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While I ultimately believe that my family and friends love me and would never do anything to intentionally hurt me, there is a certain culture among my immediate and extended family members and my friend group of lighthearted teasing that I feel sometimes goes too far.

It started a little over a year ago; I came home one day after getting a haircut and ran into my older sister. Upon seeing me with my new haircut she exclaimed "My God, ****, you look like a bird!" and started laughing. This took me aback because it didn't make any sense. I get my hair cut regularly every two months at the same time and I always get it cut in the same style. I go to the same barber shop and make sure that it's the same barber every time to ensure that there are no variations in how my hair is cut. As far as I can tell, my hair looked exactly the same as the other thousand times it had been cut and I honestly do not know why this time my sister decided that I looked like a bird. I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and to this day I have never been able to see it. I have asked several acquaintances for a second opinion on whether I look like a bird but the results were inconclusive (a little more on that later).

Anyway, while this incident shook me I chalked it up to my sister being goofy and didn't think too much about it after that. However at supper that night my father made a similar comment to me about looking like a bird, and him and my sister starting giggling uncontrollably. I was not amused to hear this observation for a second time, but I decided to let it go and focused on eating my so they would see that I was not encouraging further joking at my expense.

The next day I left my parents' house to go back to my apartment about an hour away. I thought this would be the end of this ridiculous joke that I look like a bird, but my sister told my cousin about it. As I was roommates with my cousin at the time, he also began making periodic comments insinuating that I was a bird and it really started to get on my nerves. This became an ongoing joke that would come up very often when speaking to my sister or my father, and they would often text me unprovoked to say something. One such incident that I remember is that when bird hunting season started my father texted me and told me to watch out for bird hunters. Another time when I told him about an incident of a bird defecating on me on the way to the store, instead of showing any sympathy he laughed and said "Birds sh*tting on a bird? Never heard of that before!"

Outside of my family, the joke caught on with my circle of friends as well. It started with me mentioning something about it to two close friends and asking them for reassurance that I did not look like a bird. However, instead of saying that I did not look like a bird, they laughed and started making similar jokes and this quickly spread to my larger friend group such that all of them know about the bird joke at this point and often go out of their way to bring it up to the amusement of everyone except me.

The situation has escalated to the point where I am seriously annoyed when anyone makes a joke about me looking like a bird. I am starting to fear that I will never hear the end of it from either my family or my friends and will have to listen to these bird jokes for the rest of my life. Last Christmas my sister got me a bag of bird seed for one of my presents and while I smiled and pretended to find it funny, my hands were shaking with anger and I did all I could to hide that fact. I am generally a very fun-loving person and I don't mind a good joke here and there, but it's been going on for over a year now and honestly I am sick and tired of people saying that I am a bird, or that I look like a bird.

I am somewhat quiet, so a lot of the time I let things go that I probably shouldn't. This also means that if I outright asked my friends or family to stop making these kinds of jokes about me they would be very surprised and I'm afraid it may cause some kind of confrontation. I have considered talking to each person involved individually and asking them to stop, but the sheer work involved has dissuaded me from this approach. However, the situation as it is cannot continue.

How can I convey to all of my friends and family who are participating in this joke that I am hurt by their teasing and would like it to stop - without talking to each of them individually?

47

I would start out by telling people you don't think the joke is funny any time they make the joke.

So for example, some one makes one of these bird jokes you could sigh and say:

That joke is so stale you should really stop.

Keep your voice calm and try to sound more like your just tired of the joke instead of frustrated by it.

From your question it sounds like you will need to say some variation of this many times with many different people. This should effectively communicate to them that the joke is not funny and you want them to stop without being accusatory (accusations usually lead to some sort of conflict).

Some individuals may not respond to your request. If you have to tell the same person twice that the joke is old/not funny and that they should stop, then you will probably need to make your statement more direct and personal. Such as:

When you make this joke it hurts my feelings, please stop.

If you are worried about offending someone, you can make this more direct comment to the offender in private.

This should get most people who truly care about you to stop.

It is important to know that people often make fun of or demean other people to make themselves feel better about themselves. In fact we all have a tendency to do this. Though it sounds, from your question, as if you are surrounded by an unusually large amount of this rude behavior. If this is the case especially in your family, people may make fun of you for being too sensitive. Be prepared for them to tell you that they think you're being too sensitive. If you get such a response you could say something along the lines of:

I'm sorry you feel that way, I'm just standing up for myself and asking that others treat me kindly.

Good luck!

PS, When you tell someone that you don't like their behavior, you are most likely going to get some sort of confrontation. Hopefully the above keeps that to a minimum.

25

"while I smiled and pretended to find it funny, my hands were shaking with anger and I did all I could to hide that fact."

Let's start with this statement. You say you don't want to talk to any of them for fear of confrontation, but let me tell you from personal experience: Holding this in is not healthy!

I feel that statement is so important, I've bolded it. I do not bold things often. Now, let me explain why I say that.

By holding your hurt and anger over these jokes in, you're doing two major things:

  1. Implicitly encouraging the behavior. You are purposely, at least in that Christmas example, encouraging the joke. Rather than making it stop, you're making it seem like it doesn't bother you. Of course they won't stop if they don't think it bothers you.

  2. You are subconsciously building resentment of those making the jokes. Now, depending on you as a person, this could take years to really cause problems from this point, but this will eventually make get-togethers with these people unbearable for you and you will lose relationships with them.

