When Your Friends Tease You A Lot

A fairly common problem I hear about is when someone feels like a second-class member of their social circle. One way this can happen is when their friends tease and make fun of them a lot. It can be a confusing situation. At times it's obvious when someone's supposed friends are actually jerks, and maliciously making fun of them. There the clear cut answer is for that person to walk away and find new people to hang out with.

There's a gray area with teasing. Friends playfully, affectionately tease each other all the time. If someone in the group does something goofy, or has a quirk, their friends will usually rib them about it. Everyone should have the ability to be good-natured about getting poked fun at and not get too upset about it. If good friends tease each other they may assume that the other person is fine with it, unless they say otherwise.

The murky middle ground is when it seems one person gets teased more than everyone else in the group. Are the person's friends actually going too far, or do they just need a thicker skin and to loosen up a little? Do the person's friends have well-meaning intentions, or do they not actually respect them? The situation can leave the person who gets teased feeling off-balance and unsure of themselves. They can also feel emotionally confused, as being teased upsets them on some level, but not totally, because they're not quite sure if their friends mean anything bad by it or not, and on some level they may still like the attention.

Below are my thoughts on the gray area of teasing. I try to look at all the angles in this situation. As with any gray area, I can't provide all the answers for any one person's situation. They have to look at their own circumstances and make their own call about what they think is going on, and how they want to act.

I realize teasing can be a sensitive subject, and some of the things I say below you may not be used to hearing when this topic is brought up. As I'll try to explain all through the article, I don't mean anything bad by it.

There's no excuse for genuinely nasty, mean-spirited teasing

Some of my points below will try to talk about teasing in more complex terms than "All teasing is bad. If you get teased by your friends, you should drop them". I want to make it clear though that I don't think truly mean-spirited teasing is ever acceptable. The people who do that are dicks.

Some forms mean-spirited teasing (i.e., bullying) can take:

So the article below isn't about the kind of behavior above. It's more about well-intentioned teasing that goes wrong.

Sometimes a person just sets themselves up to be teased a lot

I'm not trying to blame the victim here. Like I said, if people tease someone with the intention of being hurtful then they're jerks and there's no justification for that, no matter what the person getting made fun of did to "deserve it". I do want to try to be realistic and talk about social situations as I see them happening though.

In a social group, if there's an unspoken guideline that if a friend does something goofy or quirky they'll get poked fun at, well sometimes there are people who just do these things more than others. They just have a tendency to set themselves up and give people material. Again, I don't want to seem like I'm blaming the victim or saying some people deserve to get made fun of. But I think we've all known people who just seem to say or do a lot of genuinely odd or questionable things. We may have been that person ourselves at times. You'll be sitting around with your friends and the person will make some totally random statement and everyone will just look at each other and think, "Okay, how can we not poke fun at them for what they just said?"

People who seem to invite other's teasing may also have a tendency to dig themselves in deeper when they get poked fun at once. They may react in a way that eggs people on, or continue with their original tease-inducing actions in an oblivious manner. I'm not saying this is good or bad, or even that it's always fair. Also, what may be considered normal for one group may be tease-worthy material for another circle of friends.

Sometimes a group of friends will get carried away with ripping on one person

Yeah, I realize I'm probably not winning a lot of people over with this article. Now it seems like I'm excusing the perpetrator's actions. I don't mean it that way.

At times a group of friends will like a person, and not mean any harm by poking fun at them, but a dynamic will develop where one person gets teased quite a bit. I think what often happens is that teasing the person entertains the group, so it gets reinforced. One person will make a witty comment, everyone will laugh, another one gets made, everyone laughs again. Maybe the person who got teased will try to defend themselves and inadvertently say something stupid, cracking everyone up again. The person who gets teased will often be someone who often sets themselves up, like I mentioned above, so the group is never short on new material.

Things can grow to a point where as soon as the "tease-ee" walks into the room, everyone gets a little excited, because they know they're going to get to joke around and have a good time. Instead of just teasing the person as chances to do so come up, they'll start going after them first ("Hey man, tell us about that camping story again"). Friends can also go too far by gradually pushing the envelope, saying more and more cutting, outrageous, or personal things about the person.

Friends can also perpetuate a group norm that it's okay to tease the person. When new people come into the circle, within minutes of them meeting the "tease-ee" they get an unspoken message like, "Here's Dan. He's a weirdo. Remember how before you met him we were telling you stories about the odd things he did? Here he is in the flesh. We all joke around about him and it's okay for you to as well". There may even be an additional message of, "Just make a good joke or two about Dan yourself, and everyone will see you're a fun person who's on board with what the group is all about."

The group may think the person being teased is okay with it and having fun and everyone is laughing together. They may not mean to go overboard and possibly tease the person too much, to the point where it hurts their feelings.

Sometimes a group of friends do realize they tease someone a bit too hard, suspect it does bug them somewhat, and feel vaguely guilty about it. However, the entertainment they get out of teasing the person outweighs any slightly bad feelings they have. They feel like they can't help it. This is admittedly a pretty immature, insensitive way to behave. Often when the teasers are on the fence like this they just need to be told to stop in order to change their behavior. They already realize on one level they're going too far, and don't need to be nudged too much to ease off entirely.



Do your friends stop teasing you if you tell them to back off?

A key test of whether their teasing could be detrimental to you or not is how your friends react if you tell them to cut it out. Do they apologize and drop it, and look like they feel genuinely bad about going too far? Or do they not seem to care that you don't like being teased, or worse yet, laugh and start bugging you even more for getting upset? Secondly, if they do stop, do they stop for long? If you tell them to cut it out, do they back off for the moment, but minutes, hours, or days later start teasing you again like they always do?

