My verbal processing problems and not getting jokes. .


Today a co-worker told me why people tend to not respect me and why they talk down to me.  I already knew the reasons why, but hearing it from another person, even when it’s not said in a mean or patronizing way, still stung a lot.  She said when people talk to me, I seem to not understand what they are saying,  and I don’t process verbal directions as well as most people.  Unfortunately, what she said is absolutely true.  Even though I know I’m well above average intelligence, I’ve always been sensitive about this and afraid people will think I’m stupid because of this problem I have processing verbal communication.

This is typical of someone with Aspergers or autism, and I also suffer from the social awkwardness of an Aspie.  Both result from failing to process verbal communication in a normal (some would say “neurotypical”) way.   Although I was never diagnosed with Aspergers, for many years I was sure I had it, because I certainly act and think in Aspie-like ways.   I’ve had this problem since childhood.   There’s never been any proof I don’t have Aspergers though, so who knows–I could be on the autism spectrum.  But I actually think my problem is due to complex PTSD mixed with Avoidant Personality Disorder.    I’m usually slightly dissociated or “off in space” somewhere when people are telling me things.  I also am highly uncomfortable in groups of other people (or people I don’t know well) and the ensuing self-consciousness makes me clam up and do and say awkward things.  I can’t really focus on what others are saying because I’m so obsessed with not looking stupid or weird.    I get so nervous that I might not understand what the other person is telling me, that my brain stops working and makes the problem even worse.    The fact I also have very poor hearing (I only have 20% hearing in my left ear) exacerbates this problem.

I have a similar problem when people are telling me jokes.    I’m so afraid I “won’t get it” that instead of listening to the joke, I’m worrying that I might not get it and the person telling the joke will think I’m stupid.  So what happens?   Ding ding ding!  I don’t get the joke!    That’s why I prefer jokes that don’t require any “getting.”  Goofy or silly humor, or “random” humor is much more my speed.

My malignant narcissist ex used to exploit my discomfort with joke-telling for his own sadistic entertainment.  He did this by deliberately telling long, involved jokes when others were present, and then pointedly look at me, asking, “Did you GET it?”   If I didn’t (which was often the case when I was put in this nerve-wracking situation), I could do one of two things:  (a) I could lie and say I did get it, but this didn’t work because he’d then ask me to explain the joke; or (b) admit I didn’t get it.   Either way, he was turning my insecurities against me in order to make me appear stupid in front of others.  He’d rub salt in the wound by telling me I had no sense of humor because I was unable to get his jokes, even though this actually isn’t true at all and I think I have a very well developed sense of humor (just not a traditional one) and many people find me funny. What that sociopath did was an especially subversive and vicious form of gaslighting that exploited my differently-wired brain and my self-consciousness.   I still find situations where people are telling jokes very triggering.

27 thoughts on “My verbal processing problems and not getting jokes. .

    • I’m pretty much a recluse too. Being with other people is just too stressful and triggering sometimes. I always feel like I have to be “on” and that’s very stressful to me. At the same time, I long for connection with others, but DEEP connections, not having a busy social life. I could care less about that.

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      • in music im always in front of a large crowd-no prob-thats work-but if im part of the large crowd stressful!!! social awkwardness..

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  1. The reclusive response is what I do when I feel vulnerable in the world. I’ve definitely become that way as I age. Not feeling well increases a sense of vulnerability too. That “not getting it” has resulted in being the brunt of jokes, being mocked and laughed at because it was entertaining to others to watch me fall for a practical joke. I wonder now if the intensity of living on the edge with a narc family, of being hyperventilate for when the shoe falls, hinders the lighthearted relaxed state one needs to “get” the joke. I was a very serious kid because survival was at stake!

    Perhaps in the triage of life, when survival is pressed on a child they don’t have time for jokes. I’ve been diagnosed with a Asperger definitively but it doesn’t mean the world treated me with more compassion and understanding. If anything it was just one more alienating factor. I’m reading lately of the “open dialogue” concept coming from Europe to heal extreme mental states by being present, being in dialogue and accepting people. Peers are an integral part to this but so is family. I wondered about that when “family” is very invested in using a mental health diagnoses as a way of shaming a black sheep and empowering them in their narcissism

    Someone writes here about Munchhausen by proxy in which a parent gaslights, abuses, and uses the mental health establishment to torture their child, get them labeled all to get attention for themselves. I realize this is a side track but speaking of humor and not getting it made me remember that those foibles were used by a narc family to just add shame and really, they wouldn’t have it any other way. They enjoyed shaming me, whatever they could use to do so. How could people like that have any investment in the healing of their victim. Those organizations like NAMI and others that are not aware that evil can come disguised as a “supportive” family are often manipulated by a narcissistic family.

