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 solution is 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 humored about getting poked fun at and not get too upset about it. If close friends tease each other they assume they're all fine with it, unless someone says otherwise.
The murky middle ground is when it seems one friend gets teased more than everyone else. Are their buddies actually going too far, or do they just need a thicker skin and to loosen up a little? Do their friends have well-meaning intentions, or do they not actually respect them? It can all can leave the member who gets teased feeling off-balance and unsure of themselves. They can also feel emotionally conflicted, as being teased upsets them on some level, but not totally. They're not quite sure if their friends mean anything bad by it or not, and a part of them may still like the attention.
Below are my thoughts on the gray area of teasing. I try to look at all the angles. As with any gray area, I can't provide clear cut answers for any one person's situation. They have to look at their circumstances and make their own call about what they think is going on, and how they want to respond.
I realize teasing can be a sensitive subject, and some of the things I say below may not be what you're 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 douchebags.
Some forms mean-spirited teasing (i.e., bullying) can take:
- Statements that aren't teasing at all and are so obviously nasty and cruel that no one would mistake their intent
- Statements where the wording isn't that bad, but they're said in an unmistakably mean tone
- Hiding hurtful statements behind "I'm just joking!" or "Don't be so sensitive"
- Making fun of someone out of nowhere and over things that aren't really that funny, rather than reacting to something goofy they did or poking at a minor foible (e.g., teasing someone about their crooked teeth, as opposed to their habit of rambling when they've had a few drinks)
- When a social group doesn't really like someone, but keeps them around so they can make fun of them for their own amusement
So the rest of the article isn't about the kind of behavior above. It's more about well-intentioned teasing that goes wrong.
Sometimes a friend 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 dynamics as I see them happening though.
In a friend group, if there's an unspoken guideline that if a member does something goofy or quirky they'll get poked fun at, sometimes there are people who just do these things more than others. They just have a tendency to set themselves up and give everyone material. Again, I don't want to seem like I'm casting blame 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. The group will be hanging around and that friend will make some totally random statement and everyone will just look at each other and think, "Okay, how can we not bust their chops for what they just said?"
People who seem to invite 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 everyone on, or obliviously continue with whatever got them teased to begin with.
I'm not saying all 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 will get carried away with ripping on one member
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 will like one friend, and not mean any harm by poking fun at them, but a dynamic will develop where that member gets teased quite a bit. Teasing them entertains the group, so it gets reinforced. One friend makes a witty comment, everyone laughs, someone else adds a tag to the first joke, they all laugh some more. Maybe the teased member will try to defend themselves and inadvertently say something stupid, cracking everyone up again. The target will often be someone who always 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 that friend as chances to do so come up, they'll start going after them first ("Hey man, tell us about that camping story again"). Their friends might go too far by gradually pushing the envelope, saying more and more cutting, outrageous, or personal things about them.
Everyone can also perpetuate a group norm that it's okay to tease that member. 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 fun, and on board with what the group is all about."
The group may think the friend being teased is okay with it and having fun, and everyone is laughing together. They may not mean to go overboard and possibly tease them 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 from teasing them 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 much to ease off entirely.
Do your friends stop teasing you if you tell them to back off?
A key test of how mean-spirited your friends' teasing is how they 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. 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 them." With the "Do they stop?" test, however, you do know what their behavior is, regardless of what's going through their heads. If they continue the teasing, 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 they mean 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."
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 friend has to take more assertive steps to ensure their intentions are understood.
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 being teased wounds your soul. Just say it bugs you and you want them to ease back. For example, "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 asked for 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 they adjust how they act. If the teasing starts back up, nip it in the bud. Say something like, "Whoa, guys. You're overdoing it again. Take it easy." If they kept it up make your 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 jokes 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 someone with the ability to laugh at themselves could accept, then stick to your guns. If your friends blow off your requests to stop and say their jokes are no big deal, you could say something like, "Yeah, yeah I know where you're coming from, but I still think you're taking it too far."
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 what they want is no longer clear. This is a cliche, but if you're worried how someone may react, remember that if they're really your friend they'll accept what you have to say. If they don't then that should clear up some of the grayness.
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, affable way, you'll often actually gain their respect. As backwards as it sounds, often when someone who's being teased finally tells their friends that enough is enough, everyone secretly thinks, "Wow, good for them. They're finally telling us to shut up. I was wondering when they were going to stop letting us rip on them 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 can be mixed in 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 buddies start in on them. Insecurity or a confusion about what they want can play a role in this. They may be so eager to hang out with a certain group that they feel taking the role as the joke target 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, ask yourself, "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 inexcusable 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 provoke teasing 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 tone deaf comments, and embarrassing themselves when they've been drinking. If their friends tease them about these things, they may want to take what they have to say more to heart. They may be one of those people I talked about earlier who "sets themselves up" all the time.
Everyone has to decide for themselves if something they're teased about is an issue they want to work on. If you do change the parts of yourself that attracted teasing, your friends' response 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 bug you about anymore? If you adjust your behavior, but find yourself feeling a bit nervous and on edge about whether you'll slip up and get made fun of again, that's a bad sign too. I'd say it means your friends teasing you bothered you more than you originally realized.