Laughing ’til It Hurts: The Hidden Pain of Domestic Abuse

April 4, 2013 Kellie Jo Holly

Big ol' belly laughs that catch you by surprise feel so good! They feel better now that feeling happy doesn't make me sad. That idea is confusing; laughing until you cry doesn't usually mean you cry sad tears, but it happened to me a lot during my abusive marriage. Usually, the laughing started during a phone call with my sister. Anything could get us going, and for a few beautiful minutes, nothing mattered except the funny bit between us. I laughed until my sides ached and the tears flowed like water.

But then, when the laughter dried up and I started wiping the tears from my eyes, the tears wouldn't stop. My face, sore from smiling, suddenly dropped into a frown. I covered my face because I felt embarrassed to feel so...damn...sad. Those last tears fell because when the laughter was done, I returned to my sad, closed-off life of mind-numbing pain. Sometimes I would stay on the phone with her when she asked what was wrong. Usually I cut the conversation short when I felt the change to pain begin.

Why couldn't I just be happy? Why did feeling so good make me feel so terrible? Why did enjoying those sweet moments outside of myself with my sister always end with me smack dab back inside myself and suffering? I blamed myself. "I am Depressed. I am broken." I felt ashamed.

As time wore on, I noticed that I never laughed like a crazy person anymore with my husband. I didn't laugh when I told him a funny story because my stories caused him to judge me negatively. I didn't laugh when he told funny stories because I didn't understand what was so funny about ragging on other people.

We did not share a sense of humor. I'm silly, he's sarcastic. I like it when people walk into plate glass doors because for one glorious instant, their face looked really really flat to someone on the other side of the door. Ha! (ha ha ha ha roflol...snicker snicker)

He likes it because it shows how stupid people are. I know one day he will walk into a glass door. I hope I'm there to see it. I'll laugh my rocks off while he turns red and blames the door for being closed.

I remember in the beginning of our relationship that when I'd roll on the bed laughing because something struck me funny. He silently watched me. When I noticed his glare and felt uncomfortable, he'd say, "Are you done?" Well, yes, I was done. How could he react that way to me, the one he loved, when I laughed?

Soon I found myself doing the same thing to him. He would get to rolling over jokes he'd heard, and I would icily stand there in judgment of him, trying to get him to stop laughing. It is true that I don't find racist/sexist/anything -ist jokes funny because they perpetuate stereotypes. I used to be more tolerant of them until he made it clear that "I" was the women he joked about. I realized that he thought the jokes were true through and through. He lived his life believing hateful lies about others and about me, and his hate for the ones not like him was "funny".

But that's not why I started glaring at him as he laughed. I wanted him to feel the same pain as I felt when he did it to me. Fighting fire with fire never worked with him though. He never felt the same pain because "I" could not stand in judgment of him. I was a mere woman. He was a man. He knew the truth, and his duty was to teach it to me. He knew what was funny and it was his duty to expose me to the hilarious truths of "how the world really is".

I'm convinced that he progressed to telling me that I wouldn't make it in the "real world" because I didn't laugh at his teachings of it.

Anyway, a couple years after leaving my husband, my sister and I visited together with family. Something struck us funny as we sat on the floor at our grandmother's feet. We started laughing. We didn't stop. There were ten other people in the room and she and I were the only ones pounding our fists on the carpet trying hard to not pee our pants. When we gathered ourselves, we kept snorting every time we looked at one another - almost sending us off into hysterics again.

Guess what? No one in that room looked at me like I was crazy. Not one person said, "Are you done?" with a disapproving tone. They let us do our thing and carried on around us. And after the laughter died, I did still want to cry just a little. But those tears were ones of gratefulness and joy, not the sad ones of returning to the pain of my usual life like in the old days when I was married to a super jerk.

Am I alone in this? Do any of you laugh until you cry and then cry and cry and cry for real? If so, why do you think it happens? What will it take to finally laugh and stay laughing?

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APA Reference
Jo, K. (2013, April 4). Laughing ’til It Hurts: The Hidden Pain of Domestic Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Danny Contreras
April, 5 2013 at 5:13 pm

Maybe you are not understanding human emotions. And that what is happening with you, happens with everyone. Crying crying, then laughing and then crying, or once again laughing ------- is a simple human emotion. Don't focus too much of your soul energy on this -- there are far other human traits within you, that will intrigue you beyond your own understanding. This, is just not one of them, this is normal, in accordance with society. -dc

Sandra L. Flaada
April, 8 2013 at 11:57 am

My sister and I have had that happen a lot. I think the laughing is like opening the dike, it lets out all of the emotions that were being held back. I'm glad you have been able to laugh simply because you're happy. Because you realized this, I think the tears almost came because of relief.

April, 12 2013 at 1:22 pm

I cry after laughing because I remembered that I USED to be a happy person & my abuser had taken all of my joy away by diminishing it & me. It had been so long since I had felt happiness & let my guard down instead if always walking on egg shells that I cried for the wasted time, the lost joy, the killing of my spirit. Actually the first time I laughed after leaving my abuser (actually getting left by my abuser), it startled me. It had been such a long time since I had felt happy I forgot what it felt like. I'm newly out of this relationship & wonder if I'll ever fully regain my joy. I feel so guarded.

