No Offense, But I Was Just Kidding: Dealing with Mean Jokes

By | March 31st, 2016 | 81 comments

“When girls say ‘just kidding,’ what percentage of the time are they really joking?” It’s one of my favorite questions to ask girls, and I rarely hear numbers in double digits.

That’s because “just kidding,” and its cousin, “no offense,” are phrases girls (and guys, though less frequently) use to hurt each other without having to own up.

The phrases seem fairly innocuous, cute little jabs that aren’t supposed to leave a mark. They allow you to say something mean and still appear to be a likable Good Girl. Adults often ask me why it’s not enough to respond, “That’s not funny!” Partly because there is a social script kids use in situations like this. If you fight back against a mean joke, you’re likely to hear retorts like, “What’s your problem? Can’t you take a joke? I was just kidding! You’re taking it the wrong way,” and so on. The hurt girl is silenced. She has learned that if she doesn’t go along with the joke, she’ll lose membership in her group.

To be sure, not every instance of “just kidding” should raise our hackles. Teasing is often healthy and fun, not to mention an important part of interpersonal and individual development. But when it’s abused, “just kidding” contains a disturbing logic: If I didn’t mean it, it didn’t happen.

To understand this more clearly, consider that every act of aggression can be divided into two parts: intent and impact. Intent first refers to what you meant when the aggression occurred; impact, to what actually happened. The meaning behind “just kidding” is: if I didn’t intend to hurt you, the impact didn’t occur. If I was just kidding, or I didn’t mean it, I can’t get in trouble. You can’t be mad at me. You can’t not be my friend. And so on.

This logic is dangerous for two reasons. First, true respect in relationship means respecting others’ feelings. In other words, we can’t tell someone else how she should feel. Only you get to say if you’re hurt or not. Second, the logic allows kids to deny responsibility for rude behavior. “Just kidding” also compromises girls’ integrity because it allows girls to project a “nice” image, even as they make disrespectful remarks.

If you’re a girl with a friend who makes mean jokes, try this:

Ask her to respect your feelings. Tell the joker that just because she didn’t mean it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Sure, you understand she didn’t mean it, but you  need her to respect the fact that it hurt you. If she says, “you took it the wrong way,” remind her that everyone takes jokes differently and people are sensitive about different things. Teach her the NJZ (see below).

Ask her what’s really bothering her. Girls who use jokes to be nasty are often hiding other feelings they are struggling to express. Ask her if she’s okay and if there is anything you need to talk about to clear the air.

If you’re a parent or teacher and have a “just kidding” epidemic at home or in your classroom, try this:

Define the behavior as a form of aggression. It’s not just a joke. Affirm that you find the behavior inappropriate and compare it to a type of aggression she already understands: overt insults, hitting, etc.

Create consequences. Explain that if you continue to hear “just kidding” used as a way to be mean, there will be a consequence—loss of a privilege for a period of time, for example.

Look in the Mirror. Do you use humor as a way to take swipes? The girls in your life are watching and listening. She will follow the right example if you set it.

Create a No-Joke Zone (NJZ) in your home or classroom. Establish the NJZ as a code that anyone, adults or kids, can use to draw the line. The NJZ creates a new script, and the protocol goes like this: When someone makes a joke that crosses the line and an NJZ is called, the other person must apologize – sincerely, not “sorrreeeee!” – and the subject must be changed.

As my Mom always said, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Using definition,  positive alternatives and consequences for girls will help foster critical truth-telling skills and make them more trustworthy, honest young people to boot.

81 Responses to “No Offense, But I Was Just Kidding: Dealing with Mean Jokes”

  • Rachel says:

    The guy i talking to constantly does stuff like this and then when I disagree with it or say it hurt my feelings he goes to the usual reply of “it’s just a joke I’m over reacting” he even told me he went to other females and asked how they’d feel about his “jokes” and they told him they’d laugh it off or joke back and that I’m just being a spoiled kid and he doesn’t need to be with me. I have a lot of self esteem and anxiety etc issues. So anytime someone does something of this nature yea, it hits me the wrong way. What should I do? Am I over paranoid and over thinking the situation? Or is he just a complete asshole?!

    Help me please!!!

    • Jill says:

      Hi Rachel,
      No! You are not overreacting nor are you over sensitive .
      Listen to your gut and walk away you deserve to have nice friends.
      Love Jill

  • Ruth says:

    A guy I have history with kind of rubbished me on our uni group chat yesterday where he said I’m meant to be writing JSCE; which is like an exam in for Junior School in going to senior school, I felt so bad, cos he knows my age; I’m 15, he’s 18, I retorted though and we started throwing jabs at each other but I still feel bad about it. What led to this was a series of jabs we threw at each other. I like this guy but I DESERVE MY RESPECT, so, please, what can I do?