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  2. I feel like Im taking a test with these long involved jokes.And sometimes the punchlines are so silly I must think I have it wrong . So I just stand there & look stunned. as for verbal directions I can kind of relate. I could not focus in school very well & was spaced out much of the time.

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  3. Even without your added challenges, people tend to forget that when it comes to humor/jokes – it is VERY subjective.

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  4. No one who’s intelligent likes being made to feel stupid and no decent person would make someone feel that way. I’m sorry he made you feel like that 😦

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  5. I’ve spaced out like what you were saying about taking orders at work. I’ve asked bosses to repeat themselves before because of it. I space out when Mr. B talks to me too sometimes because my mind is thinking about something else.

    I’ve definitely had ppl lose patients with me because of it too.

    Sorry you had to listen to the person at work tell you that about yourself. Whether true or not, I think that was mean.

    I had a boss point out once in a really mean way about the way I talk. When I worked for her I was getting really depressed because she had been running me into the ground with work during the holidays because she let everyone else take a bunch of time off. When I get depressed, I mumble and my voice is deeper than it usually is. And she brought it up while I was asking her for some vacation time AFTER the busy season was over…which I had coming to me. But for some strange reason she wanted to give me a hard time about it.

    Anyway, stress makes it difficult to focus and concentrate so whether you’d get the joke or the directions or not naturally, stress does effect the brain in some really intense ways. And as you know with C-PTSD there’s a bunch of stress all saved up in every cell in your body. ;(

    Oh and next time someone asks you to explain a joke you want to pretend you get, just say, “No, explaining it will ruin it.”

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  6. I also have processing issues and it can take me a while to process things. Also when I am so over focused, it’s hard for me to listen and process. I cannot switch gears and transition so it’s hard to listen and focus on what the person is saying. I was diagnosed as having ADD as a kid and they tried to say I had attention issues but a doctor said I was having processing issues. Lot of the information wasn’t getting to my brain because it was working too fast. Also part of my problem had to do with sensory processing issues so it was affecting how I was taking in information. But I still have a hard time with listening for long periods of the time because it gets me tired and I zone out. I get overwhelmed from words and processing them. I often miss my husband’s jokes too and miss play on words.

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    • I get overwhelmed with too much input coming in too, and then I just zone out. There are so many different reasons why a person could have problems processing various stimuli–some emotional, some more having to do with the wiring in the brain.


  7. I find what your coworker said a little unhelpful: If what she said is true, then surely it is best for her just to be as helpful as possible in communication with you, to include you in the conversation and to ask you how others can best address things to you to aid communication. Also, I feel that a sense of humour is a very individual thing, and independent of intelligence level, and I consider the skill of the person telling the joke to choose jokes that are suited to the audience. What your ex did was purely, and horribly, a way of bolstering his own fragile self-esteem by putting you down. My reason for wanting to comment is that when I read this, it struck me as though you were absorbing a huge amount of blame, and conveying a very negative sense of yourself, and I think it’s completely unfair. You don’t deserve to be treated like this. You’re not stupid, or deficient in any way, and even if you were, you wouldn’t deserve any of this.

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    • Thank you, Andrea. It’s true I still absorb blame (because I was programmed to do so by my narc family) and that’s why I’m frequently targeted. Narcs can smell prey like me. My goal in therapy is to undo all that toxic programming that made me feel like I’m good for nothing but a sort of sponge for blame and shame.

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  8. I just found your blog and loved how well you can explain my life. I grew up with both visual and auditory learning disabilities and probably a little autism too. I was called Zero by my cousin because I never got their jokes. Zero was a dumb cartoon character back then. I was the scapegoat of my family and married 17 years to a terrible narcissistic man, who I divorced 2 years ago. I am not good at writing, but enjoy feeling a sense of belonging to the blogs I follow. I felt like you were describing my life. I also feel very uncomfortable around people and do not relax around them at all. I have fibromyalisa so can’t go much anyway. Thanks for your blog it helps.

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    • I’m glad you are finding my articles helpful! I’m sorry you were called Zero by your cousin, that must have been painful, and I’m sorry about your marriage to a narc too. You don’t have to be a great writer to have a blog, but I’m glad you like reading mine. Thanks!

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