There's still a fuzzy area here about what your friends' intentions could be though. They may not cut it out when you ask them to stop, but not because they're malicious, just that they've gotten carried away with ribbing you and can't help themselves. And in their minds the teasing is lighthearted. They may be a little insensitive and think, "Ah, there's no way this can actually be bugging him." With the 'Do they stop?' test, however, you do know what their behavior is, regardless of what is going through their heads. If their continued teasing bothers you, you can decide whether to move on from them or not.

If you tell friends to stop teasing you, be clear about it

...And now it seems like I'm putting all the responsibility for stopping the teasing on the victim.

When people tell their friends to stop teasing them they sometimes don't state their message in a strong or clear enough way. What the person means to communicate is, "Guys, stop teasing me altogether. It hurts my feelings", but they send a message that their friends interpret more as, "Okay, okay, you guys got me! Good one! I like being teased overall. It's fun, but just back off a little at the moment please. Feel free to do it again some more later."

This seems like victim blaming once again. I think in an ideal world people's friends would always understand what they meant, and follow their wishes right away, but that's not always the case. Sometimes a person has to take more assertive steps to ensure their intentions are understood by other people.

When you make your message clear you can deliver it in a friendly, confident, low key way. You don't have to be overly forceful or confrontational. You don't need to spill your guts and tell them every way it hurts your feelings either. Just say it bugs you and you want them to ease back. With my own style of talking, I could see myself saying something like, "Guys, guys, you go a little far when you poke fun at me. Once in a while is okay, but cut it out with doing it all the time" (the exact wording doesn't matter, as long as your tone makes it clear where you stand).

Then once you've made it clear what you want, it's important to be consistent about restating your wishes if your friends start to poke fun at you again. Keep up your message until it sinks in and your friends change how they act. If any teasing reappears, nip it in the bud. I'd say something like, "Whoa, guys. You're overdoing it again. Take it easy." If they kept it up I'd make my voice a little firmer and say, "No seriously, take it down a notch."

If your friends retort that you're being too touchy, and that it's all in good fun, trust your instincts. Sometimes people do need to learn to roll with teasing more and not take it so personally. But jerks also hide their negative intent behind the cover of, "I'm just kidding!". If you feel bad about being teased so much, then don't let them blow you off.

Again, you can be friendly and self-assured as you do this, but you're allowed to feel what you feel. If you think your friends are bugging you too much, and beyond the level that a person with the ability to laugh at himself could accept, then stick to your guns. If my friends blew off my requests for them to stop and said it was no big deal, I'd say something like, "Yeah, yeah I know where you're coming from. But I think you're taking it too far. It is what it is."

It can feel hard to confront your friends, even in a light, friendly way. That's why it can be easy for people to soften their message to the point where their intentions are no longer clear. This sounds like a cliche, but if you're worried how your friends may react, remember that if a group of people are really your friends then they'll accept what you have to say. If they don't then that should clear up some of the grayness.

Another thing is sometimes people worry that if they stand up to their friends then they'll annoy or lose them. What often happens though is that by asserting yourself, in a socially savvy, friendly way, you'll often actually gain their respect. As backwards as it sounds, often when a person who's being teased finally tells their friends that enough is enough, everyone secretly thinks, "Wow, good for him. He's finally telling us to back off. I was wondering when he was going to stop letting us rip on him so much."

If you want to stop being teased, don't purposely encourage people to poke fun at you

...And now it seems like I'm endorsing the excuse of, "Oh, she's acting weird on purpose because she likes the attention."

Occasionally when someone gets teased a lot by their friends, on some level they do get something out of it. Don't get me wrong, on another level it gets under their skin. But they may enjoy the attention, or the doses of affection that may be mixed with being joked about. They may not like being teased in a way, but subtly encourage it in another, perhaps by doing goofy things, or bringing up odd stories, or poking fun at themselves too once their friends start in on them. Insecurity or a confusion about what they want can easily play a role in this. A person may be so eager to hang out with a certain group of people that they feel taking the role as the one everyone rips on is better than nothing.

If you think you do may do this, but want to stop being teased, then you'll have to quit these subtly encouraging behaviors. You can't have it both ways. Be aware of it when you're around your friends. When you say or do certain things around them, ask yourself things like, "Am I playing up my quirks so all the focus will be on me for a while?"

If you're up for it, work on the parts of yourself you get teased about

By this point I can probably skip the little victim blaming disclaimer.... As mean-spirited and not excusable it can be sometimes, teasing can be a form of social feedback. If it doesn't bother you to do so, tweaking the parts of yourself that seem to invite teasing from others may make it go away.

Emphasis is on the 'if it doesn't bother you' part. For example, if someone has unique fashion sense, eats healthy, likes reading, and has more traditional values, and their friends tease them about all these things, they'd be right to not want to change. The ribbing isn't good 'feedback' in this case. Depending on how bad the teasing is, they could just laugh and roll with it, tell their friends to cut it out, or stop hanging out with them.

A different example would be someone who has a habit of bragging, making odd comments, and embarrassing themselves when they've been drinking. If this person's friends teased them about these things, they may want to take what they have to say more to heart. Someone like this may be one of those people I talked about earlier who 'sets themselves up' all the time.

Everyone will have to decide for themselves if something they're teased about is an issue they want to work on. If you do work on the parts of yourself that seem to invite teasing, your friend's reaction can be useful for clarifying where you stand with them. Do they treat you well now? Or do they now seem indifferent to hanging around you? Do they seem annoyed that there's not as much for them to tease you about anymore? If you try to change your behavior, but find yourself feeling a bit nervous and on edge about whether you'll slip up and get teased again, that's probably a bad sign too. I'd say it means your friends teasing you bothered you more than you originally realized.