  • Sad Girl says:

    So I have this really mean two faced friend. She is fine when we are alone, but calls me bad things and treats me terribly in front of our group of friends. I love everyone is our ‘group’, and they love me. Kinda :(. I’m a true real loner in that group. Anyway, I wanna confront my two faced friend, but the problem is, EVERYONE will take her side and i’ll be a loner. Pls help. I’m nearly crying plssssss. I wanna move schools but I don’t want to trouble my parents ;(

  • Brianna says:

    I was with my friend and she hit me because I didn’t throw away a crumpled piece of paper. I tried to hit back, but missed and hit her phone, cracking the screen (minor, little crack on the side, line going to other side. I can’t afford the cost of repairs. I don’t want my parents to pay for it. (I’m in school). What should I do?

    • Nana says:

      Own up, take responsibility for your actions, and make restitution (even if it means owing your parents). It’s part of growing up.

    • Stacy says:

      Brianna do not do anything. You friend need to face the consequence of hitting you, that consequence was her broken phone. Had she not initiated a fight with you, none of this would of happened. This incident will teach her a lesson.

    • anonymous says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Nana. As for what Stacy told her and you, I don’t think that she knows what she’s thinking.

  • Amaya says:

    My friend and I got in this fight where I kicked her and she fell to the ground and. I felt so bad so I started to apologize non stop and let her kick me twice , which btw hurt like hell. After she didn’t say anything and then later msg me. I was kinda anger since the argument was very pointless and then she told me that she didn’t want to be my friend and said goodbye bitch. Later she came to my house with a friend saying she wanted to apologize. What should I do??? and am I wrong??

  • Samantha says:

    i have a friend who’s in a sorta bad mood, she told me that I’m a bitch, slut, asshole and many more bad names, then I was playing along saying thank you for calling me that, after a few moments I came to my other friend for comfort, the friend who called me names came to me and said sorry in a rudeish way saying that it was a joke.

    I didn’t say anything and my other friend with me just said to my friend get out.

    I just want a sincere apology and this friend is sorta deppresive in her way to apologize she messaged me that she didn’t know what she was thinking, so I replied that Jokes are half meant.

    My other friend, said she was sick and bcuz of emtions had to get it out. But would she have to say hurtful words to get it out?

    What should I do? I want to tell my mom but I’m afraid. Should I tell my parents?

    • Chaila says:

      Well … hi first of all 🙂
      I think she thought you wouldn’t have taken it badly so she just said it. But I understand that it will only make me sad. If she apologized in message, it’s because she thinks that’s enough. She did an effort. And there is something else : her pride. It will take a long time if you wanna change this. It’s almost impossible. Saying “sorry” is not the same for everyone. For one it will be hard and for other easier. But try to understand her. Would you apologize (sincerely) to someone if you think she hadn’t taken it badly ? Go tell her what you think directly. Or nothing is gonna change.
      Yes she would have to do it, saying hurtful words and even yelling at you … but at least that will make her to get it out. I know it’s difficult. But tell yourself, that you are helping her.
      If it’s a good friend, I think you shouldn’t tell your mom. In the rest of your life, you will have to change everything by yourself, so practice from now on ! But if your mom can understand and doesn’t judge, why not ?

    • Stacy says:

      Hi, your friend sounds like she is battling some inner demons of her own. Hurt people hurt people. If I were you, would tell her how hurt you felt by those comments and avoid her toxic energy. It is depressing when friends turn on you, keep in mind “seasons, reasons, lifetime”

  • Skelebones says:

    My friend sometimes makes insensitive comments when we joke about. I mean, we are quite rough on each other already (Calling each other bitches as a form of comedy between us.) But they’re are somethings she knows actually make me angry when she says, and not the oh hahaha angry, like, IMMA ABOUT TO SMACK YOUR FUCKING FACE TO 3017 IF YOU DON’T FUCKING LEAVE! Type angry (I get angry easily.) Like, calling me fat. That’s a no. Calling mW a fat slut whilst joking about. Yeah no, I ‘playful’ hit her (I said playfuly but I was too mad and hurt her by mistake) and I refused to properly talk to her for a good two periods after that (I was in school, each period is fifty minutes) I honestly think she didn’t mean to, but just knowing that somewhere, in my ONLY friends mind, she thought that about me, even if it only was in that one instance, made me, disappointed. Sorry if that was too long.

