Learn to laugh at yourself, if you can
This past week, Donald Trump did what he does best: Deliver untruths. In this particular case, standing before a room full of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, he claimed to have had the most successful first two years of any administration in U.S. history — a line he’s delivered on multiple occasions during his rallies to uproarious cheers.
This time however, things went differently: Leaders from around the world laughed at him. And in a moment of, dare I dream, nascent humanity, the president appeared surprisingly humiliated.
While sympathy for this case is in extremely short supply, we do all know that, for ourselves, public humiliation is at best uncomfortable, and at worst, an anxiety-induced terror. Of course, most of us won’t ever have the pleasure of speaking before a room full of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, which means most of us are relegated to public humiliation vis-à-vis our friends, family members and co-workers. So let’s figure out how to deal with that.
Can a person literally have a phobia of being laughed at?
Yes! Researchers René Proyer and Willibald Ruch, of the University of Zurich, first identified the aspects of “gelotophobia” (literally, fear of laughter) in a 2009 publication. The research showed just how harmful gelotophobia can be to its victim’s mental health, as per this Psychology Today article written by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Proyer and Ruch decided that even if fear of being laughed at was not going to merit its own diagnosis it could still qualify as a condition that could be damaging to a person’s happiness,” writes Whitbourne. Furthermore, 80 percent of the study’s respondents felt they had to avoid drawing attention to themselves in public for fear of being ridiculed.
I don’t think I have gelotophobia as such, but I definitely don’t like being publically humiliated. So what should I do if I say or do something that motivates the people around me to laugh in my face?
Depends on who you ask. According to a WikiHow article on how to handle being laughed at behind your back, the advice is to do exactly what Trump did: See if they’re actually laughing, listen to why they’re laughing and finally tell yourself that you’re wonderful.
“Don’t be modest. Every time you hear about someone laughing at you, pause and think to yourself, ‘They’re wrong and I’m a wonderful person.’ Do this until you’re convinced.”
Another suggestion — by way of a redditor’s response to a question on how to deal with being laughed at — is to simply laugh along with them.
“Be able to joke about yourself before they do. I’m not saying you should try to be their friend, because they sound like a bunch of assholes, just let them know you won’t be their target,” writes one redditor.
Again, this advice seems in line with Trump’s reaction since he, too, laughed off being laughed at. Not to mention the fact that later, in an interview with Fox News, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tried to explain that world leaders were laughing because of Trump’s honesty. Because apparently that’s what people do now when you’re honest, they laugh at you.
*sighs for eight straight minutes*
But what should I do if people laugh at me in a more public setting, or if I’m giving a wedding toast that doesn’t go according to plan?
Janine Burke, a public speaking coach in L.A., tells me that the people she works with want to be better public speakers. For that reason, she says that she can’t speak to Trump’s public speaking debacle. “The trouble with public speaking is that it can throw people in a freeze where they’re not willing to ever do it again,” says Burke. “You have to know your script well enough, so that if a beam falls from the ceiling you can be agile enough to comment on the beam falling from the ceiling.”
Additionally, Burke suggests that if you make a mistake, you choose whether or not to feel humiliated. “When I make a mistake, I just laugh along with the audience,” explains Burke. To that end, she compares Trump’s public speaking persona as similar to a drunk wedding speaker. “They don’t care if they bump the microphone or say whatever they want,” says Burke. “Either way they think it’s a great speech. That’s like Donald Trump. He doesn’t care. In his mind, he’s the greatest presidential speaker anyone has ever heard.”
So what does all of that mean for me, a regular guy who gets laughed out of the room sometimes?
Two things: Either drink to the point of not giving a shit about the people laughing at you. Or — and I can’t believe I’m going to say this — be more like Trump and just roll with it.