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Being joked about at my expense

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I have these two guys at work whom I work closely with every day. We also do activities together after work, like trips and skiing, and I do see them as friends. Often they crack jokes on my expense. I am a joyful person and often I enjoy the jokes. Mostly because I feel that banter also shows that they are comfortable with me. I also feel very competent in what I do in my work, so if they joke about my skills, it obviously have to be a joke😂 - so I sincerely laugh with them. I also feel, being the social aware person I am😜,  that I can recognise the jokes as a way to keep distance, it's a safe thing to do for guys as oppose to being vulnerable and sharing something deeper. Me on the other hand, I show vulnerability very often, when I am sad, when I feel exited and joy - and I know that they appreciate my energy at work. However, lately, I feel like the joking is becoming too much. I am like, come on, why can't you just cheer for me once? They are better one-on-one though.

I feel like the joking has now cemented in "the way we communicate". I feel less energetic at work. I can also understand that if I change gears, they would be confused on what has changed, as the jokes have been ok before. I think they also feel joy in making me laugh.

I do not know how to re-set this. I believe I have to reply differently to the jokes, even not laugh when I do want to laugh. I am afraid I will sound thin skinned in my response as I have to do it on the fly and what I naturally want is to reply with a tons of loaded emotions: "Can you stop joking?!" . Btw, I almost never joke on their behalf. It isn't in my personality. It would feel not like me if I were to join the banter.

To take an example: I was going on a skiing course which I was really excited about. Initially, I didn't want to share it, because it was going to be my thing, and I knew they would joke about it, and I didn't want that. But one of them asked why I had to leave a bit early at work, and I didn't want to lie, so I mentioned the course - with a smile on my face. They started to joke and saying  things like: "then we expect you to be better than us when you come back". "Look, she has done a course in this". "I have never taken a course in this" - both laughing. I also have to mention they are very power aware. One of them just naturally lives the 48 power moves - in everything he does! Really. He does not let anyone take any power from him, in any circumstance or comment. At the lunch cafeteria, he doesn't even stand in line. He sits down and waits for the queue to disappear, then, he goes to get food.

I think, deep down, they would also benefit from the course, but it is too submissive for them to join a course <- Being aware of this also makes my replies difficult to create, because I am aware of all the layers and I feel empathy for them in some way.

So how would I reply...

I don't want to reply with jokes or saying things like: "Yes, you just wait and see. I will be skiing much faster than both of you". Because I know that most likely would not happen, and I have just made room for more jokes in the future.

Oh, I just came up with an answer right now. How about: "You can joke as much as you want, but deep down I bet you would have wanted to join me and learn some new tricks" - with a content and confident smile.

My questions is: How do I change the dynamics in the relationship to not be the one being joked at all the time, or just letting them know that they have to be careful because it can hit back😏. I do sense, just while writing this exhaustive post that I can somehow use vulnerability to tip them off. I do feel that is a natural strong stance I have.

If you have made it this far😅, I would love to hear what you think about my suggested reply, and my strategy for how to go about it. Also remember that these are high-value men, in my opinion (but with lacks as everyone else) so I want to come up to their level, keeping a good dynamic of give and take.

The relationship seems to be in a position where they consider you as a pushover.

Continued one upping jokes means that they don’t respect you.

Guys make pointed one-upping jokes at each other as a game of Dominance although people tell its a way of bonding, its not.

Also since you are a girl it is entirely possible that these guys want to get with you because most of the time guys who aren’t interested won’t put in the effort to tease and banter.

as far as how to respond, my suggestion is the next time someone does a one-upping joke, never laugh and if you don’t have a witty comeback, make a “disgusted and disappointed with you” face and pay attention to someone else. That will get the message loud and clear to avoid one-upping jokes.

How are they supposed to be high-value men? No person who constantly pulls power-moves is high value.

Lucio Buffalmano, Kavalier and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoKavalierZathrianMaya88

I find it hard to see things from the outside. Thank you for your response @Growfast, I really appreciate it. I will definitely take your advice moving forward.
In this new light, you are right, they are not high-value men... I've mentally put them lower in my mind, and it feels empowering. Ah, I'm building muscles! 

Lucio Buffalmano and Kavalier have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoKavalier

I agree with Growfast. From the outside they don't seem to respect you a lot and they don't appear particularly high-value.

As for the vulnerable approach, I think it depends a lot on them whether or not it will work. I often like using vulnerability with my friends to get rid of power moves and nasty behavior, but only if I know they're comfortable enough to show vulnerability themselves. If not, a vulnerable approach will make them uncomfortable and probably lead to more power moves (remember that being vulnerable means you give the other person power to harm you).

If you think they would respond positively though, I'd go for something like this:

Him: *Jokes at my expense*

Me: "Hey man, you know I like you, but when you constantly make jokes at my expense I don't feel like you value me as a friend. I'm telling you this because I want us to have a good relationship. I hope you feel the same."

I'd only recommend this is if you're confident that they will appreciate a vulnerable approach.

I also think your suggested answer is fine, but if you want to change the dynamic of the relationship I'd try to address that.

For example:

Him: *Jokes at my expense*

Me: "Here goes X with his usual jokes. Always fun to be around..."    (With a tonality that makes it clear that it is NOT fun to be around him).


Him: *Jokes at my expense*

Me: "That's very disrespectful man, I'd appreciate it if you didn't joke at my expense again"   (With a confident voice and strong eye contact).

If he starts making excuses or try to frame you as sensitive you can use the broken record technique until he relents.

Also, if someone jokes at your expense you'd be perfectly justified to play the same game back to show you're not a pushover.

If anybody disagrees or has any thoughts on this I'm happy to read.

Kavalier and Maya88 have reacted to this post.

Very good self-analysis Maya.

As I read I was thinking "this may be a case of death by a thousand cuts where they lost some respect + slippery slope that with time cemented the reality of making fun of her, and then it's much harder to change it".

And you correctly diagnosed that.

As for the causes, this may also be a case:

  • Flirting as Growfast mentioned, the goal would be to joke around and to show higher social power over you-.
  • Social climbing, with the typically male social climbing game on the easier target, so to speak.
  • Self-signaling, where they're signaling to each other that they're cool / high power by using the easier target, so to speak

Or a mix of the 3, of course.

On how to deal with it, you included these two options:

  1. Directly addressing the issue
  2. Joking back with them

Some female authors who advise other women suggest playing back the same "male game" of one-upping (the second option).

While that may be good if one enjoys it, I find it not so good if one doesn't enjoy it -plus, it can easily end up like a constant turkey game of one-upping-.

However, the issue with #1 is that it can come across as abrupt and out of place -and sometimes, for good reasons, read on-.

The slow-steering method

Think of this method as a ship U-turning.

A ship takes time to U-turn, and it's very gradual.

So this approach would be:

  1. You show you're not enjoying the jokes...
  2. ... Over several iterations
  3. Then you drop a "low-assertiveness" comment saying it wasn't really funny
  4. And then you tell them to stop

I feel this may be the best approach to change dynamics that have been cemented because if you tell them it's not cool right away, it feels like a betrayal.
As in "why are only telling us now it's not cool, when you were cool with it for weeks on end"?
Then it feels like YOU are responsible for the issue (and they may cut off contact or be a lot loss friendly and you may lose some allies).

Instead, here's how you could do it:

Them: joke 1
You: oh yeah, really funny guys (smiling)


Them: joke 2
You: and here they go again (verbal disapproval but more friendly facial expression, may be even still smiling)


Them: joke 3
You: (look at with an exaggerated expression as if to say "nah, you didn't just do that again, I expect better")

I'd repeat this one for 2-3 times, and then:

Them: joke 4
You: hey guys, I like you and it IS a bit funny... But also feels a bit (demeaning / one-upping / overly competitive... )

Then, after that, you can address it more directly and assertively.

But by this time, the dynamics changed.
It's not going to be abrupt, but well calibrated.
And it's them who missed the signs, not you who mislead them.

Jack, Transitioned and 8 other users have reacted to this post.
JackTransitionedKavalierMitchZathrianMaya88AlexMats GBelMaverick
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Thank you so much both @mats-g and @lucio for taking the time and sharing your knowledge ❤️🙏. I feel more entitled to react and feel the way I have felt when reading your feedback. I read your posts just before going on a trip with the guys and some others this weekend and I tried to apply several of your advices.

