Did you know that your sense of humor says a lot about who you are and how you relate to others? Dr. Rod Martin, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario who studies the way people use humor, found that humor is a double-edged sword. First, it can forge better relationships and help you cope with life. On the flip side, it can be corrosive, eating away at your self-esteem and antagonizing those around you. So, here’s what your brand of humor says about of the kind of person you are:

  • The put-down. Like telling friends an embarrassing story about someone else to make them appear clumsy or stupid. This aggressive type of humor takes a huge toll on relationships. Why? Because it’s used to criticize and manipulate others through teasing, sarcasm and ridicule. It also makes others look bad so you can look good. So, remember the rule mom taught you: if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. Tacking “just kidding” at the end of a negative statement doesn’t make it a joke.

  • Hate-me jokes. In other words, you’re the butt of the joke for the amusement of others. Like “I’m so big, even my maternity jeans don’t fit me anymore!”  A small dose may be charming, but routinely humiliating yourself erodes your self-respect, and can lead to depression and anxiety. It can also backfire by making others feel uncomfortable. So, the next time you want to break the ice at a party, try a little humor about your receding hairline, or poke fun at your potbelly, but leave it at that. Don’t make fun of both. 

  • Laughing at life. This type of humor is the best one. Dr. Martin says it’s because someone who laughs at the absurdities of life uses humor to cope with challenges and stress. For example, you open a pack of coffee grounds in the company kitchen, and it bursts open, filling your hair and your shirt with little brown bits. Instead of hitting the roof, you laugh it off. That’s the type of humor that reduces stress and makes others more comfortable around you.