  • James says:

    i made a joke post about jesus. i didnt mean it in any way and thought others would get my humor :
    “me : there better be ramen”
    [ searches for ramen ]
    me : this is why im atheist. i hate my life. fuck you god”

    and i hurt someone who supported me? they were upset by my post and i apologized,,,but then they started being rude and trying to make me feel guilty with : “oh i sidnt understand it was a joke 🙂 everyone jokes about it :).”
    and when i said ill delete the post she goes “nononono dont worry about it its fine i understand you werent trying to upset me or anyone just leave your post up;you dont have to apologize”
    i didnt mean for my post to come off in that way? and i sincerely apologized but i understand why she was clearly upset with me. it actually makes me very sad??? im not sure what to do though i deleted the post.

    • DJ says:

      Hi James, I’m a Christian and naturally your post here caught my attention most because I know the Lord Jesus. And if anyone feels the hurt, pain and confusion of others’ insults, even worse, it’s us Christians. Even more so, the Lord Jesus Christ knows that feeling.

      Obviously, insulting others or saying hateful things against others is unhelpful (especially when it’s against God); otherwise, none of us would be on this site right now for this very topic. But fact is, I see you say you also insulted yourself (not only God but the life or person He created that is you. Insults: we all suffer it. But I want you to know that God loves you and is ready to forgive you if you ask Him. The whole point of the Gospel is that God knows our sinful condition and made the way for us to be with Him. He wants us and loves us terribly even to the point of sending his only begotten Son (Jesus Christ) to pay for our sins on the cross, so that whosoever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). There’s more to life than this temporary we know. And we know it. And Jesus is the answer for those of us who want our sins covered so that we can be in heaven with him. Otherwise it’s just not heaven.

      Instead of being just as guilty of saying a hurtful thing toward you because of what you say you said about him, and although you may have said things against God, HE loves you. And even though you may have ignorantly also joked by saying that you hate your own life, or cursed it (I don’t remember which now you said), but the point is that He loves you and wants to give you a life you’ll treasure in His Son Jesus Christ the Lord. It takes God to know love because God is love (1 John 4:8).

      On a side note, there’s a book of James’ in the Holy Bible. He mentions in chapter 2 where he talks of the importance of bridling our tongues (for us to not offend others with our words and the intense damage we can cause otherwise). Just thought it was interesting that i was just reading it before coming online.

      Anyway, hope this helps.

      • anonymous says:

        If I’m God, I wouldn’t give him a second chance because there are far too many troublemakers these days and I’m tired of it.

      • maya says:

        i’m christian and i find that joke really REALLY funny?? my family and i are starting to move a bit away from christianity, so that might be it. please don’t kill me because i’m starting to move away from the word of god.

    • DJ says:

      Correction: James chapter 3, (not 2).

    • Stacy says:

      Religion is something to respected and to make a “joke” on that is just deplorable.

    • anonymous says:

      You know what, James? If I’m God and I found out that you made that blasphemous joke about me, I’d execute with a second thought.

  • Aaron says:

    The Girl that I’m talking to, which is a previous ex- girlfriend of mine, will remain serious even through hurtful jokes, to potentially make me aggitated or stressed. after she sees that her words are working against my favor, she try’s to ice the conversation by saying “im just kidding” and “why do you take everything up the ass”
    This is a constant daily thing, and it is quite obvious that some part of her is not joking around when she says hurtful things. Is this a form of flirting or a form of disrespect..?

    • Stacy says:

      Definitely not flirting. Something may be bothering her and oppose to telling you directly, she take jabs. Put a stop to it.

  • Tom Savage says:

    The no joke zone has worked with me for a long time. It creates a clear boundary for people and I’ve had a lot of success with it. Great update.

  • Jas says:

    My girlfriend always says bad things. Like that she’s breaking up with me, that I’m not allowed to do this or that, that’s she’s angry with me. Then after I get upset she just says she joking, why does she do this. She always says she’s sorry, and she didn’t mean to upset me. But why does she still do it?

    • Sue says:

      This sounds like an emotional roller coaster. People use this technique to gain “Power” over their partner. Be careful it doesn’t lead to emotional abuse (search google to find out what this is) as this can lead to ill mental health. Never be afraid to walk away! I did and it was the best thing I ever did! Someone who truely loves you wouldnt mess with you time after time if they see its hurting you!

