THE PTSD CHRONICLE – Laughter never hurts…until it does. And it can hurt, according to those who have experienced its sting like Texas A&M student Kacy Karigan Rowley, who has spent years battling Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“It’s an ugly disorder,” says Rowley, who wrote about the topic in a commentary posted on Odyssey.
What’s makes it even uglier is when people trivialize the condition by associating it with smaller, less consequential issues like getting through a particularly tough exam.
The experiences are not even close, according to Rowley, who explains the danger of making light of conditions like PTSD it that it marginalizes the afflicted.
Laughingly equating the stress of a one-hour exam with a traumatic injury is insensitive at best, according to Rowley.
“There is nothing funny or amusing about it. It strips people who suffer from it of their peace of mind, their zest for life and feeling of being a person,” says Rowley.
Even after early treatment, many still suffer for years after a traumatic event — despite clinical interventions, according to one study reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
When you associate PTSD with trivial matters, you minimize its impact on the 8 million adults struggling with the condition, according to Rowley.
“PTSD already makes people feel small,” says Rowley, who points out that insensitive comments or jokes only serve to make the afflicted feel even smaller.
But where do you draw the line between help and hurt given mounting evidence that humor can be a beneficial tool in PTSD recovery?
At first glance, it may seem that the topics of humor, trauma and expressive arts therapy exist as separate worlds, according to Alison M. Landoni, a Lesley University graduate whose Master’s thesis focused on the topic of therapeutic humor.
Researchers Blaustein & Kinnibergh as well as other experts have found otherwise, reports Landoni.
They say that the difference between helpful and hurtful humor is dependent upon the situation and the person perceiving it.
Humor has gotten us through some pretty troubling times shifting the mood of the nation from horrified to hopeful, according to Landoni.
Regardless of how funny, experts concur that humor should not be used to trivialize or make light of trauma.
Comedy appeals to the right brain’s emotional perceptions and its desire to feel joy and hope, and it is this desire for the reward of joy where the right-brain permits the left brain’s awareness and processing power to comprehend the stories and the “punchline,” according to Joanne Strawder, a licensed clinical social worker, and Guy Strawder, a retired USA Lieutenant Colonel and resident, marriage and family counselor, who co-authorized a commentary supporting Laughs for the Troops.
“As the right and left brain cooperate, smiles and laughter generate the release of tranquilizing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. This effect then further activates reward pathways in the brain that can progressively reduce an individual’s hyper-aroused emotional state,” said the co-authors.
Their bottom line? Laughter helps. Laughter heals.
Once we understand this and are able to balance a sensitive subject matter, like health conditions with the efficacy of a healthy belly laugh, we’re one step closer to healing.