The Problem with Sarcasm and What to Use Instead

Written by Amber Fuller, Owner and Clinic Director of Fuller Living

My husband and I had just finished our trip to Target and we were on our way home after our day of errands. He said something to me and then quickly laughed sarcastically at my response to his question. At that point I felt it. That “queasy, intuitive, something feels off about this” feeling.  So, naturally, I did what any healthy communicator would do and asked him, “what was the meaning behind your laugh? I feel a little off about it”. Thankfully, my husband is very open to me communicating this to him and we proceeded to have a conversation that was so fruitful and productive!  I’m about to tell you all about it!

My husband told me that his laugh was a laugh of sarcasm. I didn’t understand why he would sarcastically laugh so I asked him. He said that he was being passive aggressive and not communicating his feeling in a mature or healthy way and instead passively communicating them through his laugh.  He admitted to trying to manipulate and control the situation with his sarcasm and he told me that next time he would try harder at communicating in a healthy and mature way. Him and I then proceeded to have a conversation about the harm in sarcasm.

We’ve all heard it at some point, some where. I remember the quote, “sarcasm is healthy communication’s evil step-sister”. My husband is currently taking a class on how to communicate in healthy and non-violent ways and one of the things that they continue to press in the class is that sarcasm is or is pushing the edge of emotional violence. Some may think that this is a little strong, but it hurts people, like, it really hurts people.  I mean, think about it, when is the last time you used sarcasm, and why did you use it?  If you respond by saying, “oh, I was just being funny and teasing” that’s literally a statement that tons of classes teach is emotional violence and the types of classes that are teaching this are the classes themed on emotional violence.  I recognize that the statements I’m making about sarcasm right now are very strong, and I’ve also read a ton of articles and done a ton of research on sarcasm and it’s negative effects on relationships. If you want to make a joke, do so without attacking another person in a passive aggressive way. If you have a problem with another person, muster up the courage to say it in a direct and healthy way rather than squeezing it into a conversation through sarcasm.

At the end of the day, I think that’s my point. The point of healthy communication. What is it that’s behind your sarcasm. Do you have something that bugs you about that person that you want to tell them? Tell them. It’s going to hurt a lot more if they hear it via sarcasm rather than hearing it directly. To be direct is to be respectful and to be sarcastic is to be disrespectful. Disrespect=unhealthy. Respect=healthy.

Do you have a habit of being sarcastic?  Focus and meditate on what is behind your sarcasm? For some people they fear that the conversation could go poorly if they use direct communication. For others, they fear that they might look weak if they directly communicate their feelings. For some, they may really have a big problem with a person and they aren’t sure about the words to use to communicate it. Here are some tips on how to directly communicate a problem you have with a person. These tips are taken out of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent communications workbook:

When I see that______________

I feel ______________

because my need for ________________ is/is not met.

Would you be willing to __________________?


For example,

When I see that you leave your stuff all over the house, I feel disrespected because my need for my hard work to be respected and fostered is not met. Would you be willing to put your stuff where it belongs?

If a person agrees to what you’re asking for, then awesome!  If not, then you are going to figure out the boundaries that you want to put in place in order to protect yourself from the pain that they are going to cause you.

Another great idea is to ask a person if they are willing to have a hard conversation with you, before you sit down and have the conversation. Sometimes people need to prepare themselves for that conversation. They need to know that they don’t have to go into a really important meeting after that hard conversation. They need to know that they can decompress and rest after the conversation.  It’s nice and kind and respectful to ask to have the conversation.

If you are needing help with developing healthy communication and if you are finding yourself really struggling with interpersonal relationships, we would love to help! Feel free to reach out to schedule a session.