    • DJ says:

      Hi Jas, hope you’re good today (a possible 50/50 chance, from your post). Sue is correct about possibilities including results from our prolonged choices of others’ behaviors toward us.

      Who really knows why she does it. But fact is, you’re here to ask others but not her. That’s not a remark against you per se but realize some key points for your own futures sake: Have you sincerely and genuinely asked her eye-to-eye for yourself why she’s using threats to abandon you, what she’s really afraid that will happen if she trusted you with your own personal decisions, (and so forth in questioning). Has she always been honest with you? Do you know if her answers will be open, honest & straightforward with you? Is she a really cool gf who wants it to work out with you but changes her mind last minute when she sees you upset. Would you rather be without her? These are legitimate plausible questions for others to ask because we don’t know you, or her, or what truly goes on.

      But let’s say you’re a really cool nice guy with an immature gf who hasn’t learned to be honest or maturely communicate herself yet in life. Dunno. Either way, it’s bothering you. And maybe ask yourself that if you’re not fine with this (her flippant threats), are you willing to make that final decision yourself except not as an equally immature threat but to actually follow through with that decision for the both of you? (You’re not a married couple). But if you DO love her and want to work it out, perhaps a brief seperation even helps one make up his or her mind while taking a breather without the constant aggitating feelings that might reconfuse you too much to see straight.

      I will leave my thoughts here with this extra perspective: behaviors of others that we put up with for too long in our earlier years in any circumstance greatly effects how we eventually feel about ourselves later in our gears; thus, if it was bad behavior we accepted, then it’s bad behavior we accept later from others later too. Why? Because bad behavior is depressing after too long, and we start making depressing decisions. But those of us who make good decisions for ourselves quickly grow proper self-esteem, eventually effecting all our decisions later, even a ’cause-Im-worth-it attitude that simply later becomes natural to us, when these things no longer perplex us as they once did (usually).

      Hope this helps. Peace.

  • Cari says:

    My boyfriend and I have this issue too. I’ll say something, most of the times it doesn’t bother him unless he’s not feeling well then he compares me to his ex doing so. If its him joking, he says I’m taking it out on him because xyz happened earlier that day and he’s only joking. So I spin it back around and tell him, well you didn’t like it when this happened a few weeks ago, I apologized for that occasion though he drug it out for an hour. When he apologized to me I got what I had to say out in which he says I never tell him how I feel, so I did. ANd he shut up. ANd I moved on from the subject. Easy as that.

  • Swetha says:

    I have sister in law who I feel has something against. She keeps saying things which hurts me. I am really not sure if she is being sarcastic or if am taking it too seriously.
    It just happened that y husbands younger brothers wife is pregnant, and I have been trying since last 5years with 2 failed ivf.
    After hearing the good news my sister in law calls me up and comments that at least my in laws would be happy now since my mother in law was complaining to her whenever she happens to attend a birthday party and now that their wish is being fulfilled they won’t mind now.
    Is it a casual comment or am I taking it too personally?please help

    • samantha says:

      you should probably start speaking to her. this thing happened to me once by the new girl in class. she called me a bitch because i once wore a crop top she was saying all the time yout personality is bitchy and all these sort of things. i didn’t say a word to her because i thought that it would have been hard for her to be part of us. dhe continues saying these things all the time and whenever i say something to her she gets offended. her mother is my teacher so i think that making her my enemy would be bad for my grades. i have been “friend” with her but she’s actually a pretty evil person. i don’t know why she does these things. i think that the best thing for you to do is to tell your friend that she really hurt your feelings before it is to late

  • valeria says:

    i have my best best BEST friends who pulled a prank on me saying ” F*** YOU” i replied “what is your problem” and they kept on saying LOL that was a joke hahahaha. they said jk and sorry. but im still mad at them.
    what should i do?

    • Skelebones says:

      Me and my friend do that a lot, so she might be doing it as a silly joke like me and my friend do, or she is used to it from a past friendship. But if it makes you feel uncomfortable, just tell her to please stop, and that you don’t like it. If she still dose it, even after you expression how much you may dislike it, sit her down and tell her why she has to stop. If sshe still continues and/or dose more things to upset you, despite the fact you told her not to (Like if she makes rude comments or forces you to do stuff you don’t want to do) it may be time to start thinking of ending the friendship. But only if she is getting meaner after you tell her to stop.
      Hope I helped!

