This type of humor often develops during times of high stress as a defense against horror and whatever is it that is feared. It is a way to master the situation and provide some sense of control by laughing at it. Sometimes referred to a survivor humor, it is an active defense mechanism that helps people cope with fears and threats instead of surrendering to them. It allows care providers to release tension and thus continue to give compassionate care. It may actually add to the quality of performance due to reduced perceived emotional stress—must be used judiciously as it can be hurtful if the wrong person overhears it. (Schwartz, Enid A., RN, MA, MC. Infusing Humor into Healthcare. p 78-84. CE Express.)

Survivors of a disaster experience four emotional phases:

  • Heroic – basic concern is survival. Humor is spontaneous
  • Honeymoon – occurs 1 week to 3-6 months and involves recovery of optimism. Humor reflects a sense of optimism
  • Disillusionment – occurs 2-4 months after the disaster and may include anger, resentment and disappointment. Humor may be negative and sarcastic.
  • Reconstruction – is a period of recovery, rebuilding, and acceptance. Humor reflects a sense of community.

Learning to laugh again may be essential for emotional coping. (Ritz, S. E. Survivor humor and disaster nursing. In K. Buxman & A. LeMoine (Eds.), Nursing Perspectives on Humor. NY: Power Publications, 1995.)

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