Sarcasm – The Weapon of Helplessness

Salman Rushdi looking sarcasticRonit and I have a very good friend, who has been in a difficult personal situation in the past couple of years. He feels very frustrated by his circumstances and sees himself powerless to break out of them and live a happy life again.

Often, when he talks to other people, he uses sarcasm. For example, one day he was contacted by a large company, which I was not familiar with. He got excited about it, but wanted to seem like he was keeping his cool, so as not to get disappointed if he did not get an order from them later on. So he said to me, “Gal, I just got off the phone with company XYZ”.

“What is this company?”, I asked.

“Oh, it’s just a small company nobody knows”, he said in a seemingly casual tone.

Knowing him all too well, I insisted, until he finally admitted, “They’re the largest processed food manufacturer in our area and their inquiry is very large”.  He had been trying not to get his hopes up before, so he used sarcasm.

However, on many occasions, I have seen other people take his words literally, not knowing any better, and the rest of their conversation with him got more and more confused, each side assuming the other one was acting strange.

Think back on any sarcastic expression you have ever heard and ask yourself, “What is the feeling associated with sarcasm?”

The answer is helplessness and lack of control. Sarcasm is the weapon of disempowered people, who use information to regain some of their missing feeling of control.

Kids are innocent creatures and sarcasm goes straight over their little heads. When they respond to what they heard literally and get a strange reaction, telling them they have misunderstood, they get confused. Over time, using sarcasm in communication with a child is nothing short of verbal abuse, leaving the child’s self-esteem damaged and giving the child a deepening sense of inadequacy.

Here is a typical situation that may happen in a typical home: money is tight, but the kids are not aware of this. One of the kids comes to Mom, possibly while she is busy with the latest bills, and says, “Mom, can I please get a Wii? My friends have them and they are really cool!”

Catbert the evil HR Director is all sarcasm“Sure”, says the mother, “Right after we come back from the luxury cruise to Alaska”.

[I think you know what is now happening in the child’s mind. He is getting really excited, having just heard he is going on a dream holiday, the pictures of which he has probably seen before in ads and TV commercials]

“Wow!”, he says, “When are we going?”

“What are you talking about?”, says the frustrated mother, trying desperately to figure out how to make ends meet, “We’re not going anywhere, now go away and let me finish with these bills”.

Of course, not being able to afford good stuff for your kids is damaging to one’s own self-esteem and may cause you to use sarcasm as a way of venting a bit and seemingly putting some humour into the situation. But the result is that your pressure and frustration are passed on to an innocent bystander, who quietly takes on the bad feelings, having developed false hopes not once, but twice, only to realize neither of them would come true. To make matters worse, this also gives him a sense of failure to communicate and even a feeling he may have made his mother feel bad.

If you have not done this already, freeze this scene in your mind’s eye, associate yourself with the child for a minute, then gently float out of the child and associate yourself with the mother, working away on those bills, suddenly grasping what she has done.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say!

To find out when you are using sarcasm in your life and overcome it, here are some things you can do:

  • Ask the people around you (mainly your partner)
  • When you talk to someone, pay attention to puzzled looks
  • Recall any “bitching sessions” you may have had lately and examine the type of interaction you have with the people who attended them, because misery loves company and sarcasm is the weapon of the helpless
  • Garfield - a very sarcastic catMake a list of your frustrations and imagine yourself in those situations. What are you saying?
  • For each of your frustrations, ask yourself, “What is at least one thing I can do to make this situation acceptable?”
  • Ask yourself if your expectations of each situation are realistic. Are you seeing the other people’s point of view, for example?
  • Whenever you feel helpless, stop and ask yourself if this is really the case and take some action or adjust your expectations immediately

Feel the power over your life coming back into your own hands!

Share you thoughts and successes with me via the comment box below.