  • Tom Miller says:

    My wife’s friends husband, constantly makes me the brunt of his jokes in front of people that I do not know. Introducing me to a future in-law, he will say, “this is my friend Tom, he just got out of the psychiatric hospital, but don’t worry, he’s on meds and isn’t violent.” The person looks at me like I have 8 eyes. Finally, after a number of years of taking his jokes (as he calls them), I literally called him outside and clearly, calmly told him what I though of his constant demeaning statements. I explained that a joke is funny for all participants, but when the joke hurts someone’s feelings, it isn’t a joke.
    I truly believe by putting people down he got some sort of high, that made him feel better about himself.
    He told me he wasn’t going to apologize for his sense of humor and that in his whole life no one has called him out, I told him that was long overdue.
    So, my wife and his wife are still friends, but, he’s not part of my life any longer. Don’t miss him.

  • Felix says:

    So basicly I am one of those(guy) how relise I make some mean jokes. The thing the text miss is how do i stop doing it?

    -A guys who needs help :/

    • DJ says:

      Hi Felix. I see it’s been awhile since you posted your question. It’s cool that you realize it. It means you have strength and sensibility; therefore, you have more hope than you might think and the chance of success than those who never ask this of themselves, or worse: those who never hope to be well in life at all.

      Insults are a sign of something going on within ourselves, never our targets, and all of us are both the insulting party and the target, no matter who, when, where, why, or how.

      Since you ask, the answer is within you. It’s a start that you even care that you do it (if you still do). But to know why,you’d have to ask yourself a question such as this one: “What do I receive when I do this to others?” And is what I’m getting for it more important than people? (Note: if we love things more than people then we have just held those things higher than our own heads!, whether those things are tangible or intangible. It has now become more important than our own lives. That’s a common bad mistake, but can be fixed but only by the individual who decides on that adjustment.) And remember to expect that not everyone will follow suit just because you decided to do what’s right. In fact, you might notice others’ negativity even more than before while learning the new challenge of how to be an encouraging person. But take heart! Remember that you had more strength than most by even asking how you can change yourself while everyone else here has asked how to change the other person (without having to change a single thing about themselves). Big difference.

      If my story helps: a friend of my own suddenly became insulting toward me, too. So I searched for answers too like anyone else. I had to do research about this quick because his unusual angry, cutting remarks weren’t making sense at all. After all, I’m a good, thoughtful person. So I thought. Yes, I’m known for having some good and outstanding qualities. And he’s a good bro. So what gives with his sudden criticisms, right? In return, I grew defensive and shut down like I want to avoid him. Even got mad about it myself and wondered if I should go confront him even if it meant losing our friendship, which I didn’t want to see happen of course. I mean, I’ve got my pride & dignity to think of! lol I laugh at myself now about that, but turns out he was really trying to communicate something else. I wasn’t being there for him. I was too wrapped up about myself and acting like no one else was mattering to me at all.

      Does it change that he insulted me? No. But so what. We forgive and learn from it. And it’s not like I communicated very well either. We make the mistake that everyone’s supposed to know what’s going on with us.

      Another example is my offensive bad habit was that I often interrupted others, no matter with what good words I used. Let’s face it, nobodys gonna believe that I love them if I constantly insult them by interrupting them to say I love them, are they? Which proves that I really do love others? The words or the actions that prove it?

      As for my brother, I’ll be glad to listen to him for a change if that’s what it takes because he’s important to me. And i want him to know it.
      In short, it helps when we simply care about others as we care about ourselves. We must love one another, and this only comes from God and begins with God. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us: Do unto others as we’d have done to us. The Holy Bible explains everything perfectly; God communicates perfectly, and with perfect love for us, of that which we are unable. However, I repeat: to have love, we must first have God, for God is love (1 John 4:8). And our only way to God the Father is by His Son the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

      For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)


  • Terrie says:

    My kids crack jokes about me it hurts 🙁

  • tina says:

    i have a friend’s group there is guy in with whom my equations does not match at all because he tries to pull my leg all the time but sometime i find that things rude becaue jokes are sometimes very hurtful! i dont say anything back because i feel her girlfriend who is one of my friend in that group would feel bad!! but i feel bad and have nobody to share with !! what should i do

    please help

    • Anna says:

      I think you should just tell that guy that it hurts your feelings and you don’t like it when he does that, so tell him if he could please not do that anymore. Don’t worry, your friend that his friend wouldn’t feel bad, i’m sure she might be surprised you stood up for yourself, but if she’s not making the jokes then she wouldn’t have to feel bad. But I think you should really try talking to your guy friend and maybe see if he will understand not feel bad.

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