Advice Forum: When Insensitive Jokes Hit Close to Home

Photograph by Chiara Cappetta

As someone who has struggled with OCD, anxiety, depression/self harm it annoys to no end when people (even people who know that I have had OCD) complain about how “OCD” they are because they have to make sure their grammar is ok and their highlighters are in rainbow order. I remember one time my friends messed up another one of my friend’s books because she has “OCD” and likes her things to be neat and it would be funny. I wanted to tell them so much that if she really did have OCD it wouldn’t be funny at all–in fact, it would have been terrifying. It annoys me so much when people complain about things that they don’t understand and make jokes about OCD and cutting/killing themselves etc… I just really want a way of telling people without seeming like a bit of an overly serious killjoy that what they are saying is actually really offensive and if they knew what they were talking about they wouldn’t find it funny at all.

Hey there,

Ugh. I know the feeling. This sort of thing drives me crazy too!! I actually wrote an article regarding similar thoughts here awhile ago that you might relate to.

I would guess that the people who say these things aren’t coming from a place of harmful intentions, but instead simply ignorance. The good news is, this means they might be more receptive to hearing you when you voice your opinion in regards to how it’s hurtful to you. The next time one of your friends says something insensitive like this, you can gently call them out on it. It totally doesn’t have to mean being an “overly serious killjoy” to do it! You can say it lightly and kindly; try something like, “Emily, I don’t mean to be annoying, and I know you’re just kidding when you say it, but making jokes about self-harm is actually pretty hurtful and offensive to me. I’d really appreciate it if you’d try to not say that sort of thing around me,” or “Emily, you know I actually have a clinical case of OCD right? It’s not really something that should be spoken about so lightly like that.”

Read the situation you’re in. If you’re one-on-one, or just with a few close friends, this can be a good way to do it. If you’re in a huge crowd and don’t feel like “making a scene,” try to talk to your friend alone at some point soon afterwards–you can say, “I wanted to talk to you about something you said earlier that kind of bothered me. I know it might seem silly to you, but…” You can decide if you want to make it personal, vague, or otherwise–you can explain your experience with OCD in an attempt to really get the person to understand and empathize with why, no, actually, messing with that person’s highlighters would have been a serious and insensitive thing to do, or you don’t have to mention your personal experience at all. You can try to engage in a conversation or just make a simple comment and let it sit with people. It’s up to you. I found that the more I speak up when people made these sorts of hurtful comments around me relating to my own “issues”, the easier it gets. As a pretty non-confrontational person, the first times were scary, and I would rehearse my response in my head, and my heart would race, but now I’ve found that not saying something actually makes me feel a lot yuckier than just taking the risk of saying something.

The reaction you get will depend on the person you’re talking to, of course, and your relationship with them. Some people will roll their eyes or be annoyed, others will be embarrassed that they never realized something they said daily was so offensive to many people, others might try to argue why it’s really “no big deal” or get defensive, others will think you’re being dramatic and annoying, and others still may encourage you to call them out more often when they say things like that to help them break the habit. I’ve encountered all of the above. One of my friends recently made a joke about eating so much sugar that she might get diabetes, and that really peeved me off, because my sister is a type one diabetic, so it’s a sensitive topic for me, and I really don’t appreciate people saying things like that that spread ignorance (eating tons of sugar does not, in fact, cause diabetes). I said something like, “Yo, I know you don’t mean it in an offensive way, but as someone whose sister has diabetes, it really kind of bugs me when people make jokes like that.” She was super apologetic and a little embarrassed because I know she knew better, but people slip up sometimes! As far as these things go, her reaction was a pretty good one. On the other hand, I used to have a classmate who used the word “gay” as an insult (we all know that person, don’t we?) and it drove me absolutely bonkers; I was too shy in high school to say anything about it until one day I finally snapped and told him he was being an ignorant arsehole by using “gay” that way and he should realize it isn’t what the word means. He tried to argue that it was fine, he didn’t mean it like that, he had a gay friend so like, he totally didn’t have a problem with gay people, blah blah blah, and he continued to use the word incorrectly/offensively, even after we had multiple conversations about it. It was frustrating, but after trying to explain it a few times, I decided it was a waste of energy.

You get to decide how bold you want to be. The more you open yourself up to noticing it, unfortunately, the more you’ll notice people saying things that are unintentionally, ignorantly hurtful. You have to pick your battles–some people don’t seem to want to be reasoned with, but some people are open to the criticism and eager to make a change. Try to focus on the latter. No matter what, know that, while there will always be insensitive people who don’t understand, there will also always be people who do understand, who do care. Seek out the ones who get it, who listen, who live with empathy. And aim to be that person yourself.

With love,



Chiara Cappetta

Chiara, 18, is an Italian girl and photography is her passion. Seeing the world through her lens is what makes her live, and not just survive. In every photo you can find a piece of Chiara. Take a look at her Facebook page.

Sophie Pellegrini

Sophie Pellegrini is the Co-Founder and Artistic & Creative Director of Ramona Magazine for Girls. She is a 25-year-old photographer and wilderness therapy field guide in Colorado. She loves crafting, playing acoustic guitar, 90s music, the smell of summer, making lists, a good nap, cuddly animals, and the cold side of the pillow. Follow Sophie on her website and on Instagram.

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