There’s a Psychological Reason You Laugh at the Worst Times

They say laughter is the best medicine...unless you're laughing in these situations.

happyMerla/ShutterstockPicture this: You’re having a serious conversation with your significant other. They’re flustered and upset, but… you start laughing. You don’t even know why you’re laughing, and you’re trying SO hard not to, but it’s happening anyway. (And it’s followed by a whole lot of guilt.) Well, we have some good news. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, you’re not alone. (Here are some weird facts about laughter.)

The reasoning behind laughing during serious moments is very situational and varies on the person and their psychological status. “Clients with neurodevelopmental delays such as ADHD, OCD, ASD, and others, will often struggle with appropriate emotional reactions to sad or horrific events,” Kelley Hopkins-Alvarez, licensed professional counselor and board-certified coach, told Reader’s Digest. “There is [also] a very small percentage of our society, who would fall into the category of a sociopath, these people seem to get pleasure out of others pain, and they lack empathy or concern for others.” 

In these situations, “[People with neurodevelopmental delays] can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, either in group and or individual therapy formats, to help them develop appropriate emotional responses that don’t come naturally to them,” says Hopkins-Alvarez.

So, what if you don’t have a known neurodevelopmental delay? Before you start looking up symptoms, local psychologists, and questioning whether or not you’re secretly a sociopath, there’s another reason you may be experiencing this. You might be subconsciously defending yourself from, well, yourself.

“Sometimes people laugh when something is sad because they are trying to deflect going deeper into their emotions,” says Hopkins-Alvarez. “This may be an unconscious process that is occurring, not necessarily a conscious one.” In other words, your mind is putting up a type of “wall” to combat these overwhelming emotions—and it’s totally normal.

Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut