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What Sarcasm Means About Your Mental Health

photo by: Thabang Madnsela

by Andrea Blundell

Known for your wit and humour? But of the sarcastic kind? What does sarcasm mean about you, really?

The meaning of sarcastic

Sarcasm is far more than just being funny.  It’s clear even in the dictionary definition of, “using remarks that clearly mean the opposite of what you say, in order to hurt someone’s feelings or to humorously criticise something.” (Cambridge dictionary).

If it’s a thing we are criticising, then sarcasm can have its place and its positive power. Using sarcasm on social media to expose, say, the global response of governments to child hunger?  Can mean a useful opinion goes viral.

A research study on sarcasm within organisations even found that it led to greater creativity within teams, raising levels of abstract thinking. 

But where criticism is a red flag is within relationships. When we choose to be sarcastic, we are choosing to hurt and criticise someone.

What sarcasm means about you

What does that mean when it comes to you and your mental health?

1. Yes, you are smart.

Sarcasm, even more than other types of humour, requires timing and nuance to be good at. And as the above study points out, it can lead to creativity and abstract thinking.

But within relationships, sarcasm means you are also willing to show off your intelligence at the price of things like patience, and understanding.

2. You could be a whole lot kinder.

It can be hard to accept that you can actually be a mean person if you see yourself as just a ‘laid back, funny’ sort.

But that’s the seduction of sarcasm. It is a smoke screen to hide behind, and to trick yourself into not facing up to all sorts of things. 

Let’s look at an example. Let’s imagine you’ve just said this to your partner:

Yes, of course we can drive to Florida this year, my idea of a vacation has always been days stuck in a car on a motorway to visit a place full of senior citizens.

what sarcasm means

photo by: Trung Thanh

What is implicated is that the other person is:

  • stupid to think this is what you want
  • unable to understand you, thoughtless
  • boring and uncool
  • beneath you.

Not exactly super nice, is it?

3. You need attention.

This is not a flaw, or a judgement. We all need attention to thrive. We are essentially pack animals, not made to be solitary and disconnected.

The problem is that by using sarcasm to get attention, you are getting negative attention, not positive attention. So it will never feel enough. 

4. You are actually being selfish.

If we are willing to put others down to get a hit of attention, we are actually being selfish.

It’s not that we set out to be so. If we had a childhood where we had to earn love and attention from adults around us,  instead of receiving it naturally? To get our very real needs met? We might still unconsciously believe we have to force others to notice us to survive. As adults we can now meet our own needs, we are no longer a child, but the belief can persist.

We aren’t born sarcastic. Research at the University of Calgary in Canada found that children don’t even understand what sarcasm is until they are five or six years old, and most don’t find it funny until aged 8 or 9. Sarcasm is something we learn. 

5. You don’t know how to ask for what you need.

The reason we use sarcasm to get our point across is that we are unable to ask for what we need outright. Using the same example about the road trip, that would mean saying, “Look, the truth is I don’t really like big trips that much. What I really need is for you to make the trip with friends instead, and we could maybe just do some weekends away.”

If you have an issue with communication? If as a child, you were punished for asking for what you wanted? Then this will seem crazy to you, hurtful even. How could ever tell someone that when it will upset them?

You won’t be able to see that this sort of clear communication isn’t what is hurtful. It’s rather hiding what you really think and being passive aggressive about it that upsets others. 

6. You are angry.

So speaking of passive aggressive.

Sarcasm is passive aggressive anger in disguise, the ‘thinking man’s anger’. You might not feel angry. You are just being funny, that’s all. But you are punishing the other person with your ‘jokes’. And there is a reason for that. You are not happy with something about them. In our example, you feel they haven’t made an effort to understand you.

7. You have low self worth.

Remember, humour is about grabbing attention. And when you use sarcasm to get it, you aren’t making people laugh because you are funny, but because if they don’t laugh they will feel bad. It’s negative attention.

And the reason we are willing to accept negative attention is generally because deep down, that is the sort of attention we think we deserve.

Who would you be without sarcasm?

It’s a good question to ask.

Sometimes we are so used to being the sarcastic one our identity is tied up with it. It makes us feel special. Without it, we run the risk of being boring. Or just like everyone else.

Low self-esteem leaves us feeling invisible as is. We can believe we have to be special to be loved and liked. If we are like everyone else, we’ll be overlooked.

But this isn’t true. Instead, the more we can accept that we are like others, that we have something in common with most people we meet (if not all)? The more we can drop our barriers and actually connect with others.

And the more we connect with others, and just relax and be ourselves, the more we can realise our uniqueness.

So oddly, the more we realise how we are the same, and let ourselves for a time run the risk of being boring? The more we create space to be our unique, interesting selves.

Time to stop being sarcastic and start being yourself? We connect you with top talk therapists in central London who can help. Or use our online booking platform to access UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors available as soon as tomorrow. 


Still have a question about what sarcasm means about you? Use the comment box below. Note we cannot provide free counselling over comments. 

Andrea BlundellAndrea Blundell is a mental health and personal development writer with training in coaching and person-centred therapy. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin

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