What does it mean when someone mocks me?

Mockery or mocking is the act of insulting or making light of a person or other thing, sometimes merely by taunting, but often by making a caricature, purporting to engage in imitation in a way that highlights unflattering characteristics. Mockery can be done in a lighthearted and gentle way,[1] but can also be cruel and hateful, such that it “conjures images of corrosion, deliberate degradation, even subversion; thus, ‘to laugh at in contempt, to make sport of’ (OED)”.[2] Mockery appears to be unique to humans, and serves a number of psychological functions, such as reducing the perceived imbalance of power between authority figures and common people. Examples of mockery can be found in literature and the arts.

The Mockery of the Owl: a 17th-century painting by Jan van Kessel the Elder, loosely depicting a scene from the 13th-century poem, The Owl and the Nightingale, in which the owl is mocked for its characteristics by other birds.

Mockery appears to be a uniquely human activity. Although several species of animal are observed to engage in laughter, humans are the only animal observed to use laughter to mock one another.[23]

An examination of the appearance of the capacity for mockery during childhood development indicates that mockery “does not appear as an expectable moment in early childhood, but becomes more prominent as the latency child enters the social world of sibling rivalrycompetition, and social interaction“.[24] As it develops, it is “displayed in forms of schoolyard bullying and certainly in adolescence with the attempt to achieve independence while negotiating the conflicts arising out of encounters with authority.”[24] One common element of mockery is caricature, a wide-ranging practice of imitating and exaggerating aspects of the subject being mocked. It has been suggested that caricature produced “survival advantages of rapid decoding of facial information”, and at the same time that it provides “some of our best humor and, when suffused with too much aggression, may reach the form of mockery”.[24] Mockery serves a number of social functions:

Primitive forms of mockery represent the attempt to use aggression to protect oneself from engulfment, impingement or humiliation by diminishing the perceived power and threat of the other. However, mockery may also preserve the object relationship, because the other is needed to provide the material for caricature. Caricature in everyday life, at its most effective, involves the sublimation of aggression and may reach the form of humor— witness our fascination with political satire, often an exercise in the caricature of authority. Less sublimated aggression results in a type of mockery directed at the ongoing humiliation of the weak, reminding such persons that they have little power and are not worthy of full humanity or social membership.[24]

Richard Borshay Lee reported mockery as a facet of Bushmen culture designed to keep individuals who are successful in certain regards from becoming arrogant.[25] When weaker people are mocked by stronger people, this can constitute a form of bullying.


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