While I first wrote this post I thought I had come up with a good strategy by using vulnerability, but with your replies (Growfast, Mats-G and Lucio) I have started to use the slow-steering method instead, and play the same way back if I felt that I had a good reply.

@mats-g, I didn't think of that using vulnerability would actually give them more power. At first I thought that they would handle it, but with greater afterthought, I do not think that they're comfortable enough to show vulnerability themselves - as I believe the joking is partly a result of that in the first place. I am now also very unsure of what the outcome would be with that approach. More joking could absolutely be one of them. Especially in groups with other guys. So thank you for the heads up and suggesting a different approach. I do want to change the dynamic in the relationship.

When reading your suggestion for other cases @lucio, I find that there are definitely a mix of the 3 as well: flirting, social climbing and self-signaling. Your description of why the steering method would be a good approach resonates with me a lot.

This weekend I did not laugh at jokes that were on my expense, I answered either with ignoring it, or with a disappointed face or I said in an ironic tone "You are very funny.." and (trying to not look affected) then changing the subject or started to do something else. I also gave comments back when I felt I had one, which felt new, but also good. Even though I do not like one-uppings because I can feel like being in a flight-or-flight mode, I do see the benefits of biting back sometimes. To let them know I will no longer be an easy target.

I do think that the ship has started to turn, it is a bit early to say. At least for me, my mindset has shifted. I believe I am at "joke nr. 1", but I will continue the steering. I will let you know how it goes💪

Lucio Buffalmano, Jack and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJackTransitionedKavalierMats G

Way of going from ideas to action, Maya!

Rock on and rooting for you.
And yes, keep us updated, I'm very curious about how it develops.

Kavalier and Maya88 have reacted to this post.
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Thank you so much, @lucio ! 🙌 I really appreciate how concrete your description is on how to use the slow steering method. It makes it easier for me to take actions.
And also, thank you all for the support, it helps me a lot when standing in the uncomfortable.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Well, this has taken an unexpected turn. It's been some time now, and I would like to share my reflections. I realise that I haven't been thinking so much of what the outcome would be if I stand my ground and be... I guess more authentic to what I feel when being joked with.

First, when I stopped joining the banter and laughing at my own expense, the banter stopped rather fast. I think they could sense that my energy had changed. There are still some jokes, but I don't take them as personal anymore, or, they kind of rub of me when I am not laughing.

Another thing that I realise is that I, myself have also been the cause of this type of communication, since I haven't until now made any signs that it was not ok. I also see how this way of interacting was a big part of the social dynamics of the relationship. And now that it is gone, it has kind of left an empty space... Like in, what should we talk about now? I find that finding other topics to talk about is also challenging as I come to realise that we are a bit different as persons. So the joking was an easy way out. Also for me.

I also feel a bit of resentment towards them now. The work we do together is fine. We cooperate well. But because of the "many cuts" over time, I feel... "done". I have great interactions with other people at the workplace where I feel that I CAN talk about other more serious stuffs, and where I feel I can be more myself, which also put weight on the feeling of "done".

I hope I can let go of the resentment. I think I am also a bit mad at myself for letting it go so far. I think it goes back to the first jokes. The ones that seemed innocent, and I wasn't aware of what was happening. A rhetorical question: Do I need to train more to catch these types of comments or am I just with the wrong people? I do want to be able to talk to anyone and make a good report with anyone though, but I think this is a case of both.

I will definitely have the slow steering method in mind in the future. To avoid this type of situations. The resentment is still strong. Anyone who experience this after this type of "death by a thousand cuts"? How to get rid of it?

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn FreemanMats GBel

Hi Maya,

I share the same resentment for the people who, in my "before-TPM" life, led me down the slippery slope of "death by a thousand cuts". And I also share not being quite interested in recovering rapport with many of those people.

In fact, when I read your first message here in this thread, I thought "she should just send these guys off".

But, Lucio's post about the slow steering method was a definitely more "adult" approach.

And one that worked wonders: the guys stopping the banter just because you stopped going along with it is pure power on your side.

What helped me to get over some of my resentment over time was the realization that, even if I interacted again with these people, I would always, from now on, not fully trust them. That is, they would always bear some consequence of what they did, even if unconscious.

When trust is lost, it is very difficult - sometimes impossible - to fully recover it.

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn FreemanMaya88Mats G
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