Powerful times,

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  • tina

    Gal, this is a great article. Before I knew you and Ronit, just about everything I said was sarcastic. My family are hugely sarcastic – and the funny thing is that they tell people that they are – like they are proud of it. They think its really funny. Sometimes I thought it was funny too. When I met Javier – he actually didn’t understand my sarcasm – I think it must be something that is not really part of his culture. And he told me what you said, just say what you mean and mean what you say. – Very good advice!

  • Gal Baras

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tina.

    It’s funny how this blogging business works, isn’t it? While writing the post, I was thinking of how different I am now, after going through life coaching and learning to feel in control of my life.

    In my “previous life” as a corporate IT professional, sarcasm was my refuge from feeling unappreciated and ignored, but now, somehow there is always something I can do or some feeling I can change and then things work out a whole lot better and there’s no need for sarcasm, other than as an indication of how I’m feeling.

  • Elan

    I’m not sure if I’m overreacting, so I’d like comments. We were tucking our 8 yo daughter in bed, when my DH said (joking and sarcastic) “Someone at [event] tonite said you sure were sweet…I thought they couldn’t be talking about MY daughter!” She replied by asking who said she was sweet, did she have long hair etc. He tried to explain his sarcastic comment again, at which she was silent. So, I said “Daddy was teasing” Then he commented that she didn’t really want to be called sweet anyway, did she?, so she agreed. When I asked her later if she really didn’t want people calling her sweet, she said that she wanted people to call her mean and an ogre. I think it really hurt her feelings. I had a very sarcastic family, and I’ve decided that it does cover up feelings of inadequacy (I used it myself for years, when I was unhappy and unsure) Can I influence him to use less sarcasm, or will it only happen if he feels better about himself or sees that it can really hurt feelings in a young child? Comments… am I blowing things out of proportion?

  • Elan

    After re-reading your article, I realized it already answered my own questions, and was helpful in helping me decide how to address the issue with my husband. Though if you have additional comments, they would be welcomed.

  • Gal Baras

    Hi Elan,

    The best way to help your husband is by being a good role model and directing positive energy towards him. If it helps, close your eyes and imagine him as a 3-year-old being treated with sarcasm at home, then talk to that child when you talk to your husband.

    Good luck,

  • Sue

    I often feel demeaned and upset by my partners sarcasm. For instance this morning I was reading internet papers online and an article made me laugh out loud. He asked me what it was and I read the paragraph out to which he responded in a really bored and flat voice ‘priceless’. Am I being oversensitive to be hurt by this? It is not the only example – just the most recent. It just really took the wind out of my sails – I went from feeling happy to so fed up.

  • Gal Baras

    @Sue It’s really difficult to tell whether you were being oversensitive, because “bored and flat” is already your interpretation of your husband’s tone. Regardless, the sense of humor varies from one person to the next and what bores one may still make another laugh. Nobody can make you fed up without your permission, so choose to keep feeling happy.

    Many couples have “sore spots” from years of unresolved friction. Do a search for “save your marriage” or click the “relationships” or “self esteem” tags on any page of this site to find lots of relevant posts with tips on how to overcome these sensitivities and restore your happiness (and your husband’s).

  • Ronit Baras

    HI Sue,

    Some people are sarcastic because they grew up in a family that was sarcastic and they do not think there is anything wrong with it.
    The first thing is to forgive them and not take it personal.
    If you watch two sarcastic people talking, it may sound like a war with swords but for them it is not like that.

    The first suggestion I have is not to tell yourself and others about the many examples because it is just poison that stays in your body.

    It may be a difference in communication style.
    I would recommend talking to him about your thoughts and feelings when you are in a good place ( not when you are in any conflict)

    Happy day
    The Motivational Speaker

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  • Queenleen

    Wnat if its your teenage daughter constantly spewing the sarcasm?!

  • ronitbaras


    You must understand she is poisoning herself and an expression of hopelessness and frustrated. 
    Do not reply when she is using sarcasm – It is very hard to communicate with sarcasm and people usually reply with sarcasm, which only make things worst. 
    Help her find out what makes her so frustrated and feeling helpless.