April, 16 2013 at 12:58 am

I found your blog after searching for some answers for life after an abusive relationship. I find it a struggle some days to believe in myself, I want to move on successfully but am afraid to let go of the memory of his abuse in case it happens again. It is self-defeating. I am glad that I found your blog, it is comforting to read other women's thoughts and feelings; that they are so close to mine. I laugh at my children's antics, but have a difficult time allowing or even understanding how to be ok with being me. How did I let this happen?

April, 18 2013 at 12:31 pm

Once again, your blog brought me to tears. For some reason it's like I'm re-living my 20 years of marriage when I read what you write. I, too, catch myself laughing..really laughing, now. I hadn't been able to do that in years. Thank you for sharing, and keep laughing. :)

April, 22 2013 at 10:12 am

I had a similar experience minus the laughter. When I was in an abusive relationship, I never cried because I thought I wasn't allowed to be sad since I had such a wonderful partner and expressing my sadness or anger made me ungrateful for this FANTASTIC relationship I was in. On the rare occasion that something did happen that set me off, I would cry uncontrollably for hours but it was always about something trivial. I felt completely crazy for crying so much over tiny things. Now I am learning to feel my own emotions again and name them for what they are. I cry a few minutes usually about once or twice a day and then am able to calm down. I do love that feeling of uncontrollable laughter bouncing between sisters, too. :-D Thanks for this blog!

May, 6 2013 at 12:58 am

I stumbled upon this blog this morning .... It couldn't have come at a better time . For the last year and a half I have been going through the same cycle. Week after week, month after month. Insults , jabs about my family , whom he has never met. Drunken rages, that turned bad one night . Not being able to even say hi to another male friend, in his presence. The list is endless, sad to say. Reading this one about laughing , makes so much sense now. Too much in fact . I have not wanted to face the reality of the situation I am...always told myself I'd never be in an abusive relationship. And if I was I'd leave immediately . Easier said than done . I have fallen in love with this blog , there is facts and honest knowledge , it's not like other pages I've come across... This one has hit home and answered/ made sense of some of my unanswerable questions . I will continue to read through for a bit longer .... But Ty for helping open my eyes and realize , I'm not crazy . It is real. And it's time to do something, may not be today, but soon

September, 10 2013 at 7:43 am

Thank you for sharing . Reading that was a huge validation for me.. I am in so much pain. I am still here after 18 years..I've had Psych give up on me cuz I always let him back...He called the Domestic Violence Shelter and told them I told him the location of it and then they made me leave...I couldnt believe it !! I had to go back to him and we were homeless.... He is in his last semester of a Psych program at the Community College..I was hoping it would help..he is 50 yrs ols and went to school instead of a job because I had a breakdown and cant work after 22 years in a Hospital pharmacy...I am ADD inattentive and Bipolar depression has me pinned down. He is ADHD narcissistic and takes a low dose of Depakote but he says he is not Bipolar. He is the worst verbal abuser and racist misogynist etc...
I could go on , I just wanted to thank you for giving me the knowlege of why my fun tears trigger me to cry sadly . Thank you. Everything in your article is my life...I cant joke either.

April, 2 2017 at 7:31 am

Thank you! The light of understanding turned on inside of me when I read the article on laughing that turns to tears. I do that and thought I am just crazy. Now I see that it is a way for my spirit to release the great hurt that I carry! I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship for 28 yrs. I did every thing I could to fix our relationship because I was sure what ever the problem was my fault. My mother died of masticated bone cancer this last Oct. My abuser has gotten much worse since then. He has been totally non-supportive and with a gleam in his eyes, told me very loudly that my mom was nothing but a bitc....., and that her death did not excuse the way she treated him. He enjoys hurting me. It is time to leave, but I don't know if I can survive the separation financially. When I went down to help my sister take care of my mom so we could keep mom at home, there were times when I laughed hard and never cried. It felt so good! It was then that I realized I missed our dogs more than I missed my husband! One day I hope to be free of my husband's emotional abuse and laugh with freedom. Perhaps by then, I won't need laughter to release the wall of tears and this great hurt I carry..........

June, 7 2018 at 11:49 am

I've left a 30 yr abusive marriage. I lost my self, soul, mind, spirit. Its been 6 months and all I do now is laugh, I question my laughter, because it happens at other peoples mis fortune. If someone falls (no injuries). If some one tells me something bad that happened to them, I automatically start laughing.
I have reason to believe my emotions were suppressed for 30 yrs , that now I can be free and let my emotion go. That that is why its happening. Until recently I've been told by several people that its not nice to laugh at other peoples mis fortunes. I know it's inappropriate. But it's not something I think about a head of time. It just comes out. I apologise for my laughter , with no explanations. no one knows what I've been through for 30 yrs. And for me to explain they wouldnt believe me or even care. I would periodically laugh uncontrollably when I was with my husband during arguments and he would accuse me of laughing at him. Then I told him it was a nervous laugh. Of course he didn't get it. ( I knew laughing would make it worse for me, but I wasnt incontrol. I couldn't stop it from happening). I know laughter is the best medicine. But I feel I'm a crazy person when I'm laughing at things that aren't funny to others. And I'm not just saying its a chuckle. I down right have a belly laugh with tears rolling down my cheeks. It feels good but others don't have that same feeling...
I also cry but that's just for 1 min or so and then it passes
I expect the cryinging because I've been through so much pain, but its the laughter that strikes me as odd.

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