Why Do I Laugh at Death? Insight on Emotional Reactions

Published August 21, 2020
Man laughing at funeral

Laughing at death can be because of several factors. Understanding the particular reason why you may laugh at death can provide you with helpful emotional insight.

Why Do I Laugh at Death?

Death can be an incredibly uncomfortable subject for many people. You may find you're comfortable with some death related material, or maybe you're not comfortable with any. Your perception, understanding, and relationship with anything having to do with death may be strongly influenced by your upbringing, personal and/or religious beliefs, and socio-cultural environmental factors. You may laugh at death because:

  • You are nervous, haven't been in the situation before, and don't know how to appropriately react.
  • You don't want to experience "negative" emotions such as sadness or pain and are unconsciously avoiding a more raw emotional experience.
  • You are feeling disbelief or are experiencing denial of the current death related situation, and your laughter is serving as a protective factor from feeling a more intense emotion.
  • You feel anxious and don't know how to respond.
  • You have a dark sense of humor and find some death-related material funny.
  • You're trying not to cry in front of others.
  • You were taught not to cry during your upbringing in an overt way (shaming, emotional invalidating, and/or parental rejection) or covert way (never saw anyone cry, no one explained crying or sadness, grief or sadness was dealt with privately and not shared with others).

Know that laughing, giggling, or smiling are perfectly normal nervous or anxious reactions to any situation you may feel uncomfortable in, including a death related one.

Neurological Factors

Some neurological issues can impact whether someone shows what is considered culturally appropriate emotional reactions to certain situations. Pseudobulbar affect, otherwise known as involuntary emotional expression disorder, can lead to laughing at inappropriate moments including death related circumstances. Traumatic brain injuries, certain brain tumors, gelastic seizures, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Angelman's syndrome, and non-epileptic seizures can also lead to uncontrolled crying or laughter.

Mental Health Factors

Some mental health disorders may be associated with inappropriate affect, depending on the individual and the given circumstances. Individuals with some personality disorders with psychotic features may react differently to death related situations. Metal health disorders associated with affect, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder, may also be associated with laughing at death related material, depending on the individual. Those who have alcohol use disorder, and/or a substance use disorder may also laugh at inapprorpriate times.

Why Do I Laugh in Serious Situations?

In serious situations, laughter can break the tension, but you also may be laughing to cover up deeper emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, and fear.

Teenagers laughing at a funeral

Laughing at a Funeral

Laughing at a funeral is a perfectly normal reaction to a highly stressful and emotionally intense situation. You may laugh due to discomfort and nervousness. You may also laugh if you encounter someone else crying or feel sadness bubbling up within yourself. If you find yourself laughing at a funeral:

  • Take a few deep breaths and try to focus inward.
  • Focus your attention on the room or outside space- try to find 10 objects around you and note their details.
  • Go outside for some air if possible.
  • Try to bring up a neutral memory to take your mind off of your emotional reaction to the situation.

Why Do I Laugh When People Cry?

You may laugh when someone cries because:

  • You feel uncomfortable and don't know what to do.
  • You feel trapped in an awkward situation.
  • You feel nervous energy about the circumstances.
  • You weren't taught as a child what to do when someone else feels sad.
  • Crying and sadness weren't explained or validated often or at all for you during childhood, and more intense expressions of emotion make you feel uncomfortable.
  • You feel shocked or surprised by the individual's sadness and were caught off guard.

Why Do I Laugh When Something Bad Happens?

Laughing when something bad happens may be your way of unconsciously protecting yourself from feeling your core emotion. You may also do so as a way to save face if you are with other people who you don't want to be emotionally vulnerable in front of.

Exploring Your Emotional Responses to Death

If the subject of death makes you highly uncomfortable, you may want to consider exploring why. Think about:

  • If you were taught about death and dying during your childhood
  • What your first memories of something death related were
  • If you were taught that sadness and crying are parts of normal human expression
  • If you feel discomfort comforting others or seeing others upset and why

Know that the fear of death and a discomfort around the subject of death are totally normal. Exploring your relationship with death related material and emotional expression can give you a lot of helpful insight into your own reactions.

Understanding Why You May Laugh at Death

Everyone reacts to death related material differently. Understanding how and why you react the way you do can provide you with helpful information.

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Why Do I Laugh at Death? Insight on Emotional Reactions