I also have the type of personality that really enjoys playful bantering like this, so I would be disappointed if it stopped entirely. It doesn't seem to impact it at all. Now my cheeky friends (when it's windy) will say something like blame the wind on me farting, versus using me as a kite.

Sorry forgot to offer you suggestions on wording...

Hey, I know you don't mean anything by it, but I feel a little self conscious sometimes about how hairy I am. It's hard for me when that is part of the teasing as it reminds me how much you notice how hairy I am. I love the banter and fun of this type of talking, but I'd really love if you picked something else about me to poke fun at. That one topic is something I am not yet totally comfortable with and it sort of ruins the mood for me.


It's simple to me; Don't fake smile. This will encourage the behaviour.

Show your true feelings when it hurts and if they care about you, they will sense it and stop and maybe even apologise.

  • 1
    I don't think the second part of your solution is particularly helpful. Being mean to someone to "teach them a lesson" seems very counterproductive and could put a strain on the relationship. I fully agree with the first part, though.
    – Haris
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 10:59
  • 1
    @Haris Maybe only once to make a point, maybe a heart-to-heart would follow, ideally.
    – n00dles
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 12:45
  • @n00dles Even once is too many, because it makes other approaches more difficult. (For the first part: +1) Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 18:30
  • Removed second part; on reflection, you're both right.
    – n00dles
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 15:57

I agree that if you decide to approach them head on with the issue, Tycho's Nose's answer is correct. There are steps you can take before that though if you don't want to risk losing the entire teasing dynamic (if I found out I'd been teasing a friend for A the last few months without realized I was hurting them, I'd be less likely to tease them for B).

In general, a person makes jokes/teases because it's funny. Not just for them, but for everyone involved. If your first goal is to avoid confrontation, your best bet is just to convince them that joke isn't funny anymore.

I have a condition where I've got a pretty hefty divot in my chest. It's pretty weird looking, and for a while my friends teased me for it too. The best solution I had was to take the fun out of them teasing me for it. NOTE! That's not the same as just teasing them right back for something unrelated, that'll only make them think you're playing along. Instead, I did something like this:

Friend: [generic joke about chest]

Me: Come on, can't you come up with ANYTHING else to tease me for?/Wow, I've never heard that one before/Some similar response

The idea isn't to tell them to stop teasing you for one certain thing, it's to make it more fun to tease you for other things. Keep lauging and smiling along with the other jokes, and your friends will end up wanting to make those jokes more. After a while, the chest jokes became few and far between, until eventually they stopped.

What I liked about this is I never felt like I'd drawn lines with my friends about what was/wasn't ok.


Some subjects are particularly hurtful to me personally

It may be useful that you explain what is, and set a Safe Word. It's used to avoid that someone gets hurt. Therefore, in a certain way, it sets boundaries: please stop before it hurts me.

How would you do that? I would tell my friends / family:

You know, sometimes, when we talk about [ X ], it [ hurts me / makes me feel bad ]. I would really appreciate if you skip this subject. If you agree to this, to let you know, I'll say [ Z ].

Then, tell them that the magic word is [ Z - whatever you choose ].

I used that when racing and teaching (with cars). Anytime I would go with a student / friend / policeman / firefighter and teach him something about the car, like driving on snow, ice, under heavy rain, and many dangerous situations, they were often quickly scared. When they said the magic word, I would slow down, and let them breathe again :)

You can't stop them before they tease, but maybe before it hurts too bad.

If they care about you, they may take this seriously and understand it time to stop when you ask. They won't stop teasing when they feel like it, it won't cut out every subject, just stop before it's too late. Let them know where the cliff is, so they (hopefully) won't push you...

Or just nicely set some clear boundaries about some subjects.

  • 3
    You want to train everybody to listen to a safeword? You'll be that "special little snowflake" in no time
    – Martijn
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 7:38
  • @Martijn : no, just a tip that can be used with some kind of people, at some places. It depends on the person. It's like wearing shirts with "I'm on diet! Don't feed me, I'm hungry..." and I did that years ago at work, they were all LTAO and respected my diet and even sometimes helped :) it works with some, doesn't with others ....
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 7:48
  • 1
    This seems awfully bureacratic and inconvenient for the kind of setting OP is talking about.
    – Haris
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 10:58

Personally, in a one-on-one situation with them, I would tell them

'hey, I would appreciate it if you didn't bag on my appearance. It makes me uncomfortable. Other stuff is still on the table, I'm just sensitive about that.'

If they're a jerk and honestly want to disturb you, it won't help and will probably just add fuel to the fire. But, if they're a regular person they will likely apologize for not knowing (although there is no way they could, so really no apology is necessary) and cease.

However, there is another component to this. You seem to have simply accepted that your being sensitive to these comments is inevitable. It is not. Emotional responses are trained responses. Often they are not trained intentionally or anything like that, but they are conditioned, and they are malleable. If you wish to not be sensitive to such barbs, you can become insensitive to them over time primarily by doing what you are already doing, resisting the reflexive response and smiling instead (smiling makes you less capable of feeling negative emotions) but also internally intellectually calming yourself and regarding the response as unwanted. It's not often fast or easy, but this is how personal growth occurs.


I have been the subject, both of teasing and of bullying, and in my experience, the difference between both is the "victim": people might think they are teasing you but you feel it as bullying. In such a case it's entirely up to you to react: you just say "Stop, I don't like that." (the way you say and pronounce this sentence is entirely up to you)

This will trigger following reactions:

  1. The person who is teasing/bullying you will know from that moment on that you don't like it, so his/her reaction will show very clearly whether or not (s)he likes/respects you or not: if (s)he continues, there is no respect, else there is.
  2. People around might be triggered: "Hey, the victim is stating clearly that (s)he doesn't like it, so from now on the teaser/bullyer must stop, or (as I don't like people being bullied) I might intervene and defend the victim.".

This second point might be surprising for some people, but it is the way I've always reacted: first the victim must make clear that (s)he doesn't like it (or I do nothing), but once (s)he has done that, I will intervene. As a previous bully victim I've learned that a victim must stand up for him/herself, but once this is done, then the victim deserves respect and as such, deserves to be defended in case needed.

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