Now, if you keep letting these points go, you're likely to either end up pushing the friends and your father and sister away and losing your closeness, if you still have any, with them or you may give yourself anxiety, issues with your appearance, depression, etc.

This can seriously cause you mental stress and emotional pain.

Now, here's how I recommend handling this. You say you don't want confrontation, and that is completely agreeable. However, if I had to guess from how you started this question, confrontation won't come from anyone you should want to keep around.

Let's start with your father and sister. The next time you're with them, either of them, sit down with them one-on-one (Don't talk to them both at once! One at a time, or you may start to get overwhelmed trying to explain and answer questions, if any come, from both of them!) and explain how these jokes are making you feel. Use the tried and true "I feel X when you Y" formula, for example:

I feel really upset and self-conscious when you make these bird jokes.

If the anger you feel is making these meetings more of a burden for you than a familial good time, tell them! People who care about you don't want to push you away, and I have a strong feeling that your father and sister are people who care about you.

Once you've addressed this with your father and sister successfully, start talking to your friends. Again, do this one at a time, starting with the friend you think is most likely to understand where you're coming from or to be sympathetic. Starting with this friend gives you a potential ally as jokes continue from the others of the group.

When it comes to your friends, you're more likely to hit resistance in some form or another. True friends who care for you and your well-being, however, will at least ease up if not cease all together.

For the friends who only get worse or refuse to stop or even get aggressive? Well, you'll have to ask yourself: Do you really want to be friends with people who put their amusement above your happiness and well-being?

14

This also means that if I outright asked my friends or family to stop making these kinds of jokes about me they would be very surprised and I'm afraid it may cause some kind of confrontation.

Do cause confrontation. Not just "some kind", but real confrontation. You've let your friends and family trample over your boundaries, to the point that you are "trembling with anger". The whole situation has become extremely bizzarre. Yet you still prefer to keep a stiff upper lip. Don't.

Don't be afraid either. Yes, this will shake up everybody a little bit, including yourself. It may change a few things beyond the "bird situation", and that's good for everyone involved, not least yourself.

I'm aware that my advice challenges your premise to not cause confrontation. But I'm convinced this premise is why the situation has become what it is. You have allowed this to happen. Don't feel bad though, you can also stop it.

4

The confrontation has already happened - your friends and family are doing something you don't appreciate and it's causing you stress. You just don't want to escalate the confrontation.

Family can be like that - family members like to get under each other's skin. I'd suggest confronting people individually when that happens. "That was funny about a year ago and now it's become old. let's find something else" and leave it at that. You don't say it bothers you; you just say it's gotten old. If they keep it up, perhaps the next thing is to say "Is that the best you've got? Really?" and mic drop it. And if that still doesn't work, say you need to take a walk and go do that to give yourself time to cool down.

With friends: good friends will react to your annoyance and respect your wishes. I'd suggest just telling them politely that your sister did that once, a while ago, you've gotten annoyed with it, you don't think you look like a stupid bird, and you'd like to do something different.

If you're polite about it, it's not a confrontation. A confrontation is when you react angrily and flip the table over at dinner. It's when someone starts shouting.

3

Last Christmas my sister got me a bag of bird seed for one of my presents and while I smiled and pretended to find it funny, my hands were shaking with anger and I did all I could to hide that fact.

If you are pretending to enjoy the jokes, how are they to know you aren't a willing participant?

You have to tell them.

It's not clear to me that you've conveyed your dislike at all. As far as your friends and family are aware, you may seem a willing participant. If that is the case, nothing will change until you tell them that you dislike it.

I've been on the opposite end in the past and apologized as I didn't know they were so negatively influenced by it because they hid that response. They can't hope to fix a problem they don't know exists.

Hey, it really bothers me when you compare me to a bird... can you drop it?

I tease my sister all the time, but I also know some topics go beyond teasing and really irritate her and so I avoid them... because I respect that boundary. If she had never voiced her displeasure, I wouldn't know where that boundary lies.

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Sometimes the best way deal with this type of relentless teasing is to consistently bore the offender with your reaction.

My preferred tactic is to make expressionless eye contact and flatly say,

I don't know what you're talking about.

No matter the variation on the joke, time of day, social context...

The person typically escalates a bit, hoping for a more satisfying reaction, but soon gives up after several disappointments.

That's not to say that you need suffer verbal abuse. If your boundaries are violated, it's time to be very clear with what is and is not okay.

2

Are they doing this kind of jokes only for you, or to everyone? If they are doing it to everyone, does it last as long and is it as widespread? If not, it might be that your social position is an underdog in a culture of bullies, and they, perhaps unconsciously, like to take advantage of that, and they simply like bullying someone who is easily bullied. This is not healthy. You might want to consider socializing with them less and finding new friends.

This sounds extreme especially in your situation because your family and friends are all involved, but sometimes it's best just to let them go, and find people who respect you and don't want to hurt your feelings. This kind of joking culture is not a good fit for you and you have right to feel that way, and if they continue to hurt your feelings you are allowed to do what is best for you.

And of course you could tell them about it. If they ask why you visit them less, you can say "this is an unhealthy environment with lots of bullying and it has very bad effect on me". If they care about you, they will realize how serious it was for you and promise to stop. It is also possible they will laugh at you for being "so sensitive", "getting offended from nothing" etc., in which case you know they will not start respecting you and you are better off without them.

Same thing happened to me and I was hanging out with those friends way too long. When I got out of their reach, I realized there are good people in the world and it is not normal to face this kind of bullying every day.

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