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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Lightness of being: The value of humor for health, healing and recovery

Joseph Burger

Humor helps us recognize our limitations as well as our potential. It is part of being human—a significant part. And a healthy sense of humor is a large factor in our becoming healthier human beings.

Humor, however, is not confined to those in a position to enjoy life. A strong and irrepressible sense of the ridiculous, fantastic, and ironic may be the first defense and ultimate resource of those experiencing pain and suffering. Its value in healing cannot be overstated. Humor puts a painful reality into a more tolerable perspective. It allows us to swallow a truth that would choke us if we did not have this defense mechanism in our repertoire. It helps us express our discomfort and pain to others who otherwise could not handle the story. Humor is a healthy way to deal with stress and pain as long as it does not deny the tears.

Humor channels strong emotions associated with risk, danger, and confusion. Without a sense of humor, many people would destroy themselves and, possibly, others; they either implode or explode. Many victims and survivors of abuse and other tragedies are afraid of releasing their anger because their past expressions of anger have led to unpleasant, sometimes seriously painful or dangerous consequences. Such people may simply fear the outcomes, the loss of control, or the possible dangerous reactions of others. The psychic wound may become terribly infected – perhaps even prove deadly. When these people use humor to acknowledge their anger, anxiety, sadness, shame, or guilt, they begin to defuse the bomb. Not only can the humor be a useful tool to release the pain and anger, but it is a necessary tool for resuming emotional contact with one’s self and with other human beings.

Burger, J. (1995). Lightness of being: The value of humor for health, healing and recovery. Reclaiming Children and Youth, Vol.4 (3) p.14

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